Clean Elections Commission cancels PBS interview with Kari Lake, seeks new partner

Lake told a crowd in front of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication the fault was on PBS and encouraged them to contact ASU and PBS.
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 3:08 PM MST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2022 at 3:12 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- The Clean Elections Commission canceled Wednesday’s scheduled question-and-answer session with Kari Lake after learning that Arizona PBS, without the commission’s participation, scheduled an interview with Katie Hobbs in lieu of an in-person debate between the gubernatorial candidates. The state commission, which organizes political debates, announced the cancellation on Twitter.

“As a matter of state law and under the direction of its Commissioners,” the statement said, “clean elections proceeded with its obligation to arrange a Q & A interview for candidates who agreed to debate.” This means as Hobbs refused to debate her Republican opponent, the commission isn’t obligated to arrange a similar interview with the Democratic candidate. The commission said it will look for a new venue and partner for the interview.

“As the CEC’s broadcast partner, PBS’ actions are a slap in the face to the commissioners,” said Lake’s campaign in a statement that was released just after the decision. “The CEC specifically voted against Katie Hobbs’ demand for her own one-on-one interview, but PBS went behind the CEC’s backs and agreed to give her one anyway.”

Just after 4 p.m., Lake took to the podium in front of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix to speak following the announcement. “I’m very disappointed tonight. We have cleared our schedule twice now for this debate,” said Lake. She then began throwing jabs at Hobbs. “Unfortunately, I’m running against a coward who’s afraid to stand on a debate stage and talk about what she wants to do for Arizona. Unfortunately, PBS and ASU have done a backroom deal with that coward to give her air time that she does not deserve. They have canceled this, and it’s absolutely wrong,” said Lake.

The GOP candidate then spoke about the Q&A scheduled between PBS and Hobbs. “Now PBS offered her a chance to come in on Tuesday and have half an hour to herself. That is not right. She should not be given half an hour free air time,” Lake said. Lake then reiterated previous comments, saying she wants to be on stage with Hobbs. “They’ve offered me now the same half hour. I will agree to appear with Katie Hobbs next Tuesday on the stage together. And if she doesn’t appear with me then they should kick her out and say she can’t be on the airwaves on PBS.”

Lake then encouraged the crowd to contact the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, PBS and ASU President Michael Crow. “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 is allowed to happen?’ Why are they destroying the Clean Elections debate that have been going on now for two decades?” she said.

She then added the fault was on PBS for the postponement. “We had nothing to do with this getting canceled. This was completely PBS, and it is outrageous that we’re watching the decimation of a two-decade tradition of debates that help the voters decide who to vote for,” she said.

In a statement to Arizona’s Family, Cronkite School Dean Battinto L. Batts Jr. said:

Hobbs has refused to share the stage with Lake, saying the Republican would turn the forum into a spectacle and embarrass the state. The refusal to debate has been a major liability for Hobbs, producing weeks of negative headlines and alarming some of her supporters. The drama Wednesday ensures she will continue to face scrutiny over the debate decision despite her efforts to turn the page.

“What I’m focused on is talking to the voters of Arizona,” Hobbs told reporters during a campaign event Wednesday. “I’m not interested in being a part of Kari Lake’s spectacle or shouting match, and I’m going to talk directly to the voters.” As she spoke, Lake supporters dressed as chickens danced outside the window.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission is tasked by state law with organizing political debates. When a candidate declines to participate, the remaining candidate must be offered a one-on-one interview. Hobbs suggested the candidates be interviewed one-on-one, but the commission declined. The commission said in a statement it was surprised to learn Arizona PBS had offered Hobbs an interview and postponed the Lake event. The commission said it would organize a new interview with Lake and a different media outlet, but Lake did not commit to attending.

Instead, she said she would show up during Hobbs’ scheduled interview in an attempt to debate. “I promise you I won’t yell, Katie,” Lake said. “I promise you I won’t interrupt you. And if you want to have an emotional support animal there as well, I will agree to that. But show up like a grownup and debate.”

Lake tried a similar move at a candidate forum last week organized by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, placing herself in Hobbs’ line of sight during what were supposed to be separate interviews with the candidates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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