Journalists’ Roundtable

More from this show

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 "Arizona Republic." Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." And Alia Rau of the "Arizona Republic." And this, of course, is the Journalists' Roundtable. Alia, Olivia Cortes, we hardly knew ye.

Alia Rau: We did.

Ted Simons: She came, she went, she's gone. What happened to her campaign? What went on here?

Alia Rau: Basically, she submitted her resignation papers or withdrawal papers yesterday with the Secretary of State's office. Sent out a note from her, well, her campaign sent out a note. It's hard to tell exactly it came from saying she that she had had enough of the harassment of herself and her friends and her family members. She felt like the campaign was being focused on lawsuits, and it was costing her too much money and that was the end of her.

Ted Simons: And this happened, but it seems as though by all accounts there was a deal in place here to keep her and others from testifying at a hearing.

Jim Small: Yeah. Essentially that was what head to her dropping out I think was the fact there was supposed to be a hearing today, a continuation of that lawsuit that began last week. There was a first hearing last week and there were going to be more witnesses and we got a copy of the witness list, people who were going to's up and it included Republican political consultant Kerard Greg Western, the Tea Party gentleman was going to be up again, Lester Pearce was going to be called to the stand to testify. Some of Pearce's family members who gathered signatures for Cortes were going to be on the stand and I think that the decision was made, you know what? Rather than go through, go through something that was already bad P.R. once let's not double down on this again and have to go through it all over.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This came as a bit of a surprise because last week, or early they are week, when judge Burke ruled that Cortes remains on the ballot, they figured that was done, OK, over with, lawsuits done, let's just get on to the campaign. And then mid week, comes this request for basically to go back to court again and bring out this list of witnesses.

Ted Simons: And that decision by the judge for the additional witnesses, that turns out to be a biggie, doesn't it? Without that, the extended hearing, we probably would see more si, se puede signs. Wouldn't we?

Alia Rau: Those got taken down but I am sure we would have seen more of Cortes. She was to attend the debates. She wasn't there after resigning.

Ted Simons: One of the attorneys said, evidence directly implicates Cortes with the Pearce campaign.

Jim Small: Yeah. We talked to the attorneys today, both of them, Tom Ryan and Michael Wright and part of the evidence we had, we had people who were going to testify that Lester Pearce was working with the Cortes campaign, that he helped, he was there when she were gathering signatures, he was around, helping deliver signs and stuff like that. And as well as that that he and Russell Pearce and a couple, and western and a couple other people were in a meeting where they were talking about Cortes's campaign. And so that was what the stuff they were getting ready to put up, the evidence they were going to put forward in court and they turned that and a lot of other stuff they will not tell us about unfortunately to the county attorney and the Secretary of State's office.

Ted Simons: I was going to say it sounds as though they have a lot of stuff but they are saying they don't want to jeopardize any investigations here.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. So I think the legal battles on this are over. But Cortes's name is on the ballot. And, yes, she is not a candidate and I guess will post signs in the polling places saying she is not a candidate. She's still going to pull votes. Her name is on that ballot. I don't know what you do, maybe you put a little note in the early ballots you mail in to, no, you don't do that?

Alia Rau: They are not going to do that.

Ted Simons: We had Helen per sell on. She said they are not going to do that, and, A, they are not going to canvas votes for Olivia Cortes because she's not a canceled. So how are we going to know how many votes were pulled away? Or will we know?

Alia Rau: I don't know if we will.

Ted Simons: Yeah. So if it becomes a close race, all bets are off.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. So in a way, if you buy into the belief widely held that she was a sham candidate designed to pull votes away from an opposition candidate to Russell Pearce, mission accomplished. It doesn't matter she's not running now. Her name is on the ballot and just having a name on a ballot draws votes.

Ted Simons: Is there any indication that attorney general Tom Horne is investigating? He let everyone know he was investigating. The redistricting commission. Is he letting anyone know he is investigating this?

Jim Small: He certainly hasn't yet and typically the way that would work the Secretary of State would take whatever evidence gets submitted and say, does it look like a law got broken? If they come to that determination they would forward the case to the A.G.'s office. Although certainly I think the A.G. has the power to independently again his own investigation.

Ted Simons: Sure.

Jim Small: But to answer your question, no, he has not come out and said I am investigating.

Ted Simons: Are we hearing from the county attorney's office? Are they looking into this.

Jim Small: As of yet I haven't heard. I haven't heard anything from the county attorney's office. And I don't know if they will. I think that there was a perception certainly among the attorneys that filed this lawsuit that the county attorney's office would be less inclined to protect, to do political favors for people than the attorney general would.

Ted Simons: Secretary of State's office is looking into this to a certain degree?

Alia Rau: There's been an investigation. I talked to them today. They said it's ongoing, couldn't tell me how long it might take. But they say it's ongoing. They are -- they have contacted a lot of sign companies. They are looking at the sign issues to specifically in terms of who paid for Olivia's signs. They have sent out letters to all the sign companies in the valley asking them if they printed the signs and who paid for them.

Ted Simons: Yeah. But the bottom line is that, again, as you mentioned she is still going to be on the ballot. And we have already, we asked Helen, four votes, four early voting from overseas they have already come in and, you know, this thing has already started. This, is it a win for the Pearce campaign?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I would say, again F. you subscribe she's there to be a decoy, yes, it's a win for them. Also you can argue the other side that it's a win for the Pearce opponents as well because as long as they keep stirring the pot, keep Cortes's name out there, keep that idea out there and voters' minds that this is all a fraud, maybe that will deter votes.

Ted Simons: What do you think the impact on the election will be?

Jim Small: O. I think that this is something that, I mean, if Pearce folks were the ones that were behind doing this, I think it back fired on them horrendously. We have had nothing but, nonstop coverage for the past week has been nothing but Olivia Cortes is linked to Russell Pearce and she is a sham. And regardless of where you fall on whether you, whether you believe it or not for district 18 voters I think they certainly have to be paying attention to it. I know from talking to the attorneys today that the initial hearing last week when the meet I can't reports came out on what people were saying and certain folks were denying involvement in her campaign, that prompted other people to contact the attorneys and say, look, I have known this guy for 25 years. He's not telling the truth. Here's what's actually going on.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Jim Small: That was what I think really led to that hearing that was supposed to go on today. That's where a lot of these other witnesses came from.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think the question now, since we are what a month out from election day and voting will begin soon is how much will these opponents keep stirring the pot and keep raising this issue? They have lost their legal Battle Ground now so what front are they going to fight on going forward?

Ted Simons: I was going to say we still have quite a bit of time before the election. Is it your sense that people are so enthralled in this this will carry over to election day? Or does it sound like news cycle comes so fast, come November 8 this will be just another thing thrown into the pot?

Alia Rau: I think the public is enthralled. I think they will stay interested until election day and beyond. I think stuff will come out piece by piece. We will see investigations. The public is getting it -- eating it alive. They can't get enough of the investigation.

Ted Simons: On the one side you could say those who thought she was harassed I think constant intimidation and harassment I think is what someone wrote, or she wrote, you got that could solidify Pearce's, you know, campaign and supporters. On the other side, I mean, fence sitters listening to, watching all this, is this the kind of thing that could rally them to say, I wasn't all that concerned before but I don't like the way this is working out?

Jim Small: I think it certainly could. The reality is Russell Pearce is one of those people who are polarizing. The vast majority of folks either love him or hate him. There's really not a whole lot of gray area. What this could do I think is to serve to motivate some of those people who don't like politics and who generally avoid politics and say this is why I don't like politics and this looking out for your own cronyism back room deal sort of politics that might get some of those people to say, I'm going to vote in this election. I normally don't participate in the elections but that's got to be a concern especially with early ballots going out when the story is still fresh and most voters nowadays get their, vote early. And so I think that whether it lasts until election day is not nearly important as whether it lasts another 10 days.

Ted Simons: Have we heard any reaction from the Tea Partyers on this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I am not following it that closely so I am not sure. Greg Western is a member of the Tea Party and a Pearce supporter but he crossed over to work with Ms. Cortes.

Ted Simons: Tea Partyers are supposed to be straight shooting folks and don't like all the machinations of Microsoft?

Alia Rau: They have been pretty quiet. You have to remember Greg Western is the Arizona Tea Party chairman. You have that angle there. A lot of the Pearce supporters are going to back him. A lot of support for Pearce. But they are also not talking much about Cortes. I am not hearing from them directly on the Cortes issue.

Ted Simons: What about the state Republican party? Are they reacting to this?

Alia Rau: No.

Ted Simons: What about all those folks that were aligning themselves with Russell Pearce? Are they reacting to this?

Alia Rau: Not so much. Again, they are vehemently in support of Pearce. They ever saying he probably had nothing to do with it but in terms of getting into the issues of Cortes they haven't touched it much either.

Ted Simons: Are they out campaigning for Pearce?

Alia Rau: I think some are.

Ted Simons: Some are?

Mary Jo Pitzl: A lot of the Republican establishment I think has thrown its support to Pearce through the precinct committee structure. He that is that kind of support.

Ted Simons: I asked the questions because I wonder even if Russell Pearce wins this fight, is he damaged goods do you any.

Jim Small: Oh, well, I think if he wins this recall, that probably just emboldens him.

Ted Simons: Just the opposite.

Jim Small: I would think so. That just kind of proves, look, they took their best shot and this really is the best shot. I think that his opponents, whether they are Republicans or Democrats or independents have to take him out through a recall. And he's going to come back and say, look, they took their best shot. They didn't knock me out. I am here. I have got a mandate from all of my district, not just voters in the primary. And they support everything that I'm doing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Then I think going forward, if president Pearce remains president Pearce I will run for election next year and it will be a primary and again, to Jim's minute about this is the best shot, a primary voters have liked Russell Pearce overwhelmingly. And actually in the general election, they have liked him pretty handily as well. So I think he marchs on after this.

Ted Simons: So the Olivia Cortes affair wouldn't necessarily affect him should he go ahead and win this election? Deny think so? Interesting. You remember at the debate last night between Russell Pearce and Jerry Lewis. Describe the scene. Where was it? How many folks showed up?

Alia Rau: It was at the east valley institute of technology. In terms of people there were several hundred. They gave tickets out to both campaigns. So pretty even in terms of Pearce supporters, Lewis supporters who were there. A little bit of a crowd outside with people with signs and kind of chanting but everybody was pretty well behaved. [Laughter] They got a couple of lectures during the debate for too much cheering.

Ted Simons: Oh.

Alia Rau: A little bit rowdy inside.

Ted Simons: As far as top picks immigration, SB 1070, how much of that was covered?

Alia Rau: Maybe a quarter. This was a Mesa Chamber of Commerce event so they focused on education, business, taxes, the economy, things like that. But immigration was in there.

Ted Simons: I noticed a quote from Jerry Lewis that Arizona was seen something like 1964 Alabama. That's a pretty provocative statement.

Alia Rau: It was.

Ted Simons: What kind of reaction did that get?

Alia Rau: It got a lot of boos and Pearce went back and said that he believes Arizona is better than every. Arizona has a great reputation. Called it a myth that Arizona, you know, is facing -- not facing problems but is challenges -- in terms of its reputation.

Ted Simons: Basically saying Arizona has never been better, we're leading the parade on this and other issues.

Jim Small: Sure, absolutely. That's, and that's something I think that he does truly believe. And he sees, you know, a lot of, you know, critic. Of the state's policies are of his policies, from folks who are just want to fight Republicans. You know, and I think, you know, I thought it that statement from Lewis was really, kind of a gutsy one. I don't know that it was necessarily a smart one. I think comparing Arizona to, the time of segregation and you had, real, I mean race riots and things like that, that's really -- a risky thing to do.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But isn't it sort of aimed at sort of the Chamber of Commerce crowd to say this immigration policy has been bad for the state in terms of creating business, making this seem like an attractive place to work? I must say in president Pearce's defense he rightly points out lots of other states, you know, have copied pretty much Senate bill 1070 and that's a sign of approval. And it's, in fact, was it Alabama or Georgia, I always get them mix upped, has -- I think Alabama has gone one step farther than Arizona with this law.

Ted Simons: I know another quote from Lewis was don't mistake my kindness for weakness. Give us an impression of how, how did they look? They seemed to agree on a lot of things. What else is there? Besides he's not Russell Pearce?

Alia Rau: That was the gist of it. They agree on 90% of their issues. I think the immigration one is a difference. And when we asked Lewis at end how he thought they differed it was personality. Attitude.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I also saw a difference when Lewis asked what his first bill would be, I will introduce one to limit, to say you can't take gifts from lobbyists and that is a rather oblique reference to all the Fiesta Bowl largesse that Pearce has benefited from to the tune of several many thousand dollars.

Ted Simons: Russell Pearce a big quote from him is I have kept every promise I ever made to the folks in my district. And that is basically what he is running on, isn't it?

Jim Small: Yeah. It is. And I think that's really the way that his campaign is getting to the immigration issue because, you know, this recall is about immigration, and they have gone to some lengths to kind of distance himself from immigration, education, and business, and tax codes and budget and stuff like that. I think that gets kind of the code language for, look, I have run an illegal immigration policy in the past and I have done what I said I would do and so, you know, that's, you know, that is the crux of this campaign.

Ted Simons: Last question. Any clear winners, clear losers I believe that debate?

Alia Rau: No. I think people who were on a side are still on a side and it kind of confirmed what everybody thought about the candidates.

Ted Simons: And on we go but without Olivia Cortes on the campaign. As far as legal issues we will find out there. And now we move to redistricting and the maps and there's controversy there is we finally got a nice draft of a map. Correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. On Monday the redistricting commission came out with a draft map for the Congressional districts. They approved I it was a divided vote. The chairman and the two commissioners voted yes. The second Republican be a stained so you have some controversy there. They couldn't get a unified vote and they have, yes, a new map with nine districts, and it doesn't take long for all the criticism to start flying.

Ted Simons: Before we get to the criticism describe the map. It sounds like Phoenix and Tucson are divided but Phoenix, and Maricopa County are cut up all sorts of way.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yea, you can't help but cut up Maricopa County. It's the population center of the state. You have to have nine districts. That have 710,000 people in each one. So you got to come into the metro area to get population. The commission touts their map as being, boasting two rural districts although they both do some tentacle that is reach into the urban area and three districts that are along the border. One has a bit of just a small toe hold along the border. The other two have a bigger swath and the thinking there is that it would give Arizona more voice in Congress on border issues. And then the new district, really they are all new, but the ninth district was put in to east central Phoenix, down into Tempe and Mesa, sorts of following the light rail route, swinging down and picking up Ahwatukee. That is one of the three competitive districts that came out of this process. There are four that are pretty much safe Republican seats and two that are safe for Democrats and those two are for Democrats are pretty much driven by the requirement to have districts that protect minority voting rights.

Ted Simons: That would be Southwest Arizona and kind of Southwest Phoenix, those two areas?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes.

Ted Simons: Yeah. One. These districts looks like it's bigger than half the states of the union. This thing goes from southeastern Arizona all the way up past Flagstaff and beyond.

Jim Small: It does. Yeah. It's a very large district. It's essentially the replacement for the current C.D. 1. C.D. 1 on the new map conveniently enough. The current district, I think I remember when people were running for that a couple years ago the line on that was it's bigger than Pennsylvania and I think this is larger, might be larger in terms of land mass because it's all the way north of the Grand Canyon, picks up that whole, the whole northern border with Utah. It's a very large district but again, like Mary Jo said, that's a district almost primarily rural. It's got very little urban, urban population and the parts that it does are in Pinal county so it's not Maricopa or Pima. To get 710,000 in rural IRS you are going to take up a lot of land.

Ted Simons: Impact on incumbent? Do we know who is hurt or helped?

Mary Jo Pitzl: At least on paper all the incumbents are in a district all by themselves. But some of them don't want to be in the districts that they are in. But primarily Representatives Quayle and Scheikert who have both announced that they intend to or suggested that Scheikert announced, Quayle suggested that they may move into a new district which would be the same district, district 6, in north central, northwestern part of the valley and that would put them into a head to head matchup.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Mary Jo Pitzl: OK. So that's sort of how the incumbents play out but -- and then incumbent Gosar, his district, the one Jim was talking about, the massive one, the criticism I heard of it is not so much its size, yeah, it's big, but what it's composed of and the big complaint seems to be that if you look at the data that underlies it, it has 9% Democratic voter registration edge. Currently it has, that district has about a 4.5% Democratic edge. So Republicans say, my goodness, you are regressing. This is not moving it forward and it's throwing favor to the Democrats. But the commission didn't look just at voter registration because you have a lot of independents out there as well. They looked at voting patterns and how people behaved and in Arizona when you vote you pretty much have to vote for an R or a D and in that sense it pretty much split down the middle.

Ted Simons: As far as we talk about incumbents and whether they are hurt or helped, what about those who seem to have political ambitions for higher office? Who is out there? Who's looking at this map saying this is good or looking at this map saying this is not so good? What are we hearing?

Alia Rau: I think you got some looking at where she should live. Should she be in that more Tempe-Scottsdale, probably more Democratic heavy district. You have got Tempe mayor Hugh Holman who has announced he is not running for reelection so we will see if maybe he is looking at that.

Ted Simons: And this river district on the west side, that's got Ron Gould written all over it. Doesn't it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, yeah. Very much. And Senator Gould from Lake Havasu City is term limited very conveniently and this seat seems made for him. It's heavily, heavily rural. It picks up a lot of the area that Trent Franks currently represents but Franks is in a new district. So there's not a conflict there.

Ted Simons: All right. We got three districts deemed competitive. Four favoring Republicans. And two favoring Democrats. And yet we heard a lot from Republicans this week.

Jim Small: We did.

Ted Simons: Almost coordinated we heard. Not happy with all this. How come?

Jim Small: Not happy with it and some of it, part of it's just because the current map is five and three Republicans, have the advantage and if you look at really the district in Tucson, the Gabrielle Giffords district was a long time was a Republican district and it has a Republican voter advantage down there so these could be 6-2 right now so they look at that and they say, well, this district takes away some of the power that we have now, some of the ability we have to win races safely. So that's part of it. But you also have another part that's the long festering Republican feud with the IRC which stems back to, you know, Colleen Mathis, the chairwoman to her application to the hiring of a consultant to Tom Horne's investigation. There's really a lot of moving pieces and frankly they are all political. But, you know, it is what it is and so Republicans came out in force on Wednesday, and I think from Kyl and McCain and Brewer down to Doug Ducey, the treasurer, were all weighed in on it.

Ted Simons: I think the constant complaint was that this favors Democrats. Are there examples of how this favors Democrats?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Nobody was offering them readily except to point to Stewart Rothenberg's comment from the Rothenberg's political report out of D.C. that this helps Democrats and screws Republicans is how he put it. But I think as you talk to people, what really rubs them the wrong way is what is happening in District 1 where representative Gosar is from Flagstaff and his current district includes the Yavapai County which is heavily Republican. New district takes away Yavapai county and puts him in a district that's keep would -- deemed competitive and Republicans point to this 9% Democratic voter registration edge that this could spell really bad news for Republicans.

Ted Simons: And real quickly the governor is-pointing that she might try to start recall proceedings against it? Do we know anything about this?

Jim Small: In her statement when she launched the barrage of statements and in her statement there was a line about gross -- negligence and gross misconduct in office for these people. And that is, those words were actually taken from the constitution. And that is the provision that if you are going to start removal procedures against a commissioner it has to be for those reasons. And so those words were in there and I think they set off kind of a lot of alarm bells if in a lot of people's heads and the governor would have to basically say I am going to remove, you know, Commissioner Smith, and then the Senate would have to vote it and have a 2/3 majority. Well, wouldn't you know, 21 Republicans out of 30 seats in the Senate. So something that theoretically is possible.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, you didn't even have to read between the lines on that. She said she's deliberately tried to stay out of this whole fray over the commission but this map has, she cannot be silent anymore. And I think we will be hearing a lot more from the governor.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff. Boy, couple of big stories. Good to have you all on board. Thanks for joining us.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Thanks, Ted.

Alia Rau: Thank you.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Horizon." You have a great weekend. Captioning Performed By LNS Captioning

A graphic for the Arizona PBS news show,
airs April 13

This week on Horizonte!

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024
airs April 16

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates as part of ‘AZ Votes 2024’

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: