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 are Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian", Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal", and Jim Small of "The Arizona Capitol Times".

Ted Simons: The election to replace Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon is less than a year away. Gordon is termed out, he can't run, but lots of others are expressing interest -- including, perhaps, former U.S. Senate candidate and mover and shaker among the Democrats, Jim Pederson. What's going on?

Dennis Welch: He wrote an opinion piece for the state's largest newspaper, "The Arizona Republic", in which he sounds like a guy who was getting ready to run. How cities are going to lead the way out of this economic problems of the state the things that the cities need to focus on in the future. Sounds like a guy who is getting ready to run for the largest city in the state.

Ted Simons: Looking to participate can in the rebirth of Phoenix. If you're participating, what else are you going to do?

Mike Sunnucks: He's a shopping center developer and a democrat. And I wonder how the developer tag works in this race. There's a lot of projects that haven't done that well across the state and region and people take a negative view to that but like the businessman aspect. It's a double-edged sword.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of surprise to you that he would be interested in something like this?

Jim Small: We've been hearing rumors he was eyeing the seat for several months, I thought a lot of people were waiting to see what he was going to do. He was an early prospective candidate for governor for 2010. Probably a year ago, maybe a year ago, he sent out signals he wasn't going to run for that. So when that happened, I think people were waiting to see what was going to happen.

Mike Sunnucks: This is what happens when there's not a frontrunner. There's nobody really standing out and so you have a lot of people testing the waters and Jim's got a lot of money and spent a lot of money before, and how that plays in a Phoenix mayor's race versus a senate race.

Dennis Welch: He's going to wait a few weeks and make a decision by the end of the year. Because there's been a lot of speculation. He gets in or out, if he jumps in, there's going to be a lot of money spent.

Mike Sunnucks: He's one of the top Democrats in the state and was key in Janet winning the governor's race with the money that was behind her in that race and how that plays in the non-partisan election in a year -- moderate Phoenix might not help him.

Dennis Welch: If he plays the partisan card that could backfire. We know these races are nonpartisan and turnout is low and tends not to be the party faithful that comes out, but more mid of the road, mainstream people and may not appreciate someone playing the partisan card.

Ted Simons: And we have someone running to become the leader of the Republican Party is Vernon Parker. Surprised?

Dennis Welch: For the past year, he's been running for pretty much anything that's open. In October 2009 launched a campaign for governor and six months later, he dropped out to run for CD3 here in Arizona and now an open seat, appears that Randy Pollen says he's not interested in keeping the job.

Ted Simons: This is the thing, he wants to get the rival factions together. Be a unifying element, but is he among the moderates, the conservatives?

Jim Small: He's got a foot in both camps. On the one side, he lives in Paradise Valley and people see him as an establishment main stream Republican but at the same time be supported by people like Sheriff Joe, they've been long-time allies and could be the person who could bring that and bring on the grassroots ideological Republican activists because of his association with the sheriff, but then could still appeal to the more moneyed crowd and have fundraising ability but, you know, there are a number of people I've talked to have said there's a potential that could backfire and come off that he's trying to be all things to all people and you don't have someone in one camp getting the full support.

Mike Sunnucks: He's a nice guy, conservative. Sheriff Joe likes him. He's African American, that's good P.R. in a state that gets accused of being divisive on immigration and some other issues. So I think there's a lot of upside to him running and the party had a hard time raising money under Pollen.

Ted Simons: Three political elections in a little over a year does that help or does that hurt?

Mike Sunnucks: You look like a perennial candidate if you keep running for everything. But he acquitted himself well personally in some of these races.

Dennis Welch: I don't understand why anyone would want these jobs, to be the head of a party. You talk about a completely thankless job. A, you don't get paid anything, and B, half the party is going to hate you. It's a completely thankless job.

Mike Sunnucks: He wanted to run for the congressional. But you put on your resume, get a Republican president in 2012 and say you get an appointment.

Jim Small: I think it's the thing we have to wait for, what happens where the governor and Senator Kyl comes down. Since she's sitting governor, Kyl will have a lot of influence because he's top of the ticket in 2012. Traditionally -- the thumb will go on the scale on one side or the other and waiting to see if they're going to get involved.

Mike Sunnucks: They have in the past. They didn't like pollen and he was divisive and didn't put Lisa James over the top and never had that kind of machine.

Dennis Welch: But they want somebody that's not like pollen, particularly Kyl. They don't want the chairman of the party badmouthing like Pollen was known to do when this came to McCain.

Ted Simons: Similarly out in Mesa, we've got Russell Pearce losing for the GOP executive committee. Jim, first of all, describe what we're talking about here. What are these elections for?

Jim Small: It's not for the executive committee but a delegate when they have the meeting when they elect the executive officer, including the chairman. These are the folks chosen among the legislative districts in the county to go and elect formal party leadership. Russell Pearce was -- was -- the district had like 30, 35 state committeemen slots and he fell as one of the first alternates. Fell out of the top group. He wouldn't have gone in, but they've gone ahead and declared it null and void. And they will be holding a do-over in a couple weeks.

Ted Simons: Why are they holding a do-over?

Dennis Welch: There wasn't enough notice, under party laws, you need to alert your committee precinct members there's going to be a election 10 days prior. There was some confusion whether you call election day as a day of notice the they're going to go back and do a -- apparently, until they get it right -- vote until they get it right and take one more shot at this. You hear stuff behinds scenes that Pearce was pushing for some of this stuff -- to get this done. Although there's interparty politic, it does carry -- there are real consequences for people you send up there to elect leaders.

Ted Simons: I don't want to get too deeply inside baseball but does this represent the squabbling that a party in power goes through?

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans have been doing this for a while and it turns off moderate, everyday folks that maybe have a job and bills and a family to take care of and they go to these things and see the squabbles. It doesn't just happen with the Republicans, it happens on the Democratic side too.

Ted Simons: Don Bivens is saying I'm going to stay as the head of the Democratic Party near Arizona, you but don't want to.

Dennis Welch: Should I stay, should I go? He's concerned about the wrong person getting in and he feels, he's willing to stay, stay on board it make sure their fundraising apparatus stays in place because they did raise quite a bit of money this year in a bad year for Democrats, but says he's ready to leave. You don't get paid and you take a lot of grief.

Jim Small: This is the second time in a row that no one wants to take the reins of the Democratic Party. Two years ago, they went in 2008 thinking they were going to win a lot of seats and showed up at the meeting and he got knocked off by a candidate who nominated himself on the floor. On the way up to Tucson, he said I'm going to run and I make a grandiose floor speech. He ended up winning. Two weeks later, he resigned, they held another election and Bivens won that one. And Dennis is right, it's interesting to see there's no one who wants to do this. People who he thinks could be good folks to run the party and they say, eh, thanks but no thanks.

Ted Simons: You got one party where there's a rumble going on, a melee. You got another party where the problem is, there are crickets chirping out there.

Mike Sunnucks: Jim Pederson put all the money into it. He wrote a lot of checks this time for them. Janet didn't create a bench that could step forward with these things.

Dennis Welch: Who wants to take over in these times? That's the thing. You've been shellacked for lack of a better word. Come on board, why would you want to do that?

Jim Small: To be fair, I don't think things could get much worse for the Democrats than they were for this past election. Whoever is charge through the 2012 elections by default will see success.

Mike Sunnucks: When Pederson was in there, there was some hurt feelings that the state party was about Janet and about Jim Pederson and not about other folks.

Ted Simons: Any names -- quickly, any names that could possibly succeed Mr. Bivens?

Dennis Welch: The guys who lost this year. Those are the guys that Bivens is talking to. Andrei Cherny. And Ann Wallack.

Mike Sunnucks: Kyrsten Sinema, she's a good P.R. person. She gets out there, talks to the media, she's personable, but they need a money person in this kind of race.

Dennis Welch: And another name I heard was to bring back Harry Mitchell. Whether he would want to do this after being so many years in public service, that would be interesting.

Ted Simons: Tempe Mayor, Hugh Hallman, in his State of the City address, I believe, rips the legislature regarding possible revenue-sharing plans, which obviously municipalities aren't happy about. Explain what the agreement is about.

Jim Small: Several decades ago, the legislature and cities came to an agreement. The legislature would collect a income tax and divert 15% back to cities and they would split it back based on population and in return, the city wouldn't charge income tax. It's a huge pot of money. It's several hundred million dollars that gets sent out to cities. And for a lot of cities, it makes up upwards half of their budget. Any time you cut this, it has a big impact on city services. The problem is no one is talking about an effort to go out, despite the huge budget deficit, to take this money away from cities. I made a lot of phone calls on this issue because I was wondering if Hugh Hallman knew something I didn't. And I couldn't find anyone who said there was credible serious talk --

Mike Sunnucks: I don't know if the legislature will come out and say, yeah, we're going to do that. I think the cities are worried about them coming in a last-minute budget deal and doing that.

Dennis Welch: It's a way to get out ahead of this. We're facing steep deficits at the legislature. You hear one-time revenue sources that we've tapped in the past and they're gone. People are looking at that as one way to plugging that gap. The last thing that the cities need is another economic hit to the hits they've already taken.

Mike Sunnucks: And the cities have good arguments. Fire, police, sewer. Daily emergency services that government -- I think everybody agrees government should be doing. So want to get ahead of the legislature in case it comes up.

Jim Small: The one thing that hurts -- the state revenue lags by three years. And right now, we're just hitting the meat of the state's revenue shortfall so -- I mean, the state's revenue estimates are like down 20% this year over last year and continuing to trend downward and if you cut on top of it, it would take a tiny pot of money and make it smaller.

Ted And we should mention the mayors in Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler also teaming up with Hallman there to try to get some kind of unifying block especially on the east side where the speaker and the president-elect of the senate happen to reside.

Dennis Welch: There's not a mayor in this state, there's 90 cities and towns, that is not going to fight this tooth and nail.

Mike Sunnucks: And these are all Republican mayors. All of the suburban mayors are basically Republicans and I think they have good sway down there.

Ted Simons: Montgomery sworn in as county attorney to a standing ovation apparently, for those who assembled. Talked about healing the rift between the board of supervisors and his particular office. What do you make of all of this?

Mike Sunnucks: He's a nice version of Andy Thomas. He's an Arpaio ally. Arpaio ran the ads against Rick Romley. And most don't know Bill Montgomery. He was in the army, ran for A.G., got beat badly by Goddard. I think you'll find -- he'll side with Joe but no the in the same, strident way.

Ted Simons: Is this an office that Montgomery can establish himself and go further -- the county attorney's office at one point, relatively quiet and then prominent and then -- over the top. Jim, what do you think?

Jim Small: It's possible. It's depends on how you use the bully pulpit you get with the office.

Dennis Welch: Look at the last two county attorneys. Rick Romley and Andy Thomas. Known political commodities throughout the state. Although Andy fell short in winning for attorney general this year. He still has a political future if he wants. So this is definitely a good platform to use to further your political career.

Jim Small" It's interesting, we have a situation right now, where this is the second elected attorney who went from run for A.G. statewide to dropping down to county attorney.

Mike Sunnucks: To have those press conferences and you can make arrests and conferences and have the press conferences and you're the law and order guy. I don't think Terry Goddard established himself as that. But you can -- and in a lot of way, Maricopa County can be a higher profile than a lot of statewide positions except governor.

Ted Simons: Sarah Palin it town to kick off her book tour. I guess if this says nothing else, the fact that she kicks off the book tour in Phoenix can means Arizona isn't looking purple anymore.

Mike Sunnucks: She's avoiding states and college towns where she'll get protesters. The fact she was at desert ridge, we're pretty maroon right now.

Ted Simons: There's got to be a reason why she starts a book tour in Arizona.

Dennis Welch: It could be that the senator who picked her to be a vice president, launched her political career from this state as well. I contend this isn't as red a state as many believe. Especially in the legislature, a lot of districts aren't competitive and you get a legislature that doesn't really represent mainstream Arizona but that could play into it. John McCain nominated her.

Mike Sunnucks: We didn't see Barack Obama here. He was in every other western state. Including New Mexico, Colorado, and that puts us in the red column.

Ted Simons: When you talk to folks, are you hearing that Arizona may have been leaning purple or actually a nice bright shade of purple at one time but that's changed? What are you hearing?

Jim Small: I think if anything, Arizonans are becoming more and more frustrated and tired of the political parties. I mean, it's not going long. Two or three years, before independents outnumber both political parties in this state which will make things difficult to gauge what the feeling is among voters but, you know, it is right now, more conservative but there's a national trend. Arizona's always been a more conservative state even if it hasn't been completely Republican. This is a state that has a lot of individualistic traits. Look at medical marijuana and rejecting the gay marriage proposition. A lot of dichotomies.

Dennis Welch: Four years ago, the Democrats held the majority of the top offices. Governor and A.G. And so this isn't as red as people make it out to be, but this was a Republican year where they were emboldened to vote. In all of races, even state legislative races, they were running campaigns against Obama and Pelosi.

Ted Simons: With all of the talk of cuts at the legislature, they haven't happened yet. But the biggies are coming down the pike and when those happen, Mike, the party in charge is going to take the brunt.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, they'll take criticism. And I think a lot of the national issues were pretty red. Immigration, we're very, very much a red state on that. Nationally, we are. Locally, more moderate.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

Dennis Welch:The Arizona Guardian;Mike Sunnucks:The Phoenix Business Journal;Jim Small:The Arizona Capitol Times;

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