Kari Lake interview on Arizona PBS canceled after Clean Elections Commission backs out amid rancor

The solo interview with Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake that was scheduled for Wednesday evening was canceled abruptly just hours before it was to start.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission backed out of the event that was to be hosted in partnership with Arizona PBS (KAET) after the television station agreed to a separate, similar interview with Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Lake was to appear for an interview on statewide television after Hobbs declined to attend the debate organized by the commission and Arizona PBS. When a candidate agrees to a debate but their opponent declines, the commission organizes a question and answer session for the person who agreed to participate.

Hobbs had previously asked for separate town hall-style interviews, but the commission held a public hearing and rejected the request. Arizona PBS, however, separately invited Hobbs to sit down for an interview on Oct. 18, according to Hobbs' spokesperson.

Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage after delivering remarks during former President Donald Trump's rally at Legacy Sports Park in Mesa on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022.
Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage after delivering remarks during former President Donald Trump's rally at Legacy Sports Park in Mesa on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022.

Arizona PBS had not notified leaders at the commission, who apparently learned of the arrangement after Hobbs announced it Wednesday morning on MSNBC, leading to the dramatic cancellation.

The commission released a statement Wednesday saying they were unaware of Arizona PBS' scheduled interview with Hobbs and that the station had "broke from our shared practice" by planning it.

The commission is now looking for a new venue, partner and date for a future interview with Lake.

"The commission’s commitment and obligation under state law is to produce unbiased, fair opportunities for candidates to speak to voters. We intend to make good on that commitment and our commitment to a transparent decision making process," the commission said in a released statement.

Arizona PBS said it offered both candidates 30-minute interviews as part of its "Arizona Horizon" news program.

The next best thing to a debate? Lake, Hobbs make back-to-back appearances on national TV

"It is our responsibility as a news agency to provide the public with access to the candidates who are running for office so they can learn more and make informed decisions," said Battinto L. Batts Jr., dean of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Arizona PBS is a community service of ASU and broadcasts from the school.

Lake responds to cancellation

Lake on Wednesday blasted Hobbs for refusing to debate, saying she was "single-handedly destroying" a tradition of debates in the state. She also accused ASU President Michael Crow and Arizona PBS of a "backroom deal" with Hobbs.

"This is not an arm of the Democrat National Committee and unfortunately it appears that's what it's become," she said. She then held up a sign with phone numbers and encouraged voters to call Crow, the Cronkite School and Arizona PBS to complain.

A spokesman for Crow did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

When asked if Arizona PBS should lose taxpayer funding, Lake said, "We should look at that, we really should."

Lake said she was offered her own 30-minute segment like Hobbs but she will only agree to a joint segment with Hobbs on Oct. 18.

"If she doesn't appear with me, they should kick her out," Lake said. "If Democrats don't have to sit on the debate stage with the Republicans, if they can just stomp their feet and demand a safe space ... then we'll never have a debate system again."

How the debate became solo interview

Gubernatorial candidates in Arizona have engaged in head-to-head debates for two decades, but Hobbs claimed Lake would turn the event into a spectacle ripe for national ridicule. She pointed to the Republican primary debate for governor.

The hourlong primary debate, featuring Lake and three challengers, was filled with back-and-forth polemics and near-constant interruptions. Lake at one point joked that she felt like she was living an "SNL" skit.

Lake argued Hobbs should have taken the opportunity to call her out if she painted something unfairly or inaccurately.

The Commission and PBS settled on an interview with Lake since Hobbs chose not to participate. In response, Lake took to social media nearly every day to criticize Hobbs for avoiding the event.

The coalition Students for Kari Lake even appeared at a phone banking event at a Democratic field office in Mesa where Hobbs was earlier Wednesday. The students dressed as chickens and held up signs provoking Hobbs for not agreeing to debate.

Inside, Hobbs said she didn't know what prompted Arizona PBS to offer her a separate interview.

“I don't know what went on behind the scenes with them or how they came to this but they reached out to us and we accepted their offer,” she said of Arizona PBS. She didn’t directly answer a question if the format — which would have been similar to what she requested after refusing to debate Lake — was fair.

“What I'm focused on is talking to the voters of Arizona,” she said. “I'm not interested in being a part of Kari Lake’s spectacle or shouting match. And I'm going to keep taking my case directly to the voters.”

It's not clear if the Hobbs interview on Arizona PBS will go forward.

Republic reporter Stacey Barchenger contributed to this article.

Reach reporter Taylor Seely at tseely@arizonarepublic.com or 480-476-6116. Follow her on Twitter @taylorseely95 or Instagram @taylor.azc.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona governor race: Kari Lake solo interview on PBS canceled