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 Luige Del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times." The Arizona Supreme Court makes it official -- the Russell Pearce recall election is on for November 8th. Not really much of a surprise.

Dennis Welch: The bar to throw out petitions was high. We're going to have a recall and Russell Pearce, respectfully disagreed with the Supreme Court. But we'll go forward with this recall and it should be entertaining and we've seen people come out, top challenger, Jerry Lewis came out with a video.

Ted Simons: How long was it?

Dennis Welch: Very long -- a six-minute sound bite, available online, that's available to anyone who wants to sit through the whole thing.

Mike Sunnucks: That's high efficacy people -- willing to sit through.

Ted Simons: As far as the ruling, it -- basically, the complaint where there were flaws in the petition. The word "genuine" was actually used. That's what we're talking about here?

Luige del Puerto: Essentially. The complaint was based on their interpretation. They, the supporters of Russell Pearce, that the petition recall, certified election officials earlier was flawed because it didn't strictly comply with the constitution. Boils down to the word "genuine" and they're saying it should have been included in the oath by the circulators, the people who gathered the signatures. That oath should have been on their -- that word, and you know, the citizens for a better Arizona, the group that spearheaded the recall, said what we had is the functional equivalent of affirming that the signatures are genuine. That's the defense that the state has taken.

Mike Sunnucks: Both campaigns are moving forward. It was just spaghetti at the wall from the Pearce folks.

Dennis Welch: This was a stretch at best. And I think a lot of Pearce supporters would tell you that. Incompetence, like -- it was a long shot, figured they could make some sort of argument. They did and lost. No big surprises.

Ted Simons: And any challenges left? Can you challenge the ballot spots? Are we on -- is the race on?

Luige del Puerto: I think it's pretty much on. You know, the Supreme Court still has to lay out their arguments or explanation for basically rejecting the challenge to the petition and we don't know when that's going to come out and when it does, it may be too late to do anything about it.

Dennis Welch: Pearce comes out and challenges other things, personally, I think he risks looking bad in that whole thing. Then you start to ask yourself, what is he scared of? If he challenges everything that could be challenged, that doesn't work in his favor.

Mike Sunnucks: The real action is behind the scenes on this. Who really is in Russell's camp and what kind of money is coming in nationally from both sides. Where the LDS church is on this, if at all.

Ted Simons: Who is in Olivia Cortez's camp and where is the camp? Is it just generally believed she's a stealth candidate?

Luige del Puerto: That belief is widespread. Many think that is the case. I tried -- think that that's the case. I tried many times and Dennis, also, everybody tried to get ahold of Olivia Cortez. I did speak with her early on on the day she filed, and I asked her basically if she's running to -- that if she had communication with the Pearce campaign and she said no. Other than that, we haven't heard anything, there's no website. She has no website.

Dennis Welch: If you think about how a politician acts and behaves in a campaign, she's acted the exact opposite in every respect there is out there. I mean, she's the anti-candidate in some respects and yet able to get the signatures and qualify for the ballot. I think it raises more than an eyebrow. I think -- there's genuine concern there.

Mike Sunnucks: In a race where a turnout could be low, whatever she grabs could tip the balance. We don't know how many people could turn out in this, or who is going to turn out. If she moves it toward Russell.

Luige del Puerto: She's helped by tea party activists. The guy who submitted her nomination papers, nomination -- her -- the signatures, basically that, would allow her to qualify was a guy named Greg Weston, the chairman of the east valley tea party and we have got tea party activists helping a Republican candidate running against Russell Pearce.

Dennis Welch: You got to be careful here. If somebody is able to show she's a, quote, stealth candidate, a wringer to siphon votes away from Jerry Lewis, you look at election fraud and can start looking at all sorts of things. Some real problems.

Mike Sunnucks: That's going to be hard it prove. Unless you've got direct smoking gun type stuff. If it's true, the folks on the other camp are probably smart enough to avoid that. That's hard to prove in a legal capacity.

Ted Simons: Let's move on to the senate ethics committee. They'll investigate Scott Bundgaard. Again, surprised?

Luige del Puerto: Well, it wasn't a surprise. Because the committee was expected -- bought of the makeup of the committee, it was expected to go ahead and hear the complaint. Things changed a little bit and there was doubt when the democratic leader in the senate said he wasn't going to be able to attend the -- that day when they decided whether to go ahead and investigate Bundgaard because he had a scheduling conflict. You didn't know how senator Yarbrough would vote. We know that Ron Gould, going to vote for an investigation. Originally filed, and expected to vote for an investigation as well. But at the end of the day, senator Yarbrough said even though he agreed that Steve Gallardo may not have the personal knowledge required to file a ethics complaint he thought it was sufficient to go ahead with a investigation.

Dennis Welch: It was interesting from a political theater standpoint, to watch it go down. The deciding vote was Steve Yarbrough and -- He wanted Ron Gould, he wanted him to recuse themselves because of previous statements and what not. And at the end of the day, even in the last speech before he announced how he was going to vote. Sounded like he was going to vote against moving forward in the investigation. When he said, yeah, let's move forward, I think everybody was stunned.

Mike Sunnucks: They tried it through the press and legal process, let's get the full dog and pony show at the legislature.

Ted Simons: This hasn't -- an ethics investigation hasn't happened in an awful long time. How far will they go and what kind of penalties and ramifications will come of this?

Dennis Welch: He's in a fight for his life. Technically, he could be expelled from the senate.

Ted Simons: Don't you need two-thirds?

Luige del Puerto: What happens is that the committee can do two things. Dismiss the complaint and do some type of a censure, it could -- that could entail a two-thirds vote of the full body. Whatever the ethics committee decides is not final. If it's disciplinary action, it has to be approved by the entire body. Sometime next year, the senate will have to decide whether to approve that or not.

Mike Sunnucks: I could see them trying to mute how far they take this because he's probably going to be gone after the next campaign.

Ted Simons: Any reaction from Bundgaard at all?

Dennis Welch: He's speaking through his lawyers and they say they welcome the fight. I can't see in any respect, they welcome the fight. This is going to, again, play out in -- on the news, the newspaper, all of the ugliness in the situation. There was nothing, nothing good about what happened back in February with the Bundgaard situation at all. And he'll have to live through it again and he's going to drag the senate through it. And it will be interesting to see how his colleagues feel about it. Maybe even new details.

Mike Sunnucks: If you see the way he behaved after, I can see him standing and fighting for this, from his perspective and like Dennis, said, that would make it more contentious.

Luige del Puerto: If there's an advantage for Bundgaard it would be for him to tell his side of the story again, but most folks don't think he would win the argument at the end of the day. Even if he is not censured.

Dennis Welch: There's a lot of lawmakers and Republicans today that aren't thrilled with the way he's handling this. And a lot of them say they're going to step down because they don't want to put their colleagues or family through it.

Ted Simons: Andrew Thomas, a disciplinary hearing, how is that going? Again, you talk about ramifications and sanctions, he could be disbarred.

Mike Sunnucks: Disbarred, face censure. I don't think he showed up at the first hearing. There's talk about who is advising him whether to pursue these political cases and what's happening is a lot of folks in the legal community are starting to pile on, he doesn't have any power anymore. He was county attorney and running for A.G. and now that he's out of those positions you're seeing critics saying they don't like the way he ran that office coming out of the woodwork and there's momentum to go after him hard. Whether that happens in the end and how the Supreme Court and bar rule is another question.

Ted Simons: Again, as far as what the hearings are dealing with. Talking about a couple of supervisors charged, the thing he went after the one judge charge, all of them, dismissed and leading to an investigation of Thomas, leading to, now, this particular --

Mike Sunnucks: These are power things, look the allegations against the sheriff, they went after Stapley and Wilcox for things -- there may have been some legitimate legal concerns what those two folks were doing, but the indictments, they were 100-count, big political indictments and they got thrown out because there were a lot of duplicative things.

Dennis Welch: The Thomas administration, we get to live all over again, and the guy was so close to being the attorney general. I remember on election night in the primary last year, he was leading going into the end of that night. And to think about how close we came to this being an A.G. sitting there instead of some guy looking at his own law firm, who is out of power. That's amazing to think about.

Mike Sunnucks: He dropped the suit he had against the county and bar and against some of the judges and there was a limit that maybe that would -- they could cut a deal where he wouldn't get disbarred. But there are skeptics pushing for sanctions.

Ted Simons: It will be interesting to see his response, if he continues with the they're all to get me response. If you continue along those lines, they'll all be out to get them.

Dennis Welch: Why wouldn't they, seems like he was out to get them. That's what the charges are about.

Mike Sunnucks: The same allegations against the sheriff. Abuse of power and going after political foes. The vendettas. The sheriff is still in power and would win reelection today and probably if he runs again. Andrew Thomas lost in the race, he doesn't have the juice maybe he used to.

Ted Simons: Luige, The governor gets the -- what's going on with the primary?

Luige del Puerto: The Governor wanted to -- let me backtrack, the governor wanted to raise Arizona's profile. Wanted to capitalize on the things going on here. And wanted to make sure that immigration becomes more of a big issue in the presidential debate and and wanted to move the primary to January. And -- but that entails penalties from the national Republican party and what have you, and there was a back and forth, about what Arizona should do. At the end of the day, the governor decided we'll keep the primary date the way it's always been, which is in February. And, of course, they're not saying in exchange we got a presidential debate but we're going to get the presidential debate in December and that's what -- really what people see that as a pretty good compromise for the state.

Dennis Welch: Regardless of the outcome, she did raise Arizona's profile in the election. We had GOP candidates all over the valley and Michele Bachmann having burritos with Cindy McCain. And she was hanging out with Joe Arpaio, and you had Mitt Romney over here. I think there's a lot more focus on Arizona which is probably good for the state. It's going to bring those issues out and help to drive the agenda and drive the election cycle.

Ted Simons: The debate is not a done deal but as close as you can get to being a done deal.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, and you can see the field narrow significantly. It could be obviously Perry and Romney and you'll see the second tier guys drop off. It's going to be a key race because there's folks who aren't competing in Iowa, and maybe not that much in New Hampshire, South Carolina is a big battle ground and we're -- it could be a big issue. The challenge for Republicans is how to play the economy. Because the economy here is not doing well and you've got to offer help for foreclosures and jobs and this maybe challenges them to offer more specifics how they would deal with something on the ground like here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: If you want to emphasize immigration, so be it. Arizona is the place. But do you want to emphasize immigration come December, come February when the economy could be A through Z in February.

Mike Sunnucks: The debate in Tampa, where Rick Perry, a Texas governor who knows about the border, kind of downcasts the border wall thing. Saying that's a hard thing to do. A lot of border to cover. Maybe look at other things and the tea party-Republican mantra is to build a big wall. The opposite of Reagan's Berlin speech. And he got attacked for it. And Perry who is from a border state and deals with Hispanic voters and maybe not as conservative as people want him to be.

Dennis Welch: It's always about the economy at the end of the day with the presidential candidates and if you're going to use immigration, that's one thing, but you've got to have that good about jobs and how you're going to help a state like Arizona, Nevada has been decimated with foreclosures. You have to have that in your message.

Ted Simons: A win for the governor. As far as negotiating.

Luige del Puerto: Absolutely, it's a win for the governor. You have the presidential candidates trying to court her support by holding this debate early, Arizona becomes an important state and how important remains to be seen. We're expected to lose by -- even just the day we have right now, the primary date, we're expected to lose half our delegates and if that's the case, then if you're a presidential candidate, how much resources would you spend in a state that at the end of the day would only have half of the delegates voting for you.

Ted Simons: Let's get closer to home as far as politics are concerned. The Phoenix mayoral race. Getting testy?

Dennis Welch: The governor came out today, I think, and endorsed Wes Gullett for mayor.

Ted Simons: How big of a thing is that.

Dennis Welch: We have seen what it did for Peggy Neely. She's not in the runoff. Jennifer Wright, the tea party candidate, came out this week and supported Wes Gullett. There's a thought out there that he needs that block of voters to come out. They came out in August for that election, he needs them if he has a chance of beating Stanton, who is clearly the leader.

Mike Sunnucks: Jennifer got 11% of the vote. Greg's path is easier to get to 50 plus one. We'll see what -- Jennifer Wright ran a decent campaign, didn't have a lot of money or organization, but did well.

Dennis Welch: She brought a lot of new voters into this election.

Mike Sunnucks: We'll see if the voters will say, Jennifer Wright says to vote for Wes Gullett, I'll do that.

Ted Simons: Paul Johnson, an independent, going for Wes Gullett. That's in the ledger, the firefighters unofficial, I think as yet. But all but official now for Stanton. Balance things out there?

Dennis Welch: The firefighters are still a power -- a political power in the city. You know the August elections they took a bit of a beating. Claude Mattox didn't win, their candidate in the mayor's race. And there's still, you know, a powerful force out there politically in the city. Nothing beats a firefighter showing up at your house knocking door to door saying -- hey, vote for this guy. Because they're the most trusted public officials.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the difference here is Gullett wants to get rid of the food tax and firefighters want to keep it. They're worried if it goes away, they'll face cuts. They weren't energized behind Claude. If they get folks to come out, it's a big win for Stanton if they're behind him full force.

Ted Simons: One side saying support the food tax and using that as an attack, and the other side saying, you're a lobbyist, using that as an attack. Are they going to catch traction?

Dennis Welch: There's been a lack of substantive debate. Yesterday, Wes Gullett comes out with a jobs plan and immediately, he's attacked. Well, he never mentioned how he'll curb lobbyist influence. By the way, Wes Gullett is a lobbyist. It's a lot of trash talk back and forth. I don't know if it will gain traction. It could turn off voters which for Wes Gullett would be a bad thing.

Mike Sunnucks: I think Wes' biggest challenge is having energy and communicate with voters. He's a low key policy WONK type. He's not the slick good old boy back slapping lobbyist. He's low key, smart strategist. But that helped the guy out front. So I think that's his challenge, showing voters walking into a room and having that command presence. It happened with Perry in the presidential race. He comes in and he's got a presence. Greg's got a little bit more name I.D. and I think Wes has got to get that to catch up.

Dennis Welch: But this is an election won and lost, and out of the media's eye kind of thing, a lot of stuff that goes out there, one of the game changers in the mayoral campaign was a key mail piece that Gullett sent out which the other campaigns will tell you it was that mail piece that changed everything. That was important because turnout was so low. It's less important this time because there's less attention paid to it and it's mano y mano.

Ted Simons: Before we go, Luige, there's a talk of bed tax and helping at least shouldn't the problems with the AHCCCS eligibility. Tell us about that.

Luige del Puerto: Looking at a special assessment on hospitals and the idea is that if the special assessment is approved it would draw down federal money, that federal money, a two-to-one match, would pay them back for the Medicaid program and looking at essentially no cost to the state. There is some ideological opposition in the state senate and also the house. Folks that don't like the idea. But the hospitals saying that next year lawmakers will hear from the public, their constituents and voters about the impacts of the cuts to AHCCCS and hopefully, exert pressure to approve this plan.

Ted Simons: But it didn't fly last time. Did it grow new wings? What's going on?

Luige del Puerto: It didn't fly last time, it competed with the governor's proposal and second of all, we have a legislature who has a view of, you know, going in and cutting as a way to balance the budget. That's going to be the atmosphere next year. You know, keep the cuts or balance the budget through cuts and if there's going to be extra revenue use it for paying down the debt or save it for 2014 when the budget will be a problem.

Dennis Welch: I can't see the makeup of this legislature heading into an election year looking for increases out there at all. It's been conservative and willing to cut anything they can and I think it's a tough sell.

Ted Simons: Good stuff, guys. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

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