Journalists Roundtable

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Local reporters review the week’s top stories

Ted Simons: Good evening, ask welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

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."

Te Simons: Democrats increase the pressure for a special session to deal with restoring medical transplant coverage for lower income Arizonans. Dennis, so much, so the first bill apparently will be coming from a democrat on this topic.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, and it's probably got -- it doesn't have much of a chance of probably going anywhere, seeing as the Republicans make up about 70, 75% of the entire legislature with a Republican governor. So they can cry and whine and do whatever they want, it's basically the Republicans are going to run the show so it's pretty much up to them, and they're kind of irrelevant.

Mike Sunnucks: Politically, P.R.wise, it's gold for the democrats. This issue looks so bad, it humanizes all these budget cuts that they did. It's going national play, and the governor and the Republicans really haven't addressed it. They've avoided everybody on this, so the democrats are making some hay out of this, and maybe they should have done it during the campaign.

Jim Small: The response we've gotten, I know we talked to Russell Pearce this week, and asked him about this, and said, what do you make of this? All this FUROR, and people actually literally, you know, being put in life or death situation, potentially because of budget cuts, and he said, well, we wanted to do it, but it is not our fault we had to cut this. Federal rules have cordoned off so much money, we couldn't touch it, so we were left with trimming the areas of AHCCCS. The feds don't require you spend any money, so it was on the chopping block and we had to take it.

Dennis Welch: where's the governor been? We all cover this area, and she's not -- she hasn't -- she isn't selling any of this, she's not talking about it, and she hasn't been out in the public a lot. So in a situation like this, you'd want your governor out ahead there, making the case as to why this is the road we have to go down.

Mike Sunnucks: This doing to be the backdrop to everything -- everything the Republicans propose taxwise, spendingwise, the democrats will say, here's the transplants. We're going to cut taxes instead of giving these transplants. And it's -- it pulls the people's heart strings. Anything that goes down there, I think the democrats should just bring it out as much as they can.

Ted Simons: The democrats are also calling for the governor to use some stimulus money on this $30 million that the governor's office says is spoken for, and can't be reallotted. Yet no one reallocated, I should say, is & no one seems to be able to understand where that money is going. Correct?

Jim Small: We actually got a list earlier today of where this money is going to be going. And it was -- the money, all of the entire pot is $150 million or so of federal stimulus money, is -- has been allocated. Whether it's been appropriated and actually spent and the money has gone out the door is another question. And I think we're still all kind of waiting to see what the answer is on that. But as it stands, they're saying, the money isn't here, we can't do anything about it, and we'll have to address it when we come back and fix the budget.

Ted Simons: So the criticism from democrats has always been, we keep hearing this money is spoken for, we just don't know who is doing the speaking. Do we now have an understanding of that?

Jim Small: Well, yeah. Certainly the money -- the money has been given to a variety of projects over the past couple years. Every so often the governor's office will be putting out a release saying we've given stimulus money to X, Y, Z program for biofuels, business development, or research, or job creation, to something like that, and so that's where a lot of the money has gone to.

Mike Sunnucks: You think of all the creative accounting that goes on at any state legislature or Congress, no matter who the governor is, all the creative money and gimmicks they use, they could find the money if they wanted to, I think.

Dennis Welch: And I think the bill, has all this money been spent already, and it's already been allocated, is there a way to pull some of it back to get -- to help and save this program.

Mike Sunnucks: It will be interesting to see if this all came -- bubbled up in the summer and we had a competitive governor's race that they would have held a special session and addressed this, rather than after the election and when there's just a handful of dems that can't do much.

Ted Simons: Is it safe to say no one at the table considers a special session all that likely?

Dennis Welch: No. I don't think they have any will down there. The session starts, what, less than a month anyway, so why not just wait until then to start getting the stuff done.

Mike Sunnucks: The one thing about special sessions, you can take little bites of things and address things like this. Because something like this, if it goes during the regular session, there's going to be people saying, we'll do this part of the bigger budget and it becomes complicated.

Dennis Welch: It's all political theater. Think about the LoJackis ticks of getting the people down there. This is the holiday season. Being able to get a majority of your people down there would be a chore at best.

Mike Sunnucks: I think they'll all be at the Fiesta Bowl, so --

Ted Simons: the governor did ask for a Medicaid waiver, which would allow, again, allows the state to reduce these AHCCS rolls, Medicaid rolls, reduce the -- lower the eligibility threshold, how likely is that to happen, a waiver, from Arizona and any other state?

Mike Sunnucks: It's going to be tough to get the feds to go along with that. They can make an argument for it. It's a big drain on the budget. A lot of people are on there. If they want to get their hands around the budget from a fiscal stand point, that's the place to cut. Whether they're going to get that from the feds, I don't think so.

Jim Small: Even aside from that, there's a whole -- $8 billion of federal money is tied to this, even if you got that waiver you still have a constitutional issue in Arizona. You have proposition 204 that voters approved about a decade ago that says we want AHCCCS to cover everyone who is below 100% of the poverty level, as opposed to 50% or 33%. So there's an argument and legislators tried to make the argument this past year of ways they can get around, that but that's going to invite a lawsuit, that will go to out and that will be hashed out by the Supreme Court.

Dennis Welch: This is part one I think to get this done, if you were going to get this done, it's a three-pronged approach. First ask for the waiver, then you're going to have to run a bill, and you're going to have to take it to the voters. Even then, even if you can get all is that done, they're going to have to get the waiver from the government. And it could be hard, but right now there's talk that if you can get Democratic governors, because Arizona is not the only state in the country right now facing problems. You could get some pressure -- could you get some pressure on the governor to give some of the states relief in which they would allow Arizona and other states to kind of lower that maintenance of effort.

Mike Sunnucks: What's going to happen to the people? We talk about the people -- people get thrown off this, where are they going to go?

Ted Simons: If you cut that eligibility to where they want it 250,000 people lose, granted the state gains about 750 million, but that's 250,000 folks without insurance.

Mike Sunnucks: They're going to go to the emergency rooms. So that doesn't do much to solve the root problem. You're sick, you don't have a place to go, you go to the emergency room.

Ted Simons: Let's move ahead here and the idea of the employer sanctions law was considered by the U.S. Supreme Court back in -- an unusual coalition with this challenge, everyone from the ACLU to the chamber of commerce, that's a pretty big field.

Mike Sunnucks: Labor unions, ACLU, business folks, all don't like it, they say it's a federal issue, and that will be the argument for 1070 also. Employer sanction case, there's a law that allows them to go after business license, and that's what the other court ruled on when they upheld the law. That's where Russell Pearce and the governor and the backers of this thing, that's what they're holding on to. So I think you could see a split decision. They could keep sanctions because of that clause, 1070 throwing out most of it because it does step on the federal rules on immigration.

Ted Simons: all eyes, any eyes at the capitol, state capitol watching what happens with the Supreme Court in this particular hearing, or --

Jim Small: yeah, absolutely. Arizona is having -- we have a whole slate of laws going before the semiconductor in the next six months, this being one of them. Certainly this was one that got a lot of attention when we created the law because we were the first state in the country to do this. It was signed by a Democratic governor, and this is something that has -- like you said, it's garnered opposition from all corners. There are a lot of people that don't like this. It was interesting to read the transcript of the -- of the oral argument and see where justices came down and the questions they asked of both sides.

Ted Simons: It sounded as though, again, we had Scalia and Roberts going after the challenge, and Breyer bringing up the other side, saying that how can there not be discrimination if this if an employer knows that they are going to get hammered by way of civil penalties that by its very nature suggests discrimination. Which I think is at the heart of -- well, along with preemption, is at the heart of this argument.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a chilling effect. If you're an employer you're worried about hiring somebody, and they're Hispanic, in this state that's who the undocumented folks tend to be. It's interesting, the business folks are against it, the labor folks are against it, folks on the left are against it, but am these laws are popular with the voters.

Ted Simons: Many the business community obviously against this, what's the business community -- officially, what do they think of 1070?

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's a mix. The tourism folks are scared to death of it, the folks that depend on visitors, meeting planners, hotels. It's impacted them and hurt them. The rest of the folks would rather go away, and they don't want to get involved with that. Either side, because it's such a hot button issue. You're going to annoy somebody.

Ted Simons: Dennis, we've got another candidate for mayor of Phoenix. Greg Stanton.

Dennis Welch: This wasn't a surprise. Everybody knew this was coming. Greg Stanton is a former council member who was working at the state attorney's office, he recently quit, and everybody took that as a sign he was going to announce pretty soon. And he did that, because he needs to get out there and start raising money. We already got a few people out there running, raising money, it's going -- times are tough economically, and it's tough for people to raise money. So it's a small pool of people, and you've got to -- they're estimating right now it's going to take a million dollars to spend on this race to win it.

Ted Simons: His opening line was, if you're happy with the legislature, the make of the legislature, choose another candidate. Because I will offer you a difference. How does that resonate in Phoenix?

Dennis Welch: You know, it's going to be interesting, because this is typically local elections are more moderate, they're not the fringe types of candidates. These could be people that are more disenfranchised with the capitol, and with the legislature. I thought it was interesting that just out the gate he announces he launches and he takes a slap at the legislature. I thought was an interesting way to start the campaign.

Mike Sunnucks: I think he'll go after Hispanic voters, and he'll run an economic populous. He voted against the city, north subsidy, and he's going to -- I think you'll see him run this anti-developer, I'm for the small business, which Phoenix has been knocked for in the past, and so he's a democrat, so whether that -- how that runs in Phoenix, who knows, but I think he's got a lot of energy. Younger, but I think one thing against him is he's been off the council, he's been out of the spotlight, so he's got to regain that.

Ted Simons: Can you handicap this, does anyone look like they're a front-runner, or is it scrambled?

Dennis Welch: There's talk right now that the front-runners, one of them is Wes gull it, because of the amount of money he can raise. And Peggy Neely, someone who's amongst the top tier. Other people, Claude Mannix, there's questions about him and whether he can go all the way and do this, whether he's a strong enough candidate. And there's still talk about a developer Jim Peterson jumping in the race. You have to take him serious with the money he could dump into a race like this.

Ted Simons: Sal DiCiccio, is he someone that other folks are looking at?

Dennis Welch: They are, as a possibility. If you start getting a lot of people, it's crowded, you're not going to need that many votes to get this out of the runoff into a general election.

Mike Sunnucks: Sal's raised his profile. He's a fiscal conservative, fighting parking rates at the parks, and I think of all the council members, he probably -- he's put himself against Gordon a lot, I think whoever the police and fire unions endorse are probably your front-runner.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Independent investigator looking to -- calling for seeking the disbarment of Andrew Thomas, former Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas, quite the investigation, quite the rapport. What do you make of it?

Mike Sunnucks: The Supreme Court -- the state bar and Supreme Court license attorneys together, the Supreme Court handles the enforcement of this. I think everybody on the Republican side breathed a sigh of relief that Thomas lost in the primary to Horne so he wouldn't have our state attorney general being disbarred right now. Thomas is going to fight this tooth and nail. It's basically a lot of the abuse of power allegations that were against him and Joe, and it's going to drag out a long time. He's going to fight. This he's in private practice now, so we'll see what goes on with this, and it's going to be more dirty pool.

Ted Simons: One of the quotes from the report, reckless four-year campaign of corruption and power abuse. 31 ethical violations, 27 against Thomas. How does that all play in the grand political theater? What does this do to an Andrew Thomas who no doubt has further ambitions?

Jim Small: I think we saw what this entire situation did to his political -- his ability to be considered -- to be a top-tier political candidate in the A.G.'s race. Tom Horne was seen by lot of -- there were a lot of Republicans I know who I talked with who felt they would have been able to easily defeat Andrew Thomas had it been a better candidate than Tom Horne, someone more appealing, more solidly Republican. So the fact that Andy Thomas couldn't beat someone like that, who had obvious baggage, like tom horne. that says a lot that. Was before in report. Now you've got this stuff documented. It keeps getting set over, whether it's by judges out of the county this, is an out of state investigator, we've had a run of stories the past six months about how the action that's were taken by the county attorney's office under Andrew Thomas were -- were abuses of power.

Ted Simons: does it seem as though the idea of intimidation, the idea of retribution, all of the things that are at the backbone of this report, is that resonating with folks? Or is it just more of the same and buzzing over everyone's head?

Dennis Welch: You know, Tom Horne had a lot of baggage, and what people knew -- what little they knew about Andrew Thomas outside of Maricopa County had to do with that. Had to do with arresting newspaper publishers, and stuff like that. It wasn't good stuff. And as far as his political ambition, his future, if he wants to run for anything outside Maricopa County, he's going to have a tough time. He's going to have to reconstruct his image, and do a lot of damage control.

Mike Sunnucks: The hearing -- what they could decide on, disbarment is the most extreme thing. I think politically it's going to be tough for him to bounce back. I think his attorneys had tailed the judge that was interviewing people. He's just a very aggressive guy on a lot of levels, and it can be -- it can be abuse of power, it can be retribution, or just being aggressive, that's what he's going to attend. I think politically it's going to be hard for him to bounce back with this on his record.

Ted Simons: You mentioned aggressive, you could say that if you're that aggressive with everyone who's doing anything that approaches your particular atmosphere of influence, and there's a conflict of interest -- I heard some people saying there's good to be a conflict of interest in this investigator because he knew someone was tailing him, so there's your conflict of interest. You could never stop.

Dennis Welch: When he comes to the county, it seems like there's a conflict of interest in everything. Everybody is investigating everybody else. It's hard to get away from that.

Mike Sunnucks: Some of those investigations he did against the board, there's legitimate concerns about some of the actions of people on the county board. And they went so over the top with what the -- with the number of indictments, and just the style of the -- of their investigation and prosecution, they lost all those. And so sometimes you're going after somebody, and there's something there, but when you have that tactic, you're the messenger that's ruining things.

Ted Simons: Speak of a messenger with an interesting message, your particular organization, "The Guardian," came out with speculation at least a question mark, regarding the senate race in 2012, Jon Kyl will be the Republican, most folks think he will run, but the candidate obviously is a question mark, and then you threw out Terry Goddard's name. Where did that come from?

Dennis Welch: We talked to some people who said, you know, there are some movers and shakers within the part of this that brought the idea up with him. Somebody to run against Kyl. To be fair, Mr. Goddard is kind of at best lukewarm to the idea. He's got a young son and he doesn't like the idea of traveling back and forth to Washington, DC. But to me, I thought it spoke a lot more to the lack of depth at the democrat -- with the Democratic party that the guy just got beat by historic numbers. By 14 points in a statewide election, now you're thinking about running him against Jon Kyl, who again is a very for a long time, a popular politician in the state A. high-ranking member of the senate who, you know, Jim Peterson couldn't beat him four years ago with -- and he's spent $10 million.

Ted Simons: Talk about the Democratic bench right now. Who is out there, who looks to be a young gun or maybe even not so young, but just a gun ready to go, or is it just a vast wasteland? What's going on?

Jim Smalls: I think the one person who everybody one will agree is atop of the heap is Gabrielle Giffords. That was one of the reasons besides just losing the seat in -- that was one of the reasons democrats were very concerned about making sure she got reelected. She is seen as someone who could run for governor, run against Kyl, could down the line, she has some options open to her, she is young, she's able toll get elected multiple times in a Republican district, she's able to raise money, she has good contacts across the country, beyond that it starts to get thin, and Frankly a lot of democrats will put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Janet Napolitano for a couple reasons. One, she didn't budge when she was governor, and two, the people that who were in the state who were seen as potential candidates down the line, a lot of them went to D.C. with her to be in the Obama administration. So short Gabrielle Giffords, once you get past that name it becomes a guessing game, and you throw people -- people throw out names, what about this person, I don't know, how about this person?

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think any politicians build benches anymore. Obama's seat is gone. They lost that seat. And so I don't think people do that. McCain -- there's no machines anymore. It's just the nature of politics.

Dennis Welch: If you look at the Republicans side, have you a whole slate of people sit ought bench.

Mike Sunnucks: Nobody --

Dennis Welch: whether it was built or not, you still have people like Ken Bennett, Tom Horne, Doug DUCY, people who could run for higher offices. They swept all the statewide races, and when you look at democrats, besides Gabrielle Giffordss, who Frankly probably wouldn't want to run against Kyl and risk her seat, she might run if it's an open seat, but other than that --

Mike Sunnucks: being from Tuscon, it's a challenge. Most people up here have no clue who she is. And this is where all the votes are. It would be a challenge for her. She would be -- it would be an uphill climb.

Ted Simons: It's the kind of thing where if the mood changes, and it changes, it changed between President Obama's election and obviously the mid term, if we go back and swing the pendulum in the other direction, do the democrats start coming out of the woodwork? Do we see a bench form? Is it just the tenor of the times we're not seeing democrats?
Jim Small: That could be part of it. They lost all the statewide races, they at least have had a couple for I it this last 20 years, they've had at least one statewide race they could say this, is our person waiting in the wings to move on. They don't have that anymore. Naturally that does lower -- limit the visibility of a lot of democrats who could be prominent candidates. And certainly if the tenor -- if the political climate changes, I think you'll start to see democrats, whether we think they're viable now or whether anyone thinks they're viable now or not, they will emerge and they'll start to run for office.

Ted Simons: OK, radical shift in gears here, Coyotes, Phoenix Coyotes, hockey team, in case anyone is familiar, out in Glendale, exciting team, fun to watch, but what's going on with the lease with Glendale, what's going on with team ownership?

Mike Sunnucks: It looks like it's going to get done, the Chicago investment guy is going to -- it looks like he's going to about it team, and they're going to stay here for a while. He's -- the NHL game -- he's got to get all the owners on board December 14th, Tuesday, they'll probably have a city council meeting in Glendale and approve a lease, they'll charge for parking out there, still a tough go, we're not exactly hockey town USA here, but this guy seems committed to keeping him here.

Ted Simons: The city will be able to find enough revenue streams regarding parking, what does the team have to give back to the any.

Mike Sunnucks: The city will charge for parking, create a special tax district, pump money in there, and he's got some cash, unlike some of the other folks. He looks like he's committed to keeping -- he's 40, a hockey guy.

Ted Simons: And we've got until the end of the year?

Mike Sunnucks: The end of the year is the deadline.

Ted Simons: After that, what hatches?

Mike Sunnucks: They open up the bidding, and there's a bid from win I peg that would probably pay more than the $165 million that he's going to buy.

Ted Simons: It's a fun team to watch. We'd hate to see him go. Let's go each person, will a bill make it through the legislature next session that will return this transplant option to patients?

Dennis Welch: Wow.

Ted Simons: And will it pass?

Dennis Wlech: I don't see that right now. The short -- no.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Mike Sunnucks :I think yes. I think there's going to be so much pressure on them to do this, somebody else might pass away, there's a lot of political pressure on them to do this. It hurts the state's image, and I think they're sensitive to that.

Ted Simons: How would they justify finding the money?

Mike Sunnucks: They'll make it work.

Ted Simons: You think so? You think something is going to happen with this.

Jim Small: I agree with mike, it's going to additional it will be part of the larger budget fix, either in January or the actual budget they do before the year end. They'll find a way to keep that money and maybe it's through getting a waiver from the feds for something else, who knows, but the P.R. problem is enough, if it continues to happen it gets worse.

Ted Simons: Does it become a P.R. benefit for those who push this thing through?

Jim Small: Yeah, I think it probably does. You can say we saw a problem that we didn't know was going to happen, and we addressed it and fixed it, and pay attention to this and not the $600 million we took from education.

Ted Simons: Well, we'll see what happens. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

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