Journalists’ Roundtable

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Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are LYNH BUI of "The Arizona Republic." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Mary K. Reinhart of "The Arizona Republic." We're closing in on decision time in the Phoenix mayoral race. Lyhn, you've been covering this for a while now, update us one last time before we hit the week of heavy campaigning. How is this thing shaping up?

Lynh Bui: I think it's shaping up the way it's always been, the conventional wisdom says that Greg Stanton will make it to the runoff with someone else and looks like the polls are showing it neck and neck between Wes Gullett and Peggy Neely for that second spot in the November runoff.

Ted Simons: Seems like Stanton is pretty much a lock and everybody else -- well, two others at least are fighting it. Neely and Gullett, huh?

Lynh Bui: Neely and Gullet,yYes, and Maddox in the mix, but polls show neck and neck with Wes and Peggy.

Howard Fischer: It's interesting when you talk about the second slot, Peggy Neely is counting on endorsements from the governor and who does that pick up, although given Phoenix, the number of folks that may not see things on immigration the same way. Greg has been out there. Spending a lot of money, I don't even cover the race and I'm getting four press releases a day from the guy. That's the kind of campaign he's running.

Ted Simons: What's shaping up as the main issues in the race?

Lynh Bui: The issues have always been the economy. Shaped in two ways. Job, economic development angle and then justice, fiscal responsibility at city hall. If the city isn't getting the tax revenues they were in the past and implementing a food tax and talking about employee pay and the union, these are the things swirling around.

Howard Fischer: You talk to the average person on the street and while these are the issues, I bet you nine out of 10 can't tell you what the issues are. How to differentiate the candidates. It's going to be name I.D.

Ted Simons: And I was going to ask you, Mary Kay, why is this not attracting more attention? We've covered it to a certain degree and everybody is covering it -- Lynn is out there a lot, but it doesn't seem like it's captured the public's imagination.
Mary K Reinhart: It's 115 degrees outside and school started in four different ways depending on where your kids government whether it's college -- there's a lot of things competing for the voters' attention in the heat of the summer and I think a lot of the candidates are not exactly Mr. and Mrs. Charisma. There's not the fireworks or big issues that are going to cover the imagination of the public.

Howard Fischer: That's the key: The lack of a big issue. This isn't like we're coming off a scandal here. It's not like suddenly there's bodies in the basement of city hall or found out that the current mayor has three girlfriends and two wives. There are no big issues. It's nice to talk about we're all for job. Well, duh. The unions have become part of the issue because they've been the popular whipping boy at the state legislature and again at city hall and beyond that, you know, it's -- they're trying to differentiate themselves and again I don't think most voters can tell you the difference between a Wes Gullet, Greg Stanton or Peggy Neely on any of these issues.

Ted Simons: You mentioned unions and incentives like city north, partisanship and maybe attack positions here and there. It seems like people are putting their toes in the water and no one cares. [Laughter]

Lyhn Bui: I don't think no one cares, we haven't seen a race with this many people running for the seat in so long that it's new for everyone. Political science isn't an exact science, if it were, we weren't be here. But people are trying everything to figure out what sticks.

Ted Simons: Let's PARE stuff down. Stanton and Maddox, mostly optimistic about the status quo, where the city is going, doing? Safe to say?

Lyhn Bui: Safe to say.

Ted Simons: Neely and Gullett mostly pessimistic about where the city is going?

Lyhn Bui: There's one banging the drum on transparency and reform and channeling the Sal DiCiccio rhetoric about change at city hall.

Howard Fischer: What's the key is like, Wes likes to portray himself as a outsider which is funny for someone who lobbies for a living and wife is involved in party politics. Peggy has been the outsider feeling like the odd person out there. You know, as I said, had this been a different race, being an outsider sometimes can help. But the question is: Are Phoenix voters happy? They passed the food sales tax. Everyone said, Oh, my god, how many complaints -- nobody is complaining about the way the city is being served.

Ted Simons: The idea of partisan, these aren't supposed to be partisan elections. But invariably seeps in. Does that make a difference? Seems like some are trying to be more conservative and more union-busting than the other. Again, it doesn't seem to be getting traction.

Mary K Reinhart: Well, I think partisan, how extreme can you go? It's just the way politics these days. I think it's inevitable that the candidates try to distinguish themselves and the only way they can is to say I'm more conservative than this guy or I'm right of this person or I'm -- I'm, you know, for completely overhauling -- how else do you distinguish yourself and stand out in a crowded field?

Ted Simons: And yet there's a tea party candidate. Do we know how she's doing? What kind of money she's raise. Can she be a spoiler for someone else?

Lynh Bui: I think they're counting on her being a spoiler, just to shake things up and give us something to talk about. She's raised about $50,000. But $20,000 is her own money, she loaned herself a bunch of money. So she's investing in herself and hoping to be a dark horse.
Ted Simons: The kind of race where a dark horse can come in and upset the apple cart?

Howard Fischer: I don't see some of the folks further down the list winning, but as you point out, we've got to get two to face off in a row. Nobody is going to pick up 50%, I'd be very surprised. What it comes down, you talk about, say, a Peggy Neely and Wes Gullett, who picks off votes from whom? Does Claude Maddox pick off votes from someone? Who from? Claude is the workhorse, you know, councilman is understands the nitty-gritty. Does he take it away interest a Stanton or a Peggy on the council. I can't tell you.

Mary K Reinhart: Who is going to be the most effective on getting folks to the polls on election day? I don't know who's working harder

Lynh Bui: They're being aggressive about get out the vote. You know, especially with the new voting centers. They want to make sure that people know there's a change and it could be tight.

Ted Simons: Talk about the voting centers, because that's a difference. All of the candidates are trying to make sure everybody knows it's not the same old polling place anymore.

Lynh Bui: Instead of going to a assigned school or church, the city consolidated all the voting precincts into 26 voting centers and got the green light from the Department of Justice. The city was hoping to save money. More than 90% of the voters vote by mail. So why have 120-some voting centers if everybody is turning in their ballots through the post office. So let's try to save money. And they want it try to make it convenient. It's going to be open Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Instead of just election day. And while saving money and convenience sounds great, I think the campaigns are also concerned. This is brand new. What if there's an unexpected volume or a glitch in the system? They're printing out ballots individually as you come in. What if there's a backup and people get frustrated? There's some unknowns there.

Ted Simons: Last question, Howie, some of the negative campaigning has been curious but -- are we going to see anymore of it, A, and B, is that stuff waiting for the general, the runoff here?

Howard Fischer: Well, I think we're not going to see anymore before the primary for the reason that lots of people have already voted.

Ted Simons: That's right.

Howard Fischer: Early voting has changed elections in Arizona. I remember -- you know, I worked on a campaign in 1986, we knew two days before we could knock someone out. You can't do that anymore. In the general, each is going to weigh the other person's strengths and decide what's legitimate. We had questions raised whether one candidate had an illegitimate son. That backfired. If you go negative, you have to have something that will work with the voters. A tool of labor or management or the chamber? There isn't -- this isn't like a statewide race where there are those issues. Absent something coming out of blue, I don't see it.

Ted Simons: Let's move on. A threat of a bus strike in the valley. Update on that one.

Lynh Bui: The city outsources its public transit and one of the companies that runs about a third of valley metro routes, Bueller transportation has been in labor contracts with the bus drivers union for 14 months now, if the strike stuff sounds familiar, it's because we did it last summer and it's the same dispute. Right now, two sides have said they're going to go back to the bargaining table September 15th. So we are kind of safe, but that threat of a strike is always looming until they actually have a firm contract.

Ted Simons: And the idea is to check with metro to find out, because you never know when something is going to hit.

Howard Fischer: No, the interesting thing, if this was New York City, a transit strike shuts the place down. We have relatively low usage here and plus as you point out, there are other companies running buses and they can move them into different routes that might be affected so I don't think the threat of a strike scares management the way it might somewhere else and plus they're not municipal workers. The dynamics are different than let's say New York.

Ted Simons: Those who do ride the buses and mass transit are concerned and check with In Mesa, some pro Russell Pearce signs have been removed from questions requests from the city. But not without a bit of controversy. What's going on?

Howard Fischer: The state law says you can only put up signs a certain number of days before an election. The argument of people who put up the signs was that the law says primary and general elections. This is a recall election. Well, I'm sorry, it's a general election. The state law specifically says to the extent possible, you apply election law there. So that argument didn't work. And there's new requirements on the signs. You have to list certain numbers. Whether it's a phone number or website. That didn't have those. And the question of being in the right-of-way. When the city explained and said, look, do you want to end up in court over this? Ok. We'll pull our signs down. We've made our point.

Ted Simons: And the idea is without the contact information, you have to get that out there, A, and, B, you don't have the signs -- if I'm reading this right -- until 60 days until the election. September 7th, signs can go back up. But if you put them back up, Randy Parris says I may take you to court. Randy PARRIS says you're saying things that aren't true.

Mary K Reinhart: He feels like he's been libeled and slandered. The things that you would think that this campaign would know, and the right-of-way, they've been cracking down on that really hard. I'm a little bit surprised they thought they were going to be able to put these signs up and have no one notice. Randy saw a good opportunity to make a lot of noise and whether he'll sue over the signs if they're put back up remains to be seen.

Howard Fischer: Some interesting questions. One of the signs said that he supported the boycott. He said he didn't. Well, ok. By the time we litigate that we'll be here talking about the 2012 election.

Ted Simons: All right. So, the inference there, does it seem a little sloppy for a Russel Pierce crowd? It seems you would have the ducks in order.

Mary K Reinhart: It would seem, and it's not as if there's nothing else they're supposed to be paying attention to. It's a one-man show.

Howard Fischer: Except for the fact, the Pearce supporters in court arguing on the questions of the election that recalls are different. When do they have to file campaign finance things? What's covered? An attorney has been arguing that recall law is different. This is another piece of that same fight.
Ted Simons: We're talking about the mayoral race and siphoning votes here and there and lots of people on the ballot make for interesting results. Mary Kay, who is Olivia Cortez and the idea of her being a stealth candidate is out in the open. No one is acting like she's a serious candidate. Everyone is acting like she's a plant from the Pearce campaign.
Mary K Reinhart: We don't know a lot about her. She's a candidate, she's got to get a P.R. person who needs to tell her to get the word out. She still has to turn in signatures, she's taken out paperwork indicating she might run and has said -- I guess she has something off in the district and may well but still has to collect signatures before she gets on the ballot and might want to the get a wider range of opportunities to explain why she's running.

Howard Fischer: Or not. Or not. Because assuming the theory, again, as you point out, Ms. Cortez haven't been forward what she stands for and what she's about, if her purpose there is to draw votes against anyone voting for Russell. Look, we see this in the mayoral race. You go in to the polling place, see a bunch of names and, oh, here's a Hispanic woman. No political party. I'll vote for that person. That might have been a vote that went to Jerry Lewis, which would help Russell Pearce.

Mary K Reinhart: I think we've been saying all along if you stack up a few of these folks, whether voters know about them, right, it will be good for Russell Pearce.

Lynh Bui: I was going to say that Jerry Lewis is a famous name and people knee jerk and trigger to that. Who knows?

Howard Fischer: We had a Dean Martin.

Lynh Bui: And Bill Gates in district 2.

Howard Fischer: I'm telling you --

Ted Simons: A Paul newman.

Howard Fischer: And he makes great salad dressing.

Ted Simons: Yes, he does. As far as this is concerned, no platform, no volunteers, very few if any interviews, still -- could be on the ballot.

Howard Fischer: You only need 621 signatures and I can get 621 signatures just from my cat in that district.

Ted Simons: Can you really? We'll keep an eye out for your cat.

Howard Fischer: And she's a registered Republican.

Ted Simons: I'm sure she is. We've a medical marijuana suit. How many is this now?

Mary K Reinhart: Six. Two of them filed by the state itself of course, the governor and Tom Horne are suing the compassion club. They were in court on Thursday to iron out details and make a new court date.

Ted Simons: Explain compassion clubs?

Mary K Reinhart: Compassion clubs are drop-in donation-based places to hang out and if you're registered and have a certificate, you're allowed by state law, voter approved prop 203 to use medical marijuana and you drop in and make a donation. Someone else has donated excess marijuana which then you get a little bit of. While you're there, the compassion clubs are going to teach you about growing, of course, you're interested. It's really a way to distribute marijuana since there are no dispensaries. The only way people can get pot is to grow it themselves or have some caregiver provide it for them. The compassion clubs -- you're allowed to have quite a bit of marijuana under the law. So the compassion clubs take the excess and donate it -- that's important. You can't sell it. Donate it and provide it to people who themselves provide a donation to the club. Tom Horne says it's illegal and suing to close these places down.

Howard Fischer: It's even more complex than that. The compassion clubs themselves are nonprofits that happen to be set up inside of another organization, a for-profit organization like the 2811 club on bell road. And you can get free marijuana from the compassion club but you have to be a member of the 2811 club to get in. Which is $75 a pop. Or $700 a year. That's where Tom Horne says you're not giving way the stuff. This is a thinly disguised way of selling the drug.

Ted Simons: That's not even the one I was referring to, the one I was referring to, the lawsuit, deals with not being fair regarding local businesses.

Mary K Reinhart: This is a lawsuit filed in July by an organization that had intended to create sort of a string of dispensaries but in the process, before they were put on hold by the first lawsuit filed by attorney general Horne and Governor Brewer to try and get the federal government to tell us whether we can even implement the law, the compassion first AZ was looking at the rules promulgated and saying these aren't fair. These don't allow someone from out of state. Three years of income tax. And file taxes for three years, can't have a bankruptcy, ever, ever in your life. They're saying that's unfair and the city councils have too much authority to determine whether you get a dispensary, that's unfair. So it violates the constitution six or seven ways and the federal bankruptcy law so they filed in court to encourage a judge to send the rules back and fix it up.

Howard Fischer: One interesting thing occurred since last time we were here, the state health director has filed complaints with the medical boards because in order to get your two and a half ounces of marijuana, you have to have a doctor's recommendation. Well, several doctors are just doing a few. One doctor did 1300 of them over 100 days.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Howard Fischer: And swore he had checked against a statewide database of other drugs that these people were using, because you want to make sure they're not stopping for Oxycontin, yet didn't have a sign on for that database.

Ted Simons: And another doctor had an outrageous number and only the checked the database about 56 time.

Howard Fischer: Because the health department doesn't have a disciplinary approval, you can refer it to the medical board or to the NATUROPATHIC board. And they can go after the doctors. So tell me how you did this in-depth examination in 12 minutes?

Mary K Reinhart: Back to the lawsuit on the rules. The judges can throw these out but if the federal government -- sorry, the federal court decide that's the governor and Tom Horne don't have a case, they're asking for declaratory judgment. The feds, the US Justice Department, are saying this case is no good. And asking the judge to do so. If that gets thrown out, the folks who filed the lawsuit on the rules are saying, the dispensaries ought not to believe they're lining up and gets permits because they believe that the rules are so messed up that that lawsuit could tie things up for months to come. Who knows?

Howard Fischer: I'm never going to get my marijuana at this rate.
Mary K Reinhart: There's other ways to skin that cat. And I think you'll be hearing about that in the months to come.

Ted Simons: And it won't be the cat you put on the ballet, it will be a different cat.

Mary K Reinhart: People will find the ways to get the patient to the pot. And they will find ways, I'm sure, and they already are.

Ted Simons: We've talked about the Russell Pearce recall election and medical marijuana and the vagaries there. Did these things come up when you see these candidates speak and people get the microphone and they ask questions? What -- what matters? Back to the election now. It's a big vote coming up Tuesday. What matters to people?

Lynh Bui: The thing that is interesting, the city council is arguably the -- the government that residents will be closest to. They can reach out and talk to and interact with. When we talk about medical marijuana, I don't think any candidates have brought it up in any debate, but during the council meetings and zoning meetings it dominated a lot of time last year.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Lynh Bui: We're talking about these large vague issues like immigration and jobs and part of that is because people see Phoenix as the largest city in the state and want to tackle the large regional issues but residents also want to talk about when is this pothole in front of my house getting fixed?

Howard Fischer: And this is what becomes interesting, I was down in Bisbee, and Bisbee politics, you have a feeling you can affect things. A 500-square-mile city and eight council districts, people don't feel connected, like they feel like they have a piece of that.

Ted Simons: And you wonder how much impact does the mayor really have?

Lyhn Bui: In Phoenix, because we're not a strong form mayor of government. We have a charter system. A city manager and council form the of government. You're not going to have the DALY, like in Chicago, where someone new comes in and wipes someone out and bring in your cronies. Some people say that's the beauty why Phoenix is well run. You have a consistent group of managers keeping the steady hand and they're not involved as much as they can in the politics, the ugly stuff.

Ted Simons: We've got 25 seconds left.
Howard Fischer: There was a new ethics complaint filed today over the February 25th fight in the middle of the 51 freeway. The original complaint was put on hold. While the criminal case played out, Scotty pled no contest to a charge of endangerment, now that the case is over, we need to look at three things, a violation of ethics rule to violate state law and finally, did he misuse the issue of legislative immunity?

Ted Simons: Yes or no, Does it go forward?

Howard Fischer: Yes.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

Lynh Bui:Arizona Republic; Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services; Mary K. Reinhart:Arizona Republic;

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