Journalists’ Roundtable

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Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Luige Del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times." A surprise ending today to the senate ethics committee hearing on state senator Scott Bundgaard. I thought it was a surprise ending, what did you think?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think it's the ending that everybody was hoping for but hoping for this days and weeks ago. Therefore, since Bundgaard was on the cusp of being able to testify and offer his side the story, instead, they take a lunch break, he submits his resignation and they come back and he's out of there.

Howard Fischer: And I think what happened was is right up probably through today, senate leadership was counting noses. And I think somebody finally went up to him with a laundry list and said, if this goes to the floor, here are the votes. You'll be gone. So now you can pursue this, you can testify, you have the defense -- you have an attorney for your former girlfriend from the audience who want to see what you're saying in case they want to sue you or you could leave quietly. They had the votes.

Ted Simons: He could have left quietly a long time ago and not put anyone through this. Minutes before testimony and adios?

Luige del Puerto: That's why it's so starting, the turn of events was surprising. When they took a lunch break and when they resumed the hearing and the lawyers walked in without Bundgaard, Ron Gould immediately thought something is amiss and one of the lawyers said events transpired that would make this hearing unnecessary.

Ted Simons: Was it the kind of thing that people thought he wanted to see what the other side had, if it wasn't so strong, he'd continue doing this? I mean --

Luige del Puerto: We haven't had a chance to speak with senator Bundgaard and his lawyers refused to say what may have compelled him to resign. But the attorneys for the senate -- the guys who investigated the case thought they had presented a very strong case that Bundgaard saw a parade of witness after witness that essentially told a story that's startlingly different from his and he concluded there's no way to get out of it a clean bill.

Howard Fischer: And part of that is it wasn't a question of what he did on the side of the freeway that night. It was what he lied about. That the prosecutors were making the case, this isn't about the fact that he hit his girlfriend. This isn't even about the fact whether he asked for legislative immunity. But what he lied about, the obstruction of justice is what they said it was about. And the other part of it comes down to what I said earlier, up until now, a lot of lawmakers are sitting by and waiting to see what the evidence was, as they were watching, the people who weren't even on the committee, that's what lined up the votes and at this point, he had nowhere to go.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Some of the lawmakers on the committee said we don't know what's in his head but Andy Biggs said it wasn't looking good. A day and a half of testimony and mounds and to Biggs' mind, looked convincing and it's just not, as he called it, not very good optics and it went a court of law, it was a political process and I think he caught that. I wanted to -- and I don't know why the senator waited until after Aubry Ballard had testified but a female lawmakers tweeted out this afternoon she thought it was despicable. She gets dragged through the mill again and he leaves before he gets similar treatment.
Ted Simons: Luige, describe the scene down there in the hearing room. Was there tension were people riveted?

Luige del Puerto: It was riveting, the last two days what witnesses described. We sort of knew because we had police reports and to actually hear them say and describe how Bundgaard had been the aggressor. All of the witnesses agreed on one thing, he was the aggressor that night. That police officers who responded all agreed on one thing, that invoked legislative immunity and that they smelled alcohol on him and it was clearly riveting but when Ballard gave her testimony yesterday and said that -- that this wasn't the first time that the senator had man handled her, that was --

Howard Fischer: That was the clincher, this wasn't some isolate incident and, in fact, she had asked him to go to counseling and he said, you know, I'd rather take dance lessons. To what Mary Jo was talking about, the optics and this didn't look good and Biggs was one of his defenders early on in terms of saying, why are we rushing to do this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: In terms of this being riveting, I hadn't covered the hearing so to say but I was at the house on other business and every office I went by had the hearing on the closed circuit TV. You can only imagine how many were watching it on the internet. It turned out to be Must-see TV.

Howard Fischer: Even the governor, I was up in her office yesterday and she had it on.

Ted Simons: It was must-see TV but we talked about this yesterday, that's tough viewing. Just unseemly kind of stuff and you got to wonder how the fellow lawmakers were feel, having this run through the mud.

Howard Fischer: Well, the issue reflects on them. The underlining issue was conduct that brings the senate into disrepute. We can cloak it in concealing evidence and lying and cloak it in obstruction of justice, but the image of lawmakers isn't that good in the first place and -- everybody was watching to see what they were going to do, were they going to clean their own house.

Ted Simons: And you got the session starting on Monday and you're ramping up and this is the ramp you're using?

Luige del Puerto: Yes, like I always say, what a way to start of the year. I was possible it was very likely that the senate ethics committee would have recommended to expel Bundgaard from the legislature, and you would have that recommendation before the senate, at the start of the session, you would have 30 senators having to weigh in whether they would expel one of their own.

Ted Simons: The opening statement, I believe Bundgaard's attorney said something along the lines of when you consider his mental state at the time, this will -- what did that mean?

Luige del Puerto: That has always been a puzzle, even until now. It wasn't clearly explained what the lawyer meant. But I had approached him and I think early this morning what he meant by that, the sense I get, by saying mental state, he was in a state where he was being protective of Ballard because he had suspected she was going to -- she was going to try and get out of the car, even as the car was moving. Remember in his testimony to the police, he said she had threatened to throw herself under the freeway and he had to sort of restrain her and that's when he -- you know, grabbed her chest, essentially and kept her from doing that.

Howard Fischer: Before he dragged her out of the car. [Laughter] There's a little disconnect here.

Luige del Puerto: The point is there wasn't -- I think we probably would not know what he meant about his mental state. Obviously, he didn't take the stand.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think overall there is a sense of relief this is done and taken care of and I think you had president elect Steve Pierce was trying to put limits on this he made it clear to the members of the ethics committee he wanted their work wrapped up before the session started. Which meant this could have bled into Saturday if necessary. By giving a deadline and then out polling members and counting noses to see how much support there is for or against Bundgaard I think it helped to push it to a conclusion.

Ted Simons: Who likely winds up with that seat?

Howard Fischer: It's almost -- you know, this was a surprise to all of us. You know, at this point, the precinct committeemen and the district get together and they have to nominate three Republicans and the board of supervisors comes up with somebody. I don't know who would be interested, perhaps a former lawmaker or something.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Representative Judy Burges who represents the district has indicated she's going to run for the senate seat this fall. That might be an easy move. You Move her over and create a vacancy in the house. It's sort of the domionos.

Luige del Pueurto: The only thing that comes to my mind is I'm not sure representative Burges takes it, takes that term, I'm not sure if that takes away some of her term meaning she can only stay as long as Bundgaard's term would have been and maybe would be advantageous to stay in the house and run for an open senate seat and complete four term, essentially, eight years in the senate.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's up to the board of supervisors to decide. We've seen this also with Kyrsten Sinema's resignation from the senate. We'll talk about that in a minute. But David Lujan would like to succeed her and wish that but he doesn't get to make that decision.

Howard Fischer: The real key, over the weekend there will be a lot of people contacting the supervisors. Monday morning, we'll have a whole list of folks who want to be in the senate or advancement in the house to the senate, somebody to the house.

Ted Simons: Quickly -- Scott Bundgaard, any political future?

Howard Fischer: He didn't have any political future from the time a lot of this came out. He sat around the table, originally, remember he was going to run for congress in one of the congressional districts that got pulled out of this. We figured he's serving out his term and wanted to complete it quietly and lost his leadership post and he was political dead meat then. I don't see any way somebody can come back. I mean if he had done a mea culpa -- it's like Watergate, it wasn't Watergate that that killed Nixon, it was the lies and coverup. What did it take to rehabilitate Nixon?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Hey, it's Arizona politics, Never say never.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Kyrsten Sinema, she resigned to run for CD9, which is all new and shiny. Talk about that district and what challengers she faces on both sides.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, this is the new district. Arizona got to add an ninth congressional district because of population growth and this is a controversial district which supposedly precipitated a lot of the anger toward the redistricting commission. It runs from north central Phoenix to the central corridor of town and goes to Tempe and picks up parts of west Mesa and west Chandler and all of the Ahwatukee area. Sinema is the first democrat to jump into the race, State senator David Schapira is looking at running and indicated he'll stay in the state senate while pondering what he'll do next and we have yet to hear from Andrei Cherny, who is widely believe to be very interested in that. So that could set up a interesting primary between two or perhaps three ambitious democrats who feel the district is favorable to them.

Howard Fischer: And that leads to the question of what does Mr. Quayle do? On the one hand, there's thinking if the Democrats destroy each other, eat up all of their funds and everything else, while this isn't Quayle's historic district, he says, look I'm the incumbent and I live here and I didn't have to move into the district like Kyrsten Sinema. And maybe he's just stay where he is as opposed to running against David Schweickart and precipitating a primary.
Mary Jo Pitzl: The problem with that, Quayle has consistently said he'll run in the district that most closely resembles the contingency he currently represents and if that's the case, he would need to move to district six.
Howard Fischer: If it comes to David Schweickart who has been a county officeholder, I realize the Quayle name is somewhat known, but you can only do so much with that.

Luige del Puerto: It's a tough spot regardless what he does. He could run against a fellow Republican, or run in a new district and get challenged in the general election every two years. It's a competitive district.
Ted Simons: Not just Quayle. This could be a wild west on both side of the aisle.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Both the retiring Tempe mayor and the current Phoenix councilman has been widely talked about as possible GOP candidates and I think they're waiting to see what representative Quayle does before jumping in.

Howard Fischer: This whole thing has been -- we've talked about redistricting around this table now for almost a year they've been doing it but it's been this whole domino effect. The question, now we've got Paul Gosar who wants to run in the district with Paul Babeu and Ron Gould --

Ted Simons: Let's talk about that district. CD4, I believe it is. Babeu announced he's going to go ahead and that's pretty good name recognition, that's a weird district though isn't it?

Howard Fischer: Babeu got publicity as sheriff of Pinal County. This has a tiny quarter of San Tan valley and wraps around Phoenix and goes through Prescott up to Bullhead city and down to Yuma and -- and Babeu thinks he's got enough name id and can raise enough money to do it. Ron Gould was looking at that district for a while. Ron thought he was going to have to run against Scott Bundgaard, that's obviously gone away and I expect Gould to announce this coming week and we've got the question whether Paul Gosar representing the Flagstaff area doesn't like his district which is now competitive. Decides, well, gee, I'm an incumbent, I ought to run against both of them. Nice derisive primary.

Ted Simons: Lujan replaces Sinema, do you think?

Luige del Puerto: I think on Sunday, the district precinct persons from the democratic party and Kyrsten Sinema's -- as a citizens' panel, they're going to submit three names for the board of supervisors, we're expecting David Lujan to be one and Ken Clark might be one also.

Ted Simons: If Clark Kent runs, that's a big story. That's going to be tough to beat.

Luige del Puerto: Tough to beat. They have to remember -- they can't only submit two names. Seems like David Lujan is a strong candidate for that replacement.

Ted Simons: I want to get not too far afield what's happening Monday. Obviously, legislature begins and hear from the governor regarding priorities. What are expecting?
Howard Fischer: To spend the first 15 minutes saying, gee, didn't I do a great job balancing the budget. I'm your hero. The rest is going to be sketching out education reform and she has talked about parental choice and decoupling state fund from just seat time and I think we're going to see some priorities from what to do with the excess money over the next two years, what's left over this year and last year, I think we'll have about $1.3 million. She wants to pay down debt and there are lawmakers who have other priorities and I think we'll see a continued calls for regulatory reform and job creation.

Ted Simons: What are you expecting?

Mary Jo Pitzl: A lot of that, because she's hid a lot of that in her speech this afternoon to the Chamber of Commerce forecast luncheon. But I think they'll be the backdrop of the Arizona centennial. Arizona turns 100 on February 14 and everyone ramping up for a nod towards the past and that gives you a nice pivot to the future and so we'll also hear a lot about job creation and how Arizona is poised to enter the next 100 years.

Ted Simons: What do you think Luige?

Luige: There might be some things about reform. She had wanted to do that one last time around, there wasn't enough time to do it so we might see some of that as well.

Ted Simons: Howie, I don't think we'll be hearing that much about medical marijuana in the speech or will we?

Howard Fischer: No, I don't think in the speech. She's been slapped down several times most recently, judge Susan Bolton said, look, I appreciate you want me to decide whether your state employees who process applications for dispensary licenses and don't handle the dope, just process the applications are subject to federal prosecution. She said I can't make that, it's an advisory opinion, even if you decide which side you're on, more to the point, there's no threat here that not only did Dennis Burke when he was the U.S. attorney never say he'd prosecute them. But of all the states that have medical marijuana, not a single state employee has been prosecuted.
Ted Simons: Sounds like there's no action to rule on. You're asking me to make a decision for you and the judge is saying, that's not what I do.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's pretty much the nub of her argument. To which the governor's office says we've got to wait until someone gets arrested. Perhaps, as Howie pointed out, that hasn't happened elsewhere.

Howard Fisher: And here's what's going to force the issue. There's a second lawsuit in superior court, the judge has a case where some would-be dispensary operators are asking for an order ordering her to comply with the law as approved by voters. That includes licensing 125 dispensaries. The assistant attorney general went in and, you know, Your Honor, we have issues. Excuse me, what part of the law do you not understand? He's not yet ruled but I'd be willing to bet even money that at some point the judge says to the governor, excuse me, you can't ignore the law.

Ted Simons: how far does the governor go on this? This is the will of the voters and how many times the will of the voters has not proceeded? How far do you go on this?

Luige del Puerto: It's not clear, what we do know is she wants some guidance and hasn't gotten it and may wait to see if somebody gets arrested and there's a court case and it's settled. Joe Arpaio. Respond to the Justice Department ultimatum, he'll cooperate but by the way, I've got my own ultimatum for you.

Howard Fischer: Well I think one of the weeks we discussed on round table was will Joe Arpaio cooperate and the consensus is he'll cooperate and he's buying time. That's what he's doing. He waited until the last day, of course, I'll cooperate, otherwise you sue me. But here's the deal, I can't cooperate until I know what you think I've done wrong. The Department of Justice said, what do you mean? Everything we came up with came from your documents and reports, your own paperwork, how can you say you don't have examples?

Ted Simons: And the sound like what they're saying, you want details -- we'll do that when we get the deal and agreement. He wants it before the deal and agreement, they're saying give me the deal and agreement.

Howard Fischer: Not only that, they also said if you can't cooperate, we can settle this one other way. We can go to court.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and that would be interesting to watch the Justice Department take over the sheriff. Speaking of the sheriff, he's running again.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes and isn't that interesting timing. The showdown with the feds and right on the heels of that he announces that he will seek a fifth term as Maricopa County sheriff.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing? When you talk to lawmakers and politicos, is he weakened at all or still the 800-pound gorilla.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'd say a 780-pound gorilla.

Howard Fischer: That's the problem, the public -- I don't want to say the public doesn't care about the racial profiling stuff, some do, but they havent made the leap between the fact if you've got 100 deputies and reserve deputies doing this, they're not out protecting the neighborhoods. They haven't made the connections about the millions and millions of dollars in lawsuits and settlements that have occurred. What they know is that pink underwear, tent city, tough on crime, talks about himself in the third person, that's the Joe Arpaio they know and as a whole, I think they like that.

Ted Simons: All right. Did -- quickly, Justice Department report, did that help him? Could that help himself among his constituents.

Howard Fischer: I think it's hard it say, because of the fact that everyone expected the Justice Department to come back with a negative report on him, to say there was racial profiling and we've talked about incidents on the show, including a former aide it a mayor. I don't think there's any surprises in there.

Ted Simons: Before we go, one year ago, the unimaginable happened down in Tucson. What's changed? Has anything changed in Arizona politics in this -- course, anything at all?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, boy, my window on politics is mostly what I see at the state capitol and they're pretty nice to each other. But we're going into a election year. Look at the ranker we had this summer and fall over the redistricting commission. I think there's some changes maybe around the edges, I just don't know how lasting it is.

Ted Simons: Impact of the shooting a year later?

Howard Fischer: I think it's outside of the political world and medical world. I would have not have believed a year ago that somebody who was shot through the brain would be sitting on Diane Sawyer even with one-word answers, it's what we've learned about the medical profession and the ability of the human body to recover from the unrecoverable.

Ted Simons: That's an interesting point. But as far as discourse, as far as just treating people -- there was such a big discussion of this after the shooting, it's a year later, are we seeing much discussion anymore?

Luige del Puerto: Everybody was civil for a couple days, and weeks, and then went right back to their norm and the norm has been that politics can be nasty, it can be -- you know, brutish, if you will. We've seen a lot of fighting and arguments on the senate side, the house side. The governor and the legislature, sometimes their relationship can be rocky. There have been sharp exchanges in -- on many occasions. So there was an understanding that we needed to be civil, and there was that for a couple weeks.
Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't think you can expect the sharp exchanges to go away. That's part of politics and these are people who passionately care about issues and there's just things people aren't going to agree on, it's how they decide to agree to disagree that's the big open questions. Can you do that without taking each other's heads off.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it there. Great discussion. Good to have you here.

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