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 Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Mary K. Reinhart of "The Arizona Guardian." Well, Arizona's redistricting process is designed to be as nonpolitical as possible, but that's proving to be -- Mary Jo -- impossible. What is going on here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Here we are about one month into this elaborate process where we're winnowing down a field of applicants and Russell Pearce and House Speaker Kirk Adams have sounded the alarm some of these people shouldn't be there and you excluded another applicant only because of his religion. They didn't have a solid foundation for saying that because they weren't at the hearing but they've been raising objections basically to how the picks were made.

Ted Simons: This is redistricting, a panel. That's supposed to be as far away from politics as possible to get competitive districts out there.

Howard Fischer: Yes, up until a decade ago, the legislature did the redistricting, so you would figure out where you are on the map and where your political foes are on the map and shove them into another district and the ideas with an independent redistricting commission, two Democrats and Republicans and independent would use a neutral basis to figure out communities of interest, complying with the federal voting rights act and to the extent to be, create competitive districts. Well after 10 years of arguing that we had the first set of districts and the new process starts because next week we get the new census numbers, we're supposed to have a new batch of commissioners, as you point out, it's always going to be controversial because each of these people who does an appointment, the senate president does an appointment, as does Kirk Adams and they want somebody that they can choose who will do their bidding.

Mary K. Reinhart: This is only the second time that this has been done. Obviously, because the -- it was passed in November of '98 and they had -- I don't know, a matter of days really to put this first commission together so there wasn't as much opportunity for political shenanigans, if you will. This time, we've lost a member of the appellate commission, on appellate court, the retired judge has resigned in the wake of this flap over his questions he was asking during the -- after the interview process, but during the deliberations over this group of 45 that was winnowed down to 25, this -- the question about the religious, you know, leaning. Something -- how religious and whether this particular applicant, Michael Gleason from Tucson, could -- understood the separation of church and state. And there were a couple of comments, people I spoke to on the commission, didn't make much of it. The applicant got five votes. The other Republicans got at least 10 to move on to the next round. But this became the lightning round. The more substantive issues seemed to be this issue of three of the applicant pool, two Republicans and an independent, Paul bender, holding public offices and then a second issue, the same county issue. There's a very small pool of Republican applicants from Maricopa County and that's a concern that Pearce and Adams had.

Ted Simons: I want to get to those, especially the ones holding public office. That seems like a legitimate concern. But was this a close call -- you mentioned like five votes or something like that? This wasn't even a close call, was it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, it wasn't a close call and what we're hearing there's discord among the Republicans that perhaps the party didn't do a good job in rounding up applicants, people have to apply for the work of being on the redistricting. That horse is already out of the barn. They've taken a field and picked 25. And now the commission and this is a judicial -- it's a separate commission making the picks or narrowing field -- going to meet on December 29th because of concerns raised by Adams and Pearce and they'll -- we don't know what they'll do. They're going to meet again and going to take into consideration, apparently, the lawmakers' concerns.

Howard Fischer: The real -- it's interesting to watch this issue of -- was Christopher Gleason, the victim of religious discrimination. He never said anything during the interview. But on the résumé, he lists a group called "For Tucson," and rather than describing it as a Christian service organization, he took from the mission statement about the glory of God and everything else. But a former Maricopa County judge and on a commission that normally does pick judges says, I'm sensitive to issues of whether people can separate out church and state. And is that an appropriate question for redistricting versus selecting a judge, I don't know. But it's not necessarily an inappropriate issue to ask, if people want to serve on a public board, do they understand the role of the state versus the role of the church.
Mary K. Reinhart: Well really, it got conflagrated in this news conference we attended during the week with the leadership, surrounded by a whole bunch of lawmakers saying that this particular applicant was clearly rejected because of his faith. And it's -- the record isn't clear, in fact, Mr. AERNETTA, in his letter of resignation said that was not my intent that is absolutely not what I was thinking.

Howard Fischer: I'll go a step beyond that. I talked to several commission members including Bill who's the Yavapai county attorney who sits on the appellate court commission. He said, Howie, this is not an issue why this guy was rejected. We knew the people who looked the most qualified and somehow as you say, conflagrated -- into a religious discrimination case and that -- it's like the war and Christmas, people want to see the --

Ted Simons: Go back to the idea; you can't be an officeholder and be on the panel. That is a factor as well correct?

Mary K. Reinhart: For two Republican applicants, Paul Bender, who is an independent and serves as chief justice and appellate judge in two separate tribal communities, Mr. Sauceman is on an irrigation -- no, sorry, he's head of the planning commission at Queen Creek and then Mark SHUNTS, is in irrigation district, had been elected public body.

Ted Simons: Back to bender being involved in tribal government is that included in you can't be a public officeholder?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, that seems to be a judgment call. Bender says, we'll I wouldn't of applied if I knew I was not qualified. There's an argument that well, he's not holding a state office, meaning state of Arizona government. He's holding a tribal government position and that's something -- that seems to be, you know hair-splitting that should be determined by the selection commission. Not by politicians on the outside.

Howard Fischer: But here's the problem. The tribes clearly have an interest in the redistricting process. We saw during the whole last decade that the HOPIs said they want to be in a different congressional district than the Navajos. We watched the Ford apache folks saying, why are we being subsumed to this with rather than the district with the Native Americans so to the extent that he's even on a payroll of a tribe suggests -- you want to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
Ted Simons: We have that appearance and the concern regarding religious affiliation. How does all this play out regarding electing or selecting for now, but how some folks would -- how judges are selected in Arizona? Because this is always a controversy and now this seems like the legislature -- could they take it up next session?

Mary K. Reinhart: They've been taking it up since we stopped electing them -- half a decade ago. I think they sort of telegraphed that a little bit in the news conference this week; Mr. Adams and Pearce, by saying this whole line of questioning during the selection process could have a chilling effect on applicants for judicial appointments and so if they're going to ask these kind of questions in public, what do they do behind closed doors?

Howard Fischer: Come on.

Mary K. Reinhart: I didn't -- I'm saying -- so it didn't appear to be another opportunity when we get into the legislative session before a judiciary committee chairman Gould or judiciary committee chairman, Farnsworth to talk about again, let's take away that merit selection process for judges.

Ted Simons: We had an outburst.

Howard Fischer: Here's the problem, some of these people want to go to a federal system where the governor picks whoever she wants subject to senate confirmation. If you've watched senate confirmation at the federal level, the questions -- I've sat through the judicial nominating commission. They ask very generic, very nice questions. You put this before a senate hearing, what kind of questions are you going to get? Or if you make these people start running for office and soliciting donations and having to go out and say I support this and belong to these religious organizations, this is the least offensive of all of those positions.

Ted Simons: I -- we're going to stop right here because who knew that redistricting would have this much attention on the journalist's roundtable on a Friday.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Tune in, there will be another meeting by the end of the month and then we will start into the lawmakers making their picks and get the form of who will be on the commission.

Mary K. Reinhart: Wait until the commission tries to draw the lines then you'll really see some fireworks.

Ted Simons: Until then though, let's talk about the "The Arizona Republic" records request revealed regarding stimulus money the governor still has and we've heard that it's been promised certain places. Do we now know for sure?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We know in broad categories where the governor is sending the stimulus money that she has at her discretion. It's about $185 million. And this all came up because the controversy over the medical transplants. The Democrats are running around saying you can use some stimulus money and the governor saying I can't. It's all spoken for. Not necessarily all spent. But they wouldn't give any detail so we filed a records request and kind of pressed and at last we got broad categories of where the money has been spent. Like economic development, $50 million to the department of corrections. No detail, but when you inquire about it, then they say well that was actually used to restore money that was cut from the budget. A lot of this is replacing money that otherwise would have been cut out of the budget.

Ted Simons: It seems like judging, from what you guys wrote, a lot of this was restoring money.

Mary Jo Pitzl: A lot, but not all of it. There's a big chunk, about 30-odd million that's going for economic development purposes, embedded in there is where the famous $2 million for algae research comes from but again, that detail was not disclosed in the list we were provided. You just had - had them talk you through that.

Howard Fischer: And the fact is that the federal stimulus bill gave the governor broad discretion. There was certain money meant for K-12, a 700 million something there, there were certain monies meant for AHCCCS and Medicaid. And this was discretionary funds. And if, in fact, she wanted to erect a statue of herself, she probably could have done that. But Mary Jo is right, why should it be so hard for the public to find out where the dollars have gone? These are the same Republicans who criticized the Obama administration for saying, well where is all the stimulus money going, how is it being used? Well, governor, do you have a mirror?

Mary K. Reinhart: Well your public records request was much more detailed than that. You were asking for dates and specifics, right? And they just weren't responsive to that request?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. Well and their points were well this is all -- there's lots of bits and pieces of paper and if we can give you a general list and I said I'll take what I can get. So we can get something rolling on this. All of this has to be reported to the federal government. It's all taxpayer money. It's not private dollars, so we -- it looks like we may have to wait until the end of January when the detailed reports are out.

Ted Simons: What does this do to the story on transplants and eligibility of Medicaid and the whole nine yards? When people find out about these things, does it do anything to the story?

Mary K. Reinhart: I don't think it changed - I don't think it helped the governor's office, if that's what you mean. Because -- because they released these broad categories without a lot of detail. It leaves open the argument that hey, just because she says she's been given this much, doesn't mean she can't reallocate it to transplants. So I think that if they had given them a little bit more level of detail that would have helped them in that argument.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And you know, their argument this has all been spoken for, well, my goodness, if anyone remembers the science foundation Arizona, Jan Brewer was governor for three seconds before Sam Crump ran a bill in early ‘09 saying, we're going to take all that money away from science foundation Arizona, and was like, we'll can't its encumbered, well they unwound that one. It can be done.

Howard Fischer: Let me go half a step beyond that. To the extent that you provide detail, the public can say, if they're being asked to weigh saving X number of lives and this, you give them details, saying I understand that. This will bring a specific company to Arizona. This will save so many jobs. But if you give them generics, they're going to say, why didn't we save these people's lives?

Mary K. Reinhart: The algae research is a perfect example of that because of my understanding, that's a science foundation Arizona project. There's a whole lot of public support for--

Ted Simons: We've had the researchers on the program, we've actually had them showing what they're planning on doing there. And again, you're right, if you can show exactly where it is, that changes the dynamic.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, there's $1.7 million that went to repair the roof of the coliseum and that work has apparently been done and needed to be done before the state fair so I guess it wouldn't collapse on all the people that attended the many concerts and exhibits that are held inside of coliseum.

Ted Simons: We've had some top prosecutors in the state, Howie, coming out against the idea of sentencing reform. Talk to us about this and again, there's a lot of conversation here but is this going anywhere in the next session?

Howard Fischer: Probably not. Quick background, back in the 1970s there was a feeling that judges had way too much discretion. So I know, put in mandatory sentences. You're convicted of this, you serve that. Then we came to truth in sentencing which is if you're sentenced to five years, you must serve 85% of it. And then of course, every time a crime comes up, I know, we'll increase the penalty. Well we have 40,000 people behind bars in the state of 6.6 million people, which is like one out of every 140 something, a lot of people are saying, it costs $50 a day to keep somebody behind bars, are there alternatives? Could these people be placed on intensive probation and they're looking at the question of which of these crimes don't need to be incarcerated and could be handled through probation and which of these could serve an alternate sentence? The problem is these people run for office every two years, nobody wants to be seen as soft on crime and that's the problem with sentencing reform.

Mary K. Reinhart: He asked for and he led the commission and I talked to him the day of the meeting this past week -- he didn't have a quorum and he said it didn't matter because it wasn't going to go anywhere anyway, but he's going to put bills together, he's going to introduce legislation and see what he can do to get around some committee chairman who might not be friendly to that legislation. Over in the legislation I talked to Linda Gray. She's as sympathetic as well to the issues. I think you'll hear discussion about it. At least at the committee level, she's a committee chairman, he's a committee chairman. So whether it gets farther remains to be seen.

Ted Simons: If someone comes up there and says if you're in possession of child pornography, you could get a sentence of 300 years or something like this. If you actually molest a child, it could be exponentially less. If you murder someone you could be free in a certain amount of -- how far does the argument go?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It reminds me of the arguments we hear about taxes. Well, if you -- if you buy vitamins for yourself, you pay a tax, but for your horse, you don't pay a tax. How fair is that, and nothing changes. As Howie points out, the two-year election cycle plays into that a lot.

Howard Fischer: And the problem -- this is political, yes, it's true. In this state if you possess a single piece of child pornography, it's 10 years mandatory. If you have two piece -- consecutive sentences. We have a guy doing 200 years which our state Supreme Court upheld as legal. You kill a child; you could be out after 25. On a logical sense, it's -- it doesn't make sense, but nobody wanted to be the one to say, hey, I sponsored the bill to reduce the penalty for child pornography.

Ted Simons: And that's why I have asked the question because you would have to have the argument shaped about child pornography is a rough road.

Mary K. Reinhart: That's part of the problem and, in fact, the Morrison Institute had a panel a few several weeks ago and I was in the audience and I think, you know, attorneys from Tucson made that point. Rick Romley was there too. And when defense and prosecutors have this discussion, somehow child molestation and child pornography comes up and when you bring in that, then that sort of ends the discussion. If we can talk in -- but truly, there are these individuals bringing their cases and family's cases to these individual lawmakers so they're hearing about real people serving real sentences for real crimes and so those are the stories they bring forward sometimes in the committee hearings and it's unfortunate to be talking about only child pornography and child molesters because there's a whole raft of other sentences that have been imposed that could have a more --

Mary Jo Pitzl: You're saying the problems may be a little -- the P.R. on this or the angle that they use?

Howard Fischer: There's no good P.R. on this. There's no good way to sell this, that's the problem on this. Do you want to be the one again -- we're back to the point of -- it's one thing to say maybe if you're guilty of jacking the car. Maybe you shouldn't have to do 20 years. While -- everybody who has a child, has a niece, has a nephew, well what if it was your child in that photo? That's the problem.

Ted Simons: Alright, Mary Jo, boot camp for new lawmakers? What was that all about?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well despite the title, it wasn't where they were doing push-ups and jumping jacks and climbing walls, unfortunately. Those would have been a great visual. But the legislature has a whole raft of newbies coming in. I think 49 of the lawmakers are going to be new to their positions. Some have been around, moving from the house to the senate or served before. But there's still a sizeable chunk that's never served in the legislature before. So in the house, they did a three-day orientation session, ranging from here's where you park your car, here's how you file a bill. They ran a mock committee meeting, they ran a mock floor session and they're going to do media training, which will be very interesting, but just sort of to acquaint them with the procedure and in the middle of this, conveniently, they had the press conference, redistricting class and a lot of the freshmen were watching the back and forth between the speaker and the president and the reporters as they fielded questions.

Ted Simons: Did the freshmen all survive, besides the deer in the headlights, any casualties there the first --

Mary Jo Pitzl: None that I've heard of.

Howard Fischer: It's early. What's going to happen is the governor will give the sway of the state speech and one of us is going to stick a microphone in the face of a freshman and you're going to see, "What am I supposed to say?"

Ted Simons: We'll move on from that and we will talk about medical marijuana rules, Howie, we will start with you. You're a child of the '60s.

Howard Fischer: What can I say?

Ted Simons: Talk about these new rules and what's the focus here? What's going on?

Howard Fischer: The focus is, when the proposition 203 passed by all 47 hundred votes or whatever it is, it said we're going to have medical marijuana and the directed department of health services has come up with some regulations, and there were guideposts. For example, you have to have an actual physician-patient relationship. You can't just have folks opening up, hi, I'm Dr. Feel good, if you will. Will Humble, who was never a fan of this in the first place and even questions if it is even medical marijuana use, has been putting together some draft rules. Some of these are common sense rules in terms of security for the clinics. What constitutes an ongoing physician relationship? Had you been with the doctor for a year or have got something new and the doctor will take care of you. Some of them are funny. For example, you'll be able to find out if this is organic marijuana. That's very important if you don't want the bad stuff. But interestingly enough, he's not going to find out if it's the good stuff versus the ditch weed. We're not going to test for that. There's also funny rules about where you can smoke. Tobacco you can smoke outside, they don't want to have you smoking reefer in city park. So you'll only be able to smoke in your own home or backyard, which led to the question, what if you need a medication in the middle of the day? You know the answer? Brownies.

Ted Simons: Brownies, OK, we've had reefer, ditch weed and brownies already referred to. Is the state ready for this? Are we ready for this?

Mary K. Reinhart: We don't have to be until April, and actually not until summer.

Ted Simons: Well, are we closing in on being ready?

Mary K. Reinhart: This is the first step. They had sort of a three week strum, to write -- not just draft rules but preliminary interim draft rules and now what happens is we get all of this public input and I think it's going to be -- I think Mary Jo referred to this. I think it's going to be sort of a slow implementation. But you're going to have public hearings and the whole of the first half of 2011 to get ready for it, and in April, we'll start to see people getting -- the recommendations and the methods for getting your license if you want to be a dispensary but there will be a gradual rollout that might help the state get ready for it.

Ted Simons: Will we see all of a sudden concern, objections and press conferences like we just saw with redistricting? Will some come out and say, you know, this part of it, I'm not so crazy about this, we need to change this. A little political posturing?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Ted, why would you think that? In Arizona, with the legislature coming back into session in a couple of weeks. Yes, they'll be objections. You're seeing it in local communities. How do we write our zoning laws to accommodate dispensaries. This is a local conversation.

Howard Fischer: And the fact is even among the interested parties, for example, one of the things in the proposed rules says the dispensary has to have a medical director who has to be a doctor who can help provide information. I think the dispensaries will say why should we have a doctor on staff and available when the patient has their own doctor? So there are going to be some objections, and there will be a lot of give and take on this.

Mary K. Reinhart: The dispensary owners have to be a resident for two years. I think if you want to come into Arizona and make a quick buck, you're going to be complaining about that. Will Humble said today that while first estimates were 100,000 people might have the recommendations, these rules would change that to 10,000, 20,000 people. So that's a much smaller market than some of these folks though there was going to be.

Ted Simons: Alright, we have to stop it there. We're out of time. Thank you so much. Good conversation.

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