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 Mary Jo Pitzl of the "The Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of the "The Arizona Guardian," and Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." A Maricopa County Superior Court rules that Arizona can go ahead and deny free health care next year for about 135,000 Arizonans and we will get to that story in just a second. We have to start with something that happened late this afternoon now. Mary Jo, sounds like the legal challenge to the Russell Pearce recall election?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The judge said no go, we don't buy the challenge brought by the Pearce supporters. He rejected their case. This just in, Lisa Hauser, representing the Pearce camp, says the case is not in. This is because the word ‘genuine' was not on the ballot?

Dennis Welch: When they were gathering signatures they had a problem with some of the wording on that. This ruling I think really isn't that unexpected. I think that this is something that the Pearce people have been doing to either try and take this as they move politically down this road.

Ted Simons: Not really a surprise, right?

Jim Small: No, no, the ruling wasn't a surprise, and no more so than the challenge itself was a surprise. Everyone expected this to happen. Why would you go through the election, no matter how confident you are in your ability to win, if you're Russell Pearce, if you can challenge it and get it tossed off. I think most of the attorneys we've spoken with felt the arguments were a little bit of a stretch. He basically agreed and said, this whole genuine issue, the Constitution has to say this, and we are trying to split semantic hairs that don't need to be split.
Ted Simons: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Mary Jo Pitzl: It really came down to parsing words, and I suspect we'll see more of this. I don't know at what point Ms. Hauser will take this to an appeal, though.

Ted Simons: And very quickly, also on the Pearce front. It sounds like, candidates, Tommy Cadi, I believe you pronounce his name, he's out! Even before a lot of people even knew he was in?

Dennis Welch: Exactly. If you abide by conventional wisdom out there, this really helps Jerry Lewis, he's trying to take out the Senate President in this recall election. The more people, the theory is, the more people on the ballot the more it benefits Russell Pearce, being that he's got his supporters lined up, they will crawl over broken glass and do whatever they can to vote for this guy. The people could fragment that anti-Pearce vote in that district.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And also doesn't this help Lewis? Didn't he appear at the news conference to announce -- ? 4

Dennis Welch: Obviously he got the endorsement of Cadi, but I don't know how many votes that'll bring his way. Even if you're taking a few votes from Mr. Lewis, it could be a close election and that could make all the difference at the end.

Ted Simons: And there still is another candidate in this race, is there not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, there is a woman. Olivia Cortez, and very little is known about her. There was an initial round of briefs, she's been a little bit more off the grid. She's an LDS Hispanic woman from the district. A lot of people feel she's not a genuine candidate, she's more of a front for the Pearce campaign to split that vote if the Hispanics show up, saying maybe I'm going to vote for the Hispanic on the ballot.

Ted Simons: When you say off the grid, she doesn't speak, she doesn't do much or say much. Does she have any volunteers, does she have anyone working for her?

Dennis Welch: I talked to Mr. Lewis and asked if he had heard of any other candidates they were recruiting to do just this. He said yeah, they have heard a lot of rumors. There's a lot of skepticism for this woman on the ballot. Because she's running for ballot, she's a politician. She's turning down volunteers? That makes absolutely no sense for somebody serious about running a campaign in any race.

Ted Simons: Okay. Do we know anything about this fake Twitter account? Are you familiar with that?
Mary Jo Pitzl: I am not familiar with that.
Ted Simons: What's going on? I keep hearing there's a Jerry Lewis Twitter account where he's saying all sorts of things that have nothing to do with Jerry Lewis.

Dennis Welch: Welcome to politicking in the new age of media, where it has nothing to do with Jerry Lewis. Little bit of background. Somebody set up an account using the name Jerry Lewis, and obviously it says a lot of things that Jerry Lewis does not agree with. It shows he's Pro-Amnesty on immigration and other things like that. It's easy to laugh this off; if you're Mr. Lewis, some of that stuff on that Twitter account could be pretty offensive. They have promised go legally after whoever set this up.

Jim Small: Yeah. Yeah. One of my colleagues said that they were contacting their attorneys, they have contacted Twitter. Twitter is requesting documentation to prove that he really is Mr. Lewis. If someone does a -- the difference between a parity site and a satirical profile, versus what this is. What'll probably happen at the end of the day, Twitter might take this entire thing down.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Is is, it is as Dennis said - welcome to campaigning in the era of social media. People go out and buy up domain names. The first to rush to get those things locked in can get an advantage. I don't know how many are reading this Twitter feed.

Dennis Welch: Twitter has been really good at this. They allow faux sites if you say, not so-and-so. If they set up a fake account saying, not Dennis Welch, but if they do it using my name -- like in this case -
Ted Simons: You have to say it's a fake.
Dennis Welch: You have to say it's a fake. And Twitter has been pretty good at taking that stuff down in the past.

Ted Simons: You have to wonder who is technically savvy enough to know Twitter, to use Twitter, would read this and go, I had no idea he was promoting gay pornography like this particular Twitter message said. That's effective campaigning in this day and age?

Dennis Welch: You know, I think if you start -- a lot of people look to social media for information, for updates. All of us here, I think we check our Twitter accounts all the time for news updates to see what's going on. The general public is no different than us. Like I said, a few people in an election with a low turnout that believe some of this stuff, it has a cumulative effect.

Ted Simons: Before we leave the Pearce campaign, there are three republican senators deciding not to sign some sort of a letter? What was this all about?

Jim Small: Yeah. Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs and Whip Steve Pierce circulated a letter and sent to caucus saying we support Russell Pearce, we believe this recall is unfair. He's done everything he said he would, helped with a short session, helped pass a jobs bill and helped on illegal immigration issues and we support him in this recall. Almost everyone in the caucus did it except for three people who conveniently enough have had no shortage of run-ins with Russell Pearce in the past. Even to the degree where he's endorsed or recruited candidates to run against people in some cases. And so all of them, made the decision, look, I'm not going sign this, and I'm going to stay out of the recall altogether.

Dennis Welch: I'm waiting to see what the re -- if Mr. Pearce survives the recall, what kind of retaliation those three are going to see next year. Mr. Pearce has been known to hold a grudge or two.

Mary Jo Pitzl: One is a committee chairman by the grace of the Senate President. He didn't appear to be playing out any grudges, in terms of how he ran the Senate. He sort of rose above that.

Ted Simons: Yeah, all right. Let's get back to where we were going to start the show before this late-afternoon news came down. Judge basically says that the state with the enrollment freeze can go ahead and do what it wants to do.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, he did. This lawsuit was brought citing the Voter Protection Act, as well as as -- and then requirements of Prop 204, which says you've got pay for medical coverage up to 100% at poverty level using available funds if you've exhausted the tobacco tax revenue. The judge Mark Brain says, the law says this is what the legislature should do. But you cannot have the laws telling the legislature what not to do. And so that was one of the underlying arguments of his decision to say, okay, the freeze can go in place.

Ted Simons: So the Voter Protection Act, according to the judge, doesn't require the legislature to fund programs?

Dennis Welch:The way I understood it was, you know, you can't tinker with something passed by the voters. But you can't force them to fund something if the money's not there.

Jim Small: It was basically, this ruling echos in a lot of ways a ruling from earlier this year on the Prop 301, the education special tax passed under Governor Hull. The ruling basically was, voters can do a lot of things, but they cannot tell future legislatures they have to spend money and in a certain way, because the legislature has the constitutional authority to appropriate funds. And the voters cannot take that away without amending -- basically without a constitutional change that would give voters that power. And that's really what the core of the argument was against this and against that Prop 301 issue. What the courts have said to this point is that's the case.

Ted Simons: The unfunded mandates or underfunded mandates voters say they want, a lot of times they are voted in, the legislature says we can't pay it for, baboom, forget it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, certainly. Since 2004, the ballot measure says everything that calls for a new program must have a funding source attached to it. That sort of takes care of things going forward from 2004. You can't make the legislature spend money they don't have.

Dennis Welch: A little bit like this case, this was all supposed to be funded by tobacco money, which proved to be insufficient, and they had to go find other resources.

Ted Simons: And Tim Hogan, he's saying this effectively guts and kills the requirement, which is effectively gutting and killing voter protection. I mean, this appeal process.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, this battle is not over. Hogan is going to appeal this in the case that Jim referenced with the education funding. Those folks lost in Superior Court. They are not appealing but they are regrouping and I'm told they will be back with another run at this in the courts.

Ted Simons: Okay. And again, critics of this whole situation say emergency rooms will be flooded with a bunch of folks who are no longer covered and this sort of thing as folks continue to fall off the ledgers. That's one side of the argument?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. And they are saying this should come as no surprise because that's been the warning for more than a year. If you do this, this is the long-term fallout. It my take a while, because people aren't necessarily going to rush to the emergency rooms until they are really, really sick. It'll take a while to play out.

Ted Simons: We had an injunction on abortion laws overturned. Do we have any more information on which particular laws we are talking about here?

Dennis Welch: The big one on this one, the element that forces women who want an abortion to have to go to a doctor and have a one-on-one in-person visit with the doctor before they can have an abortion. All of this stuff was put on hold as the legislature works through the process. The judge said, no, this stuff can go ahead. We can implement that stuff. And it's become that much harder for some women in the state to get an abortion.

Ted Simons: And the injunction blocked certain aspects of abortion procedures and the logistics involve a face-to-face meeting. And doctors can refuse to give the morning-after pill. The judge's opinion was interesting, that undue burden is at play. If it's causing undue burden, yes, the judge sees that. But any burden is not enough. That's basically seeming like what the judge is saying.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This injunction has been in place since 2009. Abortion legislation has passed this legislature several times, only to be vetoed by former Governor Janet Napolitano. He leaves, Governor Jan Brewer comes in and these bills get signed into law.

Ted Simons: Planned Parenthood says they are going to appeal this law too.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Really, when you look back, even since the big budget battles started in 2009, all the litigation that's sort of -- that has triggered, it's been full-time employment for lawyers, at least. Somebody's keeping busy.

Ted Simons: Busy lawmakers who accept gifts: I have now gotten a reaction and a response from those of the citizenry, the voters, they wanted the voters' opinions on these kinds of gifts. The voters were relatively clear, weren't they?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. House Speaker Andy Tobin with the scandal, what was disclosed and not disclosed, said we need to look at our financial disclosure laws in this state. Public, what do you want to know what we're getting, what we receive as lawmakers. He set up an e-mail account and invited people to e-mail him. I didn't read every single one of the 58 e-mails, but scanned them all. I didn't see one who said, yeah, you guys are fine. They all said, you guys don't take anything. He asked for input.

Dennis Welch: Who's going to write an e-mail like that? Yeah, takes the perks of office. That's not going to happen. But on the other side it is interesting that Arizona voters constantly reject pay raises for lawmakers, they don't want them to take any perks of office. At some point you've got to start compensating these people for their time. It's not really a part-time legislature anymore.

Ted Simons: How often do you see this? The free lunches are a tradition, you see that a lot. How much do lawmakers actually get for free?

Jim Small: You know, they don't get a whole lot at any one time, because the state's lobbying laws are very strict after some of the scandals we've had in the past. They have really limited what you can buy. You can give them gifts, but it has to be a nominal value, under $10. You're talking things people are going to give out to anybody, pen cases and paperweights like you see on lawmakers' desks. Going to events or receptions or even dinners and things like that. But cumulative, it might add up over the course of a term to, you know, to a number that's significant. But I think at any one time people are not going out and getting bought flat-screen TVs or expensive rounds of golf or anything like that.

Dennis Welch: Most people wouldn't mind having 100 days of free lunches. We're talking about a 100-day session, usually lunch every day that they are in session, that would seem to be adding up after a while.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Here's one of the catches: You can't know what you don't know. The law is dependent on lawmakers disclosing. As we saw with the Fiesta Bowl, a lot of people had taken trips and comps for hotel and did not disclose until the scandal on the Fiesta Bowl. It's hard to know what you don't know. I also think what's driving the public reaction is perhaps there's not a good understanding of what is a gift. If a lawmaker goes to a conference, there are a bunch of folks who went to Turkey this summer, and I'm still not quite sure why they went to Turkey, but there are these kinds of exchanges. We've got a couple of female lawmakers at the National Federation of Women Lawmakers, they just happened to be back in Ames, Iowa, when the presidential debate was going on. Who pays for that?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The e-mails to Speaker Tobin, some are saying the lawmakers should pay for that out of their pocket for the $24,000. If that is the salary, one of your main sources of income, when I go to conferences for my employer, they pay. I don't pay.

Ted Simons: Right.

Jim Small: This isn't even a case where the State is paying for this stuff. The conference in San Antonio this week, the state is not paying for lawmakers to go through the week. They are either paying out of their pocket or getting scholarships through the organization, kind of the general way this works.

Dennis Welch: That brings up its own problem, who's paying for the scholarship? A lot of times it's lobbyists and special interest groups that are paying for this stuff. I think that's a lot of times more disturbing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: In New Orleans there was a letter that went around to a bunch of lobbyists in Arizona saying we need $1900 scholarships. You don't know exactly who paid for your scholarship. Who do you want paying for these things or do we just not go? Don't do it.

Ted Simons: Are we going to see changes in disclosure laws, maybe more frequent reporting? A lot of times people file stuff and the horse has left the barn already. Are we going to see changes here?

Jim Small: The secretary of state, Kim Bennett has talked about wanting to see changes in the laws. We haven't seen any proposals. In one section the law says report X, Y and Z. Another section says you don't need to report all of that, just a little piece of it. They are going to work to try to clarify some of that. There's going to be a push from some corners to try to strengthen this and limit what people can do.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know how strong it'll be, but Tobin wants more frequent reporting, electronic reporting, and these are paper reports.

Ted Simons: Thanks guys, good stuff.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Arizona Republic; Dennis Welch: Arizona Guardian; Jim Small: Arizona Capitol Times;

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