Lack of communication
How Hobbs' Office handled one withdrawn appointment
Gov. Katie Hobbs’ office just announced on September 25 her intentions to withdraw all of her director nominees from the Senate over what’s been a tense year of far right Republicans scrutinizing her views mostly by attacking her nominees.
That has mostly fallen to Senator Jake Hoffman, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Director Nominations, who is by all accounts an “extremist” as Hobbs’ office declared him.
For more on what just happened and what it means going forward, read today’s Arizona Agenda on Substack, because this post is about one specific nominee that Hobbs pulled back in February and a look into how the Ninth Floor handled it all.
On February 22, news broke that Hobbs was withdrawing the nomination of Matthew Stewart to lead the Department of Child Safety. The Arizona Senate Republicans had scooped this announcement and of course Hoffman took credit for the result, but I requested records that dispelled his claim.
It took seven months to receive these records (and others) and I will keep pushing the Ninth Floor to be more transparent with the press and public, but it’s harder to do without your help. Please consider buying a one-year subscription for $50.
Details were murky at the time and Hobbs was not commenting on the topic, so it took months of speculation before learning more information, which of course came down to the public records request.
Hoffman had claimed something similar without any details and it took until May to find out these details.
Now, in late September, I finally received records I requested on Feb. 27 pertaining to the withdraw of Stewart which adds more to the overall story.
The morning after the press learned of Stewart no longer being in line for the DCS director job, he sent Hobbs and her staff the following email asking about his job and if he still had one.
Stewart had apparently met with the Ninth Floor on the morning of Feb 22 where he was allegedly told they would pull his nomination since he was not likely to be approved by the Senate. (Director nominees can serve up to one full year without Senate approval.) Stewart confirmed this meeting in a ProPublica article shortly after his departure in his first interview.
From that story:
The governor’s team declined to specify what exactly Stewart wasn’t capable of as an administrator or how a month and a half was enough time to know that he wasn’t up to the task.
Stewart said it is “news to me” that there was any issue with his performance, and that the governor’s office had never contacted him about this. He said that on Wednesday morning, they scheduled a meeting and told him it was clear to them that his confirmation wouldn’t make it past Republican opposition, and that they would therefore be withdrawing his nomination.
That meeting does not negate the fact Stewart felt compelled to ask what his employment status was the following morning.
“Around 8:30am I attempted to log in to my email this morning, February 23, 2022 and was unable to gain access to my email with my Department of Child Safety login credentials. I called the help desk at 8:42am and spoke to Carl Stewart from the help desk who informed me that my account had been disabled. He stated my account was disabled after the service desk ticket was submitted at 7:20 PM on February 22nd, 2023,” he wrote, adding, “I would appreciate clarity on the status of my employment and benefits and if I am being considered for other employment within Arizona State Government. If my employment is being terminated I would like to know the reason for this and would appreciate a meeting with you directly Governor Hobbs to discuss these items.”
So it appears Hobbs’ office informed him he was no longer in line for the director job, but didn’t make it clear he was out of a job entirely. His email states the Ninth Floor told him to work remote the following day (Thursday Feb 23), but that the department was told to disable his account on Feb 22.
I asked the Ninth Floor for clarity and was just directed to the ProPublica piece mentioning the Wednesday meeting.
It seems odd they still wouldn’t address whether they properly informed their would-be leader of one of the most important state agencies and instead just direct me to a story where Stewart criticized Hobbs.
“If you believe change is needed, and you make a decision to bring in a person who will create change, then you stand behind that person,” Stewart said of the governor abandoning him. “I’m an example of someone willing to take a risk going into a bureaucratic, deeply ingrained system trying to bring new thinking, new energy.”
“I wanted to have the opportunity to go through [the confirmation process] and defend myself,” Stewart said, adding that dismissing him was a “way for the governor to stay safe.”
In response to Stewart’s email, Hobbs’ COO Ben Henderson sent him his official dismissal notice on February 24.
Stewart was dismissed effective Feb 24 at 5 pm, two days after his email account was already disabled and a day after Stewart wanted to know/understand his status.
Since Hobbs has refused to discuss the Stewart situation, we still don’t really know the reason she withdrew his nomination. It would seem because of the accusations the Arizona Agenda reported on, but Hobbs’ office has denied that.
The governor’s office agrees that none of the issues brought up by the Republican committee had anything to do with Hobbs dismissing Stewart.
“Completely baseless,” said Ben Henderson, the governor’s director of operations, of the implication that there was anti-LGBTQ bias in Stewart’s personnel decisions.
Henderson told ProPublica that the real reason for forcing Stewart out was that while he had the “vision” to change the direction of DCS, he didn’t have the day-to-day administrative acumen to run an agency with a billion-dollar budget and thousands of employees.
The timing of everything is suspect, especially given this other email included in my request further detailing the complaint the Agenda highlighted.
Click the image for the full email, but here’s an excerpt from Feb 13, 10 days before Stewart’s departure: