Journalists Roundtable

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Arizona journalists review the week’s top stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic." Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." And Jeremy Duda of "The Arizona Capitol Times." John McCain catches heat for connecting illegal border crossers to some of Arizona's wildfires. What exactly did he say?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't have the verbatim quote. But the news conference after he toured the area around the wallow fire in eastern Arizona, he says there's wildfires that have been caused by illegals and when pressed for detail, he said, I know there's been some. Couldn't name any fires off the top of his head and thus ensued a verbal firestorm for the rest of the week about his comments.

Dennis Welch: I think some people criticized him because he was asked specifically about the fires and said, some of these fires could have been caused by illegals which he is saying he meant in a broader context, like certain forest fires may have been in the past and he's trying to walk that back a little bit. But he's been getting roasted all over the internet and television for these comments.

Ted Simons: He was in Springerville and asked a question about things happening there in that particular neck of the woods, so to speak, and said some of the fires were start which had illegal immigrants and was it a tin ear, just a wrong thing to say at that particular moment, that particular place?

Jeremy Duda: Probably, but you know, a lot of these politician, never pass up an opportunity to throw illegal immigration into the mix and the sheriff down in Cochise county jumped open it before McCain made the comments but the sheriff is standing by his statement. Positive these were started by illegal immigrants, seen it before.

Ted Simons: He didn't say firmly believe or --

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's fine and good, and they're entitled to believe what they want, but there's yet to be empirical evidence where someone can say this fire is directly linked to this person who is in country illegally. Maybe someone with pink hair started it. And the forest service, the rank and fire, saying we're investigating the causes and there was a survey done -- requested last year, should be done soon, to answer that very question. have there been fires started by illegal border crossers. But that data's not out yet.

Dennis Welch: He can believe all he wants, some of these guys should start to believe in actual facts when it comes right down to it. [Laughter] To Jeremy's point, it's a talking point for everything. We need to get down to the border, anything is blamed on illegal immigration. I mean, there's each a hash tag on twitter that's made fun of that that used McCain's name. John McCain blames illegal immigration on -- and fill in the blank and there's pages of it.

Ted Simons: I go back to the tin ear, the senator says he was stunned by the reaction. Congressional testimony going back to 2006 on the wildfires in the southern part of the state possibly caused by illegal border crossers and as he talked more, seemed he was spreading out of fires so to speak and not necessarily talking about the wallow fire. But still, are you stunned that he's stunned?

Jeremy Duda: Oh, should be stunned. I mean, you throw out that accusation and don't have a sled of evidence. The usually suspects lined up on both sides. Sheriff Babeu and Arpaio. And illegal immigration hawks stood behind McCain and you got the feeling, once they find out the cause, no one is going to backtrack. Everyone's going to stand by their statements.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Even if you think about, the second hugest fire in state history, it was started by two people, both American citizens. One anglo and one Native American and waited until the facts came out. All we know about the fires is that they've been human caused. What side of the border, we can speculate, but it could be someone from Canada.

Dennis Welch: The tin ear, yeah, but let's wait for -- we get these fires under control and put them out. There's tragic stories going on and for him to inject border politics some find reprehensible and distasteful. Wait until everything comes in and then talk about what started the fire and what can we do to remedy it.

Ted Simons: We had the computer system, the Arizona Department of Public Safety computer system was hacked. What do we know?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It appears it wasn't the system -- it appears it was a portion of the email server hacked into. According to the governor's office, eight email accounts of DPS officers on remote locations where you don't have a DSL line, you can't do a high-speed one, and these guys are apparently on dial-up and with fairly weak passwords as we've seen. And that's as best we know now. It was eight accounts, got into all of their email and we don't know how far back in history. Is it a string going back years, or a couple of months? We've got some ideas from the files they've uploaded from the emails. Some things as the paper reported this morning, something that perhaps are a little more sensitive but DPS is saying that nothing -- nothing really sensitive that would compromise an ongoing investigation.

Ted Simons: Because they don't have classified -- DPS says they don't deal in classified information and yet phone numbers and social security's and officers and addresses and -- that's sensitive stuff.

Dennis Welch: DPS can say whatever they want. This is a big deal. The top law enforcement agency system was compromised and it wasn't as bad as it could have been or could be in the future. This has showed how vulnerable our computer systems have been. Why do we have people on dial-up? You know? I didn't know dial-up existed anymore. You know? This is going to bring up a lot of questions where we're at with the computer systems and security about this. It's public safety compromised now because this group has been able to do this? What's next? What are we doing to fix the problem?
Mary Jo Pitzl: To your point, both officer data, that information is right now shielded from public view. You cannot pull that out of voter registration records, it's sealed for the protection of the officer. Now somebody's got a lot of this data.

Ted Simons: This is all some shadowy group that is expressing all sorts of reasons for doing this. S.B. 1070, the infiltration of informants into all -- into protest groups. What's going on here?

Jeremy Duda: There's an international anarchist hacking group. For whatever reason, Senate Bill sub, they decided to go after us. They attacked the U.S. senate and FBI offices.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Wasn't it today they got into computer systems in Colombia and Brazil?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Mary Jo Pitzl: South America, it's called LULZSEC. It's an online reference to laughing maniacally.

Dennis Welch: A cyber attack like that, and I've had calls to the governor's office and waiting for a statement and she's nowhere to be found and I found that interesting that you have this compromise of your state's top law enforcement agency and the governor is not saying anything. And, in fact, they're punting this, saying, look, we're not going to talk, you call DPS, they're handling it.

Ted Simons: Speaker Tobin came out vociferously on this. He was more vocal --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Than any one elected.

Ted Simons: Exactly.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Tom Horne, our state attorney general didn't have a comment. His office providing information on what they know and there's a criminal investigation. Speaker Tobin came out and said it's a horrible, terrible thing and we're going to see what we can do with our laws to stiffen up punishment. It can't apply to this current event but anything prospectively. And I spoke to lawmakers who think there's a need for a deterrent against this kind of cyber crime.

Dennis Welch: It will be interesting what kind of data was released when the stories get out. This local journalist, Nick Martin, and got hands on a lot of files and finding all sorts of stuff. Border officials focused on white supremacy groups as well as other things and finding stuff like IEDs on known smuggling trails. This story is not going to away. It's going to play out for a while.
Ted Simons: Not only that, the group is saying they're going to release new stuff every week.

Dennis Welch: Exactly, what's going to be done to prevent this in the future? I don't know. I've heard reports of a relatively minor hack, you know, what's going to be done to prevent it in the future.

Ted Simons: Yeah. All right. Jeremy, we had action today by the state Supreme Court regarding an attempt to put a hold on the state's plan to freeze enrollment for Medicaid. Give us a ground what we're talking about.

Jeremy Duda: It's part of the budget that Governor Brewer and the legislature, they slashed $500 million of funding to AHCCCS. About $200 million is a enrollment freeze for childless adults. And the Arizona group for law in the public interest says it violates the ballot measure in 2000 and the voter protection act and suing to stop it on a number of grounds and they petitioned to the state Supreme Court for special action and wanted to bypass the lower court and go straight to the higher court and a couple hours ago, said they weren't going to hear the case and now they have to go back to the lower courts on Monday.

Ted Simons: Was that a surprise, the high court's action?

Jeremy Duda: Not really, I mean, it's hard it say, because they don't really explain why they refused to hear it. Tim Hogan, the attorney for the who filed the lawsuit, he didn't ask for an expedited hearing. The urgency at first might not have seen that great. But the enrollment freeze goes into effect a week from now.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There was another lawsuit filed again over a budget move that involved protect protection act and school district funding and the folks went to the Supreme Court and it was the teacher's union and the Supreme Court said no. Go back, start at the local court. I also wonder if in the AHCCCS case, you can't show harm yet because the freeze, they've stopped enrolling people but the freeze cutting off people has not yet occurred. So we don't have a actual victim yet.
Ted Simons: For an injunction, the likelihood of success and showing irreparable harm now. Those are the things you look for an injunction.

Ted Simons: But Tim Hogan goes to the local courts and climbs the ladder? What's next?

Dennis Welch: You have a number of options but obviously it's not in time to keep people from being froze out of AHCCCS. I wouldn't expect it to happen until fall.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Mary K. Reinhart, my colleague that has been following t his said Logan said this was a long shot. So you've got a figure, they knew their plan B was to get ready to roll and the fact they're in superior court on Monday, they're ready to go.

Ted Simons: What -- as far as the state's arguments, what were they and what -- obviously, the court didn't say why they ruled as they did. But the state, governor, obviously, the attorney for the state, argued something. What did they argue?

Jeremy Duda: Aside from the argument that the plaintiffs don't have standing because they're not going to lose the case, their argument goes back to the perpetual disagreement over the wording. That it's funded through money through a settlement. And arguing for years what this means. Does it mean that the legislature uses whatever funds it has to fund the extra population or do they have discretion and the governor's office and the A.G.'s office argued that the voters cannot force the legislature to appropriate those without specifying where it's coming from.

Ted Simons: Not only that, sounds like the office -- or the state was arguing you're forcing AHCCCS to break the law. Spend money that they don't have because it wasn't appropriated to them and you're going after the governor and AHCCCS and these folks when they're not the ones appropriating the funds. It seems it was a variety of things that were argued.

Mary Jo Pitzl: A circular argument.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This wasn't a lawsuit against the legislature. I'm not sure if the governor is suggesting that is who should have been sued. She signed the budget appropriation, which puts it into the executive branch camp. As Dennis said, once it's at the superior court, it's probably fall. A slower schedule probably as they move forward. But they'll cover the base.

Ted Simons: What happens to the protected folks?

Dennis Welch: I think that's a big question what's going to happen to all of those folks. July 1st comes and --

Ted Simons: July 1st comes and they go. Not as far as new enrollment.

Mary Jo Pitzl: These folks enrolled as of July 1st will be able to stay on for the duration of their care and AHCCCS requires renewals at different time periods. It's going to be a while before somebody has no place to turn for medical care except the emergency room but that's the doom's day scenario where folks see this ending up, the state gets out of the business, where do sick people go, they wait until they're really sick and show up at emergency rooms.

Jeremy Duda: And the governor's office are expecting to lose 100,000 people through the next year of the AHCCCS rolls. They get better or good enough to get off and new people won't be allowed on.

Ted Simons: We'll see, ninth circuit looking at Arizona's voter registration law. Tom Horne was there arguing again for the state on this one.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yep.

Ted Simons: Give us a background.
Mary Jo Pitzl: I always -- thank goodness we've decided to rename the way we do appropriations. But this is prop 204 -- or a proposition from 2004.

Ted Simons: Yes. There you go.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Sorry. I'm glad they renamed the system. That said to register to vote in Arizona, you must show proof of citizenship and you have to bring I.D. to the polls. And this has been litigated and gone up, a -- sorry, the federal court said the system does not comport with the federal voting system. The state appealed and took it up to the ninth circuit court and attorney general Horne went to Pasadena to argue for the state and to explain why the places in the law where Arizona has authority to assert its own requirements on top. What the federal government requires.

Ted Simons: The argument that the attorney general used, the cards, the federal system uses cards and the idea is to get to a mailbox and we can get you registered to vote. He says that's abused and there are folks not here legally and tricked into signing the cards and we have people who shouldn't be voting are voting and it all comes back to illegal immigration, does it not?

Dennis Welch: And 2004 was a good year for these propositions and we're still fighting over it. Gives you a sense how long we'll be dealing with the issue.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This has implications regionally, depending on how the court rules, there are other states coming along and putting on their own requirements and you live in Arizona for a while and hear that people in Indiana are shocked this is a requirement. Really? We've been doing that for a couple of years. But part of the lawsuit, there are people who can show they've been harmed and feel they've been frozen out of participating in the elections.

Ted Simons: Any indication what the court could do? Tom Horne is saying that the ninth circuit is the most liberal.

Jeremy Duda: He always says that.

Ted Simons: He's ready to apply with the Supreme Court if he has to.

Jeremy Duda: If the ninth circuit rules against him, which sounds like he expects, he'll go to the Supreme Court. Where conservatives are pinning their hopes. And there's a whole refrain about the ninth circuit is pretty common along with the refrain about illegal immigrants are trying to vote which there's never been evidence of that happening, except maybe in minor cases.

Ted Simons: Yeah, let's get over to the east valley where it sounds like it's dueling groups in Mesa and Gilbert are trying to figure out if the match is proving to be everything they thought.

Dennis Welch: You're a year way from the Republican primary election. Which is going to decide the next congressman in that district and people going out and getting endorsements and these are big signals for donors that want to scratch out checks because they don't want to waste their money. They want to give the money to the person they think can win. And Matt salmon racked up nearly the -- half of the Mesa city council which is a big deal for him. And him and Kirk Adams are from that city. Kirk Adams racked up half the Gilbert city council endorsement, which is a completely different type of community and politics different there. And that's what is happening at this point.

Ted Simons: It sounded like the Mesa city council, bubbling underneath, you have Jeff flake against earmarks and you've got the polytechnic university, and Williams gateway wants to be a major player and you need federal help. Is this Mesa's way of saying, Kirk Adams we know you're like Jeff flake and not a earmark guy? Is that --

Dennis Welch: Mat salmon, not an earmark guy.

Ted Simons: Not an earmark guy --

Dennis Welch: But he'll say you need someone fighting for your district and bring the money so we can expand gateway because it brings revenue into our community at a time we need it. And yeah, I would say that would be one of the take-home messages, Mesa need that's stuff. And again, Mesa is a lot different than Gilbert. A lot more different needs. It's a real city, not a bedroom city.

Ted Simons: Who is victor riches and why is everybody talking about him.

Mary Jo Pitzl: He's the chief of staff in the house of representative, he's into his third year. He came over from the senate where he'd been chief of staff with Kirk Adams when Kirk became speaker of the house. And within recent weeks a lot of information was circulated about Mr. rich's arrest a year ago on an extreme DUI charge, he was arrested and convicted and did the time and paid the time and still has a interlock device on his vehicle. What caught a lot of people's eyes was not prosecuted. The police report found two vials of what they learned to be cocaine in the car and there was no prosecution of that.

Dennis Welch: What shocked, surprised me doing the report on this story, not that there was a prosecution, they didn't even test him for cocaine usage. They sent the vials off to the lab, came back positive, never looked for fingerprints or did any of the steps that people think would be pretty reasonable in a situation like that. Why not test him to see if there was cocaine in the system. And the answer I got and Mary Jo got, he was too drunk. When you have that much alcohol it's going it mask any other test results.

Ted Simons: A lot of folks wonder why this is a big story. Is the response by the -- the leadership. They trusted that he did the right thing and walked the right line and that's good enough.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The story in our eyes was more how did -- what did the leadership know and how did they react and why, and hard to find Adams, who has left, running for congress, and even Andy Tobin who succeeded him as speaker and kept rich on and sending out statements and saying we knew about the incident, but what's the incident? Is that the official record, the official charges? Did they know about the cocaine? And they both lauded victor's diligence and didn't try to fight the charge.

Ted Simons: Any lingering fallout?

Jeremy Duda: Puts Adams on the defensive and rumor and speculation who is really responsible for circulating the information from the old arrest and a lot of people are pointing fingers at the salmon campaign, and others at public safety unions that are mad at Adams for the pension reform bill.

Ted Simons: So basically it could get even more interesting. Even though we're talking about a year-old story.
Mary Jo Pitzl: I think this will not be the last we'll hear of it.

Ted Simons: Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to talk about the commercializing the rest stops along our Highways and byways.

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