The Quiet Champion
By Art Martori, January 2017 Issue. Meet Nate Rhoton, Echo‘s other 2016 Leader of the Year.
Hanging on a wall in the office of State Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, nestled among artwork created by her friends and children, and service awards she’s garnered over the years, is a simple wooden sign. It reads Illegitimi non Carborundum, a euphemism in Latin meaning Don’t let the bastards get you down. How appropriate.
Hobbs, a Democrat representing Legislative District 24, is a liberal in a sea of conservatism. As a lawmaker she’s constantly paddling upstream to push an agenda where her most notable bills often don’t even make it to the floor of the Senate.
She’s a progressive, calling for common-sense sex education in schools. She’s a former social worker and a champion for the disadvantaged.
She’s also a wife to her husband of 20 years, Pat Goodman, and a mother to children, Sam, 18, and Hannah, 14.
“I think that being a parent changes everything about the way I see the world and how I want to be in the world,” she said. “It makes me fight harder for the ones who are struggling to try to be good parents and the ones who don't have that support at home.”
She’s also a new kind of standard-bearer for the LGBTQ community, having unseated Ken Cheuvront – first openly gay man elected to the Arizona House of Representatives – in the 2012 primary election.
“I had to make this really hard decision to run against him,” Hobbs recalled of running against Cheuvront. “But is wasn’t about taking out a gay elected official, it was about our district being well represented. I take that responsibility very seriously, representing the LGBT[Q] community.”
Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Future
After earning a bachelor of social work from Northern Arizona University and a master of social work from Arizona State University, Hobbs’ first job out of college was with Tumbleweed, a safe space for collaborating with youth and young adults in our community who are vulnerable or experiencing homelessness.
“Our participants were homeless youth that we had to try to get on the road to self-sufficiency by the time they reached adulthood,” she said. “Many of our youth were parenting teens, and many others were homeless because they were LGBTQ – something I didn't really know anything about.”
Because there weren’t any specialized resources for LGBTQ youth at the time, Hobbs credits Gail Loose, the nonprofit’s program manager, with helping build a network of services for them – a process Hobbs said taught her a great deal.
“As a parent, I want to ensure that youth have strong supports in their lives,” she said. “If they can't get that from home because of who they are, I want to help in any way that I can so that they are getting that somewhere.”
Photo by Scotty Kirby.
One of the ways Hobbs lives out this mission is by volunteering at one•n•ten’s Camp OUTDoors! for the past four years.
“one•n•ten is an organization that I have made a very strong connection with,” she said. “I will go back [to camp] as long as they keep taking me; it's an experience that I'm sure I get more out of than I put into.”
Not “Just A Bill”
Hobbs bridles explaining how a bill designed to curb school bullying has continually failed to make it out of committee.
“GLSEN was a major stakeholder in drafting the safe schools bill that I have introduced every year since I've been in office,” she said. “We know that schools can be a source of a lot of pain for students, even if they have support at home. GLSEN helps make schools a safe place.”
And another piece of legislation – which would bar discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status – died in committee upon its first reading in May.
“It would be easy to go, ‘Oh, if I go the establishment route, I’ll get more stuff done,” Hobbs admitted. “That might make you popular with the Capitol crowd, but that’s not what got you elected. All of us in those kinds of debates are putting it all out there on the floor, knowing we get our points made on the record, but the amendment is not going to pass.
“It’s really, really, really frustrating a lot of the time.”
As of late, Hobbs has been engaged in countless hours of conference calls, voter outreach and fundraising ahead of the riotous Nov. 8 election in which Donald Trump became president-elect, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was ousted and Arizona Democrats gained a seat in the Senate, but still face a 17-13 Republican majority.
Hobbs, who ran unopposed, explains that these successes are just part of the job. She doesn’t see them as stepping stones toward greater personal achievement.
“I didn’t run for this office so I could run for something else. As long as my constituents want to keep me here, hopefully I’ll do a good job representing them,” she explained. “For me, being in politics right now is just about how I can try to bring about social justice, not any particular issue. Social justice is social justice.”
All The Right Stuff
Hobbs, an Arizona native, reached the Senate via a career in social work. As the director of government relations at the Sojourner Center, the country’s largest domestic violence shelter, she managed millions of dollars in government contracts. She’s also served on numerous commissions that align with her commitment to social justice, such as the Phoenix Women’s Commission and the Phoenix Human Services Commission.
Deep down, Rep. Lela Alston (D-Phoenix) explained, Hobbs is someone who truly believes in what she’s doing. Alston is a close associate at the Capitol and 18-year veteran of the Legislature. She’s been around long enough to see when someone is a career politician – and when they’re a leader. Hobbs, she said, is the latter.
“She’s wonderful. She’s a natural,” Alston said. “Some people have all the right stuff. And she has all the right stuff to be an elected official. She’s smart, number one, and she’s well informed. She has the right values, from my point of view.”
Lately, Hobbs has made headlines for her push to process thousands of untested rape kits held by law-enforcement agencies throughout the state. It’s something that even Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has been vocal in supporting.
“I want to thank the task force for their work, especially Senator Katie Hobbs who has championed this issue for years,” Ducey said in a statement released in October. “My office will continue to work hand-in-hand with policy experts, law enforcement, and community leaders to protect our communities and provide victims with a much-needed sense of relief.”
An Advocate For Everyone
There was never an “aha moment,” as Hobbs describes it, when she realized the underserved and underrepresented needed a champion. Running for office was a natural progression in her career. At some point, she began sitting in for her boss at meetings at the Capitol. Eventually, she became chair of a legislative board where she helped community members and lawmakers work together on policy issues.
Maybe it wasn’t an epiphany that Hobbs had, but more of a reaction to the way things got done in the legislature.
“I thought, ‘I could do a better job than some of the people down here,’ Hobbs recalled.
She took office as a State Representative in 2010, and in 2012 she won the primary election against Cheuvront and went on to win a seat in the State Senate.
As a Senator, bills she’s sponsored read like the wish list of Arizona’s scant liberal base. In addition to the sex-education and non-discrimination legislation, Hobbs has pushed for abortion rights, abolishing the death penalty and putting an end to school bullying.
She adds that, despite recent advances in LGBTQ rights, there’s still much work to be done.
“It would be easy to look at marriage equality and say, ‘Okay, we’re done,’” Hobbs said. “I see the LGBT[Q] civil rights movement as the big movement of our time. But we’re also seeing progress faster than we’ve seen it in any other movement, and there’s still so much that needs to be done.”
Still, Hobbs stresses the importance of access to leaders and transparency in government and accountability to the people who elected her.
“There is more responsibility because you have a platform. I have a platform,” Hobbs explained. “Now that I have a title in front of my name people want to hear what I have to say. So even if I can’t take the actions that make something happen, I’m still using my voice to make sure that [each important] issue isn’t forgotten about.”