Journalists’ Roundtable

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Journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Luige del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times," Steve Goldstein of KJZZ radio, and Jim Small of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

Ted Simons: Tomorrow it will be one week since a gunman targeted congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a public event in Tucson. Six people were killed and more than a dozen injured. Giffords continues to recover at university medical center. Luige, at the capitol for opening day ceremonies, as it were, describe the scene, the mood, the overall atmosphere.

Luige del Puerto: It was very somber. It was very subdued. It was very respectful. As you know, plans were-- everyone's plan was appended as a result of what happened. I can tell you, for example, I think Linda López really sort of reflected for all of us the mood that day. She -- she came to the opening ceremony and took her oath of office and she was really distraught. She was crying all throughout the opening ceremony and she looked really disheveled and I saw several people came to her and comforted her and like I said, it was very subdued and very somber.

Ted Simons: Jim, as far as what you saw down there, obviously, speeches were changed. The governor changed her speech. Speaker Adams changed his speech as well. Both recognized as being good speeches.

Jim Small: Yeah absolutely. Usually you go into the state of the state day and you expect to have one group of folks who is going to like the speeches a whole heck of a lot and the other group stand up there and try to muster the troops with the pitchforks and torches to go fight what's proposed and we didn't see it this time. Everything was completely different. Speaker Adams and Governor Brewer both spoke to what happened on Saturday. And the importance it has for the state moving forward and how, you know, politicians and lawmakers really need to try and put aside the more inflammatory things they've done and try to work together. Even though they may disagree, not to be disagreeable on things.

Luige del Puerto: And usually, this is a time when you go down and there it's time to introduce your family and friends and what have you, that didn't happen. Many people in the senate and house chose not to do their points of personal privileges.

Ted Simons: As far as dealing with lawmakers, those you've talked to over the course of the week, does it seem like this better angel nature will stick or just what is happening right now?

Steve Goldstein: Ted I think everyone means well and many people worked with Gabby Giffords when she was in the state legislature and people want to make this work what it but ultimately what it comes down to is what the meaning the political rhetoric really have and is it really just words out there and sticks and stones and people can have a beer afterwards. That's to me is going to be the more interesting test and we've lost that as fewer people are in office as long as they used to.

Ted Simons: That's a good point. As far as the state of the state, again, she does not have to deliver the state of the state as a speech, she can deliver it to legislative leaders. Is there a timetable on that?

Jim Small: No there's really not. I think most people expect it's probably going to happen next week and whether it's an actual speech like we saw a couple of years ago when she came into the office after the state of the state day, she gave a speech in March and addressed lawmakers formally. Whether we see something like that or whether we just see policy initiatives rolled out and kind of announced remains to be seen. I would imagine at some point, and some folks I've talked to in the legislature, think at least the legislative leaders and Republicans at the very least will get some kind of a briefing, here's what the governor wants to do before she rolls it out publicly.

Ted Simons: Luige, when you talk to state lawmakers and again the idea that civility is holding for now do you get the sense that there is a real, real effort there or is this again, something that will ease over time?

Luige del Puerto: Whether this will last of course, we'll find out in a couple weeks, couple months. I did sense that some lawmakers are seriously reflecting on the tone of the discourse in the state senate and the statehouse and I was talking to Paula about it and I wanted to tone down the vitriol, the rhetoric and she says it applies to all, to me, and said I'm passionate in the way I speak. So I sense they're really wanting to tone down the rhetoric there.

Steve Goldstein: One thing I found interesting, Ted, is that I thought senator Pearce pout out one of the more gracious notes, based on congresswoman's Giffords accident, the actual shooting that occurred. I felt he had put something out that seemed real based on having known her. If he is someone that can set that sort of tone, maybe the others will follow.

Ted Simons: Is there a sense that gun laws and policies regarding seriously mentally ill or health services along the lines of psychiatric things and that sort of business, any sign that that will change because of this particular incident?

Jim Small: I think certainly it's one of those things that a lot of those areas are wrapped up in the budget. Maybe not the gun policy stuff, but certainly some of the funding for the mentally ill and the behavioral health and things like that are going to be wrapped up in the budget and I've got to imagine what we see lawmakers do, what they're going to do this session is different now than it would have been a week ago because of what happened and all the news that keeps coming out about the suspect in the case. There were some mental problems and whether anyone could have intervened before hand and seen that this was going to be coming, I don't think at the end of the day, it's not even relevant, because if he was having these problem, there's going to be a push to not make cuts to put more people potentially like this out on the streets and in a situation where they could hurt people.

Ted Simons: What do you think Luige?

Luige del Puerto: Well so forth in gun legislation there's is a sentiment in the legislature right now to take a pause, take a deep breath and just sort of not engage in gun legislation right away. I was speaking with house speaker Kirk Adams this week and he said the danger in times like this when you do policy and anything you do is colored by emotions and so -- so far as sort of strengthening gun control or making more restrictions and so forth as guns, I don't see any of that acclimating out of the legislature, but so far as loss I would ease further the restrictions we have now, I think there's a sentiment we should wait a bit before doing anything.

Ted Simons: Go ahead.

Steve Goldstein: It's funny Ted, when you go back to the issue of political rhetoric and gun legislation, of course Jack Harper has been loud about introducing more gun-related legislation and he is also one of the few, if not the only lawmaker I saw who openly criticized Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for what he said about political rhetoric causing the shooting.

Ted Simons: Now talking about Dupnick, because he obviously set off a firestorm, not only in Arizona but around the world, for that matter, regarding his comments and he did mention the Harper gun bill and says, a quote, that's the ridiculous nature to which we've become, or something along those lines. Did it surprise you that the county Sheriff said what he did when he did?

Steve Goldstein: It didn't based on the many people I spoke to who were based in Tucson saying this is our Clarence, this is what he is, he doesn't hide. He has opinions on things and he feels like they're the right opinions to express and I think he truly believes that political rhetoric and this nastiness, he has also mentioned he thinks that Arizona is the hotbed for bigotry now, so I guess I can't say I'm surprised now.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing from lawmakers regarding the sheriff's comments. We had Speaker Adams and the senator president Russell Pearce last night, just an off hand conversation, they didn't sound like they were that pleased.

Luige del Puerto: I think they're really trying to restrain or refrain from contributing anything that would inflame the situation some more.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Luige del Puerto: That's the sense I'm getting from many of them.

Ted Simons: Ok. Let's get to now and again, seems like the shooting just kind of hovers over everything. But today now, we did have the governor's office releasing the executive budget plan and Luige we'll start with you, it looks like Universities, it looks like healthcare, big hits. What do you see so far?

Luige del Puerto: Well the governor did draw out her budget proposal, and the biggest fact is the fact that she wants to roll back AHCCCS coverage, that would pretty much let go of 280,000 people from AHCCCS and also, so far as the K-12 education system, largely spared this year and next year. But you're right, the university system -- the universities and community colleges are going to take a big hit. For example, the universities will be facing in this budget $170 million reduction, and that's about 20% of the state support they're getting.

Ted Simons: And Jim, universities is getting cut again by the amount that Luige mentioned. But community colleges, which have often mentioned as maybe a way to stop gap, a bridge, whatever metaphor you want to use, they were cut more percentage wise.

Ted Small: Well yeah, cut more in terms of state funding, definitely. I mean you looking at a $132 million in state money. And they're knocking it down to $65 million. That's considerably more than half. You're looking 60% of the state budget and kind of the argument that the governor's office was giving, well, we're going to take this money but there will be other ways to make it up. Property values are continuing to go up so they will be able to get more in property taxes. Tuition, we are not going to say it is going to go up but they have tuition, they have that quiver in their -- that arrow in their quiver that they can fire to try and raise the money that way. Overall, community colleges have a budget of about $1.1 billion, so about $70 million or so, $75 million is a lot of money without a doubt. The grand scheme of things, the argument from the governor's office and certainly from Republican lawmakers, look this really isn't as bad as you're making it out to be.

Ted Simons: And yet the idea is to keep the tuition in Arizona as close to zero which is -- good luck fellow on that. But how long can you increase before a bounce-back starts happening?

Steve Goldstein: Haven't people already started complaining about this? We don't want to see where we saw in California where students are out protesting and police officers with batons are out. I find it interesting, I will not use the term ironic although I just did, that Governor Brewer called herself the education governor as she was running for re-election, mentioning proposition 100 with the sales tax; apparently she's the education governor for K-12 but not higher education.

Ted Simons: The governor's office is saying there's ways to streamline higher education and again, tuition increases are mentioned perhaps under the breath, but mentioned in any case, a property tax for community colleges and such. Again, how far does this go, Luige. How much can higher education system take.

Luige del Puerto: The defense we're hearing from the governor's office is basically that if you look at the cuts to the community colleges, for example, they amount to 6 point something percent and they're saying in the grand scheme of things, that's not very huge, considering that other agencies, programs have had to suffer more. So -- and -- but the thing -- another argument they're saying, basically, you know, the realities of things. We have to cut things because we don't have money and I think you're going to hear more and more of that in the coming days.

Ted Simons: Regarding healthcare and AHCCCS, losing 280 thousand-some odd adults. All adults it sounds like for kids in the aged, disabled and pregnant women, sounds like the governor's budget plan says were leaving those monies alone.

Jim Small: Yeah, the whole -- the whole debate around AHCCCS cuts are -- I mean, these are almost mythological to a certain degree because the governor's office has asked for a waiver from the federal government for maintenance of effort and spending required under the federal healthcare law passed last year and saying look we can't pay for it, give us a waiver. If the federal government gives us the waiver, they can make these $530 million in cuts and even if that happens, then they're going to get sued because voters approved this expanded AHCCCS coverage and lawmakers in the governor's office have been working to find a way around that without going back to voters because the fear they'll lose there. So at the end of the day, I don't know that the federal government is going to give this waiver. It seems unlikely because this was one of the main components of the healthcare plan in terms of governments picking up the slack and ensuring a lot more people.

Ted Simons: No waiver, another what -- $1 billion to be cut out there. I mean the cuts just keep happening.

Steve Goldstein: I think---I think that's the only way unless there's going to be another revenue source and the governor said she is not going to push for raising revenues again after proposition 100 she's not going to raise taxes and to get beyond that, I'm not sure where you go.

Luige del Puerto: And this budget certainly doesn't include any revenue generating measure and the governor's office made clear they are not going to do that-- they tried that sort of solution last year where they raised the sales taxes and we're not going to see it in this fiscal year or next fiscal year.

Ted Simons: We had the speaker and president of the senate on last night and both had no -- there was no chance of tax increase or anything along those lines. We'll see what happens. What about the transplant funds, the $1.2 million in transplant? Any mention, any sign?

Jim Small: No mention. It was not in there. That doesn't mean that it's not going to happen. This is -- the governor is required to put this proposal out every year. Lawmakers are the ones who are tasked with creating a budget and they're create it and work in conjunction with the governor's office to create it. But that's an issue that's not going away and every time we have someone on that list, that transplant list who gets ill and either dies or comes close to it, I think that's story is going to keep bubbling up and the refrain of Republicans cut the budget and is killing people is not going to go away any time soon.

Steve Goldstein: I'm not sure if Senator Pearce said this to you, having spoken with Senator Pearce and Speaker Adams and other people. The idea is we've been called every name in the book as it is and we're starting to block it out now.

Ted Simons: And again, they are basically saying that if you take $1.2 million for this and you've got to move $1.2 million for that, and more it's complicated than just finding a particular set of money. Go ahead please.

Luige del Puerto: One other proposal that I think it's going to -- we're going to get -- it's going to get pretty discussed greatly in the coming days, this proposal of $330 million, one-day loan. Basically what we are doing is borrowing money from first things first, it's worth $330 million and we are borrowing it June 30th and paying it back on July 1st. It's a one day loan, it's an accounting gimmick, the governor's office admits it's an accounting gimmick and so I think many conservative kind of Republicans would have some heartburn, I suppose when that comes out in the coming days.

Ted Simons: So in -- speaking of the coming days, next week, Jim, obviously things will start to hit the ground running. A lot of folks - will be going-- I know the university presidents will be at the legislature trying to make their case and lot of folks saying -- whatever they're going to be saying. Is this when the rubber meets the road next week? Are we going to see a lot of action?

Jim Small: I think it is. The first week is always generally a little bit slow. But this week was exceptionally slow because of the events on Saturday. Next week, things are -- like you said, hit the ground running and things are going to start moving pretty quickly, a lot of committees and bills and testimony, testifying and special joint appropriations committee where they're going to look at the budget and at the governor's proposal and at what options are on the table and I think that's where the reality of all the discussion this week about whether this political rhetoric, can-- this congeniality can stay or if it's going to fall by the wayside. I think that's really where it gets its first test.

Ted Simons: This business community seems like it's not entirely pleased with the AHCCCS cuts because of the loss of jobs just to begin with, and other factors. Are you getting that impression as well?

Steve Goldstein: I'm getting that vibe and I'm wondering to some extent, what took them so long from the standpoint, part of this is the perception that Arizona is again, a state not caring enough about education and not caring enough about people who are in need. And yet there's silly argument to be made, where were they with S.B. 1070, the perception of that and hurting tourism. It's almost like closing the barn door when the horses are out.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing that as well Luige?

Luige del Puerto: What were certainly hearing from the business community is that the state chamber held an event a couple days ago and basically one of the speakers said we want you to do it to protect education and we want you to do something about -- basically not make significant cuts to Medicaid.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Jim? How far does that go?

Jim Small: It is a big problem and the business community is vocal in the past. Maybe two years ago, they talked about the problem and how these costs get shifted. Especially when you have uninsured people who show up at the emergency room for treatment of routine ailments. Head colds and things like that, if you had health insurance you could get treated for. You go to the emergency room and it's 10-fold and the businesses are paying larger shares for as are you and I who have health plans and they're concerned and AHCCCS, like it or not, whether you agree this is socialized government or a safety net for people, it does at the least give people some insurance and gives them the ability to go out and see a doctor when they're ill and they don't have to go to the emergency room for something that really is either minor or could have been fixed months before.

Ted Simons: I bring up the business community because obviously, the business chambers and such never want a tax increase. It's rare when you ever see that. By the same token, they really don't want to see the cuts come down the pipe for reasons Jim and Luige just mentioned, they really are in that tweener position aren't they?

Steve Goldstein: They are and they will be in that tweener position until the economy somehow picks up and we stop having so many foreclosures in the state because until then whether it's business leaders on the commerce authority or not, how much influence they can have as this economy continues to struggle, probably not much.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about --- we have a few minutes left here --- the ramifications. Let's get back down to Tucson now and the ramifications of what happened with the shootings and let's start with just -- we had a district chairman in LD20 I believe, who basically said I'm not going to take a bullet for anyone or something along these lines and decided he didn't want the chairmanship because of all the fighting.

Jim Small: Yeah, and certainly this is fighting that is related, I think, at the end of the day, to a schism in the Republican party between the grassroots, folks who want it to be more conservative and the more traditional establishment Republican, and kind of the Republican machine, and to a certain degree it's almost McCain versus the people who don't like McCain and so Anthony miller, chairman in district 20 was elected -- I think reelected a couple months ago and ended up saying, I don't want to deal with this headache. This is too much. If you guys -- there were threats of lawsuits and all kinds of talk about how he was violating state law and people were throwing around accusations a lot down in that district and he ended up just saying ok I don't want to deal with this. This is a volunteer job; it's a district that is going to be redrawn within the year. So if you guys want to take control of the district, go ahead, and I'll step down and we will figure out what the procedure is and I'll get out of here.

Ted Simons: When you've talk to people around the country, internationally as well, obviously, the reporters were all here. This was such a major story, what are they saying -- what are they saying about Arizona, what are they saying about the coverage of the event? The media coverage, what are they saying?

Steve Goldstein: They are saying they think that Arizona is the wild west. I've overheard people saying, "Oh I'm not surprised that happened in Arizona. Of course all these terrible things are happening in Arizona." I think it was interesting though is in talking to a lot of people in Tucson, both people who covered Tucson for a long time and grew up there and lived there, they feel like it's brought them together --- in grief -- together in grief we're going to go forward as a community.

Ted Simons: And that's interesting because we've heard a lot of folks who witnessed the memorial, whether there in person or listened on radio or watched on television, were a little put off by the fact that it seemed like a rally or wasn't necessarily a somber event, but it did seem, the other side saying, it's cathartic, it's a bunch of people saying we've got -- we've got to do something to rally around each other.

Steve Goldstein: Well briefly that's exactly why people were actually there. They said they couldn't really understand why people who weren't actually there were saying these things. Because If you were there, it felt like a cleansing, it felt like some kind of dark cloud was being lifted.

Ted Simons: Takes on how the media covered this. I mean -- keep in mind now, we're trying to figure out what the media is. You've got Facebook, you've got twitter, you've got the whole nine yards here. What are your impressions?

Luige del Puerto: I think the media covered it as best it could. I mean basically everyone was there. I was here on Saturday, I was here on Sunday morning and my TV was on and seeing what's there, giving updates every minute and broadcast networks were discussing its implications. I think we covered it as best we could and we did a pretty good job of it.

Jim Small: You know, the one criticism I think that you can make is that people seemed to really jump to conclusions when they were covering this early on especially in the first four, five, six hours right afterwards, the tendency was to say, well it was a politician that got shot and she was a democrat so it must have been someone on the other side that was involved with this when it was far too early to know what was going on. I mean we didn't know who the shooter was -- we didn't really know anything and so the tendency was there and I think some people tended to not be able to resist that enough and kind of really go down that road and say well this was politically motivated and that was what lead I think -- certainly I think Clarence Dupnik's comments helped fuel a lot of that discussion.

Steve Goldstein: Well, you had Tim McGuire on from the ASU Cronkite School and I thought he made some interesting points about in the old days in the newspaper business, you could make mistakes and people may not see them, but because of you website, because of tweeting and what not, people are going to find out pretty early.

Ted Simons: And his point on -- you're right we did have him on the show -- and he had a lot of good points on this and his point regarding slow news was that the newspapers did pretty well because they had the time to make sure when you -- talk about watching sausage get made. We all got to watch and hear it and there were reports that didn't turn out to be true, but you got to see what happens in a real time environment when so much of the early information is either inaccurate or you don't have enough to go with it, you wind up slowing down, you wind up getting better information so I think the media can learn as well.

Luige del Puerto: Yeah, I think -- precisely when you have 24 hours of cable TV and you need to fill those hours and there's competition, everyone wants to put out things first. I think it makes it prone to making more mistakes.

Ted Simons: Alright gentlemen, good stuff. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

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