Journalists Roundtable

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Local reporters review the week’s top stories.

Ted Simons: Hello, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight -- Mary K. Reinhart of "The Arizona Guardian," Matt Benson of "The Arizona Republic," and Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." Breaking news here on "Horizon" -- We don't get to say that often -- in the sense of the Don Stapley case. And prosecutors have made a decision.

Mike Sunnucks: It came down this afternoon. Said they're moving to dismiss the charges against them. Not so the case would go away. So they could refile it. What happened was, a judge threw out indictments: it was 118 counts against Stapley for not disclosing real estate and business deals. He's county supervisor. The judge threw out some things based on disclosure forms. The prosecutors are appealing and they worry without the disclosure forms they couldn't win the case. So what they a want to do is win on appeal, then they want to refile all 118 counts. In for a penny, in for a pound, legal strategies.

Ted Simons: So the 51 previous have to do with the 65 dropped today. If you win the appeals on the 51 previous, go ahead and refile everything, if you don't, what do you do?

Mike Sunnucks: The prosecutor said today they thought the case was in jeopardy without the ones before. Those were the forms filled out and the indictment was based on him not disclosing things. If you throw out the forms, how do you prove everything else? It's complicated but to keep the case going, that's what they have to do.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing to take a long time to flesh out?

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, this is a prolonged legal battle. You're gonna have appeals on either side. Thomas and Arpaio indicted Stapley, who[‘s also a Republican from Mesa, late last year. Denied any wrongdoing and he's going to fight this tooth and nail.

Ted Simons: We should mention that the board of supervisors, the original counts were dismissed because they didn't put into effect the law that prosecutors were going after.

Mike Sunnucks: The whole indictment is based on disclosure forms you have to disclose your real estate holdings and business holdings and the judge ruled that the county didn't put those forms into law correctly and how can you enforce that. Prosecutors disagree and this is the latest round in probably one of many.

Ted Simons: Alright let's keep it moving here. The legislative leadership sent a letter to the governor saying we could have sued you, but we didn't?

Matt Benson: Yes, this relates to Governor Brewer's veto of portions of the state budget for 2010. She did this at the end of August. Basically, what the legislative leaders are say you can't veto portions of the budget which are policy. Only appropriations. Her office argues that the vetoes were appropriations. What's interesting in this, is sending a letter challenging her action but not taking her to court. It's sort of like saying we think you're in the wrong but we're not going to take it to the next step. That has people wondering around the capitol whether they're serious and whether they know they wouldn't win a legal case or what the justification is.

Mike Sunnucks: Wagging their finger at her. They went through this with Janet a few times with some of her line items. Sometimes they sued and sometimes stomp their feet.

Mary K Reinhart: The difference, I don't think former Governor Napolitano went into a policy bills and actually lined item -- line-itemed the appropriations in those bills and what the governor did to cuts to the department of economic security and K through 12 and that's what Adams and Burns were challenging. They said the reason they gave was they didn't want to cost the state more money from a prolonged legal battle. But the house majority leader said, just don't do this again, we'll look the other way this time.

Ted Simons: Don't see this as a precedent, in other words. Don't get cocky. Was there a reaction from the governor?

Mary K Reinhart: The reaction was we think what we did as constitutionally sound and stood up for what they did and what they did has essentially left those two areas of government with a little more money right now.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about DES. It sounds like from what you wrote this week that massive budget cuts are coming in spite of what the governor tried to do to help.

Mary K Reinhart: K-12 is a different situation but the department of economic security, they're proceeding as if the $50 million that the governor and legislature earlier had agreed to take away is gone. They see the future, you know, is not bright. We've got a huge deficit in the billions again for the coming fiscal year and the governor has already asked agencies to prepare 15% to 20% budget reductions scenarios for mid year cuts so they're erring on the side of caution - and not proceeding as if they've got another $50 million in the bank and they've got troubles with the TANF contingent run -- contingency running out - so they're being cautious right now.

Mike Sunnucks: That didn't happen last year when Napolitano was in office. She got heat for hiring freeze before and I don't think the agencies prepared quite as much. Maybe this hurt won't be quite as bad. They're already hurting but last year there was a lot of questions about how the state prepared and transition going on with Napolitano in line for a cabinet position and Brewer coming on. I think that really hindered the agencies getting ready for it.

Matt Benson: The heat last year dealt with the feeling that we're falling off a cliff from a revenue standpoint, why aren't we going into a special session and dealing with it and lawmakers were hesitant to come back, and guess what, they don't want to come back this time either. The governor would like them to come back to deal with budget issues before January in the regular session. I don't think that's going to happen. So frankly we'll be in the same boat coming in January with a budget, it's now a billion in the red for 2010 and probably be far more by the time they come back in January.

Ted Simons: Back to DES, what kind of impact on kids' care and elderly and these sorts of things? What are we looking at here?

Mary K Reinhart: Continuing the cuts that were made in 2009. Adding 5% to those. For those areas you mentioned. CPS, Child welfare, the governor is going to -- has put through about $26 million and she had $185 million in discretionary stimulus funding. And a lot of that is backfilling cuts already made. Childcare has a waiting list of about 7500 families. What else did you mention? You know, there are cuts across the board. Developmental disabilities and the cash assistance to families have been cut by 20% last year, so people on the bottom rung are only getting a couple hundred dollars here and there.

Mike Sunnucks: The economy is bad and you have more demand for the food stamps and you have more people needing the assistance and it's happening at the same time, so it's a horrible convergence.

Ted Simons: You mentioned special session, and how it looks like it's just not going to happen. Is it a lack of will from the legislature, or telling the governor, hey, this is what you did, we'll sit here for a while and watch it?

Matt Benson: I think that's part of it. I think there's some of that we don't want to come back and bail you out. Your vetoes caused this. And some of this deals with, there are groups like the Arizona corporation commission which they need legislative authority to continue their operations and these would be easy fixes but the legislature has been in session almost continuously for the last nine months and they don't want to come back, again, with the holidays coming up and all of that. And that's the crux of it here. And as well, legislative leaders are of the opinion that these agencies have enough funding in their various reserves to float by until January.

Mike Sunnucks: The interesting thing is, Brewer came in and this was Janet Napolitano's budget mess, she nailed that pretty hard coming in. The longer this goes, it becomes Jan Brewer's budget mess. She's vetoed and can't get anything done and Janet is way in the rearview mirror pretty soon. This is going to be Brewer's problem. She's the one that's gonna get the blame for this.

Mary K Reinhart: The reason we have a dozen agencies in limbo, they -- the governor vetoed a bill, but including that $250 million state equalization property tax that is one of the reasons that legislators are not happy that she did that and you made your bed, and lie in it for a while.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, how's this gonna look for the next session. Are hearts gonna stay hardened? Will compromise threaten to break out? What do you see?

Mary K Reinhart: Right now it's hard to see that. Right now people are still nursing wounds and needing time away from each other and come January, we'll have to see what happens. But I thinkthe likelihood of them getting together and holding hands -- even though it's a relatively easy fix, as Matt said. It's not something that would be controversial legislation to get through.. I think they're still just really angry.

Mike Sunnucks: She can't get enough votes in the senate to get what she wants through, the sales tax, and we talked about this all summer. She can't seem to get the last votes lined up.

Matt Benson: You bring up the next session. It's going to be a mess. The shortfall will be well in excess of $2.5 billion. The reserves are gone. The federal money is down to the last 4 or 5 hundred million dollars, they've used up the tools and in terms of finding cooperation or collaboration among the party, 2010 is an election year. So, good luck.

Mike Sunnucks: Well the thing is, Matt was right. They should have had special sessions last year. The Republicans didn't want to have to deal with Janet and Janet with them. But if you have $10,000 in credit card debt it's easier to pay it off in two or three thousand dollar increments rather than deal with it all at once on your take home pay. And that's what they're doing. They refuse to move forward incrementally on this and I don't see where they're going to change.

Ted Simons: Do you see anyone anywhere looking like compromise could be possible? And the idea that a special session isn't such a wise idea. Come back and look at the issues afresh. Or is that just pie in the sky thinking?

Matt Benson: I think the interesting thing to look at is whether they're able to come back in a number of months and get a referral. Frankly, if you don't get the referral to the ballot before January, you have to do a special session before January or else you can't have the special election at the beginning of March, timed with the municipal elections. That's what the governor wants at this point. If you don't have a special session, that's out the window, pretty soon, all of 2010 is gone and it's hard to see a real movement toward everybody get together and hold hands and get this figured out. Especially in an election year when there's so much at stake. If you're a democrat at the capitol, you've got to look at this and say, boy, we're in a pretty good situation. The Republicans don't look good in terms of how they've dealt with the situation.

Mike Sunnucks: I think in hindsight, the governor should have presented it, you don't trust the voters -- we want to give the voters the option to raise sales tax temporarily. You don't trust the voters. I don't think she hammered home on it.

Ted Simons: She did bring it up a couple of times. Why are you afraid to trust the voters? That was brought up. But still, can that message get past a couple of folks on the right and a whole bunch on the left?

Mary K Reinhart: We're hearing the beginnings of compromise, I guess. In your paper, I think today, Senate President Burns talked about wanting to talk to Democrats and about small group meetings that have been taking place. With people in hallways and maybe more formalized bipartisan talks. Because I think a lot of what legislators were saying at the beginning of last session is only more true now. Which is this is so bad and only getting worse with the cliff of the federal stimulus money running out and 2011 looking worse than ever. There has to be a way for folks to come together and fix this. And what better time do it than before an election. Honestly, if you can say we got together for the good of the state and got it done, it's a win-win for both parties.

Mike Sunnucks: You've got all of these anti-tax people and the closer to the Republican primary, they're sitting there, all right, this guy voted for a sales tax decrease. I'm against it. How do you feel about me? Jan faces this and everybody in the legislature faces this. So I think some of these folks that are on the fence on the sales tax are going to move farther away by the time we get to the election.

Ted Simons: Matt, you wrote about perceived missteps by the governor and how she's such a strong campaigner, strong one on one and in a group, yet never seemed to lobby her own folks down at the legislature.

Matt Benson: She was really hesitant to go down to the house and senate and walk the hallways and go into people's offices and talk one on one. She did do some at the end of the session, there around 2:00 a.m. when they were trying to get votes in the house and senate for the referral. But it's too little too late. You know, I mean, where that could have paid off is months earlier in terms of taking someone like Pamela Gorman from the senate aside and finding an advocate there and maybe not among Republicans, maybe among a few moderate-to-conservative Democrats and she was hesitant to do that as well.

Ted Simons: Did she think because they were of the same party, leadership and rank and file would follow her? And is that a mistake, because in the end, she wasn't elected to that position and didn't have that particular mandate.

Matt Benson: Every conversation I had with her, she seemed utterly convinced that's no thinking person could look at the numbers and budget evidence she saw and come to any other conclusion than we have to do a tax increase.

Mary K Reinhart: It was a mantra throughout the session. If people understood, if we can get people to understand how bad this is, then they'll come along. I think she believed and still believes that there isn't any other choice, and that people if they saw the numbers, would be convinced.

Mike Sunnucks: She didn't tie it to the abortion bills or social conservatism and there are folks in office because of those single issues. She didn't tie it to that and it sat there on its own and I was surprised there wasn't more horse trading going on before the votes and then they came out with the flat tax proposal that came out of nowhere that I don't think people were prepared for and there wasn't a constituency. Really behind it down there, and unraveled it.

Ted Simons: In preparing and writing your story. Did you find people were blaming her as much as her staff or her staff as much as her?

Matt Benson: Among the Republicans, those who will speak openly, they're hesitant to criticize her on the record. That she got bad advice. People around her feeding her bad advice. They're hesitant to come out and openly criticize a sitting governor. Guess what? She's still governor and may be governor after 2010. Those people who would like to run bills again in the future.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the people weren't prepared for the change in dynamics. With Napolitano, it was Democrats and a few moderate Republicans would vote for the budget and she'd horse trade tax cuts. And with her gone, all of Democrats were off the table and the moderate Republicans were out of office or not on board with Brewer and the dynamic really changed and nobody could hobble together the votes.

Mary K Reinhart: As a former legislator herself, she wanted to give them their due. She wanted to let the legislative process work and oftentimes, you'd hear her -- her office would say, we'll see what they come up with and maybe she did think they would come to the same conclusions she did after they worked the numbers.

Ted Simons: Does she change? Become a whirlwind next session?

Mary K Reinhart: I don't think it's a bad idea given the lack of success she saw in this past session.

Matt Benson: It's a mistake to wait until June to put on paper these are my priorities. I mean, she came into office at the end of January, and with budget being the issue of the session to wait until June, by that point, everybody was just set. Heels were dug in and it was difficult to move people.

Ted Simons: Ok. Let's move on because one of the laws that did make it out was an abortion law that's now being challenged on two fronts -- state and federal, correct?

Mary K Reinhart: That's correct. Maricopa County by planned parenthood challenging a clause, a right to privacy clause that we have, along with I think seven states in this country. The other suit is in U.S. federal court. Filed by the reproductive rights. Saying this is a legal procedure and the omnibus bill that does a number of things to restrict, essentially, abortions in Arizona violates the federal law and the constitution because it restricts access. One of the key things it does to restrict access in their view is that physicians only are allowed to perform procedures. Nurse practitioners, particularly in Southern Arizona, have been performing the vast majority of abortions. And rural counties, very few abortion providers exist at all. So folks were coming into the metropolitan areas.

Mike Sunnucks: These laws were huge wins for social conservatives. Brewer came in and signed basically everything and it was a win for them and not a great year for Republicans.

Mary K Reinhart: Not a surprise they could be challenged in court.

Ted Simons: That challenge, is this law much different than laws in other states that have survived these kind of challenges?

Mary K Reinhart: Kathy Herod with the center for Arizona police says no. And I haven't done exhaustive research but that other states have informed consent, the 24-hour waiting period. Similar provisions to this law. What Planned Parenthood is saying about the privacy issue is other states -- other courts have defined that privacy right to include reproductive rights and they feel that's really the strongest argument they have.

Ted Simons: And if nothing else, this sounds like a long process which could delay the law from going into effect.

Mary K Reinhart: Both ask that the law be frozen.

Ted Simons: We have lots of dire warnings regarding the swine flu. Hundreds of kids could die without mass vaccinations. School-centered vaccinations should be done. Are they gonna be done?

Mary K Reinhart: That's the hope of the public health director of Maricopa County and the State health director Will Humble. They both appeared before a legislative committee, joint health and house committee to essentially ask them to answer some of the questions. I think legislators have been getting a lot of emails and there's concern out there about this virus and about efforts -- mass vaccinations and both gentlemen did a good job of addressing those all of those issues. But what Dr. bob England said, the CDC came out with estimates on how many deaths we could see. There is expected to be as many as 30% to 40% of us because we have no immunity to this strain. If you just extrapolate those numbers in Maricopa County and because this virus hits kids hardest, it's unusual. Usually you see the elderly more prone to risk and hospitalization and death. That's not the case with this. So Dr. England's, in the numbers, he figured at worst, 250 children, if nothing is done to do mass vaccination and we've got a lot of opportunity.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a lot of questions about whether it's going to be any different from the seasonal flu. Which it appears to be acting the same right now. The fear it will mutate and get more severe.

Mary K Reinhart: Symptoms and it does behave the same as seasonal flu. The concern is the sheer numbers. It's going to be easier to catch because no one has a buildup against it. You're contagious for a week as opposed to just a day.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a study just came out in Reuters that a doctor out of Harvard was saying it looks like it's not as severe as feared. So -- so I think it's a wait and see on it right now.

Ted Simons: Do politics play a part in this, with so many lawmakers getting calls from parents saying don't mandate my kid having to get a vaccination?

Matt Benson: I think it would, if we had a virus that mutated and large numbers are dying and if you have a Spanish flu situation and the state has to look at mass vaccinations being required and people being quarantined. I think for now, there's a consensus of agreement in terms of moving forward.

Mike Sunnucks: I think there'd be a huge uprising, especially a state like Arizona. People already think the government is too big and too much in their lives. And to have mandates, you'd see the Glen Beck crowd out there in force.

Mary K Reinhart: Even if we mandated, we couldn't cover everything. There's six million people in Arizona and no plan or need to do that as long as they can implement this plan effectively and immunize people in school-based clinics.

Mike Sunnucks: We went through this with the avian flu and chicken little type stuff where people are a little skeptical of what's going to happen. People are questioning the media coverage. Whether we're over-hyping it.

Ted Simons: Alright well we'll leave it there. Thanks for joining us.

Mary K. Reinhart:The Arizona Guardian;Matt Benson:The Arizona Republic;Mike Sunnucks:The Business Journal;

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