/ Modified jan 9, 2023 6:21 p.m.

Hobbs focuses on border, schools in 1st speech to lawmakers

Several Republican lawmakers walked out as Hobbs pledged to promote abortion rights, foreshadowing the contentious fights that confront the new governor in her dealings with the Legislature.

Hobbs State of the State AP Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs arrives to give the state of the state address at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.
AP Photo,Ross D. Franklin

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday praised President Joe Biden's weekend trip to the U.S.-Mexico border and his stepped-up efforts to combat illegal immigration.

A week after the newly elected Democrat took office, Hobbs looked for balance between get-tough border hawks and immigration advocates focused on a humanitarian approach in her first state of the state address to Arizona's Republican-controlled Legislature.

“I am encouraged by the White House’s recent actions to finally visit the border and to start proposing real steps to begin addressing the problems of the current system,” Hobbs said. “And while optimistic, I will also continue to push Congress to do its job and pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Several Republican lawmakers walked out as Hobbs pledged to promote abortion rights, foreshadowing the contentious fights that confront the new governor in her dealings with the Legislature. Earlier, two GOP senators stood and turned their back on the governor as she spoke about education.

Afterward, Hobbs called the walkout “an immature stunt.”

Arizona last had a divided government from 2003 to 2009, when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano had a sometimes contentious relationship with the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Biden made his first trip to the border Sunday after two years in office, inspecting a port of entry in El Paso, walking along the border fence and visiting an empty migrant shelter. Last week, he said the U.S. would immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally, his boldest move yet to confront the arrivals of migrants that have spiraled since he took office.

Hobbs said border sheriffs and local police departments need help, as do community centers and hospitals on the front lines, as record numbers of migrants enter the country illegally. The issue “has been politicized for far too long,” she said.

Hobbs narrowly won in November after promising “sanity over chaos," contrasting her background as a social worker, legislator and secretary of state against Republican Kari Lake, a former television anchor who called for a tough and immediate crackdown on illegal immigration. Lake delighted conservatives with a pledge to declare the state was being invaded and use war powers to repel the invasion.

“Immigration has been politicized for far too long,” Hobbs said. “Arizona voters told us in November that they don’t want or need political stunts designed solely to garner sensationalist TV coverage and generate social media posts."

She called on lawmakers to provide college scholarships to young people who were brought to the country illegally as minors, along with others who can't afford college.

Hobbs opened her speech with a conciliatory message, repeating her promise from her inaugural address last week to keep her door open to Republicans willing to work together. But she didn't shy away from promoting progressive priorities or taking aim at her vanquished rival, her Republican predecessor or top GOP initiatives.

“She said she wanted to be bipartisan, but I did not hear that,” said Republican Rep. David Livingston.

She outlined a legislative agenda focused on tackling education, water shortages and housing costs. She pledged to block any efforts to further restrict abortion, which is illegal in Arizona after 15 weeks gestational age.

She called on lawmakers to suspend a cap on school funding that threatens to cut off billions of dollars for public schools two months before the end of the school year, a measure that requires support from two-thirds of the House and Senate. She also pledged to push for more public school funding to make life easier for teachers, who are leaving the profession in droves.

“The reality is we don’t have an educator shortage, what we have is a retention crisis,” Hobbs said.

She also criticized a universal private school voucher program enacted last year, one of the biggest accomplishments for former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, which she said “will likely bankrupt the state.” She said charter schools and private schools that get public money should face the same auditing requirements as public schools, an affront to school choice advocates in the GOP.

“We have seen too many examples of individuals and shady corporations taking advantage of the system and our students,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs also announced that she would release a state report showing that rapidly growing areas in Phoenix's western suburbs do not have a 100-year assured water supply. Hobbs told reporters after her speech that Ducey’s administration suppressed the report to avoid displeasing housing developers.

“I do not understand, and do not in any way agree with, my predecessor choosing to keep this report from the public and from members of this legislature,” Hobbs told lawmakers.

She warned that the water shortage confronting Arizona “will likely get worse before it gets better.”

She called for new limits on groundwater pumping, including a ban on what she called “water poaching” by foreign farming companies, a hot-button issue after a Saudi dairy company began buying farmland in western Arizona to grow alfalfa for dairy cows.

Previewing the budget proposal she will release on Friday, Hobbs said she will request $50 million for a child tax credit for low-income families and push to exempt diapers and feminine hygiene products like tampons and pads from the state sales tax. She will also ask to devote $150 million for subsidized housing to tackle homelessness made worse by a housing supply that hasn't kept pace with Arizona's rapid growth.

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