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 is Doug Maceachern of "The Arizona Republic." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." Starting today, certain people can no longer enroll in AHCCCS, the state's Medicaid program for the poor. It's a little complicated. We talked about this at length. Last week it was supposed to start but we had a delay. It's started, it's under way. What are we talking about?

Doug Maceachern : About 17,000 childless adults to start. It's going to be many more than that down the road. But right now, about 17,000 childless adults locked off the AHCCCS rolls because they no longer meet the qualifications and they're part of the budget cuts that occurred earlier this year. The issue, of course, is going to be in court, but the problem facing the opponents of these cuts right now is that they expected that -- they tried to get it into court before there was actually somebody harmed by these changes. Now with the cuts becoming effective, they'll have some plaintiff, some legitimate plaintiff who's lopped off the rolls to represent.

Howard Fischer: The issue is that Arizona gets two-thirds of its money for its AHCCCS from Medicaid. This is our Medicaid program. Medicaid does not require you cover childless adults. Now, we have going back to a 2000 ballot measure and going to pay for it with tobacco tax revenues and our state share of the tobacco settlement and require the legislature to use other available sources. The governor says we don't have any available sources and if we make this change we can save $200 million over a course of a year. As Doug points out, we're back in court.

Doug Maceachern : It will be interesting to see if the issue of how the ballot proposition in 2000 was sold is ever going to come up once the court proceedings get under way. If you remember, Howie, 2000, that proposition was sold on the premise it wouldn't cost the taxpayers anything.

Howard Fischer: But if you look at the legislative analysis, it says in the ballot book that went to voters if, in fact, these tobacco funds aren't enough, the state is obligated. Now we're down to having the courts, as Doug points out, look not at the specific language but the other materials what did the voters know and what was the intent to voters.

Ted Simons: Right now, the court question should it come up, an injunction as opposed to the overall case but what happens to these folks who you can't enroll? What goes on with these people? Where do they go?
Dennis Welch: That's a big problem. We've been talking about for a long time. These people will be left without any care and left out in the cold and that's the argument from the Democrats' point of view all the along.

Howard Fischer: The fact is, we weren't in the Medicaid program before 1982. They weren't covered then and maybe not covered before 2000.

Ted Simons: Are you ready for the county to start taking over again?

Howard Fischer: They'll go to the county hospital and get uncompensated care and show up in the emergency rooms and some of them could qualify with a small copayment for insurance through their health plans through their employers. See--that's the interesting thing, because AHCCCS covers up to the national poverty level. There are some people who might be -- decides to go with AHCCCS for free as opposed to having to pay some fee for insurance through, say, Wal-Mart.

Dennis Welch: The main point is that people will be showing up -- stuff that was covered before, they'll show up in emergency rooms and people -- that's going to ultimately going to increase costs and you and I and other taxpayers are going to foot the bill on that anyway.

Ted Simons: And the center for law in the public interest finding someone who has been harmed you could probably find someone in the last half hour who has been harmed but you have to make sure they go through the hoops and hurdles.

Howard Fischer: As of today, if you're a childless adult, no matter how low your income, you don't qualify. I talked to Tim Hogan, the director of the program, they walk in, they apply, it's not like though get booted right away. Maybe they fit under another program. Spend-down programs, other issues there. It may take weeks before someone walks in and gets denied and which goes back to Doug's point, to giving someone the plaintiff they need, to go back to court to seek their restraining order.
Ted Simons: Alright let's keep it moving, just today, Doug, the county pretty much certifies new signatures. We're going to have a recall election.

Doug Maceachern: It looks like, unless there's a court challenge that pushes it back, looks like it will occur in November. Which depending on how you look at it, is either good or bad for Russell Pearce, the focus of all this. So it's going to happen. They cleared the hurdle easily. What I thought interesting was the level of scrutiny that the county elections director, first, and then the secretary of state, gave to those signatures. It was -- I believe they were anticipating court challenges and so they gave it -- they looked at it much more carefully than most.

Howard Fischer: And that's the question, I talked to Lisa Hauser who is an attorney and a list of items of ways we can short circuit. Now the tricky part is you only need 7,756 signatures. It you only need -- they turned over 11,000. Now you're not going to get off the ballot with one signature here and there, what you have to do to disqualify the people circulating and you can get rid of 25, 30 at once. The question for Russell, does he want to go that route? He's feisty, my people have elected me 16 times before and they'll elect me again. He may say, let's dance.

Dennis Welch: He's going to try and position himself from a point of strength. Yeah, bring them on, that's what he's been saying all along. But there's a delay in testing and dragging it out. It could keep someone from jumping this and challenging him earlier while the thing is contested in court. Nobody wants to jump in and take on the sitting senate president if they're not 100% sure there's a recall. We don't have a candidate in this election and it could make even harder to find one if they do challenge the signatures.

Howard Fischer: And it will be a while until we know we do. You only need 621 signatures to run in the recall. But you have until September 9th. We have a ways to go before we'll see if anyone does take on Russell.

Ted Simons: Doug, as an opposing candidate, would we find someone who is looking for a political future, a political past, someone who wants to be the one that says, I won. I got him out there have, even though they may not want to run for -- it seems like it's a tabula rasa.

Doug Maceachern: I think this is an interesting race, because the way that Russell has postured himself prior to it. He set himself up as an all-powerful Republican being who will cast a spell on whatever Republican dares confront him in this recall race. So effectively, putting off any true challenges from his side of the ledger. As for democrats, you know, there are issues at play here other than partisan ones. The Fiesta Bowl thing could conceivably play big here. So it's hard to imagine in that district that somebody that's not Republican, not a conservative, would do well, but who knows?

Howard Fischer: The problem becomes, as you point out, you need someone who is close politically to Russell Pearce, because that's the kind of people they elect out there. But says I'm not Russell Pearce. Doug's point about the Fiesta Bowl is an interesting point. At this point, this becomes a story that bleeds a little bit each day. It's not something that was out there and done, we keep finding out new details. What about the chauffeur-driven limousines? How many tickets did you need? All of this can add up. If they find the ideal candidate, Republican, likely LDS, perhaps a even a woman --

Ted Simons: Education focus?

Howard Fischer: Education background because it was a lot of what the recall was about, the cuts to education.

Ted Simons: Right.

Howard Fischer: Maybe -- maybe -- now, back to your original question, do they go on? Look, this is a unique race. It's a one and out. The first top vote getter gets it.

Dennis Welch: It's a unique race. But you have to find someone who with willing to put up with this garbage for a year. You're going to run and you're going to take him on in November and turn around and let's say you do win. You're going to have to turn around and face this person again, likely in a Republican primary; because there's no way that a democrat is going to win in that district against Russell. And it's a whole year of your life, of dealing with Russell Pearce and his crew.

Ted Simons: Last question on this, and we've asked this before if Russell Pearce survives a recall, does that make him stronger. It takes a different avenue toward this. If just the fact that he's facing a recall election of historic proportions, in terms of not being done before to a state lawmaker like this, what about future political ambitions with him? If he were to think of congress or governor, something along those lines, what does that do?

Doug Maceachern: I bet you he's thought about it. Forever, since 1070 came along, Russell has clearly thought of himself as a national political figure. Whether that political figure ever coalesced in some sort of officeholder, I can't say, but I would guess he's thought about running for congress. How does this impact it? He's back in the limelight. It's an issue that people are going to be focusing on. And that has played to his strengths.

Ted Simons: All right.

Dennis Welch: I was going to say, he's definitely thought about congress but I think this recall election, does he become after that someone who is so polarizing? He's well known, but can he take that outside of his little district in Mesa and parlay that into a congressional run. Which I'm not sure he wants.

Howard Fischer: I think at one point, he did. He was disappointed at Matt salmon getting into it. The other piece of the equation, as we're going to talk about the redistricting, where the lines come down. Whose district does he find himself in.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about redistricting. This whole process -- surprise, surprise! -- has been one bump in the road after another. They're finally starting to draw the stars on the map, Howie, but it's taken awhile to get there.

Howard Fischer: It started out with who got nominated. We sat around the table Apache Junction and can you nominate these people. Can Paul bender serve as an Independent? We went to court on that. We finally got a Supremre Court ruling. Now there's a couple of questions. Number one, the two Democrats and Republican representatives chose an independent who ended up being Colleen Mathis. Well Colleen has some democratic roots in there. She for example… She says she's an independent and her husband does work for Nancy Young Wright when she tried to run for reelection to the legislature. Also a democrat. Then there's the question of the consulting firm they picked which has a history of working for Democrats. This is a specialized area. You don't find a lot of people into drawing -- you know, several thousand census tracts into distinct 30member districts. You have to pick someone but it's up to the commissioners to decide if it's fair enough.

Ted Simons: Is this another chance for folks who aren't happy with some element of the process to stand up and say, "I'm not happy"?

Doug Maceachern: I don't think so. I think when you're talking about partisan issues, redistricting is as partisan as it gets. I'm including any kind of partisan political race. This is a position where people fall distinctly on one side or the other or on the independent side, so one of three sides. [Laughter] And as a result, I think partisanship is more important here than it is anywhere.

Dennis Welch: And independence -- that seat there, it's always going to be a point of contention when you draw these -- who out there is truly independent? And how do you measure that? The point of being independent is being able to choose which side you want to vote on on any given issue out there. So --

Howard Fischer: We went through this last time, in a slightly different fashion. One of the five commissioners was Josh Hall. His main function was to preserve a safe seat for Jack Brown, who is a Democrat and Jake flake as a Republican. It wasn't that he was interested in one or the other but said we're going to have this eastern Arizona district and the rest of you, you want my vote, and everything else has to revolve around it. -- people are there to represent certain interest, and they will. That's the nature.

Ted Simons: So we can expect fussing and fighting all throughout the process.

Doug Maceachern: I'd be shocked if it was otherwise.

Ted Simons: Speaking of fighting and fussing, a new plan was emphasized at the border. The secretary of homeland security was there. Lots of folks there. Before we get to who wasn't there or not apparently invited, it sounds like prevention is now part of the U.S. plan here.

Howard Fischer: Well, you know, this is déjà vu all over again. How many years have we been doing demand reduction programs? The county level, the city level, the dare programs and all of that. They've realized you cannot secure the border. Even if you secured the border, people come across legally and smuggle things. Does it make sense to go ahead and reduce the men? Yeah, if people in Arizona stop snorting coke, we wouldn't have a coke smuggling problem. That's the nature of it. Are people going to stop using drugs? You saw how prohibition worked. People are going to start using another drug in there. That's not going to happen. It's an interesting attitude but you can't say we're going to prevention so we don't have to worry about the border.

Ted Simons: Doug, secretary Napolitano says the violence in border towns are flat, seizures of drugs and money up, illegal immigration down, she said it, she was there, announced it. Are Arizonans buying it?

Doug Maceachern: It depends on which Arizonans you're talking about. McCain didn't buy it and Babeu didn't buy it. I don't think the governor buys it. If it sounds familiar, it's because it's an argument they've been having since January or before. What's the status of drug smuggling and illegal immigration along the 120 miles or so Tucson border area? It's a toss-up. I couldn't tell you today what the statistics are. I know they're on a downslope, but whether or not it's a result of difficult economic times, or if it has something more to do with what secretary Napolitano has said about the -- you know, enhanced enforcement.

Howard Fischer: There are more border patrol officers there. And by definition, you throw more people in it you'll result in some reduction. Our problem, we're the last piece of the pipeline. They hardened the California border and Texas border, guess where they started coming through? Can we staunch the flow? If you throw new people at it. Sure. There are people who say we need more physical barriers. Starting later this month, the state legislature is going to take donations for a border fence.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to the fact that the governor doesn't believe that the statistics are ringing true. The governor was not there at the border and she's not happy about it.

Howard Fischer: This is one of those wonderful stories we as political writers love. We happened to be talking to the governor yesterday. She was at for a ceremony and the question came up, Janet Napolitano is at the border talking border security. What do you think? And the governor said I had to find out reading "The Arizona Republic" that the governor was at the border. How come nobody ever tells me anything? Well, I got a call from Matt Chandler, Napolitano's press secretary, first, there's someone from Brewer's homeland security who actually participated and notified the DPS director and the people from the health department and called Brian McNeil, the Chief of Staff. I got a sheepish call from Matt Benson, Brewer's press secretary, under normal circumstances that message should have gotten to the governor and as staffers, we regret the lack of communication and I asked, is the governor apologizing to Napolitano, and he said, we just regret the lack of communication. There's no love lost there.

Ted Simons: Perhaps the apology will be in "The Arizona Republic" tomorrow morning.

Doug Maceachern: I hope it will.

Ted Simons: Let's move on. This ATF gun-running story is amazing on a variety of levels and confusing on others and the feds saying, yeah, there's only so much -- what's going on here.

Doug Maceachern: It's got two names. It's operation gun runner or operation fast and furious. I prefer the second one, it's a lot sexier but it's not funny. The -- in 2009, the -- at the direction of someone, I guess the Justice Department, the ATF organized a sting operation whereby they would allow the sale through straw buyers of some 2,000 weapons on the Arizona side and track them as they filtered down through drug gangs in Mexico and find out where all of these guns are going. It was by the testimony that's leaking out now, particularly from the director of ATF, a complete chaotic mess. They supposedly -- from what we're hearing, lost track of some 1400 of the 2,000 guns that went south. And the entire operation went south and now everybody is pointing fingers and -- well, the worst of it, I should point out, people died as a result.

Ted Simons: Dennis, two guns with found associated with this program being involved with the death of a border agent. Obviously, these things are very serious, but the feds are saying, they wanted straw buyers to go and buy these so they could track them and that didn't work out and now they're saying they couldn't necessarily have stopped it because of Arizona gun laws. What's happening here? [Laughter]
Dennis Welch: Yeah, Arizona gun laws.Obviously, we've got lax ones and you're starting to see the political pressure filter down to people like in Dennis Burke's office. Feeling more heat as time goes on.

Howard Fischer: The fact is that most of the straw buyers were Arizona residents who were legally entitled to buy guns and there's no limit. You want to buy 30 rifles, you can do that. And the argument was we could not legally say to the person, you can't arrest the straw buyer. What's the charge? Are you an Arizona citizen? Yeah, did you fill out the paperwork? On a theoretical basis these operations make sense. Like going after the Mafia. You don't want to take down the dude in the street. You want the head man. This was a fiasco, as Doug points out and badly organized but if you have legal buyers, it's at the point where it goes to an illegal buyer. One of the interesting things, some legitimate gun store owners who were suspicious called up ATF and said, I'm not -- I don't want to sell to this guy, or I don't want to sell him that many guns. And the ATF says go ahead and do it.

Ted Simons: We've the entire operation under investigation. The attorney general for Arizona, his office says that the ATF assure you had us that the guns with not cross the border. Are we going to see more splintered activity, he said, he said activity here. All sides running for cover now?

Doug Maceachern: The Justice Department from the beginning hack running for cover. It's difficult for congressional investigators to get testimony out of the Justice Department. So as difficulty rolls downhill, it's heading toward the people on the scene that were implementing the law, or implementing the effort, as their superiors directed them to. So now you're starting to hear Dennis Burke's name raised in vain.

Ted Simons: We've got a minute left to tell us everything we need to know about the Phoenix mayoral race. [Laughter]

Dennis Welch: Nobody is paying attention. Right now, I think you really starting to see it heat up. Up until now, it's let's raise money, do small events and now you see more ads come out and Wes Gullet taking on Peggy Neely. And some attack ads, so that race is heating up but not a lot of people are paying attention to that.

Ted Simons: And it seems like what the man behind the curtain seems to be a guy not running for office, which is Sal DiCiccio.

Dennis Welch: You've seen a real effort on the part of Peggy Neely to attack people for their ties to the union. State employee workers, And brought up repeatedly as a councilmember and starting to see issues with procurement. The council people going back and forth. Another issue he's been harping on.

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