New debate drama emerges in race for Arizona governor

Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake arrives to a former President Donald Trump rally, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for Arizona governor, blasted a Phoenix PBS affiliate Wednesday for scheduling an interview with her Democratic rival, Katie Hobbs, saying the move makes it easier for Hobbs to avoid a debate.

A state commission that organizes political debates abruptly canceled a one-on-one interview with Lake that the PBS station was scheduled to broadcast Wednesday after learning of the station’s plans to interview Hobbs next week.

In lieu of the highly anticipated interview, Lake summoned reporters to a news conference to attack the decision, her rivals and the mainstream media. She has made Hobbs’ refusal to debate a central plank of her campaign, saying it shows Hobbs lacks the strength to be governor.

“She should not be given a half an hour of free airtime,” Lake said of her rival.

Hobbs has refused to share the stage with Lake, saying the Republican would turn the forum into a spectacle and embarrass the state.

The refusal to debate has been a major liability for Hobbs, producing weeks of negative headlines and alarming some of her supporters. The drama Wednesday ensures she will continue to face scrutiny over the debate decision despite her efforts to turn the page.

“What I’m focused on is talking to the voters of Arizona,” Hobbs told reporters during a campaign event Wednesday. “I’m not interested in being a part of Kari Lake’s spectacle or shouting match, and I’m going to talk directly to the voters.”

As she spoke, Lake supporters dressed as chickens danced outside the window.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission is tasked by state law with organizing political debates. When a candidate declines to participate, the remaining candidate must be offered a one-on-one interview. Hobbs suggested the candidates be interviewed one-on-one, but the commission declined.

The commission said in a statement it was surprised to learn Arizona PBS had offered Hobbs an interview and postponed the Lake event. The commission said it would organize a new interview with Lake and a different media outlet, but Lake did not commit to attending.

Instead, she said she would show up during Hobbs’ scheduled interview in an attempt to debate.

“I promise you I won’t yell, Katie,” Lake said. “I promise you I won’t interrupt you. And if you want to have an emotional support animal there as well, I will agree to that. But show up like a grownup and debate.”

Lake tried a similar move at a candidate forum last week organized by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, placing herself in Hobbs’ line of sight during what were supposed to be separate interviews with the candidates.

Officials at Arizona State University, which operates the PBS affiliate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.