Journalists’ Roundtable

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Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Tonight on "Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable we'll discuss the historic recall of Senate President Russell Pearce. Phoenix has a new mayor, and we'll recap Greg Stanton's win over Wes Gullett. The Supreme Court refuses to block the removal of the redistricting commission's new chair. Next on "Horizon."

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Dennis Welch of the "The Arizona Guardian," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Lynh Bui of the "The Arizona Republic." Lots to get to tonight. We'll start off with history in West Mesa. Dennis, Russell Pearce lost. Surprised?

Dennis Welch: Well, yeah, I mean, myself, I've been saying for a long time I didn't think it was going to be possible. When you started to see some of the numbers in the early ballot returns over the past week or two, a lot of people's minds started to change. You saw how hard it would be for Mr. Pearce to win that race, given the amount of Democrats and Independents and Republicans voting. It was going to be hard for him unless he carried the Republican vote with big numbers and that just wasn't possible.

Howard Fischer: To a certain extent, they took the advice offered by the "Journalists' Roundtable" last spring. You want to beat Russell Pearce, a single candidate, an educator. If you want to get a woman, you could really lock it up. They united behind a single person. They figured out that because this is an open primary, you get -- if you can keep 80% of the Democrats and 50% of the independents you only need a handful of Republicans to put you over the top.

Dennis Welch: They ran a very smart campaign. They did all the things they needed to do. I think the additional thing was, let's face it, Russell and his friends ran a bad campaign. People wanted to help him out and ended up hurting him.

Ted Simons: Conventional wisdom, even with the perfect candidates and the whole nine yards, the conventional wisdom was it's still Russell Pearce's race to win. He lost this race. What happened?

Howard Fischer: Some of it had to do with Russell's friends. The Olivia Cortes campaign, badly handled. There were people who did go out and say, hey, we can get Russell elected by putting an Hispanic woman in there. I don't know if Russell had anything to do with that. I think people very close to him clearly tried to help him and figured, ah, no harm, no foul. The fact is Olivia pulled in a little under 2%. If she had pulled the 7% I thought she might have, this race would have been different.

Ted Simons: Lynh, the fact that the affair not only backfired against Russell Pearce, did it generate interest and get out the vote, if you will, among the Latino voters in the district?

Lynh Bui: I think it might have generated a lot more interest and got a lot of attention onto the race. There was also Russell's own gaffs, I would say. Some people are tired of Russell. I think some people underestimate the Mormon community out there. I think that him kind of taking on the spokesperson role for that community, some people didn't like that.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Talk about the LDS influence here, because that was huge.

Howard Fischer: Well, I think there were a lot of people in the community. The church obviously did not take position, the church can't take a position. Individual bishops might have endorsed one side or the other. But I think there were certain elements of the community that felt the same way they did during the Maycomb administration. If you're trying to make the LDS church mainstream. People thought the better person to have there is a Jerry Lewis than quite frankly Russell Pearce.

Dennis Welch: It's tough to say because it's so hard to measure. As Howie points out, they don't come out and take an official position. A poll was taken about a week ago, a channel 15 poll with the "Capitol Times." The race was split on certain grounds. The thing that put Lewis over the top was it wasn't an open election. Most of the Democrats, if they would have voted for Pearce, that would put him over the top.

Howard Fischer: There was a lot of running outside of the race. Russell talked about the Move On folks were in there and the SCIU and everything else, and turns out and boasts that he got outside contributions from 40 states.

Ted Simons: The money in this race was heavily in favor of Russell Pearce. The momentum, the legacy, heavily in favor of Russell, the history, the tradition. It wasn't that close of a race, Howie. This is really interesting stuff.

Howard Fischer: As far as the money, I don't think we've seen all of the numbers in yet. I think when all those independent expenditures report in December, we will find a lot more money that was anti-Russell that was in the race. That's number one. Number two comes down to the question that money didn't matter because this was the only show in town. Normally a legislative race, Dennis and I would say, who's running in 18? I don't know. This was a statewide, a nationwide race.

Ted Simons: That's being used as an example of the focus for greater voter turnout and interest and all these things. Lynh, it was discussed this was essentially an open primary. In the Phoenix mayoral race, which we'll get to, is this the kind of thing where people say maybe an open primary is something we like or something we don't want to touch?

Lynh Bui: In terms of an open primary, it really is a game-changer if we go down that road. But there are a lot of factors, also. The open primary did play heavily, but I think there was a lot of things Pearce did in the past that were starting to anger people, get on people's nerves. Some who would say they are very right wing are saying, I don't agree with this guy anymore, and I am super conservative.

Howard Fischer: It's the ideas. I don't know that Jerry Lewis' ideas were that radically different. A lot of what he stood for was very nebulous to say the least. He said, I'm not Russell. It was stylistic. It was the tone, the demeanor. There's two Russell Pearce's. I've seen Russell Pearce a grandfather, a nice person to talk to, and the Russell Pearce who's the former cop. The person on TV when the lights came on was the former cop. A lot of people didn't like what they saw.

Ted Simons: Turning point in the race?

Dennis Welch: Wow. I think some of the turning points, definitely I think Cortes was a big one in that. It got Russell off message. I said all along they wanted to run a campaign focused on outside agitators trying to come into Mesa and tell you how to vote, trying to tell us how to do business over here in Mesa. That totally changed the game, knocked them off that message. So instead of attacking these outside groups or going after Lewis, they were put on the defensive almost immediately saying, we had nothing to do with this.

Ted Simons: Do you agree with that?

Howard Fischer: I think this is very true. Some of the folks pushing Olivia Cortes were not even from District 18. It sort of undermined the message.

Ted Simons: When does Lewis take office?

Howard Fischer: There's two answers to that. Number one is that there's -- Russell is still the senator until the vote is canvassed, which will occur late November or early December. At that point Lewis is qualified. But the Senate has its own rules and they have to have a credentials committee. They will come in and examine the credentials. It's pretty much pro forma. He will be sworn in officially then.

Ted Simons: Lewis; What kind of relationship will he have within his own caucus? We've heard, folks can't wait to embrace him, but were afraid to do so while Russell Pearce was in power. Two, the GOP establishment ran against Lewis, they are not about to shake his hand.

Dennis Welch: There are people like Senator Rich Crandall who has a long relationship with Mr. Lewis, both being from Mesa, are going to work well together. But there's that other aspect. Mr. Pearce was very popular among certain members of the Republican establishment. Very popular with a lot of Republicans down in the Senate. They were telling us earlier in the week, this guy's not going to be welcomed with open arms at this point. We saw that today.

Howard Fischer: Exactly. It was a closed caucus today but politicians love to talk. Essentially what happened is everybody aired their grievances. It was essentially, Lewis sat in the corner for a while. We don't trust you. A guy ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate. Look, you divided the party. Everyone vented. Lewis got up and said, I'm a good Republican. I don't know if he really answered their concerns. They want to find out, who is he loyal to? Is he loyal to the party or the people who put him where he is?

Dennis Welch: The Democrats are not rolling out the carpet saying, there is a victory party. There were no big, distinct differences on any other issue within the campaign. Some Democrats may be celebrating today because they got rid of Mr. Pearce. They still at least on paper have a very conservative Republican image.

Howard Fischer: I talked to the minority leader, David Schapira, about this selection of Steve Pearce as the replacement. He had been hopeful things would change. I asked, well, what about immigration? The majority of the caucus wants more immigration bills, we'll do more immigration bills.

Dennis Welch: He said, we're going to continue the good things that Russell started.

Ted Simons: Was it a surprise that Steve Pearce is the Senate President, instead of Biggs?

Dennis Welch: The talk around the capitol was that Mr. Biggs had the inside track on this, and it was his to win or lose at this point. Mr. Pearce tried for this post before and wasn't successful.

Howard Fischer: He only got one or two votes this time. The difference was there was supposed to be a third candidate Steve Yarborough. When you're dealing with Republicans as right, righter and off the table here. These were some of the people who voted against some of Russell's immigration bills, the one about checking kids' I.D.s and Fourteenth Amendment stuff. Steve decided he wasn't going to offer himself. He said, okay. If we have a candidate named Russell, Biggs, who is Russell incarnate, or Pearce trying to work with all sides --

Ted Simons: Which is a bit of us saying that Russell Pearce was not necessarily what they were looking for in their next guy. He would have walked in, right?

Dennis Welch: But the dynamic has changed. It was a 10-11 vote, as we understand. This means that one of the deciding votes was Mr. Lewis.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the mayoral race in a second, Lynh. The fallout from all of this, what does Russell Pearce do next?

Howard Fischer: Russell has been mailing out op-ed pieces. He said, I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to work on immigration. Not vitriolic, but very defensive. We haven't heard the last of Russell. He's going to be active in Republican politics. Does he help form a federal packet for people?

Dennis Welch: You need to kind of wait. People close to him say he's bound and determined to run again. He's already talking about let's run again for the legislature. You gotta give it a couple weeks because he's got to give it a little time and space to reflect on what's happened. He needs to think about, does he want to do this again.

Ted Simons: Do we need to reflect a couple of weeks to get a message out of this election? Was there a message given here, do you think?

Lynh Bui: In the Pearce race?

Ted Simons: Yes.

Lynh Bui: I don't know. I think it's that blend with the open primary. I do still believe that, you know, people are unhappy with kind of that super extremism that's been lumped in with him. With these op-eds, he's still defensive and standing by who he is, he doesn't want to change what's happened. He's going to have to decide whether he's going to change his approach and his tone.

Howard Fischer: They are circulating petitions to create open primaries and legislative races. You've just seen it.

Ted Simons: Paul Johnson went around telling everyone, see, that's what you get. Some liked it, some didn't. Let's talk about another open primary, the Phoenix mayoral race. Again, surprised, all that Greg Stanton won?

Lynh Bui: Greg's polls showed he was ahead most of the time. But the conventional I guess wisdom throughout most of the race was it was Greg's to win. It would have been a coup for Wes.

Ted Simons: Did people say, I don't necessarily dislike what's going on in Phoenix right now?

Lynh Bui: I think part of that is the case. A lot of the national messaging, while the issues might have been on there with the antigovernment sentiment and anti-government union, the Phoenix voter isn't that normal voter.

Howard Fischer: That's exactly the point. We've talked about this. There was no big Watergate or scandals there. The city is from most scandal there. Wes said, we've got unions and tensions and that's going to cause a problem down the road. How you deal with that, I don't think anybody is sitting home worried about the pensions by who picks up their trash. Nobody's really unhappy. Wes did not put out a vision saying, here's my big vision for city. What did he put out? I hate unions?

Dennis Welch: I would say there were at least a couple of issues out there and the food tax, I think, was really -- has been really unpopular amongst a lot of folks out there. The issue comes down to money. You're talking about a city of several people. A lot of voters that you're trying reach and we're talking really small amounts of money if you're trying to communicate with those types of people and a diminished coverage of media on this race. A lot of TV stations were paying attention to Russell Pearce. A lot of these issues out there could have maybe resonated more had people been educated a little more on the race.

Last question on this: Compare Greg Stanton's style to Phil Gordon's style.

Lynh Bui: I think Greg Stanton now is similar to Phil Gordon eight years ago, young, energetic, optimistic, let's do this, let's take Phoenix. How that pans out, whether he'll wind up like Mayor Gordon eight years later.

Ted Simons: Thousands of cups of coffee later we'll see how it works for him. Howie, The Supreme Court refusing to go ahead with complaints against Colleen Mathis being removed from the redistricting commission. The court basically saying no.

Howard Fischer: Saying no, but for now. This was extraordinary relief. The commission with its own attorneys, Colleen with her attorneys went to the Court and said there would be irreparable harm by keeping her off the commission. Well, the Court said, we don't even need to reach the points of the issue. We have an expedited schedule. We will have a hearing on the full-blown thing next week. We've got briefings. There were papers filed before and today by the Governor. There's no rush. There's no deadline they have to meet. The commission, the screening panel commission seeking to replace her is not scheduled to put in a nominee until the 29th. There was no rush, no reason to intercede now.

Ted Simons: Not granting a stay is usually not a good sign for the folks who didn't get to stay. Do you see the same thing here?

Howard Fischer: That's a piece of it. I don't know if that's the case. I think what's going to hang over this case, there's strict legal issues. What is gross misconduct? Can the Governor define gross misconduct? Is there an open meeting law violation that occurred, five justices, three of them Republicans. They want to know, should the third branch of government be second-guessing what the second and first branch of government decided. It's going to be a close-run case.

Ted Simons: The move by the Governor and the Senate, that some saw as a search for power, did that impact enough kinds of businesses?

Dennis Welch: You could say it could have. Let's look at this Pearce race, Lewis won by a pretty comfortable margin. Were some people turned off by what Pearce and them were doing? I think there's some of that.
Howard Fischer: The entire Republican establishment, all 21 Republicans from all extremes if you want to call it that, within the Republican Party, voted to ratify the Governor's decision. If Lewis had been there, he would have been a majority vote on that, too.
Dennis Welch: The importance of independence in this race now, what we're doing, what did Independents think when they saw what a lot of people see as politics going on down at the legislature.

Howard Fischer: I don't think so.

Ted Simons: Who is Richard Carmona? And could he be the next U.S. senator from Arizona?

Howard Fischer: Well, not exactly a household name. He was the surgeon general and people say, okay. Doctor, uniform, very nice. Nice enough guy, Tucsonan. Working after he left the Bush administration. Registered as a political independent for all these years but has been dipping his toe in the water about maybe being interested in politics. After it became fairly clear to a lot of folks that Gabrielle Giffords was not going to return to the Senate, a lot of folks are looking for a single figure to unite behind. Right now we've got Don Bivens, a party functionary, a lot of Arizona contacts but not exactly Mr. "boy, I really want to unite behind them." Carmona was urged on Thursday and said, I want to go for it.

Does he have a chance against Jeff Flake?

Dennis Welch: He definitely is a big name in this race. This guy's been toying with the idea. He might be running. But now of course looks like he is going to be jumping in there. I think he does bring a lot of what Democrats want to the table. It's going to be interesting to see how this deals with Flake. I don't think Flake in his entire career has had a really tough campaign. I'll be interested to see how he stands up on the campaign trail against somebody who can potentially get the money to run a hard campaign.

Ted Simons: Moderate candidate wins, considering the vote in Phoenix, where the more liberal candidate won against the more conservative candidate; you've got a Richard Carmona, not a liberal by most stretches. Are we seeing something here?

Lynh Bui: I think we're definitely seeing some momentum in favor of the left. Internally, amongst the Democratic Party, they were holding Greg Stanton up as their hope. They aggressively wanted him to become mayor because they need to fill their bench. The Democrats have not been doing well in the state. It could prime him for something down the road and someone to kind of take over, you know, whatever happens in Gabrielle Giffords' seat.

Howard Fischer: We're jumping a little ahead of ourselves. You've got will Cardin, again, not a household name but a guy with a lot of money who can upset the applecart and cause a lot of harm to Flake.

Dennis Welch: Tuesday night's results really energizing the people. The paper stuff, we brought up city voters are a lot different from other voters in a normal election cycle. That's a big question.

Ted Simons: But they are voters, and Richard Carmona, Vietnam combat veteran, has the Bush administration, a little bit, he was kind of critical of them after he left. But that's a moderate candidate in a state that looks like it at least pays attention to moderates.

Howard Fischer: Because of the fact he has been in politics, looks good on paper. What does the man come from?

Dennis Welch: When he gets out on the campaign trail, does he have the chops to make it all the way? That's always the question.

Lynh Bui: It also appears the Democrats are repositioning themselves too, to capture the moderate. The signs say independent mayor for Phoenix, whether that branding strategy works better.

Ted Simons: We will stop it right there, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Horizon," results of a new poll and primary election changes. And find out about a conference aimed at getting businesses to go green. That's Monday at 7:00 on "Horizon."

Ted Simons: Tuesday we'll discuss the future of journalism. Wednesday we'll take on the future of personalized medicine. Thursday we'll look at Arizona town hall recommendations for Arizona's energy future. And Friday we're back with another edition of the "Journalists' Roundtable." 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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