Hobbs focuses on border, schools in 1st speech to lawmakers

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday praised President Joe Biden's weekend trip to the U.S.-Mexico border and his stepped-up efforts to combat illegal immigration.

A week after the newly elected Democrat took office, Hobbs looked for balance between get-tough border hawks and immigration advocates focused on a humanitarian approach in her first state of the state address to Arizona's Republican-controlled Legislature.

“I am encouraged by the White House’s recent actions to finally visit the border and to start proposing real steps to begin addressing the problems of the current system,” Hobbs said. “And while optimistic, I will also continue to push Congress to do its job and pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Several Republican lawmakers walked out as Hobbs pledged to promote abortion rights, foreshadowing the contentious fights that confront the new governor in her dealings with the Legislature. Earlier, two GOP senators stood and turned their back on the governor as she spoke about education.

Arizona last had a divided government from 2003 to 2009, when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano had a sometimes contentious relationship with the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Biden made his first trip to the border Sunday after two years in office, inspecting a port of entry in El Paso, walking along the border fence and visiting an empty migrant shelter. Last week, he said the U.S. would immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally, his boldest move yet to confront the arrivals of migrants that have spiraled since he took office.

Hobbs said border sheriffs and local police departments need help, as do community centers and hospitals on the front lines, as record numbers of migrants enter the country illegally. The issue “has been politicized for far too long,” she said.

Hobbs narrowly won in November after promising “sanity over chaos," contrasting her background as a social worker, legislator and secretary of state against Republican Kari Lake, a former television anchor who called for a tough and immediate crackdown on illegal immigration. Lake delighted conservatives with a pledge to declare the state was being invaded and use war powers to repel the invasion.

“Immigration has been politicized for far too long,” Hobbs said. “Arizona voters told us in November that they don’t want or need political stunts designed solely to garner sensationalist TV coverage and generate social media posts."

She called on lawmakers to provide college scholarships to young people who were brought to the country illegally as minors, along with others who can't afford college.

Hobbs outlined a legislative agenda focused on tackling education, water shortages and housing costs. She pledged to block any efforts to further restrict abortion, which is illegal in Arizona after 15 weeks gestational age.

She called on lawmakers to suspend a cap on school funding that threatens to cut off billions of dollars for public schools two months before the end of the school year, a measure that requires support from two-thirds of the House and Senate. She also pledged to push for more public school funding, lower class sizes and support for teachers to slow the loss of teachers to other professions.

“The reality is we don’t have an educator shortage, what we have is a retention crisis,” Hobbs said.

She also took aim at a universal private school voucher program enacted last year, one of the biggest accomplishments for former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey which she said “will likely bankrupt the state.” She said charter schools should face the same accountability standards as public schools.

“We have seen too many examples of individuals and shady corporations taking advantage of the system and our students,” Hobbs said.

Jonathan J. Cooper, The Associated Press