Arizona gubernatorial candidates Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake separately took the stage at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Wednesday night, offering Arizonans the opportunity to hear from the candidates directly about their policy priorities.
For about 20 minutes each, the candidates answered questions from moderator Danny Seiden, the Chamber CEO, about how they would govern and advance Arizona’s 21st century economy.
Hobbs, the nominee of the Democratic Party and Arizona’s current Secretary of State, started by saying she would be ready to lead on day 1, touting her ability to lead through collaboration and with an open mind, skills she learned as a former legislator.
Lake, the Republican nominee, and a former television news anchor, emphasized her work ethic, her perspective as a government outsider and ability to attract talented professionals in her administration.
Both candidates discussed their policy agendas, highlighting the importance of three key issues to the business community: taxes, workforce development and critical infrastructure.
Seiden asked Hobbs whether she would promote higher taxes, citing her dismay over the Arizona Supreme Court ruling that Proposition 208, a tax increase intended to increase education funding, was unconstitutional.
“Absolutely not. I am pro-growth,” Hobbs said. “And I want to be clear that my disappointment at that ruling was more about the years of efforts that our teachers and parents put into trying to increase funding for education. And many times they’re shut out of the conversation in those discussions.”
In contrast, Lake underscored the importance of cutting taxes whenever possible. As part of her policy plan, Lake stated she would like to roll back the income tax to zero.
“I am for lowering taxes every place we can. That is how you see growth,” she said. “We will lower taxes every year, starting with sales tax, we will work on property taxes…we are going to work on bringing the income tax back…we are going to work on bringing it down to zero.”
Both Lake and Hobbs agreed that labor shortages and subsequent labor issues have a profound impact on the current outlook of the state economy. For both candidates, improving education was cited as a solution.
Hobbs says CTE is a good solution to solve Arizona’s labor shortages, but the state cannot start there. She strongly believes that more investments in public education will bring about positive change.
“We need to invest in public education starting with early access to pre-K,” Hobbs said. “We need businesses, job creators, and schools collaborating so we’re training kids for the right careers and we’re building that pipeline for the jobs we’re creating.”
In contrast, Lake stressed the importance of dual track education to positively impact workforce development.
“We want a dual track education after 10th grade. Our kids will decide if they want to take that path to college or if they want to get trade skills, vocational education, or career certifications. There is not a darn reason why we can’t do that,” she said.
And she strongly supports expanding educational freedom across Arizona.
“We need to fund the students and not the system,” Lake said. “I think parents should have the choice to send their kids to whatever school is best fit for their children. And the best way to improve our curriculum is through competition.”
Both candidates agree that resilient and reliable critical infrastructure results in business growth and furthers economic prosperity. Moreover, both candidates mentioned their intentions to build on Governor Ducey’s $1 billion dollar investment into Arizona’s water future.
But Secretary Hobbs doesn’t believe that it’s enough.
“We have to take decisive action and the longer it takes to take that action, the more expensive it will be. One billion dollars is a great start but it’s not enough to do what we need to do,” she said.
Hobbs acknowledged that water procurement efforts like desalination will help the state but says it will take too long to provide adequate solutions. Hobbs said that a balanced approach between water management and water procurement would be most effective, and stressed the need for diplomatic efforts between states, and developing cross-sector partnerships.
She added that federal funding from legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, will help the state’s critical infrastructure.
Lake discussed further procurement efforts, going so far as to not only expand desalination efforts but work to bring in water from the Missouri River Basin and Mississippi River Basin.
Lake pivoted to discuss building on Arizona’s reliable energy, citing it as a big reason why Arizona businesses have been so successful.
“I want to work with our energy companies, large and small, to make Arizona a powerhouse in power,” Lake said. “We need to work to expand nuclear, we can do that, we can do that with the right people in office.”
By the end of the night, overarching themes emerged.
Hobbs intends to strike a regulatory balance between government and business to ensure workers are treated fairly while protecting business interests.
“Governing is not sitting on the ninth floor and telling people what to do. It’s working in partnership to make our state the best place it can possibly be for everyone,” she said. “That is what I will be focused on. I don’t think that is a Republican agenda or a Democratic agenda, it’s an Arizona agenda.”
Lake wants to take bigger steps to ensure that the government stays out of the way of business, allowing for maximum economic growth.
“I will be the best governor for business because I am all about not having the government run your business. We’ve got to start thinking big and tackling these big issues before us,” she said.
Both candidates agree that the governor must be a spokesperson for Arizona to continue the state’s business friendly and welcoming environment.