Arizona Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake denounced Arizona PBS's decision to host an interview with Democratic rival Katie Hobbs, stating the move made it easier for Hobbs to avoid an in-person debate in a speech outside ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Wednesday.
Lake was scheduled to sit for an interview with Arizona PBS Wednesday after Hobbs declined to participate in a debate, a move the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission has made in the past when just one candidate agrees to debate. But Lake's interview was canceled after the commission backed out of the event following announcements of the station's intention to interview Hobbs, too.
The commission called Arizona PBS's decision to schedule an interview with Hobbs in lieu of a one-on-one debate with Lake "disappointing" on Twitter Wednesday. The commission said the decision broke an agreed upon shared practice of offering candidates who agreed to a debate but whose opponent chose not to participate the option of a Q&A interview.
Hobbs' interview with Arizona PBS will be streamed on Oct. 18.
In the tweet, the CEC wrote, "Given today's events, and the need to obtain additional information regarding the last-minute developments, the Commission will postpone tonight's Q & A on Arizona PBS and will identify a new venue, partner, and date when the interview will be broadcast."
On Wednesday at 4 p.m., an hour before the original interview on PBS was scheduled, Lake delivered a speech regarding the cancellation in front of the Cronkite School, home to Arizona PBS. In the speech, Lake placed complete blame on PBS for the cancellation.
"Unfortunately, PBS and ASU have done a backroom deal with that coward to give her airtime that she does not deserve," Lake said. "They have canceled this, and it's absolutely wrong. I need to remind people that it is we the taxpayers who own PBS and who own ASU. This is not the DNC that owns this, and what's going on here is absolutely wrong."
In a written statement to The State Press, Cronkite School Dean Battinto Batts said, "Arizona PBS has offered both Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs a 30 minute interview as candidates for governor, as part of our Horizon news program. It is our responsibility as a news agency to provide the public with access to the candidates who are running for office so they can learn more and make informed decisions."
Lake's speech echoed her written statement, in which she called PBS "complicit in Katie Hobbs' attempt to destroy twenty years of gubernatorial debate tradition," reiterating her previous statements about wanting a debate with Hobbs.
"These debates have been going on for two decades now," Lake said. "This is a tradition that Katie Hobbs has single-handedly destroyed for the people in Arizona, and she needs to be called out for it, ASU needs to be called out for it, PBS needs to be called out for it, and frankly Michael Crow needs to be called out for it."
Lake urged Arizona residents to call the Cronkite School, PBS and ASU President Michael Crow to press them into addressing how they "handled things."
"Talk about why they are not holding a fair debate, why they are capitulating to Katie Hobbs. And also call ASU President Michael Crow and ask why this would be allowed to happen — why they are destroying the clean election debates," she said.
On Thursday, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he intends to introduce legislation to sever state ties and support of Arizona PBS if the station "fails to correct its troubling eleventh-hour decision to circumvent the agreed rules of the Arizona Clean Elections Commission debate," a press release said.
"It would be inappropriate for the state to continue its relationship with AZPBS, given its sabotaging of the clean election debates that were approved by the voters," Kavanagh said in the press release.
The intended legislation would apply to all contracts between state agencies and universities and the station. It would include donations along with contracts for services, goods and rental space. It would also prohibit the state from providing donations to any other group that donates money, personnel or services to Arizona PBS.
Lake's presence on campus was met with a mix of support and distaste from students who gathered to watch her speak. Mollie McCurdy, an undergraduate studying public service and public policy, openly opposed Lake during her speech.
"I vote here. I own a home here. I pay property taxes here," McCurdy said. "My husband and I — we would one day like to see Arizona actually have politicians who are looking out for the best interests of their citizens, not people who are just trying to simply keep plugging a '2020 stolen election' that's not true. And you're standing in front of the school of journalism while you're doing it."
Editor's note: This story was updated on Oct. 13 at 1:50 p.m. to include information about Rep. Kavanagh's intention to sponsor legislation to sever state support of Arizona PBS.
Edited by Jasmine Kabiri, Piper Hansen and Greta Forslund.
Sadie Buggle is the Editor of the State Press Opinion Desk. This is her third semester working for the State Press after two semesters reporting for the Community and Culture Desk.
Caera Learmonth is a full-time reporter for the Community and Culture desk. She was previously the Executive Editor of her high school newspaper and has taken journalism programs at the School of the New York Times and University of Southern California.