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 are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian," and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Sandra day O'Connor puts her name to reform efforts in Arizona. The O'Connor house project, what is that?

Howie Fischer: This came out of a charity, if you want to call it that, to move her house, and the idea being, you raise the money to preserve the house, and quote, the spirit of the house and the idea was she was someone who could bring people together. And long before she was a Supreme Court justice, she was a state senator, she was the majority leader in the senate. A judge on the state Court of Appeals and now that she's back, she's looking around at Arizona saying we've got things going on in this state, for 100 years, since statehood, has anyone looked at why we don't have a lieutenant governor? Has anybody looked at the issue of why do we elect the superintendent of public instruction? Well, we always have. And she's pulled together 100 other people. From various walks of life. Some elected officials, academia, to kind of pull together, I guess you'd say, a new structure for the state and then go out and push it.

Dennis Welch: You look at -- you look back at the state over the past 100 years, and has anyone looked at this? Played out in the legislature this year has had an effect on what people want to accomplish. Where they see the civility break down. The goal is how we reform our people to the house of representatives and the senate, so it's more representative of the state.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But a lot of things they're looking at aren't new. They have been looked at before. The lieutenant governor has been looked at over and over again but we now have a case where we have a governor, a person who became governor succeeding someone not of the same party. That brings the issue to the forefront and maybe doing away with clean legislation elections that's caught up in legal action. And discussed whether we should elect a school superintendent or whether it would be better off appointed. But these ideas have been around before, they just haven't gotten anywhere, and the goal to see how many of these things they can get into a bill form and get the legislature to maybe pass it on to the ballot for voters to decide 2010.

Howie Fischer: That's the interesting question here is, as journalists, we're suspicious of some group that comes together to say, "We know better." You talk about clean elections, will that change the essence of the legislature? Changing the redistricting process to do that. Voter protection, the voters passed specifically in 1988 to keep the legislature from tinkering with things and now they're saying maybe we should let the legislature tinker with them. So it will be interesting to see how this gets put out and whether the voters are willing to say, this group recommended it, of course, we'll do it.

Ted Simons: This sounds like a lot of things that legislatures over the years have either looked at, discussed, maybe taken action on and succeeded or not. What's the difference here? Isn't that what lawmakers are for?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, but I think it's to the point that Dennis made. That in some quarters there's a discontent with how the state is running and the direction that it's going in. Well, that's going to be a real hard sell to the legislature which is responsible for the direction that was state is going in. And I also think logistically, we all know the state budget is going to remain front and center as a big, big issue and how many of these kinds of substantive reforms to the process could a legislature undertake while also trying to figure out how to fill in billion dollar budget deficit?

Howie Fischer: I think the belief -- let's say you've got the city of Aha, and Sandy Bar with the Sierra Club and somehow if you can bring them together, that it will provide impetus. But you can't get them to agree with anything. Take the issue of changing the initiative process. Sandy bar says we need the initiative process because the lawmakers won't do it our way.

Dennis Welch: When this group got together, they knew there wasn't going to be agreement on most of the issues they got together on. What they wanted to try to find out is what can happen. What can we get done and if there's a handful of things out of the dozens of issues they've looked at, if that can happen, then that's pretty successful.
Mary Jo Pitzl: And then under the banner of Sandra Day O'Connor, who is seen as above the fray and revered not just a state, but national figure and perhaps that will give it more OOMPH than these efforts have been in the past.

Ted Simons: Has there been thought -- appointing the state treasurer. I can see both sides the argument, but has it been considered?

Howie Fischer: This has come up in the past. Particularly the mine inspector. This is a safety inspector. Nobody -- I bet you if you went out on the streets of Tempe and asked 100 people who the mine inspector is, you couldn't find one who would know.
Mary Jo Pitzl: With the mine inspector, there are some qualifications written into the law or into the constitution, like you have to have experience in mining. So that, you know, that pool of candidates is going to dry up. I mean, how many underground miners do you know, Dennis?

Dennis Welch: I know many underground miners. [Laughter] And like the mining inspection goes back to a different time when the mining industry played a bigger part in the state's economy and a bigger part in the state's political landscape.

Ted Simons: Getting away from the mining inspector, the treasurer job shouldn't be political. It should be to figure out if 2 + 2 = 4.

Howie Fischer: Yeah, dean Martin, the gubernatorial wants to be dean Martin. Do you need someone who is coequal? If the governor appoints the treasurer with senate confirmation. You won't have the -- we're running out of money governor and I want a meeting of the loan commission. If he's depending on the governor for appointment, that's the issue. Superintendent of public instruction, that's a harder one. On the one hand, it's administrative, over $4 billion to $5 billion of state aid to education, but you have an appointed state board of education appointed by the governor and where do they fit?

Dennis Welch: I think the important point, if you look at these reforms, what you're talking about is strengthening the executive. If you get these positions appointed by the governor or whatnot, the governor is going to have a lot more say and power -- if the governor puts someone in position who is going to carry out her mission, she's going to have a lot more power coming in. The executive is pretty weak in Arizona as it is. This could strengthen it.

Howie Fischer: You talk about the parallel. We went through this in Maricopa County.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah.

Howie Fischer: Should you elect the clerk of the court? Should you elect the treasurer? The assessor, to use your analogy is someone who says what's the property worth. And everyone will tell you because we're elected, we're responsive.

Ted Simons: We won't even to get to the sheriff not being elected. That's been talked about as well. Ain't going to happen. Budget -- are we -- how much in the hole already are we? The latest numbers?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Just shy of a billion dollars. The joint legislative budget committee did quick analysis after the governor did her mix of vetoes and bill signings and concluded that the current year budget is about a billion in the hole. And this is after work is concluded on it, which means work hasn't concluded and there'll have to be more work being done on the budget in coming months.

Howie Fischer: And half of that was supposed to be made up with temporary sales tax. And clearly, that's not going to happen as a referral and may not happen in the future as an initiative. Part of the problem is the economy continues to defy expectations. Every time we think we hit bottom -- housing prices, unemployment -- we get another shock and then people's confidence goes down and they stop buying, sales taxes, 45% of state revenues, go down.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And another half of this is from last fiscal year. The one that ended on June 30th. There's $400 million they have still not resolved a math problem or accounting issue. They've got to wipe that out as well.

Ted Simons: You've got agencies and corporation commissions and a dozen agencies being left in the lurch. A special session would help them. A special session at all likely?

Howie Fischer: Yes, but not this month. Not next month. [Laughter] There's a burnout factor there. Lawmakers have said we've worked for months to come up with something that we think is a good package. The sales tax being the big issue. But we've worked hard and the governor, because of the way she had to veto parts of the budget because you can't take each individual line, vetoed things that should have gone through. Corporation commission should be self-funded. Can be self-funded but they need the authorization to charge the fees and use the fees that they're bringing in. That got vetoed in the whole mess over the issues, for example, of whether we should have a property tax. But I don't see them coming back any time soon. When I talked to the house majority leader, John McComish, he said, Howie, this is burnout. We adopted a budget. This is her problem. Let her fix if.

Dennis Welch: With all respect, they spent months putting together a budget package and they're still a billion dollars short. Burnout factor or not, they need to get the budget in order. Otherwise, when they come back next year, they're going to be in the same position they are this year.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There's a practical argument, bringing back, you got to know what you're going to accomplish and have that pretty much in the can. And in the Senate, they're saying the members are upset, angry at the governor. They feel they've given a lot that she didn't and not willing to give her more. But at the end of the day, yeah, you've got to get this budget set right and who knows when that will happen? There was a meeting late yesterday with Burns and Adams and the governor and nothing definitive was concluded.

Ted Simons: For those watching clocks and deadlines, the budget has to be balanced by a certain date at a certain time and now that we're months passed that, those asking, what happened to that deadline, how do you respond?

Howie Fischer: This is the problem. We all say in generic terms, the constitution requires a balanced budget. But when? What we've got is a $350,000 debt limit. I'm not talking about revenue bonds and sales leasebacks and these maneuvers and the lawyers read that, well, we close the books on June 30th, we had to be within $350,000 of a balanced budget. So that means up until June 29th, we can be all over the place as long as on maybe on June 30th, we do these maneuvers. We do this all the time. We'll take a bill and put it off till July. Look, we balanced the budget!

Mary Jo Pitzl: But that doesn't answer the question that is still hanging from last fiscal year which is now two and a half months gone. We did a couple of quick questions on it. There's actually not anything that says there shall be a balanced budget. There's no such language. You have to read a couple of clauses in the state constitution and in their totality, they seem to suggest a balanced budget. Who is going to sue?

Dennis Welch: It's traditional -- they work to get a balanced budget by July 1st and this year, blown that to heck. It sets awful precedent moving forward. There used to be a flurry -- we've got to get this done by July 1st and now with the precedent being broken.

Howie Fischer: That's the scary part. Federal fiscal year ends September 30th, about -- now that we've blown past this, it's been since statehood days, and I've been here almost since then -- you can tell by my lack of hair - this is the first year we've gone this deep into it -- and now that we've said the world didn't end we're going to be sitting here perhaps next September, long after the primary that these folks are going to have to decide whether they're going to get reelected. Do we have a budget?

Ted Simons: Speaking of elections, Dean Martin not happy with the sales leaseback of the budget. Ripped into that. Said it made it look -- us look like a rent-a-center. In-fighting in Arizona could leads California firms to say Arizona can't get their act together. We're going off to New Mexico or Texas or these things. And once again, the treasurer making noise how unhappy he is.

Dennis Welch: Dean has shown every indication of that he wants to run for governor. And he's really taken this office to a new level politically. Before, the only time you ever really heard of the treasurer is when they were indicted or kicked out of office. And now he's got his name out there, criticizing the current administration.

Howie Fischer: I love the rent-a-center thing. The state has been doing sales leaseback back into the Symington administration. We've built the Supreme Court on a lease-purchase option. Now he's decided this is a bad idea? Where the heck were you?

Ted Simons: Quickly, I know the capitol was put on eBay. A 99 cent opening bid. Did we get a final bid?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, there were no bids. Some jokester -- I don't know, maybe he was serious, we couldn't identify him -- put the state capitol on eBay for sale. By the time we found out about it, bidding had closed and there were no bidders.

Ted Simons: Can't even sell on a fire sale.

Howie Fischer: The beautiful building isn't the part that's for sale. It's the funny looking senate-house building.

Dennis Welch: Can you buy just the senate?

Howie Fischer: That's the thing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Sure!

Howie Fischer: The only way we can get the pressroom back in the senate, Dennis and I are going to chip in.

Dennis Welch: I'll chip in 50 cents.

Ted Simons: What will it take me to get you to buy that senate building right now?

Howie Fischer: We've got such a good deal.

Ted Simons: Not such a good deal for the governor as far as her staff. A couple of high-ranking members said adios. One this week…talk about it.

Dennis Welch: Brian McNeil, Her deputy chief of staff of operations, a key player, the conduit to the various agency that the governor oversee, gave his resignation this week. It's not exactly sure when he's going to leave but he's getting out of town right now. And it's a big loss to the governor, I think, and part of the thing -- the problem for her in losing this job, who do you get to fill his job because who is going to come in? We don't know if she's running for re-election. If she does, by all indications, She's an unpopular governor -- who is going to take a chance of hitching on to this administration when it looks like it may be a part-time gig?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know, unemployment is pushing 10%.

Dennis Welch: The most talented people I think have got jobs and the people you want may have their positions picked out.
Howie Fischer: One of the interesting political things about this -- I may be jumping ahead. Brian McNeil was a big part of the Symington administration. As we're finding out that Fife is sitting around ready, I'm tanned, I'm rested.

Ted Simons: Well, let's go in that direction. Because it sounds like he's interested.

Howie Fischer: You have to understand, here's the disclaimer. Fife made a lot of noise saying he's definitely considering this four years ago and tricked a few reporters into these front page, oh, my god, he's back stories and then said, not so much. I think he's at the point now where he sees a wide-open primary, even with an incumbent governor. He sees Vernon Parker, Joe -- I don't know, I don't think Joe is really in there. Sees Dean Martin, thinks he's got the experience, says, look I've got the experience, I ran the state for seven years, shortly before I had to resign, but I think he's honestly -- he loves the controversy, he loves the fight and I think he's bored. His cooking school is going well. Got some consulting business in political consulting and he's bored.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, he loves the controversy, loves the fight and loves the media attention. He does this -- four years ago, he comes out, when you file your paperwork for the exploratory committee, gathering signatures, then let's talk seriously about him running for re-election.

Mary Jo Pitzl: First it's Joe Arpaio that everybody goes to see and then the 5 Symington --
Dennis Welch: If you're running a consulting business or whatever type of business it doesn't hurt that you're name's out there being floated for governor--you get a little publicity--it's a good deal!

Ted Simons: We should mention Russell Pearce has been interviewed about sheriff Arpaio running for governor and having to resign as sheriff and then Russell Pearce would run for sheriff and then you would have Andrew Thomas, and Russell Pearce and Joe Arpaio as perhaps as an anti-immigration coalition. How likely is that?

Howie Fischer: Sheriff Joe thinking about sheriff is more powerful than being governor. He's done it to us too. I remember going to press conferences, going back three or four administrations and I'm really thinking about it, but for now, I can serve the people. They're going to take him out in a box. That's how long he'll be sheriff.

Dennis Welch: I would concur with that. There's no way he wants to leave being sheriff to become governor. He wouldn't be the boss. He'd have to deal with the legislature and these things. It wouldn't fit his personality.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about Andrew Thomas. You've likely got Tom Horne, maybe Sam Crump. Is this Andrew Thomas' to lose?

Dennis Welch: I see this as the GOP, you finally got a big name candidate to run for this position for the first time in probably over a decade, the guy ran four years ago, bill Montgomery, where did he go? He ran for A.G. They've got a real good shot. With respect to David Lujan, he doesn't have much name recognition and he's running for A.G., doesn't have much name recognition.
Ted Simons: Are there Democrats besides Lujan even showing interest in this?
Mary Jo Pitzl: We're hearing that the former director of the financial institutions-- I get that mixed up -- is looking at it strongly, she's the only female name I've heard and Vince Rabago, the member of the current attorney general's office, is eyeing the seed on the Democratic side.

Dennis Welch: Again, lack of name I.D. compared to Thomas. That could help and hurt him for what he's known for. Because he's known to be tied to sheriff Joe.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Look at the numbers he got when he was reelected to county attorney last year.

Dennis Welch: And Nelson, who pumped in a bunch of money and wasn't close.

Ted Simons: Does that play to Flagstaff, Tucson, Bisbee, Kingman? --

Howie Fischer: It's not like you've got a Tuscon, Bisbee, or Kingman candidate running. What, Tom Horn? Remember, didn't he used to be a democrat?

Ted Simons: Right, getting past the primary, can these guys hold it?

Dennis Welch: Maricopa County, it's two-thirds of Arizona's political world. It makes it a lot easier, you don't have to win as many votes in those other areas.

Howie Fischer: And a lot depends on the turnout. If we've got an active gubernatorial campaign. Whether it's Goddard -- I've seen that race before.

Ted Simons: Dennis, are you still wearing masks while you drive or is that over with?

Dennis Welch: I still wear masks from time to time.

Ted Simons: We've got a guy wearing monkey masks and giraffe? Is photo radar a laughing situation? What's going on with people just basic scofflawing this particular law?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It shows you how much this law is unpopular, at least with certain segments and police think it's the same guy, he's driving the same car and the same route and he's got a monkey mask, and dozens of tickets and went after him for about 30-odd of them and he's looking at the law as technically written. And saying, that's not me. Here's my driver's license. I look like this guy. Not like a monkey.

Howie Fischer: That's the thing. They had the opportunity to craft the law, Like a parking ticket. You don't have to prove I was the one who parked the car. If the ticket is on the car, you're the owner. We knew this was going to happen. During the debate on this, I remember Ron Gould standing on the senate floor with a Janet Napolitano mask, saying this is what people are going to do. It's part of the game.

Mary Joe Pitzl: I want to know who kept stealing this guy's car to drive it and put on a monkey mask.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, how do you know it wasn't an actual animal? Go and check the zoo. Good stuff. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:The Arizona Republic;Dennis Welch:The Arizona Guardian;Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services;

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