Journalists Roundtable

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Journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic." Steve Goldstein of KJZZ radio. And Richard Ruelas of "The Arizona Republic." And we start with Mr. Ruelas, who in reporting the news this week, became the news. This is an amazing story that there's so many aspects and why don't I stop talking and ask you the obvious question: What the heck happened?

Richard Ruelas: We -- we were in her office in June. We were there to talk about guns and her relationship with guns.

Ted Simons: Senator Lori Klein.

Richard Ruelas: Senator Lori Klein, the Republicans -- wrapping it up this week a story on gun and knowing that senator Klein had taken a gun in January two days after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, I thought an interesting story is to revisit. I wanted to understand why they took the gun not capitol and after speaking to her on the phone for a while, she agreed to a photograph and in-person interview, in the state capital, right off the senate floor. So we visited her, a photographer was with me and both get buzzed in at the same time. And pretty quickly as the photographer is getting his equipment ready, she knows we want to see the gun and we asked, would you mind taking out the gun, and she takes out the gun and the next thing I see is a red light around this area on my chest and it was there for a few seconds and went away and then the interview continued -- or, actually began.

Ted Simons: Ok. Why was she demonstrating this laser sight? Did anyone request her to demonstrate it at the time?

Richard Ruelas: We did not request. At the time she had the gun out, I didn't know she had a laser -- it had a laser sight. And I found out when I saw it on me.
Ted Simons: Yeah
Richard Ruelas: And so later, we posted the audio later on our website, AZcentral, we posted some of the audio recording. And later, a photographer asked to see the laser and she did demonstrate, pointing it at a wall, away from us and underneath a portrait of senate president Russell Pearce.

Ted Simons: Interesting. We'll get to him in a second. Was she pointing at other things or was that the first time you realized there was a laser sight?

Richard Ruelas: That was the first time I saw her use it. It looked like it was on me for a just a few seconds and didn't seem to do it as a threat or joke. I think it was just something she did. And then it was off of -- I mean, and I didn't -- people asked me why didn't I freak out or tell her to stop or whatever.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: I think as reporters -- I mean, it was the beginning of the interview and still needed the story out of her and the detailed questions to ask her about it. There's times when you just find yourself in an odd situation and possibly dangerous, situation, and people say things that are personally offensive to you and I didn't see it as this is extremely dangerous, I need to flee. It happened, I didn't freak out at the time and we just went on with the interview.

Ted Simons: When did you realize the gravity of the situation?

Richard Ruelas: I didn't know a lot of facts with the gun right away. I assumed it was loaded. Because she had talked about how she always carries it loaded. That was the point. Shortly afterwards, I found out, yes, indeed it was loaded and later on in the interview, as the photographer asked about the laser sight, I kind of said, yeah, she pointed at me earlier and she repeated. Yeah, I pointed it at you. And I said, you pointed at me with the safety on. And that was me, I think I rationalize a lot. I assumed there had to be a safety. The woman wouldn't point it at me if there wasn't. And then she said there was no safety and there was a mini-freak-out in my head then.
Ted Simons: Understandable. But this happened in June?
Richard Ruelas: It happened in June.
Ted Simons: Mid-June, late June?
Richard Ruelas: Early June.
Ted Simons: Early June?
Richard Ruelas: Very early June
Ted Simons: If it happened in early June, I got to ask you as a reporter -- that's why I want to ask the gravity of the situation. How come not writing about it sooner than finding out about it in mid July? Or was it something that you, your editors, the paper figured - its part of the story. It'd not necessarily that big of a deal?

Richard Ruelas: That was it. I mean we really looked at it as part of the gun package and we didn't think of it as a breaking story that day. And apart of me being in it and apart from the danger I might have been in, I saw it as an attribute in the story. If I'm running a story about the senator and explaining why she carries a gun, including into the state capitol, I saw including that detail just as relevant as including the fact she said it was cute or pink. It showed her personality and relationship with her weapon and that's how I used it in the story and that's why I used it in the story. The paper didn't make a big deal out of it. We made it a part of the story. And since it came out, I figured there'd be buzz. I didn't know it would make international news and the Letterman monologue and New York Times…

Ted Simons: I want to get to the story and the response, but Senator Klein's response to the story seems as though it moves a little bit.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It did move. Senator Klein initially issued a statement to the Sonora Alliance, which is a conservative blog as well as The Arizona Capitol Times that covers a lot of the capital area and essentially said that the reporter sat down in front of the gun and put himself in the line of sight. Oh, that was interesting. By that time, we had been able to listen to the tape that Richard had of the interview and that didn't sync up with it at all. So more inquiries go out to Senator Klein who is not talking at this point. And in fact, previous prefaced her statement saying I'm done talking about this. But later she issued a statement through the state senate; she admitted all the business about the reporter and said I've learned my lesson as not going to show my gun to anybody. So the changing story made it more of a story.

Ted Simons: I'm guessing you did not sit down in front of a laser-sighted pistol.

Richard Ruelas: I sat down, and she used the pistol and it was a month ago and I think -- I mean, my recollection of the events that I didn't have recorded on audio are probably a little hazy if I had to reconstruct them. I understand she might have a different recollection than I do. The tape is pretty clear that I don't have on the audio recording her initial pointing it at me, but later on, we have audiotape of her talking about it and we made the decision to release that tape. I knew Mary Jo was going to do a story. I sent her my interview raw, the whole thing and let her know, because I know her time is limited, here's the time cues and where the stuff happened. We had to decide, do we release the tape to the public?

Ted Simons: Right.

Richard Ruelas: And it was after she put out that statement, we're going to give this to Channel 12 and put it on the and I did an interview with 12 and I did channel 12 and talked to Mary Jo because they're in the same building and I'm doing "Horizon" because I'm a friend of the show - you guys have been good to me -- trying to limit the number of interviews.

Ted Simons: Steve, what are you making from the story itself, the responses, from what we heard from Senator Klein and the different story, what's the fallout from all of this?

Steve Goldstein: Since we have Ruelas here, I want to ask a question.

Richard Ruelas: Sure.

Steve Goldstein: Are you disappointed at all or surprised that Senate Ethics Chair Ron Gould decided that this not something we should go on into further? That it's not an ethics situation?

Richard Ruelas: To me, it's really not me. I don't feel it's something that I take a personal affront to. Its politics and we're spectators in the political sport. It's like I'm divorced from the issue. I do know that not only does the audiotape and being journalists and I think your audience understands how journalism works. As she described me in front of the pistol, her Ruger. It doesn't make sense for another reason; she said the photographer was behind her to get a shot of the laser pointing at a wall. Well, I'm not going to not only stand in front of a loaded gun, I'm not going to get into the photographer's shot either. If you ask photographer, many Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs have been ruined because a reporter sticks his hand in the way.

Ted Simons: You can step in front of a gun but don't step in front of a photographer.
Ted Simons: I mean that's, that's really bad news.
Ted Simons: Umm…
Steve Goldstein: Let me add a quick comment.
Ted Simons: Sure
Steve Goldstein: I think if you remember Lori Klein's predecessor, Senator Pam Gorman who, when she ran for congress, they made a famous video of her shooting out guns too.
Mary Jo Pitzl: I think the immediate fallout from this is Klein, at least Gorman was at a target range, I think. But Klein was roundly condemned by gun safety advocates and people of her own party for violating what Senator Ron Gould said, don't point a gun at somebody unless you intend to shoot. She didn't intend to shoot. The question is why is she pointing a gun and that was the first immediate reaction.

Ted Simons: Is there going to be any action now on this whole business of carrying firearms into capitol buildings? This is a big brouhaha during the session and now we've got this going on. Again, what happens out of all of this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I would suspect nothing. I mean, people might be a little wary around Senator Klein or perhaps feel a little protected. Senator Gould said she is the only one to protect them. But she's not the only one who carries guns, several members do. And senate President Russell Pearce has not responded to the request that he reconsider his policy that allows senators to bring guns into the building.

Ted Simons: What do you hear, from listeners at KJZZ? When you report this story, are they saying she did wrong or you did wrong? Are they making too big a deal about this?

Richard Ruelas: No, based on gun safety, that's the argument that people are making. I don't want to be overly dramatic, I almost think there's such a divided populace we have out there, there's a feeling of here's the left wing media trying to set up a conservative senator and I don't think that's true, but people might suspect that.
Ted Simons: Is that--what, what are you hearing?

Richard Ruelas: Ironically, that was what we were try ongoing to do. At the time she took the gun in in January, it was a headline grabbing incident that just polarized. And if you are an anti-gun person, then she's example A that she's gone too far and if you're pro-gun, it had nothing to do with the Giffords' shooting. What we try to do is try to understand why she did this and maybe both sides can get closer together. I wanted to know why she felt the need to take a gun in and I did understand why she felt a need to take a gun in. It made sense to me and the result is we have another headline grabbing incident that might have just polarized us again on this issue rather than make us understand each other.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Did I the first story about Klein in January taking the gun in and she's from Anthem, the capital, 17th and Washington, yeah, this isn't the safest neighborhood. Mmm, perhaps. But the senate is heavily guarded. There are uniformed DPS officers and security guards and now this was not the case in January, but now there are doors that you have to have a key card to get through. So -- and the senators are behind those dollar doors. So it's probably one of the safer places to be.

Richard Ruelas: Again, that's one of the reasons I wanted to look at this story. You had a very pro-gun person, you had anti-gun legislators who walk with her across the capitol and you have the law enforcements. So I thought it was like a city. I talked to Harold Fish, the story that ran today about firing this self-defense and Sunday, there's a story -- there was another mentally disturbed individual who shot at a crowd of people a few weeks before the Giffords shooting in Phoenix and it's a crime that didn't get a lot of media attention. We're trying to get in a conversation about weapons and accomplished that, maybe not in the way we intended but we have people talking about weapons.

Ted Simons: All right. And we certainly appreciate you talking about it with us here on the journalists' roundtable. Maybe not you, but there was other news --

Mary Jo Pitzl: We were the news.
Ted Simons: Governor calls, recall election against Russell Pearce and now it sounds like channel 12, reporting this first, Jerry Lewis.

Steve Goldstein: Jerry Lewis who is a 54-year-old member of the Morman church which people were seeking someone to run against Russell Pearce. A Republican member of the LDS church and a woman who came up short as far as the female situation. What we know is that he's involved with a group that manages 13 charter schools and has seven children, six grand children, etc. But there was a press release put out. We know that he's going to focus apparently on the economy. That's all we know. And may or may not be running.

Ted Simons: And that's what we know, other than how odd it was that we had a Dean Martin as a state legislature and a treasurer now. And we have Jerry Lewis as the most prominent candidate here. Russell Pearce had a statement, he gets to have a statement on the ballot…
Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah
Ted Simons: And that statement doesn't mention immigration much.
Mary Jo Pitzl: No, in the statement, the candidate who's being recalled gets an opportunity to sort of make their case and in this, President Pearce talks about his work on the economy. With the jobs bill that was passed this year. There's only one reference to open borders which is his signature issue. Not a reference at all to S.B. 1070 which brought him -- 1070 was the result of years of labor on his part and brought the state lots of recognition to the extent that other states are enacting similar legislation but it's not referenced yet.

Ted Simons: We have a conservative, a former bishop, an assistant superintendent of statewide charter schools; it sounds like this is the male -- the male-ordered candidate to run against Russell Pearce. Are there other names out there? Other folks who might get in the way of the process that those who want to get rid of Russell Pearce want to push?

Richard Ruelas: I don't see a lot of names being bandied about. I do wonder whether -- I think just doing the math, Russell Pearce has a better chance of hanging on to his seat if there's multiple candidates. I don't know if there's others who might throw their hat into the ring.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There's efforts to find other candidates to put on the ballot, preferably Democrats so that you pull them away from presumably, the anti-Pearce vote and the split it.

Ted Simons: And yet they are supposed to be non-partisan elections. So they'd have to know they're Democrats.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, they'll be a lot of money in this.

Ted Simons: What do you make of this?

Steve Goldstein: He only has to win a plurality. And one thinks there would be a flood of candidates.

If he gets 30%, he'll emerge victorious. One thing that I think is interesting and maybe it's because Jeff Flake is running for U.S. senate. I believe it was his brother-in-law, correct me if I'm wrong, who ran against Pearce. I don't if Jeff Flake may recruit someone to run against Pearce. I don't know.
Ted Simons: Interesting.

Richard Ruelas: It's difficult to get on and we had limited time.

Ted Simons: 621 signatures and a month to do so.

Mary Jo Pitzl: End of August.

Ted Simons: We'll see, we'll see. All right. Interesting stuff there. Interesting stuff regarding the tax surplus, which apparently the coffers are bulging.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, bulging --

Ted Simons: They're bulging, Mary Jo.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Compared to recent years, yes. What happens, the state is collecting revenue higher than they projected and does not count the penny sales tax. They set that aside. It's going away. Looking at tax collection, sales tax, corporate income tax and it will create perhaps a different dynamic for the budget debate next year. What do you do with the extra dough.
Ted Simons: We have John Kavanagh saying save it, when the sales tax runs out we're running off the cliff. Kyrsten Sinema, we're running off a cliff --

Steve Goldstein: I think the interesting thing is that Governor Brewer has called herself the education governor and making the fact that she has a thousand signatures and are you going to back up the fact with extra money you're going to protect education.
Mary Jo Pitzl: She planted the first flag. Kavanagh, I love this term, called it a ‘hurricane lock box'. Really, really tight as opposed to the typical lock box but there's sentiment to pay down the state's debt. Remember, we sold off the state's buildings and leasing them back and borrowed against the lottery proceeds and there's a great desire to save money because when the sales tax goes away, they talk about the fiscal cliff.

Ted Simons: And the governor's office called Kyrsten Sinema, putting a thousand signatures a gimmick.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There's more to come, she's gearing up with the social media campaign.

Steve Goldstein: I'm disappointed, rather than the ‘hurricane' lock box, it should be ‘haboob' lock box.
Ted Simons: Thank you. Thank you for that Steve.
Ted Simons: We had a caper with the corporation commission. Flakes of marijuana found in a private restroom and now it's -- it's -- I mean, talk about gangway. Sounds like they want to clean out the whole place.

Richard Ruelas: Do we have to start the betting pool which one we think it was? Take the field. Non-elected commissioners.

Ted Simons: We could, I suppose.

Richard Ruelas: It was a strange one, seemed like there was a little residue and in a -- I assume a private -- I don't know how badly people have access to that.

Steve Goldstein: Was it where the commissioners --

Richard Ruelas: And staff members.

Ted Simons: And flakes of pot found on loose change on the floor.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, yes, it's summer, and it might have happened any time.
Mary Jo Pitzl: What I find interesting about this, all eyes turned to corporation commissioner Paul Newman because back in the day, he was stopped; they found a marijuana joint in his car. So all eyes turned to him and it's like -- whoa! Perhaps, but what about innocent until proven guilty? So they're going to go out and under Commissioner Gary Pearce, try to find out who is innocent and who's not.

Steve Goldstein: We know so far the Republican commissioners have consented to taking a drug test. And that the chair wanted there to be drug-sniffing dogs. Turned that down.

Ted Simons: Did they? Ok.

Steve Goldstein: I found it a little bit strange and I'm not a child of the '60s who often sits in this chair, but seems like the staff member for Gary Pearce knew they were marijuana flakes. I can't say I would have recognized that right away.
Ted Simons: And especially in the middle of loose change on the bathroom floor.
Steve Goldstein: I might pick up the change though.
Ted Simons: The idea of drug sniffing dogs and people volunteering for a drug test seems like pretty draconian.

Richard Ruelas: I will note Steve's slamming of Howard Fischer, who is not here to defend himself.

Richard Ruelas: The Republican commissioners who their party would say, limited government, restrict police powers, would be the first to say, come on in, search me! I think it does -- they want to show -- I assume, they want to show the voters, it ain't me, it might be those two.

Ted Simons: And the people making the decisions aren't zooming.

Anthony D'Ambrosi: It has the markings of a political stunt. I mean, there were much graver issues that have happened in public officials walking around with DUIs.

Steve Goldstein: Which is the point that Commissioner Newman made. Some might say was a red herring and the renewable energy standard going up and he said let's focus on solar energy.

Richard Ruelas: Do you think the public cares with the marijuana residue in the commissioners as office?

Ted Simons: I think it's the summer, Mary Jo.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I haven't seen anything on blogs or letters that people are up in arms.

Ted Simons: Something that the public doesn't respond to was the concept of protests or demonstration at the All-Star game. Richard, what's going on? White ribbon, expecting a couple of hundred protests.

Richard Ruelas: You think back to a year ago, it was supposed to be a march. Like blockade the place. I think once S.B. 1070 was found not to go into effect by the court, a lot of air went out, but I was surprised that there wasn't a greater show, there weren't the bullhorns we've seen in the past. When you see Danny Ortega say we're going to have -- we're going to have a white ribbon and I didn't see many players or fans for that matter. It's not a bullhorn, not a boycott, maybe the steam has gone out of the issue.

Steve Goldstein: The best chance to make it a national issue, some players when 1070 was signed by the governor, saying I'm not going to come. Players who were prominent and all of a sudden, once it got closer, the players' association, the, you know, let's just say we're against S.B. 1070, but that's all.

Ted Simons: We don't have time to get into the redistricting commission, but suffice to say it's still pretty lively.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, there's a lot of discontent on the Republican side about the direction in which the commission is heading and this will play out over -- really, all summer. And to the work that the commission is supposed to do, they're going to start public hearings next week. I think beginning Thursday in Phoenix. So people can come in, where to put the line, not so much the résumés of the people on the commission.

Ted Simons: Very good. Thanks for joining us. Good show.

Richard Ruelas: Arizona Republic; Mary Jo Pitzl: Arizona Republic; Steve Goldstein: KJZZ Radio;

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