Journalists Roundtabe

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Arizona journalists review the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary K. Reinhart of "The Arizona Republic." Mike Sunnucks of "the business journal." and Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." Thousands of recall petition signatures are getting the once-over twice from elections officials. But all indications are that once the verification is complete, senate president Russell Pearce will be facing a recall election. Mary Kay, how surprising in the grand scheme of things is this?

Mary K Reinhart: Once they turned over 18,000 -- close to 18,000 signatures it became less surprising and clearly, they had a big effort going and very confident from the start they could gather the signatures and gather them it appears they did. The county has until August 1st to count all the signatures but at this rate, everything is on a fast track and looks like a election will be held in November. In November?

Mike Sunnucks: I think it is a big It's a republican district. He's a poster guy for the immigration effort. Had a rise politically down at the legislature and nationally and able to get these all signatures. Obviously, they can collect a lot of signatures and some might not work but looks like a recall and did a good organizational effort and got the people to sign the things.

Ted Simons: That seems to be the key. It's one thing to say there's going to be a recall. These folks seem like they had their ducks in line.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, talking about an effort like this, any kind of political effort. You're looking at the organizational skills. To get anything done, you've got to have that stuff in place. They had some people running this it's not their first rodeo, as they say. In recalls you want to get a lot more petition signatures than what's needed. Quite a few are thrown off the top and the validation rates aren't that great. But this looks like it's moving forward and Mr. Pearce will face competition.

Mike Sunnucks: They convinced people to sign this thing, this isn't something where you're going out there saying "ok we want to do this thing that is a certain issue people recognize". This is kind of a complicated thing for folks. You try and get people engaged in something that they're probably not going to be towards, and it's a republican district. They got to have credit to selling to people.

Mary K Reinhart: There's another step in the process where, the signatures can be challenged and I'm sure they will be. We have a chapter yet before we have an election held.

Ted Simons: We had Russell Pearce on "Horizon" last night and I asked him about the timing and everything and he seemed a little concerned for what the november election because there may be school bond elections and these things going on at the same time. What that could bring out what could be for him, a tough crowd.

Mary K Reinhart: Indeed. And the thinking was if the governor had the opportunity, she might make the election in March. But the speed at which it was handed off to the county and the county to the governor pretty quickly and the secretary of state's office gets it back for five days and governor Brewer has a 15-day window. I don't believe if she gets the signatures in a certain time period, she'll have a choice.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it works to Pearce's advantage. He's playing defense. He can run out the clock. He's got the voter registration advantage. I think it's an advantage to have a shorter time frame. There's not more dirt that can come out or things go wrong for him.

Dennis Welch: I don't think it works to his detriment whether it's a March or November election. He's got certain issues he's going to have to overcome depending on who the candidate is and what we're talking about here is that x factor. We don't know who the candidate is. It's up to somebody who has credibility in that district, got to be a Republican. That would be willing to step up and take on one the most powerful people in the state. Until we know who that is, there's going -- there's a lot of unanswered questions. We don't know how much trouble he's going to be in. But if you can get a popular former council person, or woman, he could be in trouble.

Mary K Reinhart: But to Mike's point that person has to step up quickly. The clock is ticking and school starting and people are going to -- their attention focused elsewhere.

Mike Sunnucks: I think there's two things. How much national money comes in on either side. If somebody is willing to step in and give money in favor of Russell or against him. That could help and what wildcards stuff comes out with Russell. He always had all these types of scandals and controversies that follow him around. If something come like that comes out that could tip the balance. Let's look at the numbers. 18,000 signatures, let's say -- I don't know, 50, 60, whatever they are that are valid. You have a lot of folks yet he won with how many votes in the last.

Dennis Welch: He won with 17,000 -- 17,000 or 18,000 votes. This is why it's important to get a republican to run against him if you want to defeat him. When he was running for the house when there was two seats open, he was never the top vote getter. Never been the most popular republican out there. That's why I would think in a situation like this, there's quite a few Democrats that aren't going to vote for him and vote against whoever is running against him and then you put a Republican on there and you can split the vote and it could be trouble for Mr. Pearce. Until I know the candidate, I still think that mr. Pearce is strong in that district, he's going to have a lot of money. People know his name. He's been there for years.

Mary K Reinhart: There's a national fundraising effort to try and help him out. We know he's going to have a lot of cash and probably eclipsed whoever is running against him.

Ted Simons: I asked him, he would be the first state lawmaker to face a recall election. If that humbled him or made him twice. His quick answer was no. But do you think it actually does, A, and B, what kind of fallout -- let's say he wins, loses it's not a factor at the legislature, wins, he's still there but what kind of power does he have? How does it shift the dynamics.

Mike Sunnucks: I think overall this weakens him. There's talk of him running for senate in the primary, running for sheriff if Arpaio doesn't run. He's one of the more powerful people down there and putting resources and energy toward this and maybe calling this chips from folks he's helped in the past. That doesn't help you with your legislative agenda. He's got to call this help. He'll be knocking on a lot of doors summer and fall.

Dennis Welch: I haven't seen any evidence he's been humbled at all. You know, he's always been Russell and I don't see any change in his demeanor or statements he's been making. He's told us he's ready to take on all comers.

Ted Simons: If the election occurs in November and if he were to win, does that make him stronger?

Mary K Reinhart: I think you could argue that point. It's an affirmation. He can say see my ideas, it's the open borders crowd and they lose again.

Also there was a lawsuit, Pierce facing a lawsuit from Salvador Reza.

Dennis Welch: During the session, a political activist was arrested and apparently put on a list and told he is banned from the senate and never told about this. And it was taken out in -- he was taken out in handcuffs one day during the session. Not a lot came out of that and now they're filing a suit that he was wrongfully arrested and had his civil rights violated.

Ted Simons: And this actually stemmed from a meeting, that Russell Pearce and -- had a list of people not allowed in the senate building.

Mary K Reinhart: Right, we spent a lot of time looking for that list. And haven't found it. But evidently, there were six people arrested in one week at the senate and Salvador Reza was arrested two days after an immigration hearing. And it was raucous and rowdy and the folks who tried to keep control of the senate, the police and security, were a little unnerved and not too happy and so Senator Pearce said whoever the agitators are, the ringleaders, they're not invited back, they're not welcome in the Senate. And we scoured the constitution and talked to the rules attorneys and appears that the senator of the body has the right to decide who gets to come and go and we have history where senate presidents and house speakers have elected to say you're not allowed back here. But in Mr. Reza's case, he was never told and showed up two days later to see Senator Guillardo and other things ensue and --

Mike Sunnucks: The backdrop of this is all went on outside the capitol and in the middle where there was a lot of rowdiness and heckling and a lot of lawmakers didn't like that. And you had the 1070 protests with the kids down there and a think I lot of folks on the republican side doesn't care for the tone down there.

Dennis Welch: That's the reason why they were doing this, that's absolutely ridiculous. This is politics, this is a heated time in Arizona with a lot of big contentious issues like the one Mary Kay was describing that started this whole thing. It's going to get heated and loud and there are different ways I think to deal with this than to put someone on a secret list or ban someone from the building you don't like and then arrest them later. It's the people's house, they've got a right to be there and there should be a better way to get this done than the way Mr. Pearce handled this one.

Mary K Reinhart: That's Sal Reza's point, that Senator Pearce is trying to silence people.

Ted Simons: We had a report released regarding the ethnic studies program at the Tucson unified school district, and we didn't have a chance to go through the complete report, which is a shame. We had the superintendent Huppenthal here-- here, seemed like he was never quite on the same page as the report, now we know why, don't we?

Mary K Reinhart: The audit?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Mary K Reinhart: Didn't back him up, it in fact said very nice things about the Tuscon Unified School District. He campaigned on getting rid of the Tucson program. So the superintendent released his findings and said they were in violation and at risk of losing millions in funding and said, by the way, there's this audit, we opened up the audit, it doesn't back him up. How does it happen when you pay $100,000 for an audit and it's supposed to find x, it shows y but you're going x anyway?

Dennis Welch: Well there's an irony with Mr. Huppenthal, he's the kind of guy who would cite all of these studies. It's a joke about him. He'll cite all of the studies except the $100,000 audit his office paid for and completely ignores that one. As far as how that happens, I guess you just -- if it doesn't fit your agenda, you just toss it aside. But politically, this is a winner for him. A 1070 type issue that a lot of Republican lawmakers, politicians have glommed on to, he's fighting the good fight against the program, which a lot of people on the right don't like, they think it's exclusionary and teaching the wrong things down there. And following in the footsteps of Governor Brewer and the sheriff, and no matter what the facts are, politically, he campaigned on this.

Mary K Reinhart: Those are the same people that preach local control and when you have a school district that's doing its thing and if people don't like it, it's up to the school district and the board and parents who belong there to make those changes. And so in many ways this is flying in the face of that.

Mike Sunnucks: It's kind of like what's more important, immigration or local control in mandates and immigration supercedes everything.

Ted Simons: Back on the audit, promoting resentment, designed for students of a particular ethnic group and devoting solidarity and those the things he cited and the quote on the audit, no observable evidence to suggest any classroom in the Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law. That's as clear as you can get from the report, isn't it?

Mary K Reinhart: Right and it goes on. The students are engaged and it's a really -- the report is very complimentary of the program. And I think the other thing, even if the audit was wonderful and didn't find evidence and complimentary to the program, what the Superintendent also doesn't have as you say is any evidence within -- that he's found himself on his own of any of these things. That's a problem. I think the critics of it look at the motivation is not positive. The starting point this program is meant to teach these kids that they're Hispanic, Chicano, Mexican first.

Ted Simons: And do you agree that Huppenthal didn't get hurt by this at all, or maybe helped?

Dennis Welch: No, I don't think he'll be hurt by this. You see the guy who preceeded him he went on and won the AG's race. It's a good issue to campaign on for a lot of republicans in the state. I think a lot of people will look at there and go, he looks foolish but he'll be able to go out and tell voters, I'm still taking the battle on.

Mary K Reinhart: At the end of the day what we have to watch for, if he yanks $15 million from the Tucson Unified School District and if he does that, I'm not sure how many fans he'll have in Southern Arizona.

Ted Simons: He doesn't have a lot of fans.

Mary K Reinhart: That's $15 million and it's a state law and maybe the program does all of those things that you say it does, but does it violate state law.

Mike Sunnucks: It was a setup, that was step one and this is step two. Speaking of state law and passing things, we had a special legislative session in which nothing was passed was anything introduced. What happened? Coffee, donuts, what else?

Dennis Welch: Well they showed up and got per diem for a few days. The special section to nowhere. The governor called an session to extend unemployment benefits and nothing happened.

Mike Sunnucks: It's another example of the liberal Jan Brewer, that's how it's coming across. She was fighting for the working class.

Dennis Welch: What I find interesting, when a executive does something like this and gets the same outcome, you go, man, what a failure of leadership. She called a special session and didn't have the votes lined up and it just failed. I think Jan Brewer comes out looking really good, in this situation and republicans put themselves in a bad spot by not extend can the unemployment benefits if you look at where we are in the state with high unemployment in certain areas, a lot of folks have to go back and explain that to the voters.

Mike Sunnucks: These folks don't make a lot of money on unemployment. This is not Pennsylvania or New York, where you have a lot of automakers making money on the dole. The job market is tough and I think republican lawmakers were shocked how obtuse people were. I thought they'd get in there and maybe make the argument and cobble enough votes to come close.

Dennis Welch: The important thing to remember, they had enough votes to pass this on a simple majority. But didn't have enough on the emergency clause to make sure it went into effect immediately. It's a smaller group of Republicans than every Republican down there.

Ted Simons: With the idea that this program is a disincentive to work, which was a quote "band-aid". President Pearce said he wasn't crazy about paying people to sit at home. That sort of idea -- all roads lead to Russell Pearce. Does that hurt him and some of these Republican lawmakers who have to go back to their district and face people who may be part of the thousands not getting checks anymore.

Mary K Reinhart: As long as those people vote. It depends on whether the people go to the polls until time. You had McCain standing on the floor and saying I haven't seen "help wanted" in any of the stores in my district. She was ready to vote. People are not able to find work and looking as hard as they can. I think it will hurt the folks.

Mike Sunnucks: The reality is the job market is stuff. You've got a lot of older folks working taking jobs that teenagers would have. It's a tough job market. I think the fact that brewer pushed this gives Republicans a little bit of leeway. She was the poster child in favor of this. Going forward, you might see Democrats use this in statewide races but there's so few competitive legislative races, that I don't see--

Dennis Welch: Yeah, but there's so many competitive district races is -- look at Don Schueder in Yuma. His district's got 25% unemployment, he was able it take out a long-term democrat to get that seat. If someone like a Steve Smith took out a Rebecca Rios had been down there for a long time. He has to explain why Republicans didn't get this done. I think in those areas there will be problems.

Mike Sunnucks: The comparison, they passed tax cuts for the big companies and did all of that and can't change the formula so we get more federal money for unemployment.

Dennis Welch: The house, speaker tobin was wanting to get more corporate tax breaks for support of this thing.

Ted Simons: To that end, do we know if democrats would have gone along with an unemployment extension if it meant also having more tax cuts breaks, more tax cuts incentives, etcetera?

Mary K Reinhart: We don't know and never got there. That was one of the puzzles we had. The governor came down to the press room after the first day and flopped and said in solve so many words, it's my way or the highway. Because there's been overtures from the speaker and senate president. What if we added this and that and there was room there and the governor said we don't have time for that. We already have a jobs bill. We did that already and so there wasn't any real negotiating place and it's not clear why. The other question I had, why this wasn't taken care of --

Dennis Welch: I can tell you, the democrats were looking to their union supporters how far they could take this. And after my conversation with union officials, they weren't going to support any type of more corporate tax breaks. They were going to -- and term going it try and tell their democratic lawmakers's, look, we're not going to support this and neither should you. I don't think if you had put corporate tax breaks in this thing you'd have had corporate support.

Ted Simons: Last topic. Robert Shelton named the head of the Fiesta Bowl. Was that a surprise?

Mike Sunnucks: It was a surprise. We thought some rich guy. Athletic director, sports commissioner and you've got a University President taking the job. I don't think any university presidents have gone from that to a bowl game and he's a physicist. He's a science guy. A professor. And that was a surprise and it broke real quick on Monday, but the BCS and NCAA like it because it's about compliance and healing all the Junker wounds.

Mary K Reinhart: And he got a pay raise and left a university system cut by almost 50%.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask that you. Looking at the numbers on the wall and not liking what you're seeing?

Dennis Welch: He's ease he's been a University president and new taking over the Fiesta Bowl. I can tell you one thing -- we were talking about this before -- the relationship between the legislature and the Fiesta Bowl is going to be different -- a lot different.

Ted Simons: Indeed. A bigger surprise he left the U of A or took Fiesta Bowl?

Mike Sunnucks: I think the Fiesta Bowl. A lot of times you would have seen him go to another state and take a job. There's a lot of surprise he went to the bowl game. The NCAA president was a university president. But to a bowl game, that's different.

Ted Simons: And as far as the cuts to higher education, that had to be a factor and he was outspoken. Sitting out there saying the legislature doesn't get it.

Mary K Reinhart: Yeah, and he rankled the regents once or twice too. He was strong with statements. And clearly, he wasn't happy with the amount of money he was getting and who can blame him.

Ted Simons: Looks like a lawsuit over the Medicaid freeze. Give us a timeline. Seems to be a moving target so to speak.

Mary K Reinhart: July 1st and if nothing happens and if the feds comply. We'll see people drop of the Medicaid rolls July 1st. What the public interest groups want to do ask speed things up. They -- the state supreme court said we'll talk to you in September. And they said, hey, we want an injunction, expedited hearings and hopefully some action within the next week or so.

Ted Simons: And the lawsuits claimed that these people were covered by a proposition back in 2000.

Mary K Reinhart: Right we want everybody under 100% of the federal poverty level to have insurance and don't want the legislature or the governor tinkering. So it's unconstitutional, voters said we want the people covered and don't mess with what they do at the ballot. They've got a case prior to this, first things first, where the legislature tried to take interest money and the same supreme court, maybe a couple different justices said you can't do that. The voters said that money belongs here. So Tim Hogan and the folks at the law group believes that has precedence.

Mike Sunnucks: If the legislature and the governor win this, they're going to go after everything that's voter mandated. That will open up the floodgates.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

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