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 Arizona Republic." Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal." And Steve Goldstein of KJZZ radio. The state Supreme Court rules that the governor acted illegally in removing the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Mary Jo, was this a surprise?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, I think it was a surprise. At least to half the people that were in that very packed courtroom. It was also a surprise how quickly they ruled. It came out less than three hours after the hearing concluded -- actually, after it begun.

Ted Simons: Judging from the questions, did it seem like the -- you would get something that quick?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah. Yeah. Well, they spent a lot of time to figure out is this something within the domain of the Supreme Court to rule upon? Is this justiciable? And begin -- judiciable. I think they concluded this is something that the court has a right to weigh in on.

Mike Sunnucks: Didn't they basically say just because you don't like what someone does in a panel you can't impeach them and I think it was a repudiation of what the Republicans have been doing.

Ted Simons: The court had jurisdiction, that the issues are not just political. Which we had a governor's attorney on, focused on that point, and third, that the idea that the letter, the letter to Colleen Mathis did not meet standards. Talk about that.

Steve Goldstein: Well, it didn't talk about -- give examples of any gross misconduct or not doing her duties. The most interesting aspect, Thomas Zlaket was the -- the attorney for Colleen Mathis and said that any action like this, he seemed completely -- there's no respect there at all. The idea is this is going to destroy the commission in every sense of the word. Even if you try to remove a person from the commission, regardless if her dress was purple. That was one the examples. The idea is if you go down this path without details of what she did wrong, you'll destroy the commission.

Ted Simons: Wasn't the idea that, yes, if the governor thinks her hair isn't proper, she can try to get rid of her but the senate is supposed to be there as a check, without realizing that there are times when the senate and governor are in lockstep.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, then that's perhaps the fault of way the ballot measure was drawn up. The idea is that the senate would be a check on that. They all happened to agree with it. All 21 of the Republicans in the senate, but not one of the Democrats.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of the Republican side, the conservative side that think this is just. They look at the actions of the chairwoman in terms of open meeting rules and contacting folks and how they picked the mapping firms and approached redistricting with the focus on competitiveness which is just one of the factors. And they think they have a really good case and we could see more chapters to this.

Steve Goldstein: Justice Michael Ryan, sitting in for chief justice birch, in saying that the superior court is still considering the open meetings law violations, and that would seem fairly obvious, if that goes forward and the violation is found, wouldn't that make a difference in sort of misconduct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It might. But I don't know, at this point, at least in the governor's mind and the senate's mind, it's a article of faith there were open meetings violations and ignore the fact that this is still part of an open investigation. If the lower courts finds there was a violation, that might give you a stronger leg to turn on if you talk about gross misconduct or substantial neglect of duty.

Mike Sunnucks: Seem like taken more time that the court would have looked on this more favorably toward the Republican stance? They bum-rushed this through fast. And if they had taken a while and had some due process as a -- at the legislative level.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The time issue could be paramount, the court issued a two-page order, didn't elaborate on why they concluded the way they did and some interpreted that to say all we need to do, we'll write a more specific letter with a few more points and more honed down and try it again. And, in fact, the senate's talking about that and perhaps looking at a special session next week.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's a perilous thing for them to do. If they do that and put more bullet points in the argument and the court turns them down again, that looks bad for the legislation and governor.

Ted Simons: If they do make a stronger case, I keep getting comparisons to an impeachment, but you have a trial and you have someone sitting and hearing and allowed their due process. Political though it is, it's still a form of due process. I thought Justice Ryan was saying, where's the due process here?

Steve Goldstein: That's essentially how I was interpreting it as well. As Mary Jo says, partly until we know what the point of the argument was, to take us off on a tangent, it looks like one of the Brewer appointees was questioning the idea of what the governor did. You may have seen a 4-1 vote in this case and I don't think a change of wording with will affect that at all.

Ted Simons: Mary Jo, you were there. Describe the atmosphere.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The attorney said, boy, they had their caffeine. They jump-started this and it was off to the races with the arguments on behalf of the redistricting commission and very, very rapid exchanges between the justices and attorneys for Mathis and Lisa Hauser.

Ted Simons: What seemed to interest the justices the most? The thing about the hair color and dress seemed to get attention.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That was -- acting chief justice made a point to test how far -- how much latitude does the governor have for removal. Does she have absolute authority? If the commissioner wore a purple dress could she remove her and, yes, she could. The governor defines what gross misconduct is and what serious neglect of duty is. There isn't a due process procedure and there's not a role for the court. So yeah, they spent a lot of time trying to hone that down and make sure that was the governor's argument.

Mike Sunnucks: It's interesting to see in their opinion how the fact this was created by the voters, you know, the commission was created by voters and work for the voters instead of some partisan body, the legislature do this. Whether it's democrat or Republican and whether the justices look at this and say, you're stepping on the voters rights and stepping in with absolute power to fire someone because you don't like the mapping firm or how they conduct the meetings.

Steve Goldstein: Andy Tobin, the house speaker sent out a pretty nasty letter as far as the decision and the state senate is not excited. We've not heard the term "activist judges" and I'm intrigued which justices voted which way. One of the appointees of Governor Brewer went against it - are we still going to twist the activist judges around?

Ted Simons: The wording was I'm putting all options on the table. I'm guessing a referendum there as far as eliminating the entire initiative and called Colleen Mathis a bias czar, and proudly violated the open meetings law.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's not substantiated. We have testimony from the two Republican commissioners on the redistricting panel that Mathis tried to line up votes prior to meeting which, if that's the case, you know, might be construed as a violation of open meeting law but that's not been proven and Mathis in her response to the governor on November 1st categorically denied it and it's important to note that the lower court this week, on the open meetings -- the county said we're going to drop the business about the serial conversations, it's premature. The whole thing that hinges on has been tossed out as an argument in the lower court.

Ted Simons: If you're dropping that one aspect of the complaint, isn't that basically what you're saying that Colleen Mathis did that was so egregious.

Mike Sunnucks: That was the centerpiece of the Republican argument. If you're dropping that, that gives it less credence and the fact they want to get rid of the commission, that's a valid thing to have. You can have whatever you want. There's a valid argument there but to tie it into an attack on Mathis and what the commission is doing now diminishes the policy side.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's why you have to look at this and say, what does this come down to? This is the second go-round with an independent commission doing the lines and there weren't these protests a decade ago. Why? They don't like the maps. And they are draft maps, not final, and probably a long way from final from what I heard today, you still -- still heavily favor Republicans but it causes heartburn, puts incumbents against each other in a potential primary.

Ted Simons: A lot of folks were looking around at the state and congressional level figuring out where they want to live. The idea of the senate -- just write another letter, governor. And the house, all options on the table. If the governor does write another letter and it's passed the same way through the senate, what kind of political -- what repercussions are there?

Steve Goldstein: I don't think there are repercussions. It's always possible but when you look at how much power there is. The Republican party, the two-third majority in the legislature and the majority of congressional districts and we can complain as journalists but if you look to brass tacks -

Ted Simons: What do you think about voters? It's been under the radar. A lot of people probably don't know what's going on. But what do you think of the ramifications?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think the people paying attention generally aren't happy about this. There's a whole tea party faction that are energized and feel that the commission has gone in the wrong direction but I wonder what the ramification is for the senators. They face election in about 10 months. If they're rebuffed twice by the state Supreme Court they've teed up an argument for any opponent to use against them. Why are you trying to undo the will of the people and defy the Supreme Court?

Mike Sunnucks: Part of the Democrats -- run candidates that can take advantage of that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And that might hinge on where the lines are and how the districts are drawn. There's a lot of if's there, I will say two weeks ago, the democratic party was threatening they were going to do recalls against the so-called moderate Republican senators. That hasn't gone anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if they took a look that the again if this played out all over again.

Mike Sunnucks: Politics is about power and Republicans have the power in the state and the way this is set up, two Democrats and an independent chairwoman who are voting with the Democrats who are controlling this process. And that's the root of the anger. Some may be justified, they may have violated rules, the root is they want to control the process because they have the cards and everything else.

Steve Goldstein: If people are paying attention, I think would have more ramifications and this goes back to what Thomas Zlaket said. If the governor is able to improve Colleen Mathis, let's get someone else from the new group of applicants and doesn't like this person either. What if she took that step?

Ted Simons: Speaking of the new group of applicants, it doesn't matter. The hearing that was looking over applicants is holding off since there's no reason do it. But you never know. They've got 19 some odd folks in there. Independents and some were registered as Republicans, as late as last year.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And these people don't read instructions clearly. Because it says clearly you have to have been registered consistently with the same party for the last 3 years. And you knew going in that you couldn't be an R or a D. And one guy wrote I'm a Republican. On the face of it, that disqualifies him.

Ted Simons: It sounded like, it seems as though the folks were saying we've been recruited. The -- from the capitol times -- recruiting folks for this now?

Mike Sunnucks: It's a partisan political process. No matter who draws the lines and whether the legislature does it or the voters improve something, or it's a panel. It's going to have -- whoever draws the lines, it's not logical. Trying to create nine districts without having every district touch Phoenix.

Steve Goldstein: One thing about Colleen Mathis. I know there's the open meetings law and many things go into this. But the one criticism, that her husband had worked for a democrat, but your spouse is not always in the same political party as you. When I saw that I thought, well, ok, we have to look closely at what the spouse does.

Ted Simons: What scrutiny -- If you were a registered Republican last year, you won't get far, but those who do get far, do we have to see about their third uncle.

Mary Jo Pitzl: If the replacement process goes forward.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They'll get a lot more scrutiny than last time. The media and the political parties will be taking a much harder look at it, and then the question is to what degree removal are you tarnished.

Mike Sunnucks: Tone death politically, the two Democrats and Mathis, they picked the Obama mapping firm and riled up everybody on the Republican side. They talked about the competitive district, that's not supposed to be the main charge and could have avoided some of this by including Republicans and things and maybe making different decisions.

Ted Simons: Where do we go from here? When do they meet again? They've got a chair back, so full steam ahead.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The executive director said probably not until November 28th. They have 14 binders of public comment that they gleaned from the days of public hearings and they need time and three more came in today. They need time to digest that if they do due diligence and talking maybe a meeting on November 28th. They're not in a big rush and the chairman, who talked about this with Mathis, says they are committed to doing this in a deliberative expeditious way. And not going to rush it through. I was at a conference and people were saying -- oh, we hear the commission is going to meet at 9:00 a.m. on Monday. There's no evidence of that.

Ted Simons: So much for the plan it was going to be done by Thanksgiving.

Mary Jo Pitzl: When you have a couple of lawsuits along the way.

Ted Simons: It brings up the question, how long can they wait before it has to get to the department of justice?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'm trying to remember the timeline from the last decade but they didn't have maps until April. There's time.

Mike Sunnucks: You can see lawsuits how they drew the map.

Ted Simons: Guaranteed.

Mike Sunnucks: That could drag things out and there's an argument maybe they didn't follow the law as they should have and could probably make a valid argument there than not liking her dress or how she conducted meetings.

Ted Simons: Last question, what is this doing to candidates, congressional and for the state legislature? Waiting around waiting to see where they're going to live?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Some are. Some aren't. David Schapira is going to be making an announcement on Monday - he might be announcing an exploratory committee for congress. He can't announce for congress without running into laws. A couple of lawmakers have already moved and others are sitting back and waiting.

Mike Sunnucks: These guys are so ambitious, no matter what the lines are, they're going to find a way to run for something if they want.

Ted Simons: Talk about a way to revive the real estate industry.

Mike Sunnucks: The U-Haul rentals will be up. Move into an apartment across the street.

Ted Simons: Let's move on. The taskforce had hearings and a lot of folks interested. Steve, what happened, who was there, what did they say?
Steve Goldstein: It's a 19-member panel. Chaired by Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery. He's been bold about his plans for reform, including a separate investigative unit that decides if CPS social workers decide if there's any abuse and Montgomery was pushing for this and seemed to get good reception on this idea that the CPS workers are best served by providing social services, not deciding whether a child is beat up by a parent or stepparent or whatnot.

Ted Simons: And the idea of emphasizing the reunification of families is not such a good idea.

Mike Sunnucks: That pendulum goes back and forth all the time. There'll have high-profile cases where a child is hurt or killed and it will go back and say we don't need to unify the family. And then they might go and get too aggressive and break up families but I think the safety of the child is starting to be paramount and people see common sense logic to what Montgomery is suggesting and having law enforcement people instead of social workers. Where maybe law enforcement guys would see the abuse, maybe for what it was.

Steve Goldstein: I think Montgomery's personal experience is interesting. He did not grow up in the traditional nuclear family. He was raised by a single mom. If you have one parent who loves you and the other not so much, be with the one who loves you.

Ted Simons: The pendulum does swing back and forth and there are lawmakers determined to make sure that families aren't broken up. How do you get past that?

Steve Goldstein: I don't know. But bill Montgomery is very passionate. He thinks he has the governor on his side and they could be influential.

Mary Jo Pitzl: You get past it by saying we're going to keep the families together where we can. Where there's not abuse, maybe where there is just neglect or they need help with bills and food. But we need to protect kids really in physically or emotionally abusive situations.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a question of resources with the agency -- not just here, in other states and big cities. They don't have enough resources and get cut when there's budget issues and the programs aren't always the most effective ones. They probably need a top-down thing and get the most bang for their buck.

Ted Simons: It sounded like Montgomery on your program, if you want more money, that's a non-starter; that's not where we need to go, A. And B, Clarence Carter used deliberate, methodical, strategic -- these words don't necessarily mean give me more money.

Steve Goldstein: It's clear they don't think money is going to solve the problem. That's always the disagreement. We could use more money because then we could have more caseworkers. The investigative unit, Montgomery thinks, and the work will be done better.

Mike Sunnucks: The social workers get paid little. Huge caseload. Lot of burnout and if you bring in the investigative folks, if you're not paying them, you're not going to get the good folks and I don't know if you'll have marked improvement without a little more cash investment.

Ted Simons: Democrats aren't happy that there's only one democrat on the taskforce, and the democrat they wanted on the taskforce who has experience with social work wasn't included so even that got a little political.

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans think there are two too many Democrats on the IRC. [Laughter]

Ted Simons: I see. Before we get out of here, Arizona withdraws from the western climate initiative. What's going on?

Mike Sunnucks: This is the environmental thing that a bunch of states, California and Janet Napolitano, we were part of that and a lot of people were surprised it's taken this long, once Jan Brewer was in there. They're going to pull out. And be part of another North American compact which gives member states given more autonomy, the western approach, having a regional approach to figuring out a mission, standards, air quality standards.

Ted Simons: That was one of the things that Napolitano pulled the state along, even though folks were digging in their heels.
Mary Jo Pitzl: In the west, it was mostly democratic governors joining this and this is one of the last vestiges of the Napolitano era that's being erased or being walked back.

Mike Sunnucks: The western climate initiative, I don't know what they've done. Studies, yeah, studies, a California-driven thing. California is the one that's going to drive the policies. If Washington is in gridlock because you have the split. But companies will have to go along with things because they have to do business in California.

Ted Simons: The DEQ was killing rules on new cars and trucks which was, again, another idea from the Napolitano administration and that's gone too, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes.

Ted Simons: All right. We don't have time to talk about Gabrielle Giffords on national television, but thoughts on it.

Mike Sunnucks: I think mark Kelly is going to run in her spot. She wants to run again. I don't know if she will be recovered enough. She showed a lot of emotion and awareness. I could see him running as a stakeholder.

Ted Simons: That's a bold prediction.

Steve Goldstein: I thought it was heroic and risky in the sense that everyone wants her to be doing well and we thought that miraculous means she's going to be sounding better. It was great but didn't do as well as a lot hoped.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's a way to test the waters and see how voters feel about a congresswoman who is clicking but can't make it come out smoothly vocally.

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

Ted Simons: Monday on "Horizon" -- The attorney for the Independent Redistricting Commission will be here to talk about the Arizona Supreme Court's decision to reinstate IRC chair Colleen Mathis. That's Monday at 7:00 on "Horizon." Tuesday, we'll hear from the chair and vice chair of the taskforce looking for ways to reform child protective services. Wednesday, the important role of family caregivers and the services that are available for them. Thursday, we're preempted for the Thanksgiving holiday. And Friday, we'll hear what Christiane Amanpour had to say after she was presented with ASU's 2011 Cronkite award. "Washington Week" is next. I'm Ted Simons, thank you for joining us, you have I great weekend!

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