When discussing the Arizona governor's race, there's no way to avoid talking about someone who isn't on the ballot: former President Donald Trump. Republican candidate Kari Lake, a former local news anchor, is perhaps the most visible—and one of the most fervent—midterm candidates peddling conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential elections. Katie Hobbs, the Democratic candidate who currently serves as Arizona's secretary of state, was responsible for certifying the results that Lake rejects.
Coverage of the race has focused heavily on Trump and questions of election integrity. A Lake victory would put an election denier in charge of a battleground state just before the 2024 presidential election, in which Trump will almost certainly run. And Lake, when asked if she would accept her defeat, told CNN's Dana Bash, "I'm going to win the election, and I will accept that result."
But in Arizona, a CBS News/YouGov poll indicates that voters are far more concerned about the economy, inflation, immigration, and crime than they are about election issues. The same poll asked voters what they want elected officials to say about the 2020 presidential election. Forty-one percent of respondents said they'd like officials to say Biden won in 2020, while 18 percent wanted officials to say he didn't. Forty-one percent said it didn't matter what officials said about the 2020 election.
In other words, when looking at Lake and Hobbs, Arizona voters are thinking about more than just the shadow Trump casts over the race. And though Lake's refusal to recognize that Trump lost in 2020 is concerning, her willingness to wield state power to punish the ideas and groups she dislikes will arguably be worse for Arizona.
Lake's platform reveals a candidate deeply amenable to policies and messages popular on the illiberal right, all in service of expanding the size and strength of government. In an interview with conservative talk show host Steven Crowder, she expressed support for new state laws to stop social media platforms from censoring content. "It should be criminal to take somebody who's running for office and take their voice away for political reasons," she said, neglecting that these are private entities—ones that are far better-equipped to make moderation decisions than politicians are. She has said "lying 'journalists' (propagandists)" should be "punished," though elsewhere she describes the importance of "freedom from censorship" and "oppression."
These illiberal instincts could drastically shape institutions within Arizona, too. The school system, a major front in the culture war, is among Lake's central issues. "They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens," she tweeted in June. Her website goes on to call for bans on "critical race theory and other radical ideologies" in schools, making no distinction between public and private. She's proposed putting cameras in classrooms so that parents can keep an eye out for "woke curriculum," likening the idea to cops wearing body cams.
Education is an issue where Lake could truly stand out. Her education platform opens with a completely justified criticism of COVID-era school closures and learning losses. "School choice improves outcomes for children of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds," she argues in a section on backpack funding, through which state funding follows students to the schools they choose. (Hobbs, on the other hand, wants to roll back the expansion of school vouchers in Arizona.) Still, Lake wants to "align state standards to the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum" to "end the progressive indoctrination of students," eschewing concerns about unilaterally adopting a curriculum that is by no means uncontroversial. Without differentiating between the public and private spheres, this contradicts her other invocations of school choice.
Border security is a central plank of Lake's campaign, though her proposed policies are legally fraught and likely to be ineffective. She wants to finish building Trump's border wall and says she'll veto "any budget that fails to fully fund" its completion, despite the huge price tag and many property rights violations the former president's project racked up. Lake wants "to fend off the invasion at our southern border" by invoking Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution. But courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, have already interpreted invasion to mean an "armed hostility from another political entity." (Lake, for her part, says she'll pressure Congress to move Arizona out of the 9th Circuit.)
As for Hobbs, she's put together a platform that's a mixed bag for libertarians. The Democrat says she'll "use the tools at [her] disposal" to bring resources to border communities, but otherwise diagnoses federal policies as responsible for many of Arizona's border issues. If elected, she would end current Gov. Doug Ducey's program to bus asylum-seeking migrants to blue cities. She's run on abortion access and a broad economic policy that includes a child tax credit and waiving taxes on certain household goods. With proposals to launch universal pre-kindergarten and raise teacher pay, some large expenditures could be on the horizon.
Since early October, Lake has overtaken Hobbs in FiveThirtyEight's forecast, today polling at 49.5 percent to the Democrat's 47.1 percent. While Lake's star has risen, Hobbs has come under fire for refusing to face the former anchor in a televised debate. Hobbs has run a comparatively quiet campaign against Lake's nonstop clip of public appearances.
Both candidates, if elected, would lead Arizona via government intrusion. With Hobbs, Arizonans could expect heavy spending, higher taxes, and a reduction of educational freedom; with Lake, a tendency toward the conspiratorial, showy culture war schemes, and a punitive eye toward the ideologies and forms of expression she disfavors. Either way, Arizonans will face a bigger state and reduced freedom.