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 -- Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal." And Jim Small of "The Arizona Capitol Times." We finally heard from one of the candidates running in the Russell Pearce election. The ever-elusive Oliva Cortes defended herself against allegations that she's a sham candidate. I'm not even sure if I'm pronouncing her name- is it Cortes? Cortes? Do we even know?

Dennis Welch: How would you really know she hasn't had a whole lot of time in front of the camera because basically she's refused to do most media interviews and I think she did one recently with a local radio station out there. But yeah, Oliva Cortes is the way I pronounced it. The judge questioned her and seems to think she's an ok candidate at this point even though she doesn't know who is paying for her campaign signs and who's doing a lot of other things, she's basically saying, "I'm for real" and we're going to move forward.

Ted Simons: And the court hearing moved forward. Which was kind of a surprise to some considering how late in the game we are to find out if there is fraud, or not.

Mike Sunnucks: I think there's some there, at least looking if there's some fraud or ill behavior on the Pearce side. There's a lot of evidence, a lot of reporting out there that they're behind her campaign. Folks close to Pearce or related to Pearce, according to some reports and she -- she said she had some stances on immigration and education and it's really iffy if there's any law that says they can't run a sham candidate but it just looks bad. It questions the integrity of the process. I don't think she'll be kicked off the ballot. I don't think there's anything there to kick her off the ballot. They've got the signature, she can run the campaign, people can run for all kinds of reasons. This is one of them. It just looks bad.

Jim Small: One of the things the judge will probably look at was last year you had the issue of the green party candidate, the write-in candidates that were put up by Republicans in order to draw votes away from the Democrats and help the Republicans get through in tight races and the judge in that case, there were two of the candidates who didn't pull themselves off the ballot and he ruled that even though they were put on the ballot for bad reasons, I mean, there was fraudulent intent, but that the candidates themselves seemed to be taking opportunity. Taking the opportunity to try and be a candidate of their own. I don't know if you can make the same case with Ms. Cortes, if only because it was very clear in the hearing she knows nothing about the campaign except that she's in the race. She doesn't know how she got on the ballot. She herself collected 20 signatures of 1,000 -- she doesn't know where the signs came from and the website and the press releases came from, she really had no idea about anything and that tempers, you know -- tempers what happened last year and what the judge can do this year.

Dennis Welch: I think it's obvious when you look at everything that Jim laid out. All the evidence is out there. This is for all intents and purposes, a phony candidate of some sort. She has no control of what's going on but for the courts to intervene and kick someone off the ballot would be a pretty messy situation, starting to define who a real candidate is. Candidates can run for all sorts of reasons. She could run on the "I love Russell Pearce" platform if she wants. The best thing is shows like this, to talk about it, to get the information out for voters to have that information when they make decisions come November.

Mike Sunnucks: It's up to voters. The voters are the final regulators. There's no statute to kick her off, you can run plenty of bad campaigns. People who want to win run bad complains. But the media and voters should say, "What's going on here?" It's the integrity of democracy and they should hold the folks responsible.

Ted Simons: But if there's misrepresentation going on and especially if she doesn't even know who is paying for virtually everything that goes on with the campaign. Whether it's the sign or the -- the signs or website and she doesn't even know her press releases -- after what the secretary of state's office said they're going to take a look, because after a while you've got to wonder, it's just wrung.

Jim Small: And the reason they're looking at it is because she testified in open court that as far as she knows she's the treasurer of the campaign, she's put $500 of her own money in the election and hasn't spent a dime. So there are signs, there were petition signatures that were gathered and were paid for and we talked to folks who work in that industry and their understanding is that those signatures were paid for-- the gatherers were paid about $2 a signature and the company was probably paid $3 a signature. So you start looking at that and you go "Okay they picked several hundred signatures up that's a fair bit of money" that came from somewhere and that's what the secretary of state is going to figure out- where did it come from?

Mike Sunnucks: Interesting the lack of sophistication in this. You would think it would be fairly well removed and have her schooled a little bit and have someone running her campaign. It would be hard to connect the dots. It seems pretty easy to connect the dots.

Ted Simons: But you're almost seeing them double down with the "Si, se puede" sign. It has to be the first time that we've seen a conservative Republican with signs that say "Si, se puede". It's almost as if, "They're on to us, let's go even more." Compare this though to Pearce supporters who say, "You're calling her a sham candidate. What about Jerry Lewis?" This is a guy who was put by what they see as liberals, outsiders, as a bunch of folks to go against Russell Pearce.

Dennis Welch: This is an important part in the campaign. The Pearce folks are losing this argument right now. They wanted to make this campaign a conversation about Jerry Lewis, about who his supporters are, about Randy Parraz, about Randy Parraz supporting boycotters and all these other things and nobody is talking about that. We're talking about a phony candidacy and Oliva Cortes being a sham candidate being run by Russell Pearce. They're losing this part of the conversation. I was really skeptical about Mr. Pearce being in trouble in this race considering he's been in the district for such a long time but you start looking at stuff like that, I think he is trouble, I think he is in real trouble come November.

Ted Simons: Could it backfire?

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely, I think not only what they're doing with the campaign and how it comes across, but also the racial-ethnic component. If this was down south and they had a sham candidate who was African American and if they had some clever sayings, it would get national media attention and this may get more attention nationally. It's already gotten some. It could really backfire.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Jim? Could it backfire?

Jim Small: Sure, if you go operate under the theory for the purpose for putting her up on the ballot was to winnow off a couple thousand votes or couple percentage points, I think Dennis is right, all the stories and news coverage -- I think frankly that's why they went forward with the trial even though there's not a high level of success because now we're talking about it. Even though the lawsuit got filed a week ago, we're still having this discussion and I think that will get in front of voters and if there are people out there in the district who were on the fence or weren't planning on voting, I think there's a real good chance that seeing something like this play out makes those people go, "You know what, I don't like this kind of politics. This is exactly why I'm not involved normally. But I'm going to make my voice be heard."

Mike Sunnucks: If you have the tea party folks and folks who have certain stances on immigration and the social issues, they think their side is right and the other side is so wrong, you're not going to get any of those folks. I think it's basically to split the anti-Pearce vote. But the tea party folks probably will be with him no matter what he does.

Dennis Welch: Some of the people I've talked to are telling me this has a feel of the former House Speaker Jeff Groscost. He lost an election years ago because of ALT fuels that the media took an intense interest in that race in his small legislative district race. And he lost an election that people thought he was unbeatable in and people are starting to say the same about Pearce in this one.

Mike Sunnucks: I expect Pearce to come out against the media at some point. Like Joe does, the sheriff, "It's the media trying to tear me down. They're behind this. All these stories." And that works with a lot of Republicans.

Jim Small: And at some point, that's all he does. And we've seen him do it already. Look at the television coverage and news, it's been Pearce and his supporters saying what Dennis said earlier, the media is not paying attention to what they should and they're out to get me.

Ted Simons: For those who think we'll find out who is behind all of this, once we get campaign reports and all that sort of business, that's not necessarily true, is it Jim?

Jim Small: No, a cynical view would be that people pay for signs and signatures and they're not going to step forward and it's going to be up to investigators to find out. I don't see any reason to believe -- if the duplicities in this candidacy is as deep as a lot think it is, I don't think there's a reason that the people will have a turn of honesty. "Yeah, I'm the one who paid $3,000 to get the signatures and $4,000 for the signs." I don't see why we would see this to expect this.

Ted Simons: All of the folks who could possibly investigate this, Tom Horne, Republican, Ken Bennett, Republican, Bill Montgomery, Republican.

Ted Simons: We'll leave it at that and my goodness, let's move on to redistricting. We've got a fight going on in there. The panel itself going to court to keep Tom Horne from going after the panel.

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans like Tom Horne don't like how the panel has been conducting itself including hiring a consultant from the mapping firm with deep ties to the Obama Administration. That's kind of the root of this. They think Horne has filed suit claiming they violated open meetings laws. The panel is fighting that and don't want to have to appear in court and they've I guess countersued.

Ted Simons: They're exempt because of legislative immunity?

Jim Small: That's part of it. I think the crux of what they're arguing is that because it was created by constitutional amendment, it lays out scant meeting provisions for them that they're not governed by state open meetings laws. Which -- the argument is really an odd one and I question whether it has the ability to succeed. Basically they're saying, "the attorney general can't investigate us because we're constitutionally independent and the state laws don't apply to us. So we're completely independent of everything and have immunity and it doesn't matter."

Ted Simons: All Tom Horne has to say, "you're not above the law. If you broke the law, I've got to go after you." Isn't that all he has to say?

Jim Small: And that's what he has said. That has been his defense as to why he's doing the investigation.

Ted Simons: And we have a draft map out there and already everyone is upset about it, which means something must be good about it. But it seems that Phoenix is involved in almost every district.

Dennis Welch: If you look at it, all the issues on all the districts touch the metropolitan area. To your point, people being upset about it, this is the document that came out saying, if you're a Republican, "See, we're right, this was a left-leaning firm that wanted to put this out." My quick review of the maps that came out, I think four real safe Democrat districts out there. And some people are upset about that. A couple interesting things I found that was in that, looks like the tentative map out now pits current Congressman Schweickart versus Congressman Quayle and they'd have to battle it out.

Jim Small: Quayle's home is up two blocks away from another district and you have to remember congressional districts you don't have to live in the district you run in. They can change the lines at any point.

Mike Sunnucks: Three districts that touch the Mexican border. That could bring in more resources here and that could help out Democrats because that part tends to be more Democratic.

Ted Simons: This is a draft and this is something that's obviously when things are all said and done, more than likely not be similar to what we're seeing but it's an indication as to where the commission is going.

Jim Small: And I think the final map will probably look similar to what we're seeing now. They're going to approve a draft map Monday, and they're going to take the weekend, and look at the map and come back and a vote.

Ted Simons: Don't the hearings start on Monday?

Jim Small: Well that map is for 30 days. They're going to take 30 days of public comment and then they have the opportunity to change the map and how much or if at all remains to be seen, it could be minor changes or no changes or dramatic changes knowledge but I wouldn't bet on dramatic changes because they spent so much time and effort.

Mike Sunnucks: It confirms everything that Republicans have been squawking about. They've said the independent chair is in cahoots with the Democratic chair. This map seems more like a Democratic map than a Republican map. It seems -- you have to have two districts that are majority Hispanic, so that's currently Pastor and Grijalva, and it seems like they've created two more districts that seem to be favoring Democrats, but competitive districts aren't at the top of the list of the things they have to do -- it's geography and communities of interest, so there's other factors at play but they seem to be focused on making competitive districts that benefits the D.

Ted Simons: Alright, and now benefitting the R's is, apparently, again it's apparently December 1st, CNN is on board. The RNC not on board yet? Correct?

Dennis Welch: That's correct, but from what I'm hearing, it's tentative and the real debate is where they're going to hold this thing. I know that some of the sources that have told me that the governor is interested in holding the debate in the West Valley. She's from that area and represented it as a county supervisor and legislator and wants to highlight that area. This could be interesting, because Arizona has been in the press a lot lately and normally has gotten beaten up for the past couple years, this is a chance to highlight the state and focus on some of the issues about Arizona and do you have it in Downtown Phoenix, do you go to some place out in the East Valley or even Tucson? These are the conversations that will take place.

Mike Sunnucks: The way the primary schedule is going with everybody moving primaries up, this could be one of the last ones before Iowa. Immigration will be a big issue and we'll see if some of these insurgent campaigns, Herman Cain, can have the momentum and use immigration to go after the front runners.

Ted Simons: Why is the governor, why is the state pushing so hard for this? Right now, some of these debates have not been covered all that positively. We've had people shouting "Let them die" to people who don't have insurance and booing soldiers and all sorts of other stuff which isn't necessarily a positive reflection on the debate.

Jim Small: The reason for the debate has been a goal of the governor: is to raise Arizona's national profile and get the issues important to Arizona talked about nationally. Kind of using S.B. 1070 as a springboard and all the attention we got off of that. And she had talked about moving up the election for just that reason and this is the deal she cut with the RNC. She's not going to move up the election and cause a cascade of four or five, six states leapfrogging each other. And in exchange, you're going to sanction a debate.

Mike Sunnucks: It's all about political egos. The host state, the governor, whoever hosts it gets to say, "Look how important I am." I think it's more about that. It's not just this governor, it's across the country.

Ted Simons: And it's an economic engine. You bring money in, you've got folks paying for stuff, paying for hotels.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, the tea party people need those hats and those pitchforks.

Ted Simons: Ok. Does Wes Gullett need the endorsement of a governor on the other side of the country?

Dennis Welch: He probably needs a lot. He's got his work cut out for him in the mayor's race. Governor Christie said he was going to back Mr. Gullet for the Phoenix mayoral race. And this conversation started almost a year ago at a Goldwater dinner in November where the two met and Mr. Christie decided to get involved, for his reasons, possibly, I don't know, thinking of maybe having some connection to Arizona if he thinks about running for president.

Ted Simons: And vice versa. And if Chris Christie becomes a presidential candidate, and darling presidential candidate at least for awhile, usually when you jump in, everyone loves you until they learn more about you. If he's got some momentum going for the presidency Gullett has a bit of a push there.

Mike Sunnucks: Oh maybe a little bit. I think it's more about reminding everybody of what letters are next to the names. So here's the Republican of the day, Chris Christie, endorses Gullett, he's an R and I'm an R too, so I'm going to vote for Wes Gullet and the other guy, Greg Stanton, is a D.

Ted Simons: If Stanton says he has to make do with local police and local folks, he kind of makes fun of it, but if Christie becomes a real challenger out there?

Jim Small: Sure, absolutely, I think next week, Christie said he would make an announcement one way or the other about if he jumps in the race. If he does and moves to the front and maintains momentum, sure it looks good for Gullett to say, "Hey, look, I'm endorsed by this guy who is doing really well among Republicans."

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think Stanton is going to go out there and be getting Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden's endorsement any time soon.

Dennis Welch: It's just another big name to throw out there. It doesn't hurt to have someone like that, particularly if he is running for president and getting some traction and if he decides to jump in, he'll have some traction, it's not going to hurt Gulletts' moving forward.

Ted Simons: And we should remind viewers, we'll have a Phoenix Mayoral Debate here at Horizon Tuesday evening -- mark that on your calendar -- that will commence, therefore, hence with, or whatever it is. Paperwork filed for an open primary. Talk to us about this. This is an initiative on the next ballot, correct?

Dennis Welch: This would be. And it would revolutionize the way we elect our candidates. First off they have a lot of work to do, they have to get a lot of signatures to get this to the ballot. But basically it would create an open primary system where no matter what your party affiliation is or whether you're a voter or candidate, you go into a big general primary and the top two vote-getters regardless of party go on and move on to the general election unless it's a local house race, then it's the top four candidates move on.

Mike Sunnucks: It's moderates and Democrats who don't like losing right now and they're losing to conservatives on basically every race and want to change the rules and if conservatives were losing, they'd probably want to do the same. I think the Pearce recall brings something interesting here. If you have an open primary, what keeps people from putting people like Oliva Cortes on the ballot and trying to dilute the different votes. It's a measure by Paul Johnson, a former mayor, it's well intended but it could have unintended consequences.

Ted Simons: What do you think about this? Will it get enough signatures to get on the ballot, and then will this get approval from voters?

Jim Small: I think the first step, is who's putting the money up. I think they have to gather a quarter of a million signatures just to qualify to build up a buffer. You're looking at over 300,000 signatures and that costs a lot of money. They need to have a good financial footing to do this and we'll see. It's the idea that Arizona has always been open to election reform. Look at Clean Elections and the term limits we've done. We've been open to these kinds of things and I think critics of these things would point out, "Well intended or not, there's unexpected ramifications and we're in the process of undoing those."

Ted Simons: And you've got to wonder if they can get the required signatures without the help of either party.

Dennis Welch: They have a local firm that is working for them. They are professional and have been around a long time, I would bet they do have the money. This is a professional organization. Paul Johnson is this very successful business man, a former mayor of Phoenix. I think these people know what they're doing, I think they'll get it to the ballot and people like him are wondering how can we change the political culture in Arizona because you look at our legislature, it's so skewed, so far right, but yet Gallup did a poll, a month ago, two months ago, where they polled the electorate and it's very moderate mainstream Arizona. And they're looking for ways to get more mainstream candidates out there that represent more mainstream Arizona.

Mike Sunnucks: There's polls that pop up like that, but I think the message that conservatives kind of send resonate with the people here- low tax, less government, the immigration enforcement kind of socially conservative. I think that resonates with especially with people who vote.

Ted Simons: There you go.

Jim Small: Not only that, but the one thing that this doesn't do, it doesn't do anything to increase voter turnout in the primary. Which is one of the reasons why you do see maybe more polarization in candidates. Look at the numbers of the voter in the primaries percentage wise. It's dropped off dramatically over the last generation, because a lot of that is because a lot of people have gone into the independents and you have a lot of folks who can vote in primaries, but they don't know that and they're not active enough, they're not engaged enough to actually vote and I don't think this does anything to solve that problem.

Dennis Welch: There's another element in this too that they mention in the ballot. Mr. Johnson will talk about, "Well, why should the state subsidize these partisan primaries because the state pays for these things, when a third of the electorate isn't affiliated with any of us?" That's another issue out there.

Mike Sunnucks: That is an issue that can really resonate with voters. I think they have a good campaign and say, "These are the party bosses, these are the party hacks running the state right now, let's let real people get in there and run." That will resonate. But the problem with Democrats and moderates right now is we don't have the demographics that work for their message, don't have a lot of union people, not a lot of college students, outside of ASU, and the Hispanics don't turn out yet like they do in other states.

Dennis Welch: But I also kind of disagree a little bit with Mike with the message resonating with voters out there. I do think there are a lot of moderates, they voted for a tax increase a little over a year ago and they continue to vote for that kind of stuff when it's put before them so I think there is a case to be made that there is a moderate voice out there.

Mike Sunnucks: Abortion, gay marriage, immigration, guns.

Dennis Welch: Gay marriage, it went down. They tried to ban gay marriage.

Mike Sunnucks: And it passed the next time.

Ted Simons: Alright, but before we go, you write about sports business. Diamondbacks starting to playoff this weekend. An economic impact, a psychological impact on a community when a sports team does well?

Mike Sunnucks: It helps. It'll help Downtown. The games should sell out. They've still got tickets available. Sure it helps. We've had a lot of bad news here, foreclosures and job markets stinks, and if they can make a run in the playoffs it'll help. If they get eliminated right away, "Eh, it was a nice season." But you look at what happened with the Cardinals a couple of years ago in the Super Bowl run and then the playoff runs, really raised their profile, really kind of helped the folks.

Ted Simons: Alright. Did you know anyone who taught the Diamondbacks would be a pretty good team this year?

Mike Sunnucks: You did. You did. You did. Ted Simons did.

Ted Simons: Oh you're absolutely right.

Mike Sunnucks: You told me that they would make a pretty team.

Ted Simons: But I didn't think that they'd make the playoffs.

Mike Sunnucks: You need to take credit for that. It's a bold prediction.

Ted Simons: Alright, gentlemen, I think we should stop it right there. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons thank you so much for joining us, you have a great weekend.

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