Arizona Republicans passed a measure on Tuesday to strip Democrat Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of state, of her ability to defend election lawsuits, a seemingly partisan retaliation for her sharp criticism of the party's controversial election audit.
The bill, which passed both the state's House and Senate Appropriations committees, puts the attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, in charge of defending all lawsuits through January 2, 2023, which is around the end of his and Hobbs’ current terms.
“The legislature intends that the attorney general make all strategic decisions regarding election litigation and be allowed to intervene on behalf of this state if the attorney general determines, in the attorney general's sole discretion, that the intervention is appropriate,” according to the bill.
The bill also states that the attorney general cannot represent or provide legal advice to the Secretary of State, which is generally the chief elections administrator, or the Department of State on any matters through June 30, 2023. But it allows the secretary to hire one full-time “equivalent position” to serve as legal advisor to represent them, but blocks the secretary from “spending or incurring indebtedness to employ outside or private attorneys to provide representation or services.”
This measure, which has to pass the full legislature, comes as Senate Republicans are leading a 2020 election audit of the state’s largest county. They have hired several firms to conduct the audit, which is led by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based firm that has no experience auditing elections and is run by a supporter of former President Donald Trump who has promoted baseless election conspiracies.
The audit is widely viewed as a partisan effort after Trump and his supporters spent months questioning the accuracy of President Joe Biden's narrow win in the state. State and federal experts and law enforcement officials have questioned the legality and prudence of the auditors and their efforts. The Justice Department and election experts have also warned that some of their proposed processes could violate federal law, while auditors' searches for things like bamboo and secret watermarks have drawn scorn and mockery.
Hobbs called the bill an attack on Arizona voters in a statement posted on Twitter.
"The fact that the legislature has singled me and my office for these unjustifiable restrictions — restrictions which expire at the end of my term — make it clear what this is really about: partisan politics,” Hobbs said in a statement. “The most extreme members of our legislature think they can stop me from doing my job and working on behalf of Arizona voters. I'll keep proving them wrong.”
She also said in a follow-up statement that Brnovich, has "engaged in a pattern of behavior" that violates his ethical duties.
"He frequently sought to substitute his judgement for my own and allowed his political preferences to interfere with this obligation to represent me as a client, in my pursuit of the best interests of Arizona voters," she said, revealing that she had filed a complaint about Brnovich confidentially with the State Bar of Arizona last October.
"Unfortunately, it appears AG Brnovich isn't asking forgiveness for his behavior — he's asking our legislature to authorize it," she wrote, adding that "despite partisan attacks and political power grabs, I'll continue to get the job done on behalf of all Arizona voters."