Journalists Roundtable

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Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are -- Mark Brodie of KJZZ radio. Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." And Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." A substitute teacher's letter about Hispanic students gets a lot of attention. Mark, let's get the basics of the letter, what was said here and why this is causing such a fuss.

Mark Brodie: Basically it caused a fuss because the letter was read aloud on the senate floor during 'a debate on immigration bills. The substitute teacher sends a letter to Russell Pearce and he sends it to the Republican members the caucus and senator Lori Klein reads it aloud on the floor and all heck kind of breaks loose after that.

Ted Simons: This is a letter that basically, the substitute teacher teaches an eighth grade class and he said they weren't standing for the pledge and all sorts of other things--

Dennis Welch: He describes them as -- an unruly experience, these kids are un-American and saying that most himself kids in this area would rather be, quote, gangsters and gang members "then get an education". This offended a lot of people in the senate, particularly some of them Hispanic members who felt that was, you know, somewhat of a racist statement. It should not have been read on the senate floor.

Mike Sunnucks: Also, high school and probably some junior high kids are the ones that showed up down there at the capitol to protest SB 1070 and some of those bills and have made an effective case to the media and folks watching the issue last year and may be a way to discredit the kids that they're not American, they're un-American and their allegiances are wherever their parents may have come from.

Mark Brodie: Another part of the controversy, early in the week, there was a question whether or not this letter was real. Folks were having trouble figuring out where this teacher had actually taught and if he in fact had taught -- there was a big press conference on Wednesday morning with the -- a number of democratic members. House and senate, saying we don't know anything about this guy. We don't know if it was true and if not, and this should not have been read on the floor.

Mike Sunnucks: Eighth grade kids and a substitute teacher usually don't mix W. are the kids making a political statement or being bad because there's a substitute teacher in town.

Ted Simons: We can get to that a little later along with the dynamics involved. What do we know about Tony Hill, or Anthony Hill?

Dennis Welch: We know his name now, but that's about all we do know. We know he worked as a substitute teacher for a temporary agency that helps place substitute teachers in different schools that need them that day and according to them, he worked nine days this year. He was certified as a substitute teacher in October and we don't know much else than that. He's only granted one interview and that was to the "The Arizona Republic" and gave that interview and his phone have been disconnected. His work can't get a hold of him, apparently turned down work earlier this week and they're trying to get a hold of him but they haven't heard from him since this controversy arose.

Ted Simons: What happens next? What's the next part of this story? I mean, are we going to get apologies or just move on and let this -- apologies or move on?

Mike Sunnucks: Oh I think it moves on. I think the folks on the right worried about illegal immigration and don't like all the Hispanic growth are going to stick to that and the folks that were offended by this, that think it was incendiary and the wrong thing to do will be on the Senate floor will be offended still. This is another step in the same story.

Dennis Welch: You're not going to get an apology. Senate president Russell Pearce has made that very clear. In fact, they have gone the other way and have asked that the people who went after them, the media and critics on the democratic side who said it was inappropriate to read that letter, they said they want an apology from them. They've flipped that around and in a weird situation, look, we want to keep the people informed. We feel this letter is insightful and helps you see what's going on in the classrooms today and we have no problem whatsoever reading it here.

Ted Simmons: Do you agree with that? Do you think it's going to stop? I know a lot of himself folks are upset about this letter. Not pleased at all.

Mark Brodie: I get the sense that Democrats will potentially try to make a issue of this. But Dennis is right. Senate President Pearce has dug in on this and suggested maybe this substitute teacher deserves an apology from those of us who have been covering the story. I think if Democrats are holding their breath on an apology, they'll be holding it a long time.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's an underlying thing, people concerned about the assimilation of immigrants and Hispanics into the culture here and that happens in all kinds of different countries. But people that protest, are they carrying American flags or Mexican flags and those kinds of things.

Ted Simons: Let's move on to the Bundgaard story which got a kick here recently with the Phoenix Police -- the investigation is over. They did -- went ahead and did the investigation and what they're saying now, recommending an assault charge against the state senator. Talk to us.

Dennis Welch: They are --- that's exactly what they're doing. More damaging is that the investigation contradicts a lot of statements he had made earlier. Not only in public but members of his own Republican caucus at the senate. According to several police officers who were at the scene, it says, look, he was insistent, demanding he have legislative immunity and you could not arrest him. Other new allegations is the police thought he may have been drinking and driving that night and did not want him driving home that evening and, in fact, he was driven home actually by his family. This is a really damaging piece of information that's come out against Mr. Bundgaard who said wait until the supplemental reports come out. They'll show I was the victim here.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it doesn't look like he kept his story straight. There has been a lot of different details that have come out at different times. When you try to prove your innocence, have a story you can stick to and that's the truth. If it smells like he wasn't always on the up and up because the report doesn't match up with the statements he had.

Mark Brodie: And the witnesses too. As Dennis and Mike both said, several witnesses who the police spoke with and some of whom had called 9-1-1 as they saw what was happening on the side of the freeway and the police report concludes that the witnesses' reports basically are more in line with what the ex-girlfriend's story was than what senator Bundgaard's story was.

Dennis Welch: And we haven't even talked about the gun. Remember a couple weeks ago there was a bombshell allegation in a meeting at the senate. They were set to vote him out as majority leader and he told them, looking there was a gun involved in the situation. It hasn't been -- been made public yet but this is the reason things got out of hand. Wait until you see the police report. The report says nobody mentioned a gun at all. There was a gun in the back seat but we knew that would probably be -- we knew that would be there. And never came up in any conversation with police on the scene.

Mike Sunnucks: He's presumed innocent. Who knows what happens, if he gets charged and question the witnesses and the validity of their statements but P.R. political wise, it's a whole different game for him, he's damaged --

Ted Simons: I was going to ask about that. That's a double down. If you're saying wait until the report, wait -- well, we waited for the report and the report is worse than anything so far. [Laughter] He had to know this was a possibility that was going to happen.

Mark Brodie: One would presume he knew what the report might say. He has said he's not all that excited and impressed with the work that the investigators have done on the case and still as far as I know, still suggesting what the report said isn't exactly what happened. What he said happened is more in line with what happened it's going to be really interesting. One of the main arguments that Republicans in the senate used was this has become a distraction and I mean, maybe -- maybe they're not going to keep getting the questions, how is he still the majority leader but this is not a story that seems to me is going away any time soon.

Dennis Welch: No it only seems like we've been covering it for a thousand years. [Laughter] It's only been a few weeks. It's not going to go away. Democrats have said that they are going to file another ethics complaint against Bundgaard which will keep it in the news cycle. We're going to keep writing about this.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't know how he changes the narrative on this now. He told everybody wait for the report and I'll be proven, whatever. And like you said, it was the opposite. It's an obvious case, they had an argument and there were police that showed up and people who saw what was going on. There's no more bombshell, no more guns to come out. I don't know how he gets out of this at least politically and P.R. wise. Legally it's a whole different issue.

Ted Simons: Does he stay in his position, what's the mood down there? And if he were, for whatever reason, to leave, who replaces him? How?

Dennis Welch: The first point there, whether he stays, there's going to be a lot of pressure for him to resign. You hear on conservative talk radio, saying, hey, he should resign. This is really bad stuff. This is, you know -- you know, it doesn't look like he's been up and up. He doesn't look totally honest. This is a terrible deal. The ethics committee if they recommend charges action, they could vote him off the island with a two-thirds vote. That would be terrible. Talk about a distraction now. Man, if they started moving through that that would be terribly distraction for everybody down there. So I think there's going to be some pressure for him to step down. As far as who replaces him, I don't know.

Mike Sunnucks: The governor, McCain, Kyl and those folks step in and maybe talk to him and say, you know, it's time to step away before we go down some kind of uglier path.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the governor. She responded to the senate budget proposal and did so in an opt-Ed piece in the Arizona republic and is not pleased with what she's seen so far. Talk to us about this.

Mark Brodie: The senate budget cuts more than what she would like to cut. She has said, basically all year, that she wants to preserve education as much as possible and you can debate whether or not her budget proposal released in January does that or not. But the senate cuts more from K 12, university and community colleges and doesn't include the borrowing that the governor included in her budget and I don't know, this might turn into some kind of a stale meat between legislature and governor when we saw a couple years ago, the legislature passed a budget and the governor wasn't happy with that one either. This issue the number and amount of cuts versus borrowing is shaping up to be a big one.

Ted Simons: And let's throw some numbers around here. K-12, her idea, $72 million in cuts. Senate idea $242 million. Her idea for university, cutting $170 million. Senate's $235 million. That's a big difference.

Dennis Welch: I got to tell you, too, even her cuts are substantial and significant and people will tell you that and apparently sometimes, only in Arizona would you offer such substantial cuts and now you're going to still end up looking like the protector of education. [Laughter] It's amazing. Second year in a row looking like she's standing up for education. In some respects, she is. Some education insiders say we can live with those cut, not the senate cuts.

Ted Simons: But is that the idea here. Is this just horse trading going on here? Or is this throwing out numbers knowing you're never going to get the 235 or whatever, but we can maybe bump it up higher than what the governor's got.

Mike Sunnucks: They could split the difference like they have before. A lot of legislatures and governor do that. Or they could play hard ball which our legislature tends to like to do. That's the concern, they're going to buckle down, but I would think some place in the middle. She's drawn a line in the sand and she's the spender here. You know?

Ted Simons: Is there a disconnect going on between the house and senate and the governor's office? I keep hearing they're meeting. They're meeting all the time.

Dennis Welch: Apparently, Mr. Pearce told us the other day, after the opt-Ed piece came out, he was surprised by this, you know, she wasn't expecting her to come out as strong as she D. there may be a disconnect going on here.

Mike Sunnucks: Well one thing is they passed the tax cut bill and a lot of years they would dangle those tax cuts and that would be part of the horse-trading and that sometimes it undid the tax cuts, but those are passed and a lot of things are passing on their own and there's not a lot of non-budget horse-trading going on.

Mark Brodie: One of the issues is, if you talk to the Republicans and to the extent, the house, they don't want to borrow any more money, they want to match up expenditures with revenues and say that's it, and call it a day. They'll probably be some kind of trading and they will need a middle but the governor says we need borrowing and the legislature says we don't want them.

Mike Sunnucks: It's interesting to see where some of these tea party folks line up, if there's a reality, wow we're going to cut K-12 by this much or government is too big, we're going to cut it regardless of what it is.

Dennis Welch: They'll get a reality when they learn about the veto power. This governor is willing to veto anything she doesn't like and if they're not willing to negotiate, they're going to get a big veto stamp and have this thing sent right back to them.

Mike Sunnucks: One well thing I think you'll really see -- a lot of people don't pay a lot of attention to the budget, but when it comes to K 12, you could see some people mobilize beyond teachers, unions and those types, you can see some parents get concerned about that.

Mark Brodie: Potentially especially because when the governor talks about saving education, she does it often in the -- she sort of couches it with Prop 100, the sales tax increase which passed overwhelming and people pay attention to that. That was a big story last may when this passed and as long as it continues to be discussed in the context of we said passing the extra one- cent sales tax isn't going to solve anything, but as long as it's couched in the education context, it might be a tough sell to cut education that much.

Mike Sunnucks: You'll see the school s come out and start listing stuff that's going to get cut. This stuff means something to people where things like AHCCCS and stuff, if you're not on it, you probably don't understand what it is sometimes. But schools, your kids go to school and they're cutting X, Y, Z programs or classes, teachers salaries, people relate to that.

Ted Simons: Alright. Let's keep it moving. The flat tax idea is out there again. Talk to us what the proposal is and who is pushing it and any chance of it getting through the legislature and past the governor.

Mike Sunnucks: We'll see about that. This is the conservative policy lab of America now and we have progressive tax now. You make more money, pay 4.5% or something, less, you pay down in the 2's, so folks making more would get a nice tax cut and lower-paid folks, maybe a tax increase and might get rid of some of the deduction, charitable giving and kind of hallmarks of the tax system. It's made progress at the legislature so we'll se where it goes. It was proposed before, late in the session last year and didn't get final passage.

Ted Simons: Legislative analysis would raise taxes on 88% of Arizonans, cuts taxes for the 12% making over $100,000 a year and by a 2015 when it's fully implemented and stuff it would take about $50 million out the general fund. Again, what are the reasons behind -- what are we hearing as far as this is going to make good economic sense for Arizona?

Dennis Welch: I've heard a lot of stuff. It's like fairness and it strips down everything and I got to tell you, it comes back every few years, back to the original question how much of a chance it has, if it doesn't pass this legislature, I don't know if it's ever going to pass because this is the conservative legislature that embraces these ideas. 88% of people are going to be raising taxes. This is a legislature dedicated to holding taxes down but under this, I mean, almost 90% of Arizonans will be facing a tax increase.

Mike Sunnucks: Well it's philosophical. Folks on the right think if you have higher taxes, that tax rich more, it's punishing them for their success. They think everyone should be treated fairly by the tax cut. The Goldwater Institute has been advocating for these things for years.

Ted Simons: What about losing things like mortgage interest in this sort of business. You got to think the real estate industry, housing; they're not going to be happy with this.

Mark Brodie: No, and in fact they weren't when it came up before committee this week. As Mike said, losing things like deductions for charitable giving and paying your mortgage, that seems to be what has brought interest groups and constituencies out. The Realtors might not care about a tax bill but it affects potential homeownership.

Mike Sunnucks: It'll be interesting to see, they might make an argument that might help small businesses because they file under individual things, but you make an argument, we need jobs and high wages and offering this as we're talking about cutting education, not funding the transplant so much. That is a hard P.R. pill to swallow for folks.

Ted Simons: Money for Paul Babeu is there. Sounds like money for Sheriff Arpaio big bus not there. We got winners and losers among shares there, talk to us about it.

Dennis Welch: Well I guess in the battle of shares this looks like Sheriff Paul Babeu will get his money so can he can fight the crime-related border crime in his county that doesn't touch the border. The interesting part about that is that $5 million is typical for border crime and that is only going to one area and the other four counties in the state that actually border Mexico are left out in the cold.

Mark Brodie: What supporters of this bill will say is border counties are eligible for federal grants; they are already getting money that Pinal County doesn't get. This is just leveling the playing field. Pinal is a big smuggling court order now, lots of smuggling type of activity and illegal crossing activity moving through. But another interesting county issue is the senate twice has defeated a bill that would have given all elected county officials in Maricopa County and in Pinal full authority over their budget, the board of supervisors would have to allocate like sum amounts and the elected officials like Sheriff Babeu would be able to say, OK I'm going to spend this on this and this on that.

Dennis Welch: Defeating the bills in the senate, they defeated, it was senate president Russell Pearce's proposal to do that. He championed that and they beat him back on that stuff and the other point, I've seen Paul Babeu down there a lot this year. He has been lobbying pretty effectively to get his money down there. I've been pretty impressed with that. He's a very active down there going after the money.

Ted Simons: $5 million for I think was gang enforcement, illegal immigration gang enforcement was the title. The $5 million nonetheless. Democrats say how come you can't take $1.2 million away and cover those transplants, that didn't go anywhere, did it?

Mike Sunnucks: No, no that won't go anywhere down there. That's not a bipartisan issue down there at all. And they'll bring it up every time they have a chance and there's a reason to bring it up. There's saliency there for people and the Republicans have dug in their heels. I don't think we're going to find money for that.

Dennis Welch: It's absolutely stunning to me that they find all these pots of money for all this other stuff out there and they can't $1.2 million for this group of people. I mean in the context of the budget, $1.2 million, it's just not a lot of money down there.

Mike Sunnucks: It's just become a dividing line in the sand for them. They think it's the media and the Democrats are the only ones pushing for it and they're not going to buckle on that.

Ted Simons: Before we get out of here, Dennis, you wrote about a situation in the senate, regarding one senator suggesting a bill needs to be held because he can't trust his fellow lawmakers, they could be taking bribes over the weekend?

Dennis Welch: It was a bit - it's pretty amazing. A bill meant to bring Hollywood filmmakers out here. To build some studios, shoot movies and give them certain tax breaks and incentives, because it brings some money to the state. And Representative Jack Harper from the west valley said, look, I'm not going it hear it in my committee. There's likely with so much money at stake, likely to be bribes and his words were, felony quid pro quos would be likely to materialize. A lot of people were offended by that including the bill sponsor, Senator Nelson who suggested that Mr. Harper should shut his mouth or otherwise he's going to end up in a second ethics hearing committee. This would be his second one in three years.

Mike Sunnucks: This doesn't happen for other tax breaks pushed out there, just Hollywood.

Ted Simons: You know how those people are. Speaker Adams, sounded like he was ok.

Dennis Welch: We asked him about this, and he said he had to problem with Mr. Harper's letter. He had no problem at all and didn't see any reason why he should be counseled or talked to or suffer any consequences for that message that went out.

Mike Sunnucks: Well it's valid policy questions about whether to give these tax breaks to the movie producers and these TV studios and the commercials and whether it's worth the bang for the buck. You can make that argument, but bribes is a little bit -

Dennis Welch: To infer that a lawmaker may take - may bebe susceptible to taking a bribe is going a little too far.

Ted Simons: Is this indicative of what just folks are getting a little on each other's nerves down there with all this time and with the fussing and fighting, are we seeing frayed nerves or is this just business as usual?

Mark Brodie: I don't know, I thought the nerves were pretty frayed a couple years ago when they were a year-round legislature and they couldn't get a budget out and they were locking doors to prevent vetoes and people were camped out outside of people's offices. I mean I don't know if this is any more frayed than that. I mean, for sure, there are some people on edge down there, there's policy and non-policy stuff going on at the capitol that has some people on edge, but I'm not sure it's any different than normal.

Dennis Welch: I was going to say, Mr. Harper has had a bit of a history of doing some less than traditional methods of getting stuff done down there. He was hauled in front an ethics committee a couple years ago, on the last day of session; he turned the mics off so he wouldn't let the Democrats speak. He had to stop the debate. Initially, he said he did it by accident, but later, he admitted yeah, he went ahead and did that. And he accused -- years ago, senator Peterson or -- Jim Peterson was running for senate, of being somewhat corrupt on the senate floor, if you remember that. He's had a history of doing stuff like this.

Ted Simons: Alright. We'll stop it right -- don't take any bribes over the weekend.

Dennis Welch: I'll try not to.

Mark Brodie:KJZZ Radio;Dennis Welch:The Arizona Guardian;Mike Sunnucks:The Business Journal;

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