Journalists Roundtable

More from this show

Local reporters discuss the week’s top stories

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight, Mary K. Reinhart of the "The Arizona Guardian," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Casey Newton of the "The Arizona Republic." Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is accused of misspending up to $80 million. Howie, this story seems to never end.

Howard Fischer: That's the issue, all the charges have been, well, he shouldn't have taken that trip to Honduras and misused the credit cards. This is a trip approved by voters, and it was sold with the idea we're going to use this to keep people locked up. Now we're saying, well, maybe there were some trips or golf outings on this, maybe there was a resort somebody stayed at. They were comparing accommodations or something like that. And this is the kind of stuff that they put people in jail for. Maybe his jail, perhaps.

Ted Simons: Not only that, but it's the kind of stuff the County says -- I'm not sure who they would repay it to -- the County says we have to pay this money back because it's dedicated to X and he's spending it on Y.

Howard Fischer: Are we going to write a check to the $3.5 million Maricopa County residents who paid it? I don't see how that works. Maybe they can get Joe's insurance to pay it for under a malfeasance or misfeasance provision. I don't know how you pay it back to yourself.

Mary K. Reinhart: I don't know for sure, either. But if voters approved a fund for a specific purpose, it stands to reason that money needs to go back into that fund. The bigger issue, somebody is rolling in the dough right now, I'm not sure who goes further into the red to repay that fund.

Mary K. Reinhart: I'm sure the voters will be crazy about that.

Ted Simons: Everything from outside bank accounts, luxury hotels a yacht club was listed somewhere.

Howard Fischer: And the question becomes, I appreciate the fact that in Arizona what they call the row officers from their own little fiefdoms. We elect the Clerk of the Superior Court, although for the life of me I can't figure out why or if anybody know who that is. Based on that, they figure, we are separate. The law says while you maintain your own fiefdoms, the budget constraints are controlled by the supervisors, that's the check and balance. He seems to think, I am the sheriff. He talks about something in the third person, the sheriff's powerful, the sheriff has to do what he needs to do.

Mary K. Reinhart: He should have been watching a little more closely when those guys were hanging out at swanky hotels.

Howard Fischer: That comes back to the county manager and maybe he should have done a better job. The problem is the intimidation. When the sheriff is suing you for the things you're doing normally, how far do you want to go, Joe, while your deputies are following me around, I want to take a look at these books.

Ted Simons: Sounds like the County's saying -- I think the County took some responsibility for the lack of oversight. But the Sheriff's Department wasn't cooperating with audits, they said, so it made every step of the way that much more difficult. The sheriff wields a lot of power, influence, and a lot of folks look at him and indicative of a certain mind-set of the electorate. Does it change anything?

Mary K. Reinhart: Every one of these stories is a little more amazing than the one before it. Does it change anything in terms of the result of the election? No, I don't think so. I think it sort of cements a view of folks that things are a little bit out of control at the sheriff's office. And the view on the other side, the Board of Supervisors is trying to paint the sheriff's office as out of control. So I think it simply further entrenches those people on their own issues.

Casey Newton: It comes at a time when there's heightened attention paid to public spending. Most agencies don't have as much money as they used to. Any time agencies are accused of misspending, it adds to the perception of the public that taxpayer dollars aren't used properly.

Howard Fischer: We've got the same guy who lost to him running against him again. People think if you do this often enough, that maybe it'll strike. There needs to be somebody bold and new and perhaps below the radar right now, perhaps a police chief or somebody else that needs to come forward and say, we're going to run this place professionally.

Ted Simons: Let's keep it moving here. Casey, Republicans for Rotellini.

Casey Newton: They just made it into the plural this week, we had two come forward. There was an event this week to say they were announcing that Felecia Rotellini, over a Republican who was Tom Horne. This represents an opportunity for people, Republicans and Independents for Rotellini. They fired back and said, these people are barely Republicans.

Howard Fischer: That comes down to the fact that Woods was opposed to Senate Bill 1070. You try to get it out of her around this table -- well, I was against it because it didn't go far enough. Karen Allen never liked 1070. Particularly in Grant Woods' case, he hired her and got a chance to see her work. It's about what your experience is, can you do the job. Grant Woods says, I'm not saying Horne is a bad person, but I know this woman and she can do it.

Mary K. Reinhart: She had a list of Republicans, in addition to Carolyn Allen and Grant Woods, she had Gerrard and a couple of other Republicans. But when the former Republican attorney general has hired her, watched her work for a number of years, and she's the most qualified person to take the job, that carries a little more emphasis than a typical endorsement.

Ted Simons: Especially in response to Tom Horne saying she's not a jury prosecutor. He seems to be concentrating on criminal jury rather than civil.

Howard Fischer: This is a morphing accusation. She had no jury experience. Well, he sort of backed down and said, I meant almost no experience. And criminal versus civil, and did the foundation case involve an administrative law judge, is that a real trial, and everything else. It's nice to say that maybe you should have some courtroom experience. This is an administrative job as policy-making job. You're running the state's largest law firm and you're making a decision, when should we appeal things. That's a policy decision. That's not, gee, I know how to voir dire a jury.

Casey Newton: She's depicting her strength as top prosecutor. That's the message. He says she doesn't have as much experience as you think she does. That could be an effective way of chipping away at her support.

Ted Simons: But at the Republicans for Rotellini press conference, they said these people are all against 1070, you can't trust them to defend the state against challenges to 1070. How much is 1070 impacting this particular race?

Casey Newton: Immigration is absolutely one of the top two or three issues in the race that all of the candidates have been talking about. For better or worse, pro-1070 is associated with the idea of anti-illegal immigration. If you're anti-1070, you've got a lot of explaining to do, at least to a majority of voters who are for 1070.

Howard Fischer: If you're anti-1070, you're pro-Obama, pro-the federal telling the state it can't do its job, and you're anti-Tea Party. It's all part of this big anti-government mix. Everybody who's done it, the Governor's done it. Every time she mentioned Terry Goddard, she mentioned Barack Obama. The President isn't having a particularly good year this year.

Mary K. Reinhart: Tom Horne is doing the same thing with Rotellini. She's a pawn, a tool of the Obama Administration. It's the litmus test, everybody's connected to Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and that whole gang, and she's not the top career prosecutor she claims to be. Right after they were at the editorial board, she had a news conference where she presented her trial experience. For all the back and forth and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, neither one of them have criminal jury trial experience. At the end of the day, does it matter?

Howard Fischer: And more importantly, criminal trials are handled at the county attorney level. The only time they come to the A.G.'s office -- you do have some state grand jury, but it's at the appellate level. It's not jury stuff, it's arguing the law, a whole different beast.

Ted Simons: Please.

Casey Newton: At the end of the day the 1070 argument is a lot easier for voters to grasp than what flavor of experience each candidate has.

Ted Simons: I know she demanded an apology from Tom Horne regarding a comment that she had never tried a case in her entire life. I don't think she got the apology, we're still waiting for that?

Mary K. Reinhart: Yes.

Ted Simons: What was that all about, with the P.R. team?

Mary K. Reinhart: The dynamic duo, Dave representing Rotellini through the primary, saw her through the three-way primary. And then abruptly left the campaign. And both sides said it was mutual, they were just very, very busy and couldn't dedicate 150% of their time to the Rotellini campaign, which is what she demanded and required.

Howard Fischer: I think, from everything I know about Felicia, this is not meant as a criticism, she's a very strong, intense personality and knows how she wants things done. If you're there to be her advisor and say, No, do this, there's going to be trouble. To a certainly extent you have a lot of people who become their own de facto press aides because they don't want to listen to the advice and work through others.

Ted Simons: Tom Horne is touting a poll that has him ahead by eight points. There's a station by more information. Who's that?

Mary K. Reinhart: They are a Republican pollster out of Washington, D.C., as well. They did some polling on the sales tax hike. They have done national Republican polling, you know, and no one will say who's paid for it. It's a mystery.

Ted Simons: Why is that a secret?

Mary K. Reinhart: Probably because the Party paid for it.

Howard Fischer: I think the Party put something together, particularly after a certain blonde governor was in the chair and they had a little bit of a brain fade, and they wanted to know that and throw everyone else in. I think in this state generally speaking the lower you go on the ticket the more likely you are to vote with your party. It showed Democrats support Rotellini and the Republicans support Horne. They are all fighting for those Independents.

Ted Simons: Another poll raised some eyebrows, Casey, because the person touting the poll is losing in the poll.

Casey Newton: That's right. A Democratic leaning out put out a poll saying within the Fifth Arizona Congressional District, the district Harry Mitchell represents right now, Terry Goddard was behind by I believe seven points, Jan Brewer was at 52 and he was at 45. And you may wonder why a candidate may publicize that he is behind in the race. We had a couple of Rasmussen polls that showed Jan Brewer with anywhere from 54% to 60% of the vote. Goddard is making the case, hey, there is a Goddard surge that, believe it or not, he's within striking distance.

Howard Fischer: Here's the problem with the word "surge." You're taking a statewide poll. Whether you like Scott Rasmussen's method of auto dialing or not, he's got a series of these, against a poll in one eighth of the state literally, while the district is more Republican than Democrat, it's represented by a Democrat. There's no baseline for him to represent it again, he might have gone down CD-5. This is how desperate Goddard has become. People are saying, why are we even bothering to support the guy? He's not going anywhere. He's trying to show, look, I'm moving. Against what?

Ted Simons: Does this show look, I'm moving?

Mary K. Reinhart: Sure. There's -- it's a one-digit difference now, I guess. And it is, a Democratic outfit. All the problems with that poll, you know. If you have something like that in your hands, are you going to throw it in the trash or try to make some hay out of it? What does he have to lose?

Howard Fischer: But it's a problem, and I spent enough time with PR to know this, you're overselling it. When you put the words "Goddard surges" in your release, you end up with people like us sitting around a table poking fun at it. Say the poll is what it is. Compare it to polling for Harry in the district and then you've got a baseline for measuring.

Casey Newton: It's an interesting data point. The next time a poll comes out, does it show a similar trend? Is there something to it? For now, just makes us raise our eyebrows.

Ted Simons: The same poll did look at the congressional race and it shows Harry Mitchell with a one-point lead, a bit of a surprise there.

Casey Newton: Yes, in the sense that other polls have shown Mitchell down. And Mitchell's people behind the scenes have said, Look, this thing is really close, we are running neck and neck, Schweikert is not running ahead of the pack on this. I talked to the pollster and he said this is the worst case scenario for Mary Mitchell because he oversampled Republicans without correcting for that in the final numbers.

Howard Fischer: Take a look at your TVs, the stations with commercials, not this. I know you have to look at other than Channel 8. I should never talk to the audience, I know.

Ted Simons: Who are you talking to?

Howard Fischer: But look at the ads being run, not only by Schweikert, but by this independent group, 60-Plus. They are spending a ton of money in that district to go ahead and tar Harry as being the devil incarnate. 12 And it has an effect.

Mary K. Reinhart: If this race was all about money, he would be in big trouble if it was about raising money. The thing about that 60-Plus group, we will never know who's contributing to that group. I know that's a story for another day.

Howard Fischer: Ever since the Supreme Court came out and said corporations and unions could donate, and only if a candidate is going out for a full moon on a Tuesday, you're right, this is a whole dirty politics.

Ted Simons: It seems like this poll is being mentioned elsewhere, and I can't seem to get a grasp on the poll or the actual numbers. I keep hearing that Raul is in trouble in his congressional race. Where is this coming from?

Casey Newton: On some of the conservative blogs there has been some reporting. There is a poll or three polls showing him running neck and neck against the Democrat Ruth McClung. His district is known to be perhaps the safest Democratic district in the entire state. I think it reflects his thinking that not only is this a tough year for Democrats, but he was the one out there pushing for a boycott of his own state. That boycott is almost universally unpopular with the state. I think that's come back to bite him.

Ted Simons: You wrote how that boycott is pretty much petering out.

Mary K. Reinhart: One of the big national unions has put the brakes on it, the UCSW. The service employees union is still at it. There isn't a lot of evidence. Soon after Judge Fulton's ruling putting most of this thing on hold, we didn't hear a lot about boycotts. To draw back to the SB 1070 thing and the general feeling that if he's in trouble, everybody's in trouble. There's hopefulness that every Democrat in the free world is going to go down. I'm not sure that's true.

Howard Fischer: We've got to define what you're talking about with boycotts. If you're talking about Joe six-pack, he probably doesn't care a Whit. The convention planners cannot get groups to even return their calls. Their fear is they don't want to come here and find they are in the middle of a protest, and the national news coverage is about bring your convention to Arizona that hates brown people and is not about your conference. That's where it's having an effect.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the secretary of state's debate seen here on Horizon this week. It was a relatively civil affair but got a little testy as things tend to do here.

Howard Fischer: The power of the secretary of state to kick Green Party candidates off the ballot. He lobbed in a hand grenade saying Chris Deschene is a very nice guy, but he missed 34% of his votes. They call meetings and don't always give the proper notice and everything else. That's the excuse. That doesn't work. It does work for some of the special session stuff, sometimes they will do things on a Monday morning. But when you're missing a third of your roll-call votes, it's a number that gets people's attention.

Ted Simons: Are people paying attention to the numbers in this race? We've got a proposition basically trying to remind folks this is a second in line. I didn't see much attention to this at all, it was a good debate.

Mary K. Reinhart: It's not a race people don't pay much attention to. In Arizona they should, because more than any other state in the country, our secretary of state becomes the governor. It's a shame people are not paying attention. There aren't a lot of issues there. We do have a ballot initiative that changes the name of the office, it doesn't change the duties.

Howard Fischer: No, no, see, there's where you're wrong. The problem with Prop 111, you have them running as a ticket for the general. That's more than changing the name of the officer. Also, legal problems with that. If you're an Independent running for governor, you're running. Where's your running mate? I don't have one, I'm an Independent running for office.

Mary K. Reinhart: How does it change your duties?

Howard Fischer: It means you can't run for governor because you don't have a running mate.

Ted Simons: It changes the dynamic, because you have someone very close to the executive, the same platform or team as the state elections chief. A lot of folks have a problem with that.

Casey Newton: It would very much change the character of the office. You would see different kinds of people running for that office. It would carry with it a little more prestige. It advertises that this person could one day be the chief executive of the state.

Howard Fischer: As you point out, the duties would have them becoming the head of the Department of Commerce. Those pesky duties of registering notaries might even be spun off somewhere else. Yet another potentate to parade in front of the press.

Ted Simons: People aren't paying the attention to this race as they maybe should be paying, does it matter? Is this one of those items people will look at --

Casey Newton: I think some of the oxygen has been sucked up by illegal immigration and the economy; when it comes to an election over primarily an administrative office, there's not enough for either candidate to make a case for themselves.

Howard Fischer: Let's look at the debate. Half of the debate was whether the secretary of state, as the state's chief elections officer, should have done something about the "sham candidates" for the Green Party, does that person have the powers. We're getting down into the nitty-gritty. They are quoting sections of the election code around this table. I'm sure, that's not must-see TV.

Ted Simons: I'm sorry, Howard, I have to disagree with you on that. We have like a minute and a half left. I know you wrote about Medicaid funding and how this could be the major issue in the next legislative session. In about a minute, give us an overview.

Mary K. Reinhart: $1 billion dollars, that's the overview. That's what they have to have up with by July 1st, the start of the next fiscal year. The new health care law says we can't change our eligibility. The Governor and Republicans wanted to kick some people off the rolls. They can't do that. There's a $1 billion gap. They have to come up with it somehow. If they don't, all the Medicaid fund we do get from the Feds is in jeopardy.

Ted Simons: We're talking like a hospital tax, these sorts of things are floated around. The government can keep their money, we can handle it.

Mary K. Reinhart: Heck with them, we don't need that stinking federal government.

Howard Fischer: That's the problem with this Golden Rule stuff. This is why Terry Goddard said there's nothing illegal with the federal health law. We don't have to have the money, we just can't afford not to.

Ted Simons: "Washington Week" is next, that's it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us.

Mary K. Reinhart:The Arizona Guardian;Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services;Casey Newton:The Arizona Republic;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

The four men of Il Divo
airs June 2

Il Divo XX: Live from Taipei

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: