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 Jim small of the Arizona Capitol Times, Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal, and Dennis Welch of the Arizona Guardian. Well lots of questions, and not many answers regarding the state's medical marijuana program which leaves us Jim, this will be my last marijuana reference here, a little dazed and confused about this whole thing.

Jim Small: Yeah, it was really- obviously last week, the goveronor and the AG came out and filed a motion that if this law is going to lead to federal prosecution of state employees. And since then, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke has said, "Did you even read my letter?" Because it didn't say anything about state employees, it refers only to people who are growing and cultivating and folks who are basically using the state law as cover for violating federal law. And U.S. Attorney General Holder is supposed to be coming out with a clarification to say, you know, to say what their stance is and to head off this court suit. They filed it last week, it's interesting, it says here is federal law, it says that you can't do marijuana and we think we're preempted federal law which is interesting considering the exact opposite what they made against 1070.

Mike Sunnucks: They have other states have a medical marijuana law, I don't remember them going after state workers in California. I think it's a move of folks don't like passing the governor, Republican attorney general, with any chance they have a chance to stop this thing, they're taking advantage of it. Nobody's been prosecuted in other states, why think in Arizona?

Ted Simons: Nobody's been prosecuted, but they could be if someone decides to do something. The Burke letter, by the way, just so you know, none of this is legal federally.

Dennis Welch: And that gives them the cover to go ahead and do this. Both Horne and Governor Brewer were opposed to the medical marijuana act during the campaign last year. They're looking for different avenues to be able to try to stop this. But there's the legitimate concern, according to the letters. Could our state workers be held liable and prosecuted for managing any part of this new industry that's out there? The federal law still recognizes marijuana as an illegal drug.

Mike Sunnucks: None of these folks came out strongly against it during the campaign. They were winning their races and the medical marijuana thing was popular enough to pass. It was close. If they went out against it and put political capital behind it, they might have killed it. So now they're doing it. I don't think it shows political courage to go after it --

Dennis Welch: I don't know how strongly they came out against it. Both of them on record saying they oppose this thing. Maybe they didn't campaign hard, but maybe didn't think it was a issue.

Mike Sunnucks: When Napolitano and Matt salmon and the drug czar, they opposed this in 2002, and came out public against it. Jan Brewer was buckled down on 1070 and holding on to her lead and I think that was her strategy. So you didn't see that kind of concerted effort by folks.

Jim Small: I think that the opposition campaign was like $20,000. It was next to nothing. I think, you know, if they'd gone out and said, hey, chip in a little bit of money, let's do something. It was such a close vote it was a 10th of a percent, literally, like splitting hairs in election talk when talking about 1.4 million ballots cast. So, the small -- a small effort could have cut this off months ago.

Ted Simons: We had some legal opinion on here, friends of the program coming on with their legal expertise and brought up something I haven't thought of and haven't heard mention before. And that is, the privacy rights and due process aspects of the law. Privacy especially. You're talking about perhaps the feds going after someone because they are using marijuana by way of the state law, and oh, by the way, those are medical issues there. There are privacy issues when it comes to medical records and history and the reasons why you're taking a certain medication and receiving treatment. That's a whole other ball of wax.

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely we have all these HIPA regulations about what kind of information can be divulged and the feds said they're not going to go after the little old lady in sun city using this. They're more worried about interstate commerce and more worried about doctors handing this out to thousands, hundreds of people.

Jim Small: The doctor thing is interesting. We pulled the stats from the department of health services on the cards and 85 -- 4500 people got the cards so far. 85% said chronic pain. Which is that loophole. Are there that many with chronic pain? Well, cancer patients and aids patients and folks with serious legitimate medical concerns but those people are such a small fraction of who is actually getting the carded and the director, will humble, he has no doubt that most of these people with chronic pain are recreational pot users who're taking advantage of our system.

Dennis Welch: With no organized campaign, that issue was never brought up. In a campaign, that's the time you've got these issues and bring them up and talk about the potential of this kind of stuff out there. I mean, chronic pain, that's one the things we were warned about by some of the opponents but there was no money to bring that to the forefront.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of the practice group, the organized practice groups don't want them prescribing and hospital groups that don't want their doctors prescribing and worried about their licenses and you'll see people specialize and other folks are gonna shy away.

Ted Simons: You've got doctors in a tough position and landlords in a tough position and patients in a tough position. There are folks, I don't need the feds -- granted, they say no one is going to knock on your door, but try telling that to someone who is sick and all of a sudden, here comes some prosecution.

Dennis Welch: We could be getting a little bit more clarity here soon. Eric Holder said he's going to issue some sort of opinion about all of this, which could head off any of this court action and give us clarity sooner than we think and maybe stave off a court effort. We had this week, the dispensaries, supposed to get the applications in and that was put to a stop because of the governor's action and the attorney general's actions and so that could lead to legal action as well.

Jim Small: Almost certainly will, they're readying their legal action right now and I think it's a parallel track where you've got fighting against what Brewer and Horne are doing and then -- in court and then fighting against them stopping these applications from going forward and I'm sure we'll see those writs get filed in a week or two.

Ted Simons: Did I read about a medical marijuana superstore?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, on Thomas, a weed row… out of California. And we love big box stores and approving those and you'll see these types of service providers.

Jim Small: And that's actually an important thing right now. The way the law is written, if there's no dispensary within, I think 15 miles of where you live, you can grow your own and if they're going to halt the dispensary licensing process, that makes it longer people can grow their own and anyone who lives in Maricopa County, 15 miles is a long way here and you'll you're going to have a lot of people and more than 1,000 requests for permits to grow at home.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you'll see a fair amount of people who will move into rural parts.

Dennis Welch: And unless we don't get dispensaries and growers, you have 4500 growers. That could be another mess. We need clarification pretty quickly.

Ted Simons: Let's move on. A group submitting petitions to recall senate president Russell Pearce. Give us the background of what's going on right here and where we stand right now.

Jim Small: You've got a lot of people who aren't a fan of his anti-illegal immigration policies and spent months gathering signatures and turned them in and made a show about we turned in more signatures than he got elected with last time and the secretary of state finished the preliminary vetting and passed them off to Maricopa County by the time they were done, knocked off 1100 signatures but it was still demonstrably more than the 7700 or so they need. I think the biggest question, the November or March election and you know --

Ted Simons: And that's a question because the elections director gave the group the wrong information as we've talked about on this program.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, we talked a little bit about that. I think it's going to end up being the governor's call, when she's going to call for the election in August, before a certain date, it's going to be if she calls, it's going to be a November election, waiting to later date, a March election. I think regardless, I think Mr. Pearce isn't very vulnerable now. I think he'll win election. 18,000 signature, big deal. You've got paid petition gatherers out there getting signatures, that's a lot different than getting people to go out to the polls and vote against someone who held that office for a very long time and is really well known and popular in that area.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it'd be better for Russell at the end of November. I think it will be out of session and the legislature out for a while, and out of the spotlight, of course, it's in March during the session, you don't know what kind of issue, immigration measures are going to pop up, I think it might be better to have a home stretch run to that. He is going to have -- the -- he worked that district hard. The folks who collect those signatures have a doubly hard job.

Jim Small: I'll disagree, I think it's easier in March if only it's tougher to recruit a candidate to run against him in March. You get a candidate and in session for six weeks, they can't sponsor any bills, they vote on nothing outside of the budget and turn around in August and face Russell Pearce in a Republican primary which is a completely different kettle of fish than a special recall election where democrats and independents can vote.

Dennis Welch: It's going to come down to the candidate. Can they field a qualified candidate? They say they've got interest, but I'll believe it when I see it. Who out there has the money and political constitution to take on Russell Pearce for basically the next year. No matter what happens, whether it's November election, March election, he's going to be coming after you for the next year, if you win, if you win in November, March, you think Mr. Pearce is going to give up on that? Do you think he's not going to come back and try and win the seat? No, he's going to.

Ted Simons: Who is behind the recall? I know we had folks on the air here and to that end, I know the group has formed to oppose the recall. It seems like -- anyone from Pearce's district involved with this.

Mike Sunnucks: It doesn't look that way. Folks opposed to his immigration stances and have a problem with some of the missteps that he's made and the folks he's associated with on the far right. The activists on both crowds. That's the question how engaged that district is gonna be and how engaged that are not conservative that might vote against him. How engaged -- when it happens. Mostly external forces on both sides.

Ted Simons: Pearce supporters are saying it's outsiders. And some of them are going back to Washington. Folks outside the district are behind all of this.

Dennis Welch: I love the whole outside thing. Where is Russell Pearce going to get his money? From everybody across the country. Everybody is going to get involved in this thing. Whether it's outsiders or insiders, a lot of people are going to be involved in this recall. The one thing, stalled his ambitions, he could have very well run for senate, challenged Jeff flake on the immigration matter alone and be a viable primary candidate and the Fiesta Bowl stuff he's involved with and this has really stalled his ladder jumping.

Dennis Welch: I'll tell you, the people who oppose Russell Pearce, by doing this, may end up raising Russell Pearce's profile and his power at the end of the day. If he's able to fight off this recall effort with the publicity, he could come out of this stronger and than ever before.

Ted Simons: Let's go back to the original point here and give me your thoughts on this. Do the people in Russell Pearce's district, do they want him recalled? The voters in that district?

Jim Small: Clearly 17,000 or so, we'll get the final number later, thought it was a good idea to sign a petition to have the election. I think it's kind of a misdirection when -- the argument, outsiders who want me gone, but they got voters to sign to say we don't like what he's doing. So we'll see at the election.

Ted Simons: Is that will there do you think to recall him in that district?

Mike Sunnucks: I'd say probably not, at the end of the day. He works that district hard. He'll raise money by going on Fox News and he works the district hard and at the end of the day, unless something else comes out on him or he does, I think it will be tough.

Dennis Welch: Again, voters and petition signers, I think, are two different things and the voters have shown they like Russell Pearce, they want to send him, year after -- Russell Pearce, they want to send him -- he was never the top vote getter in that district but he's been winning the senate races by a wide margin, people out there know and like him and see it as just a real tall mountain to climb.

Ted Simons: The fundraising numbers for the Phoenix mayoral race. I think a lot of folks in Phoenix, and outlying people taking an interest, they don't know who a lot of these candidates are.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, and I think right now, we're getting toward the end of the money chase. And I think going to start to transition into the actual campaign mode and the end of the first reporting period, which covers the first five months of the year just ended and Greg Stanton, the former city councilman reported raising a quarter of a million dollars which exceeded a lot of people's expectation how much money he could race raise in the primary. It's a good showing for him. We don't know where all the other candidates are at, because apparently, they're not as proud of their fundraising totals Mr. Stanton.

Ted Simons: Was money misplaced?

Dennis Welch: He had a auspicious start to his campaign. Shortly before or after he announced, he found $70,000, $80,000 missing from his campaign. His long-time treasurer was investigated by Phoenix P.D. Her father paid the money back and her father happens to be one the most powerful lobbyists in city hall and the question is can he cut a political candidate, a $70,000, $80,000 check and is that legal. And according to the campaign, that money was replaced but he hasn't spent any of that money.

Ted Simons: Is this catching fire at all? Anyone paying attention or still waiting for a stretch run here?

Mike Sunnucks: Probably a stretch run. The election is in August and you'll have the top two go through and I doubt you'll see someone get 50% or more. None of them really distinguish themselves on when they were on the council, kind of just voted along with the rest the folks, and so nobody's really has an issue, talk about billboards a little bit. Stanton is a democrat, you can see -- Phoenix is a pretty moderate city. You can see him try to play that up and I don't see anyone catching fire right now and it's going to be the summer. Mailers and get out the vote type stuff.

Dennis Welch: And one of the things they're distinguishing themselves, it's technically a non-partisan race but we all know behind the scenes there's at least an attempt on Stanton's part to make this partisan. He's the only democrat in the race. It's a blue city for a lot of parts -- particularly his district, former council district, the largest district in the city, very blue. So, you know, it's the bet right now, probably Stanton is going to get in the run-off and who will be second? Is it gonna be Neeley, Claude Maddox…

Mike Sunnucks: I think Neely, she's the only -- is the only woman in the race, from the Northeast part of the city, good turnout there. And she's got good organization, got the person who did the governor's campaign and raised a lot of money from developers and business folks and can have a formidable ground campaign. It's whether she can communicate.

Ted Simons: Mary Jo Pitzl did a look at the first year, the three-year sales tax, looks like the projection is 800 some odd million. Jim, we're into this thing a little bit here. Talk about what's happened as far as how this impacted the budget and what happened how it's impacted the political careers of those who were for it and those against it.

Jim Small: All address the last point first, but, I think the fact it passed overwhelmingly when it went to the polls, probably inoculates anyone who supported it and had a political risk, I can get hammered for wanting to raise taxes. That can still happen, but you can just point to the scoreboard and say look, 64% of people supported it. Obviously, voters wanted this. How it affected the budget, you hear two schools the thought. On one hand you could just look at the money and say it's $820 million we didn't have before and if we didn't have this money we would have had to make that much more in cuts on top of the $1.1 billion we would have had to cut out of the budget. And I know a lot of people who feel they were lied to. The governor sat in private or public to do this to protect education and then cut 500 or so million out of K-12 and universities and I spoke to Democrats who were saying, why did we buy into this.

Mike Sunnucks: They're going to support raising taxes for protecting those things. So I don't think the governor was disingenuous at all. I think she tried to protect the state spending and the economy's still been slow, and she can't control that.

Dennis Welch: It's real hard position it take, hey, we were lied to. Because the come back is where would you be now without this $800 million? Ask that question to them. Because without that money, the education would be that much worst than where we're at now.

Ted Simons: But if there is the perception that they were lied to, whatever the case may be, what does that mean for future initiative where is a revenue increase is mentioned. Does it have to be more fine tuned. I mean, it sounds as though people need to be more careful.

Jim Small: That was the argument -- tells and people who didn't like the proposal said they're going to pass this tax and take the money out of other door. It's not like it comes as a surprise to anyone at the capitol. As someone who covered the budget, of course, they're going to do this. This was the open secret down there and you have the groups who were behind it and put their money behind it and wanted their money to go toward something successful so it was kind of a head in the sand approach during the campaign.

Dennis Welch: I can't remember her saying during the campaign, look, I want to protect education. Let's pass this and I won't make any more cuts to education. I don't ever remember her saying that. And another lesson that people might take away, if you go for a tax increase, maybe go for more. This passed 64%. Why not go for a two cent tax increase next time? Maybe low balled it.

Mike Sunnucks: The coalition was packing it, the business groups who got their tax cuts this year and it was the universities and education lobby, that's a good combination when you've got a Republican governor, so I don't think -- I think it was a one-time deal. I can't see a lot of precedence setting.

Ted Simons: A couple minutes left. Inside baseball regarding the Republican party and the exit of the executive director of the party. And we're talking about inside baseball.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, it's inside baseball. Brett Mecham walked into work on Tuesday, and told get out of here, we don't need you anymore. So there's changes over there, I know the party chairman, Tom Morrissey has made changes by elevating a former state lawmaker to be a chief of staff.

Ted Simons: I mentioned inside baseball because this is the party apparatus, but you mentioned we don't need you anymore. How much are parties needed anymore? In this era of clean elections and citizens united.

Jim Small: You could make the argument they've become increasingly irrelevant for a combination of reasons, not the least of which is those. You dent need a party apparatus to funnel and raise money for candidates. You have citizens united that says wealthy businesses can use businesses to fund independent groups that can spend all the money they want to at every level. I think you could make a credible argument that yeah, the party isn't strong and certainly Republicans, the old guard have made that argument for a number of years, but I don't know that it matters but you can work to influence the election through other means.

Ted Simons: Is that how you see it?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, when Jim Peterson was funneling money, it was effective. When they don't have money, Randy pollen was chairman, didn't raise a lot of money when he was there. They're not. When they use it as way to raise money, it's effective.

Dennis Welch: Let's talk about money, quick. Because a lot of these candidates get money from the state through the state through clean elections. Do they need the party anymore for their money? No.

Ted Simons: Alright, we'll keep an eye on that story, thank you very much gentlemen, we appreciate it. "Horizon" is preempted Monday through Thursday to bring you special programming during eight's spring membership drive but we're back next Friday with another edition of the journalists' roundtable. "Washington week" is next. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend

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