Feb 21, 2023 - Politics

Hobbs ousts entire Arizona-Mexico Commission board

Photo illustration of Katie Hobbs with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Gov. Katie Hobbs has cleared out the entire board of directors of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, a nonprofit that fosters cross-border trade and relationships.

Driving the news: Last Friday, the same day she was in Nogales, Sonora, meeting Sonora Gov. Alfonso Durazo and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Hobbs sent an email to 31 board members telling them they'd been relieved of duties.

  • It further indicated they could reapply for those positions.
  • The only member currently listed on the commission's website is Hobbs herself.

Why it matters: Ousted members say the board's work is largely based on relationships and institutional knowledge; many had been with the commission for years.

  • Russ Jones, who was first appointed around 1974 by former Gov. Jack Williams and served for most of that time, said he's never seen a governor clear the board the way Hobbs did.
  • "Kind of a wholesale exodus … I don't think that's in the best interests of the state. But then again, I'm not governor," Jones, a former Republican legislator and president of R.L. Jones Customhouse Brokers Inc., told Axios Phoenix.
  • Jonathan Lines, vice president and general manager of a Yuma-based roofing and insulation company, said the commission played an important role in recommending policies that went into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and to streamline the inspection process at ports of entry at the border.

Details: The board include prominent fixtures in the business community, such as Chamberlain Distributing, Inc., president Jaime Chamberlain; Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Todd Sanders; Arizona Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall; Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation president and CEO Julie Engel; and Julie Pastrick, president of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.

  • Some members had partisan Republican ties, like Kirk Adams, former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Doug Ducey, and Lines, the former Yuma County GOP chair who's an ally of Ducey.
  • Others are more aligned with Democrats, such as David Adame, president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa.

What they're saying: Josselyn Berry, a spokesperson for Hobbs, told us the governor wanted to review the board and "make some initial direction calls" before the commission met for the first time under her leadership.

  • Berry noted all members serve at the governor's pleasure.
  • Hobbs' office will accept applications for board seats through March 3.
  • Rather than "pick winners and losers" by removing a limited number of members, Hobbs decided to clear the board while giving anyone who's interested the chance to reapply, Berry said, alleviating some concerns about the loss of institutional knowledge.

The intrigue: Berry said Ducey added five board members in December before leaving office, including former House Speaker Rusty Bowers and GOP gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson.

  • Some members are allies and friends of Ducey's who may not be supportive of the Hobbs administration, she said.

Between the lines: Marco Lopez, who served as the commission's executive director under Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, said there's nothing wrong with reviewing the board's membership when new leadership comes in.

  • He noted that Hobbs might be well-served by jettisoning members who are "pro-wall (and) pro-SB1070," Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law from 2010.
  • Yes, but: Lopez, who ran against Hobbs in the Democratic primary for governor last year, questioned the wisdom of the ouster, telling Axios Phoenix: "I think being more strategic versus one fell swoop probably makes better sense."
  • He also noted there's a limited number of people in Arizona who have the experience and desire to serve on the board.

Catch up quick: Then-Gov. Paul Fannin and his counterpart in the Mexican state of Sonora, Alvaro Obregon, created the Arizona-Mexico West Coast Trade Commission and its sister organization in Sonora, the Comité de Promoción Económica y Social de Sonora-Arizona, in 1959, according to the commission's website.

  • In 1972, Williams renamed the organization the Arizona-Mexico Commission and expanded its activities, with a board composed of business, educational and other leaders.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.


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