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." Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." And Jim Small of "The Arizona Capitol Times." The governor decides against calling another special session to deal with redistricting -- time to deal with redistricting. Was that a surprise she did not go along with this idea?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, it was a surprise to a lot of lawmakers and to the general public, I don't know how much they were following that. But I think it was a toss-up that the governor was going to -- people expected her to call another session. The idea or the belief was that she would call a special session so that lawmakers could put a measure on the ballot for the February presidential preference election, the one that republicans are going to have, that would allow voters to do away with the redistricting commission or maybe reform it but it wasn't quite jelled what the ballot measure would be.

Dennis Welch: Yeah, I think, too, she saw the writing on the wall. What people were paying attention to, there was a poll that showed they didn't like her handling of the thing and she responded a little bit to that and maybe there was thought is it worth it to go after another round. Do we fire her again? What do we do? It wasn't worth the effort and talk.

Ted Simons: Surprised at all?

Jim Small: Yes, and no, Mary Jo is right, there were a lot of people pushing for it. What we were hearing, before the Thanksgiving holiday there really wasn't a lot of appetite to do this up on the ninth floor and one of the things that really did it, in some of the earlier discussions they talked about commissioning a poll in order to find out whether putting something on the ballot would be successful so house and senate leadership commissioned a poll and it didn't show there was a lot of potential for this thing to win. Even after education, repealing prop 106 was barely above 50% and some of the reforms a little bit more vague, they performed better but still take a lot of money in a short period of time to mount this kind of campaign and you certainly know that the proponents of the independent redistricting commission would have a lot of money at their disposal.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And keep in the mind the reason for the haste on this is because the belief you could get something on the ballot and get voter approval in late February, that would be enough time to do a do-over on the maps for 2012 going forward. And even that is a gamble. The commission, we'll talk about this in a bit but the redistricting commission went back to work with the goal of being done by Christmas on their end. So there was a whole effort to once again head them off at the pass. Brewer saying no special session right now, well, no special session, it doesn't seem like there are many more options for stopping this redistricting commission. It looks like they'll probably go ahead and finish their work and likely be the inevitable lawsuits after the maps are done.

Ted Simons: What criticism is she getting from the Republican legislators with the idea you went to court to get this woman off and tried to get Democrats off as well apparently and got a way to do something about this and because of a poll you're not going to do it?

Dennis Welch: Obviously, there's a lot of Republicans down at the legislature who feel very strongly about this. That Colleen Mathis should have been removed and the process needs to be change. They'll not be happy. But there's a good number of Republicans too that are happy this thing will go away. It's a kind of a distraction, you're heading in a legislative session where you have a lot of other issues you want to be focused on instead of having this thing dragged out and getting pulled into it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But here's the thing. In the senate, some of the Republicans, I think all of them were told, they believed they had a deal with the governor, that if they gave her a two-thirds vote she needed to ratify the removal of Mathis, which they did on November 1, then the governor would call a special session and let them put the prop 106 on the ballot again and they held up their end and she did no not. There is dispute if there really was a deal.

Ted Simons: What do you make of the disconnect there?

Jim Small: Yeah, the interesting thing about this is that the only people who seem to believe there was a commitment are Former Senate President Russell Pearce and his chief of staff. And certainly, I think a lot of people has seen this in the past. He would count votes on bills, there were a lot of times, by three votes and you go, what happened, he took people's equivocations as yeses and there's a belief among people in the room, house speaker Andy Tobin who said the governor never committed. She said she would keep the door open, be inclined to do it but not actually do herself.

Dennis Welch: And makes me world whether they believe they have the votes there, from the senate, we've heard a lot of talk, they had the votes and whether they wanted to risk calling another special session and failing again. We've been down that road before.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, two sessions in a month on the same topic, at taxpayer expense, you run the numbers and this is a senate that still hasn't disciplined one of its own. The whole Scott Bundgaard case has been hanging out there since months and are they going to try twice in a month to remove one person, or at least stop her work.

Ted Simons: Where do we go from here? Trying to change the nature? Obviously everything has to be referred to the voters. I'm assuming some polling will be done. What will we see?

Jim Small: They're going to try, they're cobbling together and trying to figure out what remedies they like and -- remedies, and one of the reforms needs to increase the number -- the amount of rural representation on it. There's been other things that have been a little bit more, you know -- a little bit further along, things like changing the criteria for being able to be qualified or changing who gauges who can be qualified or even how they're picked. One -- one discussion was for a lottery. To have people randomly chosen out of a hat. [Laughter] So things like that, that really need to be vetted and I'm sure they will be and I wouldn't be half surprised to see four or five measures introduced all dealing with the IRC and trying to cobble out a deal.

Ted Simons: And dealing with the IRC and below the turmoil, they got back to work, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yep, they had three days of meetings this week and got three or four days scheduled next week with the goal of trying to be done by Christmas and send the maps off to the department of justice. They need pre-clearance from the feds on the maps. We'l see if they can stick to that time-table.

Dennis Welch: I was going to say, some people call it work, others might call it fighting some more. [Laughter]

Ted Simons: Well, talk us about that. There's a lot of fussing and fighting going on?

Dennis Welch: Talking with Jim, covering this closely as well, before the show,
there's a lot of tension on the commission and this hasn't helped. I mean, going through -- hasn't helped. The firing of the chairman -- the threat of a special session and you're supposed to come back and hammer out a deal on something as important as redistricting? That's tough.

Mary Jo Pitzl: These were provisions there before anyway. Tom Horne, when he started his investigation into the commission, got testimony from the two Republican commissioners that basically implicated the chairwoman. So not a lot of love lost. Hard to sit around the table and sing "Kumbaya".they got to sit down and come out with maps.

Ted Simons: The maps, how much will we see as far as changes, what's going on here? Significant changes being talked about at least?

Jim Small: They did talk a little bit about the congressional maps. And addressing some of the areas that were particularly problematic for Republicans, for instance, fountain hills being separated from Scottsdale and drawn into a district like Havasu city. That was one of the suggested changes they made the other day and mapping consultant, working on redrawing the maps and coming back next week and take a look. A couple other changes especially involving the voter rights districts. The minority districts, tweaking those numbers and see if they can't boost the percentage of minority representation in those districts to satisfy the Department of Justice.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What I find interesting, the big changes proposed this week were from democratic commissioner, Linda McNulty and addressed things that Republicans were upset about. Goes to the argument, maybe they would have fixed these maps anyway without having the fuss of removing the chairwoman. We'll never know now, but at least you can say, that the commission is seeming to hear what the public is saying, whether that comes up in final maps but even on Tuesday, lawmakers were saying, oh, no, we think this commission is emboldened and backed up by the Supreme Court and make few changes and send them through but that doesn't seem the message that the commission is sending altogether.

Ted Simons: As I mentioned earlier, keeping the real estate industry -- you don't know where to move and -- we had protests in Scottsdale replete with pepper spray and the whole nine yards. What is ALEC? And why are people so upset with ALEC?

Dennis Welch: ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. There we go. It's another one of those acronyms out there. These protestors were upset because this is the group that was responsible, they say, for ghost writing S.B. 1070 and doing other things like that. This is a group that puts together these conferences where state lawmakers from across the country get together and exchange ideas and there's a lot of draft legislation and these people take back to their respective legislatures and a magnet for people to come out and protest.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What gets people going, the sponsors of ALEC are corporate interests and the ALEC conferences are not open to the public and the press isn't allowed in, it creates a sense of secrecy and back-room dealing and the corporations all putting their -- you know, putting money into lawmakers' pockets in exchange for favorable legislation.

Ted Simons: We had both sides on this, regarding ALEC. What it was, why you against it, why you for it? And then the proponents for it, are saying it's a think tank, an educational exercise, and, yes, big business is there, but they're all conservative, pro-big business, want to hear what business has to say.

Jim Small: You can certainly see -- those are the bills that come out of ALEC. You do see a lot of pro-business, tax cut, tax reform and education reform, things like that that are really red meat to conservatives, is generally what comes out of there. I think it depends on what your position is, in the eyes of the beholder and if you're a especially democrat and liberal and see them pulling the strings of government and if you're a conservative, these are business people and it's the way this stuff works and you talk to the people you share interest in and advocate for them.

Ted Simons: With all of the protests and ideas of shadowy thing happening and with 50 of 90 legislators belonging to a group -- critics say that ordinary citizens don't have that sort of access, does it hurt a lawmaker to be associated with ALEC? An Arizona lawmaker?

Dennis Welch: I don't know about that, these races when you talk about legislative races don't get a lot of media coverage and in the a lot of money spent. Do voters even know they're part of ALEC, is the question I would have about this and is anybody making this an issue. I don't know if it's a negative thing. This group has a connotation of being a shadowy group. They want it exchange ideas and freely without people looking in. But the bottom line, they'll be judged by the legislation they bring back and try and pass and introduce into the mix. Because these things, just because ALEC says here's a bill, it still has to go through the process.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I must say, because the whole 1070 thing has been pushed a lot. It was not created by ALEC. It generally was a creation of Russell Pearce and Chris Kovak. And Russell is not a legal eagle but he's the guy who had the basic concepts for 1070. It took a couple of years and grew and amalgamated but to say it came from ALEC and put it in Russell's hands is wrong.

Ted Simons: And you have critics saying with other legislation, it may not be created at ALEC but folks associated or members of ALEC take it to lawmakers and say look what I have -- it's complicated but not enough to get protests out of -- we had another cut to Medicaid, Arizona Medicaid provider, 70% now for hospitals?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, this is more of the budget decisions coming to bear fruit and called for a 5% cut in the rate, the reimbursement rate paid to healthcare providers for Arizona's version of Medicaid. Brings it up to 10% from a previous cut that happened last April.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and so the hospitals are saying -- there's not much more we can do here, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, right, and this is building, building, building pressure for maybe something like a -- building pressure for a bed tax, some solution that would carry the state into the early years of the federal healthcare reform act if it's indeed upheld and starts to take effect in 2014.

Ted Simons: Hospitals get 70% coverage for Medicaid patients and not happy. One group filed suit over these particular cuts. How far does this go? I mean -- what's going to happen here? We have loggerheads happening. What's going on?

Dennis Welch: It's going to be a big issue when they come -- get together next year and meet again. A lot of this stuff has budget implication applications. I'm not sure how it will -- implications. I'm not sure how it will end up.

Mary Jo Pitzl: As they build budget plan, they have contingency money. And the courts will have the first say. For now, the legislature is planning to move ahead with the reduced levels of coverage and we'll see what the courts do and the hospitals and other healthcare providers will run around and scream bloody murder that this is killing them because they have uncompensated care and build for a solution. There's a bed tax. As the name implies, charge a little more, but if you do have a bed tax, the feds match that. In fact, with one cent to the good. But that -- the healthcare community came around to it very, very late and by them, the lawmakers were exhausted, and we're done with you.

Ted Simons: We had federal matching ideas Maricopa integrated and Phoenix hospital and -- I'm not sure on that one. Because of legislation passed last session if you're a political entity or some sort of organization you can go ahead and petition the federal government. We'll spend this much and get this much back from the feds, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. It's a version of the bed tax I referenced sort of a version and might be a template, a way forward. But what this is aimed at is restoring healthcare coverage to children of low-income families many frozen out of the coverage because of the freeze on the state's Kidscare program.

Ted Simons: Jim, Arizona is getting money for a state health insurance exchange. Arizona is suing over things like the state health insurance exchange. We turned that money down, correct?

Jim Small: Oh no, no. We took that.


Jim Small: This makes it a $30 million award goes along with a million dollar award that the Brewer administration accepted for this purpose and caused a lot of heart ache and heartburn among the critics. The healthcare exchanges and the Obama healthcare in general and not happy and underscores that the governor's office is pushing hard for this, authorize these health insurance exchanges and going after this because look, if we don't do this, the federal government is going to devise a plan for us and whatever limited control we have in the first place, we'll not have at all, so it's better for us to bite the bullet and do this and move forward.

Dennis Welch: I was going to say, obviously fraught with irony and the lawsuits and take can the money but the thing is the governor said she want to customize this. In case it goes forward and implemented you don't want to be left with something that's not workable in your state.

Ted Simons: It seems to make sense, the choice you do something or the feds do it for you, even if you don't like it, you're going to do it, aren't you?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, the governor is trying to keep options open because everything is in flux. We don't know if the federal healthcare reform going to survive Supreme Court scrutiny. If it doesn't, the state will walk away, but if it does, the state wants to control its own destiny on the healthcare changes.

Ted Simons: The school vouchers, money to kids with disabilities for private school tuition, how far does this go? How different is this from other attempts to get public money to private schools?

Jim Small: This is a way to react to a court rules from a initial program same aimed at disabled children and children in foster care. A voucher program. The court says you're saying this money has to go to schooling, that's a violation of the constitution. The clause that prevents state money from going to parochial schools, so they created these accounts and they're different in that the parents get to decide whether the money goes. The account gets created and money into it and parents, ok. I want to spend this much on tuition and this much on therapy for my child. Things like that. The lawsuit arguments are the exact same. This is money that's going to a religious organization. You know, the argument was on Monday, we'll see -- I'm sure the court will rule in the next couple weeks.

Ted Simons: All right. Stop it there. Good discussion. Thanks for joining us.

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