Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local reporters review the week’s top stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services and Luige del Puerto of Arizona Capitol Times. Arizona Lawmakers finished their 49th session of the legislature yesterday, but not before making changes to Senate bill 1070, the immigration bill. Mary Jo, let's talk about the late changes and what they mean to what was already a controversial bill.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This was a pretty dramatic reaction to the last day of the legislation. They took a bill that relates to immigration, House Bill 2162 and met in a conference committee that is house and Senate members, Republicans and Democrats to agree on some language. What they came out with are changes that are intended to soften the impact of this bill and make it clear that racial profiling is not in the picture. They did that by doing some word changes so that police officers cannot use national origin, ethnicity or race as a criteria for stop and defining what constitutes legal contact between an officer and an individual. They redefined that as a legal stop arrest or detention.

Howard Fischer: These are critical changes because the governor has insisted all along racial profiling is illegal. We're not going to use race. Well, governor, why would you sign a bill that says police may use race to stop? I think the cooler heads on the 9th floor said, we use that? Lawful contact is important. The legal definition of lawful contact -- I spoke to a police officer, he said I'm a resource teacher. We use lawful contact every day. That's vastly different than the argument that this is really going to be used only if you stop somebody else for a legitimate reason, whether it's a traffic stop or something else. That's a key difference.

Luige del Puerto: I think the changes were made to sort of take the wind out of the arguments that the bill signed by the governor lends to racial profiling and lends to potential civil rights violations. I did talk to senator Richard Miranda and he thinks it's like throwing in new paint to a car with, you know, a turbo engine. It doesn't actually change the core of the argument. It makes it shiny, but doesn't cut it.

Ted Simons: The concept of solely using race and national origin and ethnicity now, just get rid of all of that stuff. How did Russell Pearce handle these kinds of changes? This sounds like this is the sort of stuff he wasn't all that interested in.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Senator Pearce says these are pretty minimal changes that are more window dressing than anything. But clearly this is a reaction to the reaction that Senate bill 1070 ignited nationally and internationally.

Howard Fischer: That's what is fascinating. You've got Russell Pearce saying it doesn't matter. There was a boycott committee saying it was all cosmetic. I think both sides have a political reason saying that. Words have meaning. You know, you have Paul Bender on here regularly who studies this stuff. Words have meaning. When it changes, it clearly affects how a law can be enforced.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That said, if you take out race, national origin and ethnicity, then what are the criteria for stopping someone? If you see Steve Nash coming down the street, I don't know, he's a Canadian. What's your basis for having reasonable suspicion that he might not be in the country legally?

Luige del Puerto: It's a political issue. I think Russell Pearce was responding to the criticisms that had been leveled against this bill. This is a guy -- I mean, I've seen him work to change bills to make sure that they're held in court. He's trying to find a way to make sure that if this bill is challenged, it will have some sort of a modicum of success.

Ted Simons: The fact that the bill has been challenged, did that affect Senator Pearce perhaps backing off of it? Was that a factor at all?

Luige del Puerto: I think he was mostly responding to the criticism that had been leveled against this bill. He wanted to make sure that there's a law out there that would basically do what he's aiming it to do which is to check illegal immigrants status. He wants to make sure if it's, in fact, challenged, it would have a great chance of success.

Howard Fischer: Let me go a step beyond this which goes to your question. The governor had seen memos by lawyers for foes of this. Here is where we think we can attack it. So the governor's office knew already where we can go after it. This still leaves one other area of attack, which is the federal field of preemption. The federal government has decided that we enforce immigration law. It is an international issue, who crossed the border, who is legally entitled to be in the country. We know of one exception and that was the employer sanctions law where they said however states may regulate the licenses of those in terms of hiring illegals. Pretty much everything else is what the lawyers call field preemption. I think the strongest challenge to this is going to be having the state enforcing federal immigration laws, whether it's having to carry a green card if you're a resident alien, whether it's picking up somebody for being in violation of the law, whether it's even identifying somebody as being in this country illegally after this, quote, reasonable suspicion.

Ted Simons: We did have Paul Bender on last night. He said he thought that was the one part of the law that would be tested most seriously and would have the strongest chance of providing some kind of Constitution problem. We've got that. We've also got referenda. I tell you, Mary Jo, I find this fascinating that you can have a citizens injunction on this law.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This week we saw another front open up, if you would, in this whole immigration debate. We have legal battles, we've got legislative until yesterday, a legislative monkeying with this. Now we have not one but two groups coming forward and intend to circulate petitions to refer this law back to voters. They have to get 77,000 odd signatures of voters. If they get them into the secretary of state's office by some yet undetermined date by July but before the law takes effect July 29 and if those signatures are found to be valid, this could put the law on hold until it can get to the voters. When would it get to the voters? Maybe this fall if they get these things in soon enough. But the secretary of state needs time to process that. If they don't, if the secretary of state doesn't have time to get it ready for this fall's ballot, it would go to November 12. This could be put on hold for a few years.

Howard Fishcer: That's crucial. We talk about the referendas as if it's a foreign concept. Arizona has always been on the cutting edge. We call, we actually had to take out of the Constitution to make sure the federal government went back in and put it in a referenda. The idea that the citizens are the last word. Referenda, the power to say, yeah, we elected you guys but we want to take a look at this ourselves. That's why the burden is so low. You only need the -- 77,000 is based on the number of people that voted last time, half the number required for an initiative.

Ted Simons: This suggests the timing is a huge factor for whoever these folks are trying to file -- if you file the petitions, it's at this point too early, you can get this on November's ballot. You file them at the right time, as far as they see it, you can push this out to 2012?

Luige del Puerto: The secretary of state has to print them off for the November ballot. Theoretically they could be pushed the people's action or position in listening two years from now, the next general election. But here is another thing. By putting it on the ballot, they are also risking sort of etching it into stone by making it voter protected. There's a Constitutional provision that says anything passed by the voters is voter protected, which means it needed a super majority vote of the legislature in order to amend it. In addition, the amendment has to further the cause of the original petition. If they did that and put it on the ballot and the people voted it up because it's an up and down vote, if the people voted it up, this means -- [INAUDIBLE]

Ted Simons: If they certainly like the bill, they like the bill and it will be protected.

Howard Fischer: Let's go further down the rabbit hole with this one. Because of the fact the legislature can always change the underlying law and invalidate the petitions, to a certain extent the petitions are picked up earlier this week are already invalid because as we know they've already changed it. Now we have to start all over again. If the legislature wants to, they can keep playing with that, which restarts the clock, which resets the petitions. We can play this game for years.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I was going to say, Ted, your point that this could push up implementation of the law for two, two and a half years is rather stunning, but a lot of that could happen in the intervening two and a half years. We're also going to have an election which might make a difference in the composition of the legislature and executive office.

Luige del Puerto: One would think, right now there seems to be enough support for this legislation if it were put on the ballot. Let's say the wind changes two years from now, there is nothing to stop the legislature from repealing it themselves. Therefore, making the petition rather than challenge it moot.

Ted Simons: We have to move on a little bit here. Last thing about immigration. The fallout, the impact of the protests, the boycotts, the national media attention. What's the mood down there at the capitol? How are they taking all this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: What I'm picking up is they're like totally overblown. All of this attention on Arizona is vastly overblown. The law is not well understood and this is ridiculous that Arizona has been made to look like a laughing stock.

Howard Fischer: That's true. There's sort of a shock and denial I guess is it. The shock, how can people say this about our bill? It's just police asking for people's papers if you get stopped, ignoring the part the cities must tell your police you must do that, ignoring the federal preemption. The sort of whistle in the graveyard aspect, why would people want to boycott us? I'm sorry. You have people picketing the Arizona Diamondbacks in Chicago and leaving Major League Baseball wondering what should we do about that? We have political conventions not being held here. We know a lot can happen. We were all here during the King holiday. What do you think finally forced that over the edge?

Luige del Puerto: One more thing. What was fascinating, two days ago, John Nelson pulled me into his office and said, you got to listen to what this guy is saying. He received a call from a guy from North Carolina basically saying in reaction to this movement, the boycott of Arizona, the guy from North Carolina is saying we're going to boycott, too, but we're going to boycott California, Hispanic restaurants. We're not going to allow Hispanic guys cut their lawn. John Nelson, to be fair, wasn't weighing in one way or another. Shows you how emotional the --

Ted Simons: The volatility of this debate.

Howard Fischer: What I was flashing on. Probably half the Hispanic restaurants in North Carolina are owned by gringos in a chain. It's sort of like this thing, the Arizona Ice Tea Co. had to put out a release saying, folks we're not from Arizona, we're not New York City.

Ted Simons: Rasmussen poll, 64% of Arizonans seem to like this thing. The governor apparently by polling seems to have gotten a bump from signing this. Is this the kind of bump that they think will be sustained and what does it do to challengers?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It sets her apart from her challengers. She signed this tough law. She signed it. She's the one that had the pen and took the action. That's going to do her well in the Republican primary. At least for the next couple of weeks it will overshadow that little tax increase issue that had been -- the main issue that identifies Jan Brewer.

Ted Simons: Sustainable?

Howard Fischer: I think for awhile. I'm back with Mary Jo. As we get close to May 18th and if the tax fails, even if the tax passes, it's the Jan Brewer tax. A lot depends on what happens in court. In other words, so much of this is driven by headlines. If she has to send in her own attorney to defend it and holding a press conference, I'm defending the law, I can do this. She can sustain this if the cards are played right.

Luige del Puerto: But she was always expected to sign it. There was no doubt to many people's mind that she was going to sign it. I think the bigger issue would still about the sales tax referral. Why? Because it's simply closer to the primary elections. It's happening in May. I think for the party faithful, if you will, those will be the guys going to the primary race and voting on this thing, to them the biggest link I think would be the fact that the governor has called for a sales tax increase.

Ted Simons: Let's turn it around. Let's look at Terry Goddard and the fact that he doesn't like this particular bill and spoke out against it and doesn't plan on defending it with the state. General election time, what does this do to that dynamic?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It will give him a lot of Latino votes to the extent that Hispanic voters come out and vote. I think a lot will depend to a certain extent on who his opponent will be. We're assuming Goddard, since he's the only democrat running right now, will be the nominee. It might help him in certain categories, but in a general election, depending on where the public is come late October, November on this immigration bill --

Ted Simons: You're talking 64% of folks like this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But that's in April.

Ted Simons: Exactly.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It hasn't been implemented. We haven't had anybody stopped and asked for their papers yet. If that's happening and the magnitude at which that might happen, these are all very conditional things.

Howard Fischer: Again, that becomes the variables. Hispanics are not high advocacy voters. With all the voter registration rising with Barack Obama, they're not high advocacy voters. They help somewhat. The other piece of it may depend on what the court does. If a federal court very clearly says, this is an illegal bill. Terry can say, I told you we were wasting time and money defending it. So that becomes helpful. If a federal court somehow upholds it and he was found nowhere defending it, that's a lawsuit.

Luige del Puerto: I wonder, I saw a couple of kids go to the capitol and rally against this recently signed bill. I wonder in the long run -- those were High School kids. In four years, hive fears, six years, they'll all be voters. I wonder how they would register? Will they be Democrats or Republicans? I wonder how this law will change, if you will --

Howard Fischer: I'll answer that right now. Look, we started in 2004 and '06, '08 with ballot measures and a hundred thousand people in the street. How has it changed it? For all the talk, all the mobilization, it hasn't appeared.

Ted Simons: Before we leave the governor's race, Buzz Mills, a little bit of trouble here. Is this the kind of trouble that pretty much knocks him out of the race? We're talking fraud here.

Howard Fischer: I think it does. This is one business partner talking about defrauding, going on the road and say I'm not going to tell you about it. You may remember, we have a little history in the state. Businesspeople saying I'm going to run as a successful businessman and we found out what happened with that successful businessman when we got a look at his records. Here is Buzz Mills putting $2 million of his own money in the race, saying, I'm a successful businessman and finding out there was a court ruling out of Florida saying, look, you purposefully misled a business partner. I don't know that he comes back will from this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think it's too soon to knock him out of the race. $2 million that he's put into the race so far, this story is like this big. It's not resonating yet. It came out when we're watching the immigration, legislation has shut down. We have to see if this story has legs.

Ted Simons: A story that always has legs is Joe Arpaio with running. Is he finally going to come out and make a decision?

Howard Fischer: There's a little faux pas he said. He was talking to some TV reporter and was being asked about the sales tax. He said, if I decide I'm going to run for governor. Who knows. I can't tell you how many years both Mary Jo and I have gone to Joe Arpaio press conferences --

Ted Simons: A lot of us have gone to them. I thought for a second we heard something on Monday was going to happen.

Howard Fischer: Certainly, you know, you have a filing deadline in June. You would have to gather signatures and he would need to do something. Joe, you never know. What's going on in Joe's mind and that's a scary world, lord knows, this sort of calculus. Am I more powerful as the toughest sheriff this side of Saturn? Am I more powerful as governor? Do I really want to get into a five-way race, where there's anything possible?

Mary Jo Pitzl:The only thing that seems likely, he'll hold a news conference to announce his decision one way or the other.

Ted Simons:We have five minutes left and there's so much to talk about with this session. I know we had everything from the budget, KidsCare, the jobs bill, all sorts of gun bills, payday loans, birther bill. Give us your overall impression of what you saw this session. What surprised you most? Just some thoughts.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think this session was marked by a relative easing of relations between the legislature and the governor. They fought a lot last year. This year, they pushed through a lot of legislation that is of a more conservative bent. The governor signed it. Her vetoes have been on weird little things on the side. She's signing things that Janet Napolitano would most likely have vetoed. I think it was an opportunity to get through some legislation, such as the gun laws, some of the abortion provisions. She hasn't signed the human animal quality one yet. Some bills that might think are sort of way out there. This was her moment and they're getting them through.

Howard Fischer: That's really the key. The stars have aligned, the gods have smiled on the conservative Republicans. They had six years of Janet Napolitano. Last year with Brewer didn't count because there was so much going on. Three words scare the heck out of them. Governor Terry Goddard. This was the shining moment. This was the chance that all I suppose it would be wrong to use the word whackadoodle bills, I wouldn't say that but all the bills they couldn't take anywhere, they fought it out. Bills for voluntary contribution toss the state. That will show you that people are really serious about not paying more taxes. The birther bill finally failed. I think that was the end for most folks. This is the happy time that they could get everything out that we couldn't get out for the past six years.

Luige del Puerto: In addition to what Mary Jo and Howie said, they didn't put the governor on the spot, if you will, by not sending her the jobs bill. As you know, the governor was sort of in a bind, if you will, having pushed for a sales tax increase at the same time that there's a possibility that she may get a bill with tax cuts. There would have been a message risk, if you will. They finally did not send her that bill and so, you know, there was an easing of relationship, if you will. In addition to that, among lawmakers themselves, we also see some sort of an easy, I wouldn't say healing, if you will. Two years ago, it was contentious with the marriage amendment and everything. This year, it seems like they've warmed up a little bit to each other. It's not as contentious.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask that. I thought that jobs bill with the Republican caucus, that sounded pretty contentious.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Monday in the G.O.P. caucus it was a massive beating. Everybody took their turn whacking the piñata. They thought it was dead then. Speaker Kirk Adams, he was in there until the last dog died trying to push this bill. Finally president burns had to tell him, lights are out. We'll see what happens this summer.

Ted Simons: It raises the question, will there be a special session perhaps after the sales tax vote?

Howard Fischer: I think that certainly a possibility. Now we know we don't, even if the sales tax fails, there's already a contingent budget in there for what gets cut. I think they may need to fine-tune that in regards to cutting from education. Where? A hundred million from the universities. A hundred million from other places. I'd say that there's a decent prospect. Here is what is working against that. August primary. Folks need to be out. The primary is in August this year. The lawmakers don't want to be here. The only way they're going to come back is if they already have something prearranged, it's prepackaged like a prepackaged bankruptcy. You come in, ratify it and get the heck out of --

Ted Simons: Hold on one second. Very quickly. Winners, losers in this session.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Winners would be Governor Brewer. She got her sales tax and she signed the immigration bill. She looks great.

Ted Simons: Loser.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Democrats, you know. Remaining in the wilderness.

Ted Simons: Winners or losers.

Luige del Puerto:The governor certainly the winner here. She got the sales tax referral. Didn't get the job bills.

Ted Simons: Loser? Everybody that -- [INAUDIBLE]

Howard Fischer: Russell Pearce is definitely a winner in terms of the gun bills. In terms of the losers, again, the Democrats proved they just can't muster the efforts to stop anybody.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Great work. Thank you very much.

Mary Jo Pitzl:The Arizona Republic;Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services;Luige del Puerto:Arizona Capitol Times;

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