Pima County supervisors react to rejected nomination to have Dr. Theresa Cullen lead state health department

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 8:19 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Pima County supervisors are reflecting on Dr. Theresa Cullen’s nomination to lead the Arizona Department of Health Services, as well as the thumbs-down she received from the committee created this year to vet Gov. Katie Hobbs’ nominees for state agencies.

“We are back to the drawing board,” Hobbs said in a news conference.

Hobbs noted she has not spoken with any other candidates after Cullen’s withdrawal earlier this week.

She said she was worried about the next potential candidates after the director of the Pima County Health Department, was grilled for hours by the Republican-led committee.

“I don’t think anything could’ve been done that could’ve prepared anyone for what they did to her,” Hobbs said. “Bringing up tweets from three years ago, I mean that is utterly ridiculous. We are certainly working with all of our nominees so they feel prepared and we’re anticipating some of the garbage that might be thrown at them.”

The five-member committee, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, rejected Cullen with a 3-2 vote along party lines.

During the four-hour hearing most of the discussion centered around their disapproval of the county’s COVID protocols.

“These nominations are the first indications of how Katie Hobbs intends to lead the state of Arizona and what we’re seeing is we didn’t get a reasonable candidate here. We got an extreme candidate, a candidate with a track record who infringed on the civil liberties of the people of Pima County,” said Committee Chairman Jake Hoffman.

Pima County Supervisor Rex Scott said he thought otherwise while watching the hearing.

“They had two goals, to embarrass the Governor and to engage in pandemic politics,” Scott said. “They never had any intention of giving her a fair hearing or of confirming her. It was shameful.”

Hobbs said it was not the type of job interview anyone should have to encounter.

“It was a legislative body not interested in governing. Executing a personal vendetta against this woman because they don’t like decisions she made during a life-threatening global pandemic,” Hobbs said.

Supervisor Adelita Grijalva said those very decisions saved lives in Pima County.

“What’s getting lost here is the county followed the lead of the state,” Grijalva said. “When everything else shut down, that is not one individual’s responsibility. That was something that was directed by our federal and state governments. The local government did the right thing to keep our community safe. Hindsight being 20-20, people can be really critical about it but our community was a lot healthier because of the leadership of Dr. Cullen.”

Despite Cullen’s withdrawal, she is not unemployed.

She announced earlier this week she will be returning to her job as the Pima County Health Director despite stepping down weeks before.

“I was honored to be hired as Pima County Health Director and I was honored to be considered to lead the state’s public health agency,” Cullen said. “While the state job hasn’t worked out, I love being Pima County’s Public Health Director and there remains a lot of work to do making Pima County one of the healthiest counties in the country.”

Grijalva and Scott agree. Despite what they say was a mistake made in the state, they’re grateful to have Cullen back home.

“I think she’s doing an amazing job. I’m sorry for the state and sorry for the leadership vacuum but I’m very glad to have her leadership back here in Pima County,” said Grijalva.

“We are very fortunate that the Arizona Senate’s very poor decision is to the benefit of Pima County,” Scott said. “Dr. Cullen had devoted her entire career, her entire life to both public health and public service. I’m very proud she will be continuing to lead our health department.”