Hobbs issues forceful apology for role in firing Black aide
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs apologized “unequivocally” Wednesday to a Black woman who was fired from her legislative job six years ago, her most forceful response to a firestorm that has threatened to upend her frontrunner campaign for governor.
Hobbs has said she made a group decision with two others to fire Talonya Adams from her job as a Democratic policy adviser in 2015, when Hobbs was the Senate’s top Democrat. Federal juries found Adams’ termination was discriminatory. Last month, she was awarded $2.75 million, though the judgement was later scaled back.
Hobbs initially deflected responsibility, blaming Republicans for underpaying Adams and making the ultimate decision to fire her. On Wednesday, she acknowledged her response “fell short of taking real accountability.”
“I’m truly sorry for the real harm that I caused Ms. Adams and her family,” Hobbs said in a three-minute video posted on Twitter. “My response to the jury verdict was short sighted, unnecessarily defensive and failed to meet the moment.”
Hobbs has built a national profile defending Arizona’s 2020 vote count in the face of false claims of fraud by former President Donald Trump and many of his allies. She’s the best-known Democrat running for governor and widely viewed as the frontrunner, but her bumbling response to the Adams verdict angered many Democrats who felt she was evading responsibility. Some worried she was not running an effective campaign and imperiled Democrats’ chances of winning in 2022.
A federal jury in 2019 found Adams was discriminated against based on her race and gender. She was awarded $1 million and got her job back, but a federal judge ordered a new trial. A second jury last month again sided with Adams following a three-day trial and awarded $2.75 million in damages, though the total was later reduced because of a $300,000 cap on employment discrimination judgements under federal law.
With back pay and compensation for lost benefits, Adams was awarded a combined $353,617.88.
Hobbs was not named as a defendant but was involved in the decision to fire Adams and testified in both trials.
In her apology video, Hobbs, who is white, reckoned with racism and her own role in combatting it. She said her understanding of racism has been too narrow, and she’s missed opportunities to fight for justice.
“For too long, I’ve allowed myself to only show up where it’s comfortable,” Hobbs said. “I know that the only way to earn your trust is to not only continue to reflect upon my past actions but to put in the work. I need to be more of an ally. I need to be your advocate.”
She committed to hiring and promoting women and people of color on her campaign team and said as governor she would hire a chief equity officer to focus on building a more diverse governor’s office. She also said she’d create a position in each state agency “dedicated to collaborating with communities of color and marginalized communities.”