Arizona Gov. Hobbs focuses on border and schools in first speech to lawmakers

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Kathy Hobbs on Monday praised President Joe Biden’s weekend trip to the US-Mexico border and his stepping up efforts to fight illegal immigration.

A week after the newly elected Democrat took office, Hobbs struck a balance between hardline frontier hawks and immigration advocates by focusing on a humanitarian approach in her first state address to the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature.

“I am encouraged by the recent actions of the White House, which finally visited the border and began to offer real steps to start addressing the problems of the current system,” Hobbs said. “And while I’m optimistic, I will also continue to push Congress to do its job and push for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Several Republican lawmakers left as Hobbs pledged to advance abortion rights, foreshadowing the controversy the new governor faces in her dealings with the Legislature. Earlier, two GOP senators stood up and turned their backs on the governor when she spoke about education.

Afterwards, Hobbs called the strike “an immature escapade”.

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

Biden made his first trip to the border on Sunday after two years in office, checking El Paso’s port of entry, walking along the border fence and visiting an empty migrant shelter. Last week, he said the US would immediately begin to turn away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who illegally cross the border into Mexico.

President Joe Biden speaks with US Border Patrol agents as they walk along a stretch of the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, January 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hobbs said border sheriffs and local police departments, as well as frontline community centers and hospitals, needed help as a record number of migrants enter the country illegally. According to her, this issue “has been politicized for too long.”

Hobbs narrowly won in November after promising “sanity over chaos,” comparing her experience as a social worker, legislator and secretary of state to Republican Kari Lake, a former television personality who has called for a tough and immediate crackdown on illegal immigration. Lake pleased the conservatives with a promise to announce that the state was being invaded and to use military might to repel the invasion.

“Immigration has been politicized for too long,” Hobbs said. “Arizona voters told us in November they don’t want or need political gimmicks designed solely to get sensational TV coverage and create social media posts.”

Arizona Democratic Governor Kathy Hobbs (center) speaks during a State of the Union address, flanked by Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives Ben Tom, R-Glendale, left, and Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, right, in Arizona. Capitol in Phoenix, Monday, January 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

She urged legislators to provide college scholarships to young people smuggled into the country as minors, as well as those who cannot afford college education.

Hobbs began her speech with a conciliatory message, reiterating her pledge from her inaugural address last week to keep the door open for Republicans willing to work together. But she didn’t shy away from promoting progressive priorities or targeting her defeated rival, her Republican predecessor, or the GOP’s top initiatives.

“She said she wanted to be bipartisan, but I didn’t hear that,” said Republican Rep. David Livingston.

She laid out a legislative agenda to address education, water scarcity and housing costs. She vowed to block any attempt to further restrict abortion, which is illegal in Arizona after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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

“The reality is that we don’t have a shortage of educators, we have a retention crisis,” Hobbs said.

She also criticized the universal private school voucher program passed last year, one of former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s biggest accomplishments, which she said would “probably bankrupt the state.” She said that charter schools and private schools that receive public money should face the same audit requirements as public schools, which is an insult to GOP school choice advocates.

“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 it would release a state report showing that fast-growing areas in Phoenix’s western suburbs have no guaranteed water supply for 100 years. Hobbs told reporters after her speech that the Ducey administration withheld the report so as not to antagonize developers.

“I do not understand and in no way agree that my predecessor chose to withhold this report from the public and from the members of this legislature,” Hobbs told lawmakers.

She warned that the water shortage Arizona is facing “is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

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

Preliminarily presenting a budget proposal she will release on Friday, Hobbs said she will request a $50 million child tax credit for low-income families and will push for an exemption for diapers and feminine hygiene products, such as tampons and pads, from the state tax. sales. She will also ask for $150 million in subsidized housing to address homelessness, exacerbated by housing supply not keeping up with Arizona’s rapid growth.

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