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Arizona Democratic Governor-Elect Katie Hobbs plans to call a special session to clarify state abortion laws on day one of her administration in January, which could put her in an awkward position from the start.
The Democrat is looking to get the 1864 territorial law that only permits abortion in the case of a mother’s health risk repealed, as there are two conflicting laws on the books. The other law is a 15-week ban signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in March that does not include exceptions for rape and incest past that point.
Although Hobbs does not support the 15-week ban, she’s operating under the assumption that Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike would prefer the more recent law that many conservative lawmakers voted in favor of.
“My focus right now is just going to be to repeal this law. That should be plain and simple. Again, in terms of representing the majority of Arizonans and being in line with what was a major issue in this election that we just got through, I would be hopeful that some Republicans would be willing to make that change,” Hobbs told KTAR in an interview last month.
While it’s clear that Hobbs is trying to deliver to her base quickly, this could be a poorly calculated move in the long term.
Republicans still hold the majority in the state legislature, and they drive a hard bargain. It may take a lot of convincing to get a Republican to vote with Democrats to repeal the 1864 law, especially so early in the session when everyone is trying to prove themselves.
So why does she want to start with something that could make her look politically weak and divisive, rather than trying to deliver a win early on? She will have many times in the next four years where she might need to make nice with lawmakers in order to avoid a perpetual stalemate.
Hobbs seems more interested in making her base energized and making Republicans look stubborn rather than starting off with an olive branch and securing legitimate wins for all Arizonans.
Perhaps the goal is to get positive attention from the national media, as liberal pundits will likely heap praise on her as she establishes herself as a pro-choice leader in the post-Roe era. Currently, outgoing Attorney General Mark Brnovich is enforcing the 15-week law, but the ultimate decision on how to handle the two different laws on the books is going to an appeals court, according to The Arizona Republic. The newspaper also said that incoming Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes would change the Attorney General’s office’s stance on the issue, saying that the office would no longer support the old law.
However, the politically smart move for Hobbs would be to give some breathing room before calling a special session. She should let the legal system make the right call instead of straining her relationship with the legislature from the start.
Either way, it’s going to be a long four years with such stark differences between the legislature and the new leadership in some statewide offices. In general, moderates throughout Arizona’s government will ultimately be calling the shots in this environment, and they’ll certainly be taking heat from both sides. Hobbs will simply be the first one to force their hand.