A televised question and answer session with Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was postponed Wednesday, the same day it was set to air, after news broke that Arizona PBS had agreed to separately interview Lake’s Democratic opponent Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
The Arizona Clean Elections Commission, which has worked for years with its partner PBS to put together and televise debates between candidates for public office, had previously refused the Hobbs campaign’s request for separate interviews of the two candidates, to replace a traditional debate. The commission announced that it was postponing the Lake interview after learning of PBS’s plans to interview Hobbs.
“We just learned hours before airtime of tonight’s Clean Elections Commission debate that PBS has unilaterally caved to Katie Hobbs’ demands and bailed her out from the consequences of her cowardly decision to avoid debating me on stage,” Lake said in a statement.
The commission had planned for the one-on-one interview with Lake after Hobbs ducked out of the debate. Putting together a televised question and answer session is the commission’s normal practice when only one candidate agrees to participate in a debate.
“This decision is disappointing, especially following the multiple attempts on behalf of all the partners involved in producing this year’s General Election debates, to organize a traditional Gubernatorial debate between the two candidates,” the commission said in a statement on Wednesday.
The commission also announced that it planned to reschedule the Lake interview at a different venue and with a different televising partner, adding that PBS’s decision to interview Hobbs separately broke from their history of shared practices.
“PBS’ actions are a slap in the face to the commissioners of the CEC and a betrayal of their efforts to put on an actual debate,” Lake said in the statement.
Hobbs’ campaign previously said she was not willing to share a debate stage with Lake because “you can’t debate a conspiracy theorist,” adding that Lake “only wants a spectacle.”
Lake is a Trump-endorsed 2020 Election denier who has hounded the Hobbs campaign, continually calling her a chicken, since Hobbs announced she wasn’t willing to debate.
After the Hobbs campaign asked the commission in September for separate interviews of the candidates, commission members voted 3-1 to deny her request, but gave her campaign a week to negotiate terms for a debate. The campaign failed to do so.
The Citizens Clean Elections Act, which created the Clean Elections Commission, was passed in 1998. It is administered by a bipartisan five-person board that guides the commission in its goals of educating voters, providing clean funding for candidate campaigns and enforcing campaign finance rules.
It has been coordinating televised debates for statewide and legislative races along with PBS for years.
“The Commission’s commitment and obligation under state law is to produce unbiased, fair opportunities for candidates to speak to voters,” the commission said in the statement. “We intend to make good on that commitment and our commitment to a transparent decision making process.”
Lake said that PBS’s decision to go behind the commission’s back to schedule an interview with Hobbs showed obvious bias.
“PBS, a supposedly-objective taxpayer-funded entity, is working overtime to help elect Katie Hobbs, who needs all the help she can get,” Lake said.
Around 14% of Arizona PBS funding comes from federal grants, the rest of its money coming from things like memberships and donations.
Neither the commission nor Arizona PBS immediately responded to requests for comment.
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