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 for tonight's journalists' roundtable are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian," And Luige Del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times." Jerry Lewis makes it official. He's going to challenge Russell Pearce, the race is on.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, drum roll, please. It was about two weeks ago that his name surfaced, and Mr. Lewis and his camp did a little bit of bobbing and weaving and very selected interviews and finally, he pulled his papers and held a press conference and said I'm in the race and am going to run a clean, and upstanding race.

Ted Simons: First, describe the scene at the announcement event.

Dennis Welch: It took place in an area traditional old Mesa place called the Wright House, where there's lots of weddings and big parties. So there was a lot of his supporters there. A lot of people you wouldn't recognize from normal political circles holding hand held placards and there seemed to be a excitement, I would think of it, as the people who showed up for the announcement.

Ted Simons: You were there as well?

Luige Del Puerto: I was there, and the crowd was certainly energetic but I think it was overshadowed just a little bit by the seriousness of the challenge that lies ahead for him. There's the overarching theme, yeah, this is going to get serious soon.

Ted Simons: How was the speech? Inspirational, rousing? Tempered? What do we have here.

Luige Del Puerto: It wasn't rousing. This is a person new to politics and seemed it seems like he organized things in a couple of weeks, days. It wasn't a rousing speech. He spoke about his credentials and having worked as an accountant, having worked in the educational system and basically said I'm going to run a clean, positive campaign.

Ted Simons: Sounds like he mentioned Russell Pearce's name once, that's about it?

Luige Del Puerto: Yeah, he basically made a pledge he was not going to attack his opponent. He was going to run a clean campaign, wasn't going to get nasty or anything like that. And he referred to Russell Pearce as a fellow Mesan and a fellow member of his community, meaning the Morman church; there's a couple members of the LDS church who are going after it, and he referred to that, saying their common faith teaches them to treat each other with kindness and respect.

Ted Simons: Are we going to see them treat each other with kindness and respect?

Mary Jo Pitzl: They might, and there's lots of surrogates in a race like this, and we'll see independent expenditures on both sides. I wanted to say something about what I understand was Lewis's first speech from some of my colleagues in the press corps; they were there, I was not. Even in the one on one interviews, he didn't have a lot of specifics, he spoke in generalities and didn't appear to have thought things true that. Might be true, but it's also early in a race and candidates often, it's not just Jerry Lewis, but a lot of candidates when announcing, they come out and talk of broad generalities and they narrow down as the campaign goes on.

Dennis Welch: The campaign was off to a little bit of a strange start because the coordination was a little bit off. These aren't political expert, at least the people we're dealing with upfront at this. Because he was supposed to be one-on-one interviews on Tuesday. He canceled that and gave telephone interviews on Tuesday, he was still saying, I don't know, I haven't made up my mind. I'm going to pray all night and then make the decision on Wednesday. I thought it was a little bit strange that -- the way they rolled him out and then immediately after the speech, they rolled him out again and he wasn't able to take any press questions or any follow-ups for what he said that day.

Ted: That brings up the question, does he have to offer specifics? Does have to do much aside from not being Russell Pearce?

Luige Del Puerto: The answer, probably is that doesn't need to -- I mean, it seems to me at this point, that the primary message of his campaign is here's a guy who is Morman, Republican and we'll be presuming he's as conservative as Russell Pearce when it comes to other issues dear to conservatives, but they're saying this is a guy whose rough edges are a bit polished, he's not divise, his campaign chairman -- the co-chairman of his campaign, who a Mesa lawyer named W. Day Montag, who is also a former state president, which says basically the main difference with Russell Pearce is his leadership style: He's going to be a unifier.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I would argue that we would hope he would answer very specific questions. It would behoove the voters to know what they're getting. I get that you could just run on an "I'm not Russell" platform, but what are you getting? What is this guy all about?

Dennis: You're right: you have to offer a vision to voters why you -- they should hire you for the job. You can't just say, "he's not the right person" have to make the case why you're the right person. He has to answer where he is on abortion and all these other important litmus tests for Republicans out there in that district.

Luige Del Puerto: And I guess more importantly, he has to answer where he stands on illegal immigration. That's the ongoing undercurrent. We know Mr. Pearce; we know his stand on illegal immigration; he's out in the forefront and it's very well known nationally about his advocacy for strict enforcement, and he would have to explain where he stands on that.

Dennis Welch: And he hasn't done a good job on that. Initially he's been, to Mary Jo's point, kind of wishy-washy and wasn't specific on that. The most I could get out of him was saying, well, we need to get comprehensive immigration reform, we need to shore up our borders and we asked specifically about S.B. 1070, he wouldn't answer that. He did say he favored the Utah compacts which was put together by business leaders in Utah which called for more moderate immigration policy.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I was just going to add, in terms of illegal immigration, if you recall when senator Pearce issued a ballot statement, he made scant reference to illegal immigration. Perhaps this topic won't be discussed by the two candidates in the race but rather brought up by folks like me.

Ted Simons: There's a young campaign manager for Mr. Lewis.

Dennis Welch: Yes, his nam is Chase Barrett, and he has been here. Again, he's gone toe-to-toe with Mr. Pearce in the past and lost. I believe it was the 2008 campaign, he was a campaign manager for Kevin Gibbons, who was the brother-in-law of congressman Jeff Flake. There was a lot of hope in that campaign that they could knock Mr. Pearce out. At the end of the day, they didn't, and he's back again after taking a bit of hiatus from politics, and he's going to take another stab at this.

Ted Simons: One politician, one, was at the announcement event: Don Stapley. Was that a surprise?

Luige Del Puerto: Well, if the question is it's a surprise so far, few politicians, so far, only one established one has endorsed Mr. Lewis. It's not surprising. It's always been expected that the party, the establishment, would rally and throw their weight behind Russell Pearce; given that he's senate president, why would you want to go against him? The chances of Mr. Lewis knocking down Mr. Pearce is always iffy at the beginning, but Mr. Stapley, when I spoke with him, he's been very disappointed about the budget decisions that this legislature has taken under Mr. Pearce. He said Mr. Pearce is saying it's a balanced budget, but it's a budget balanced on the backs of candidates like Marcus Bones. He's been asked for about four years now to cough up some money in order to help balance the budget. That was his primary beef with Mr. Pearce.

Ted Simons: But what does it say when one, just one elected politician shows up to that particular -- this is a pretty high-profile event. This is going to be a pretty high-profile race.

Dennis Welch: To me, did the voters, are they going to care about that, is the thing. From all appearances, it looks like Mr. Lewis is going to be able to raise money: there was a long list of supporters he passed out: roughly 200 names of well known affluent wealthy people out in the area. Are these endorsements are they going to carry any favor with the voters? I don't know if endorsements do that. Is it going to hurt him raising money? I'm not sure it's going to hurt him that way either.

Ted Simons: It seems to be shaping up when you look at the list of supporters for Mr. Lewis: those are well-respected, old-time Mesa families out there. This is shaping up to be -- what? - an internal squabble there at the LDS church? Is that what we're looking at here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well it would be very interesting to be at some of those stake meetings and talk to people after they go to temple to see how that plays out if it even comes up in those kinds of circles.

Ted Simons: It just seems like the battle lines are being drawn, and we were joking every street name in Mesa is on the list for Lewis.

Luige Del Puerto: That's correct, and you have to remember a former mission president, a former stake president, he has told me at one point, I haven't been able to verify it, but he's saying that a couple of mission presidents in Mesa have indicated they would also throw their support for Mr. Lewis. Of course, they're not going do it in their official capacity with the church, but it would be interesting to find out and to see whether it would be that way essentially.

Dennis Welch: And this is why, I mean, a lot of people are very skeptical whether Mr. Lewis can knock off the sitting senate president, but I would say, you know, you look at the list and the people out there, I mean, something like this is not exactly impossible for -- for someone like Lewis to pull off an upset because of the people behind him, and if you look at the history of Mr. Pearce in that district, he was never the top vote getting Republican when he was running in the house; he came in second a lot to others. This is not going to be a primary. This isn't going to be like a general where you have you multiple Republicans running for one seat. This isn't going to be a given for Mr. Pearce.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But you touched on another factor to consider. There are two other candidates who ostensibly are in the race and the conventional wisdom, is the more crowded the field, the more that divides the anti-Pearce vote, and that is better for Senator Pearce.

Dennis Welch: The question is how big a factor those two will be. I think one of them signed a pledge not to spend more than $500. He's got a tall mountain to climb, Mr. Lewis does, but I think this isn't exactly like something impossible.

Ted Simons: What do we know about this -- was this an attack on Lewis? Someone throwing a padlock from a truck, or a padlock hitting him in an unfortunate area? Do we know much more? The description given that was given of the vehicle was pretty clear. Seems like you wouldn't have much trouble finding this tuck vehicle. What is this about?

Dennis Welch: They're trying to figure out if it's politically motivated or not. It's awfully odd, but odd crimes happen in Mesa. Stuff like that -- happens in Mesa. It's a strange thing when you think it. Your job, Mr. Lewis apparently runs marathon, he was on a 14-mile jog in July that day and someone stops and throws a padlock of all things and hits him in the groin area. Very Random, very strange. Mr. Lewis didn't want to speculate at least to me whether it was politically motivated, but it seems strange it would happen it him.

Ted Simons: Did they see the person throw it? Did it just fly out of the truck? Did --

Luige Del Puerto: I haven't read the police report. It seems like they have a general idea of -- that the guy's sort -- the profile, if will you. And the profile of the car as well, but beyond that, I don't think they have anything more specific. Didn't get the license plate. The Mesa police department are looking a little bit more closely to see if there's fingerprints or some DNA and obviously with the possibility this might be politically motivated but his campaign has said, "we think it's random."

Ted Simons: A white male, 35-40, short brown hair, long-sleeved black shirt driving a Chevy with chrome wheels pulling a black trailer. That's a good headstart, don't you think?

Mary Jo Pitzl: And for all you Channel Eight viewers, if you find somebody that matches that description, call Mesa Police.

Ted Simons: Aspiring colom--

Dennis Welch: There's a lot of white pickup trucks in Mesa.

Ted Simons: Okay, with that in mind, we'll move to Phoenix where the Pinal county sheriff has decided he's going to get involved in Phoenix politics.

Dennis Welch: Yeah why not, you know? He's just the sheriff in Pinal County, doesn't live in Phoenix or anywhere near there, why not get involved with this? No, he came down to the capitol and he publicly endorsed former senator Jim Waring and current councilman bill gates for their races. More interesting I think for a lot of people is he came out and he spoke out against the recall effort against Sal DiCiccio which a lot of people are saying this as saying this is just Mr. Babeu trying to continue raise his profile. He has higher political ambitions which he hasn't denied which might explain why he's jumping in a city that's not even in his county.

Mary Jo Pitzl: You've got to wonder if he's going to endorse him in the mayor's race. Is that the other shoe that has yet to drop. But more to the point, does it matter? How much do Phoenix voters in district 2, northwest Phoenix or northeast central Phoenix, where gates is, how much do they even know who Paul Babeu is, and do they care--a sheriff who's spent most of his time talking about illegals coming through his county. How much do they care about that kind of endorsement.

Luige Del Puerto: The first thing that comes to my mind mind is politics is a game of addition, and endorsing a fellow politician is mutually beneficial.

Ted Simons: Yes, and that seems to be the idea that he is laying the groundwork for a possible congressional run or something along those lines.

Luige Del Puerto: I think most people are thinking that and he hasn't denied it. He's well known in his advocacy for strict enforcement, no doubt about it. I think his endorsement carries a little bit of weight; I don't know to what extent, but it carries some weight to my mind because if you're not able to say, for example, get sheriff Joe's endorsement, at least you have someone like Paul Babeu, and you can be seen as tough on illegal immigration in that regard.

Dennis Welch: He's a rising Republican star. I mean, this was the guy that led -- was featured in the John McCain commercials that we saw last year. I don't think his name I.D., I would suspect it's not very high, but as Luige said, it's a game of addition, and if it helps win votes here and there, it's probably a good thing.

Ted Simons: As far as the mayoral race is concerned, early voting begins next week, is that correct?

Dennis Welch: Early balloting does begin next week, and you are starting to see a lot activity now with the campaigns, particularly with some nasty ads and some infighting going on between some of the campaigns right now as we're getting ready to enter into the cycle where people will make their decision.

Ted Simons: The latest insult is that you're an insider. We're hearing, "you're an insider." "No, you're an insider." "You're the ultimate insider." I mean, that's basically we're going to start -- the rubber is starting to hit the road as far as campaign business.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And the insider stuff stems from the fact that three of the candidates have been or still are -- still on the city council--were on the council I should say which gives them an insider label which Wes Gullet's using, and the counter to that is, "Wes, you've run many a campaign; you are the ultimate insider." And I don't know where it escalates from there.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, do Phoenix residents want an outsider running the city?

Dennis Welch: I don't know if they know what they want right now. Every internal poll I've been able to see shows one thing in common other than the camp that shows me the poll that shows their guy doing very well. It shows that there's a lot of undecided voters in the city. The race hasn't got a lot of media attention by the newspapers or TV. Who knows what they want at this point.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, certainly if you look historically, I think Wes Gullett has been making the point that last time Phoenix voters elected an outsider as mayor was about 28 years ago when they put Terry Goddard in, but then Goddard won reelection three times, and then it was Paul Johnson, who was a city councilman, and then it was Skip Rimsza, and then it was Gordon, who was a city council, so if you look at that history, they seem to like what they know or think they know.

Ted Simons: Yeah, that's kind of what I was wondering about that whole insider thing. Speaking of polls that show that the person who conducted the poll, released the poll, is awfully well. Matt Salmon apparent has just an absolutely humongous lead in his race against Kirk Adams.

Dennis: What's interesting about this is who did this for Salmon's campaign: Margaret Kinski from down in Tucson who used to be the pollster for Jon Kyl who is the co-chairmen or the chairman of Mr. Salmon's potential opponent Kirk Adams. So they couldn't really, you know, dismiss the poll at all because this was a woman who has done good work in the past and we called them up and asked the Adams campaign what they thought; they expected to be behind in the race but it's a long race; they said, "We can make this up."

Ted Simons: 38 for Salmon, 8 for Adams, but the undecided candidate is well ahead. We've got a long way to go, Luige.

Luige Del Puerto: It's the none of the above. Candidates names, none of the above. 47% are undecided. That's a pretty huge chunk. But that's fairly typical in any race; it's 13 months away. They haven't started the hitting the campaign trail, and doing the campaigning and walking the neighborhood. And it's 13 months away. But certainly Mr. Salmon has shown he has a high name I.D., and even though he been out of the political arena or the public side for some time, he showed he retained the name I.D., and Mr. Adams is saying, "We expected this."

Ted Simons: The Adams' campaign notes that in terms of fundraising, they won last quarter.

Dennis Welch: They're going to need the money. And this polling shows that they're going to have to raise big money to overcome this lead because they're talking about a big 30-point lead. 47% are undecided. How many of those undecided, if you're Adams, are you going to have to get to make up the lead? They've got some work to do.

Ted Simons: Speaking of some work to do, the redistricting committee churns on and the latest as far as what they're doing, doesn't sound like anyone cares about what they're doing; they just want to continue the controversy of the attorney general now has an investigation going on. What's up with that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The attorney general announced last week he was going to do an initial investigation into the commission because he's received complaints about violations of the procurement code and of open meetings law, and this week he's said that he's got people assigned to it now-- he had to find staff -- and hopes to wrap it up quickly because of commission doing its work. Meanwhile, the commission is holding public its first round of hearings and attending and monitoring the ones that are remote, it seems a lot of rancor directed at the commission for seemingly being too democratic leaning is starting to subside, especially in the rural areas, you hear people coming out talking about where they want the lines drawn and what criteria should be considered. You know, perhaps Horne's investigation has taken away some of that fire; they'll let the A.G. sort it out.

Ted Simons: Do we know what violation of the open meeting law is alleged? Was there an incident or a series of incidents?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The suggestion is that when they voted for their mapping consultant, the real flash point., Strategic Telemetry, which has worked for the Obama campaign and other democratic clients. When they make that vote, they came out of a long executive session, and it was clear where the vote was going to go. And a suggestion was made as to how could that be known unless they were counting votes in there? The other argument is you've got five people, sitting in a room with attorneys, and they've got to evaluate these folks, and you might think they're showing which ones they prefer and which ones they don't like without overtly taking a vote.

Ted Simons: Were those concerns the same involving the procurement allegations?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The procument ones are more of. Did they keep all the documents, did they follow the rules and ultimately, the commission said we're done. It's bogging us down, and voted for the consultant the way the previous commission did: they picked the one they liked.

Ted Simons: Luige, isn't this the situation, again, the nature of the beast: it's going to rumble this way all the way toward the finish line.

Luige Del Puerto: I think the expectation has always been at some point, they're going to get sued, and some of it will be played out in court, and maybe the court will decide the kind of maps we'll see to some extent. One interesting thing: when we heard the legislature, the Republican legislative force complain about the commission, Senator Biggs came out strong and said said let's be cautious about any sort of solution. He clearly said, "Go out into the meeting and let your voices be heard." We're seeing the legislators come out into the public and express their support or -- you know, how they would want the maps drawn--redrawn.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So the brush fire died down just a little bit?

Luige Del Puerto: Just a little bit. I think it's always been iffy if there was enough consensus in the legislature to something about the chairman or the commission itself.

Ted Simons: Dennis, we don't have too much time--go ahead.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I talked to representative Terry Proud today because she's the one who started the petition to try to call for a special session to get rid of the redistricting commission, and she said that's sort of backburnered because of Horne's investigation, but her petition has only drawn 628 signatures.

Dennis Welch: The investigation is going to be wrapped up next month?

Mary Jo Pitzl: He said in August. Wants it done in August.

Ted Simons: A minute left here. This whole debt ceiling debate, which has captured everyone's imagination. As far as our congressional delegation is concerned, would there be casualties here? Would this affect people one way or the other? Or is everyone doing what they were expected to do or what the voters want them to do?

Dennis Welch: I think that remains to be seen. We gotta see what happens out of this. If they go into default, there's some issues out there looks like they can't leave people like Gosar who is in a competitive district, and people like Schweickart, they could be vulnerable to attacks, and people like, "how can you be part of this broken system? We sent you to fix it and now it's more broke than ever."

Ted Simons: Alright, we'll stop it right there. Great conversation. Thanks for joining us.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Arizona Republic; Dennis Welch: Arizona Guardian; Luige Del Puerto: Arizona Capitol Times;

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