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 Dennis Welch of the "Arizona Guardian," Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal and Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Mesa played host to a nationally televised presidential debate and, Dennis, I guess the consensus is Romney did the best. Did he actually win, though?

Dennis Welch: I mean, I think he won because nobody else won. There was no clear winner over there. So in that respect, yeah, I guess he would have to be the consensus winner but in a debate I thought was really kind of boring. It didn't, there were no big moment there. That usually defines like a clear winner there. Although there were some heated exchanges I don't think anybody came out clearly ahead.

Mike Sunnucks: Santorum's big chance nationally. Here in Arizona, and in Michigan. But also a lot of folks where he was felt the flavor of the month, people taking a look at him and Romney and Ron Paul went after him and made him come across as a member of Congress, which probably isn't a very popular thing for anybody. We were talking about title X and title XX on voting for Planned Parenthood funding, when you are doing that in a debate you are losing, when you are explaining legislative procedure, your tea party folks don't like it nor does your truck driver like it checking this guy out. It's a lot of gibberish.

Ted Simons: Is that the kind of thing that gibberish that some folks serious political people, he seems to know his way around Washington? Does anybody care about that or is that even bad for a debate?

Jim Small: I think Mike's right. That's not really what they want to hear. Those kind of things, you start talking about those things and even wonks start to go OK, really? We are going to talk about this? That's the kind of thing you hear on a floor of a debate on the floor in Congress and it's kind of thing C-span shows but you will never see make CNN or the NBC nightly news. There were some folks, state lawmakers and folks really involved in policy who said I appreciated his candor. He talked about the idea you have to make tradeoffs to get a bill through even if it's only 60% of what you want and you have to compromise. So it plays well in that sense but that's not the way it's spun. And that's not the way it came off.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it was really off target. People are really concerned about the economy. There's still a lot of uncertainty out there about the economy and kind of the whole future of the daily life in the country. And they were talking about Planned Parenthood funding, Iran, those types of things. Arlen Specter came up. When you are talking about Arlen Specter you are losing folks on that.

Dennis Welch: I thought, too, that was a real lack. There wasn't a focus on jobs which was the big overriding issue, I think, in this campaign, a lot of presidential campaigns to the point, too, about winners and losers, I don't see if anybody was on the fence whether they, this helped them make up their mind, you know, after watching them talk about all these kind of benign, detailed inside baseball kind of stuff that goes on in congress.

Mike Sunnucks: I think Santorum has a real challenge talking about the economy. Romney can talk about the economy with his private sector background, his work with Bain capital and governor and the Olympics. Santorum talks about social issues. That's his comfort level and here was a chance to expand that and talk about what he was going to do in terms of job growth and incomes and I don't think he even approached it to addressing that.

Ted Simons: One of the things about the leadup to this debate and one of the reasons Republican politicians in particular wanted to see that here there would be a focus on Arizona issues, there would be more than likely a focus on illegal immigration. There wasn't much of a focus on that at all.

Jim Small: There was a big focus on abortion, a lot of contraception, the stuff we have talked about. That took up half the debate. Yeah, they did touch on illegal immigration because it was Arizona, the soft ball they threw out there. And they talked about it and you got all the candidates to kind of weigh in and basically say they oppose the dream act, they support employer sanctions, they support 1070, they will endthe lawsuit against Arizona. All the things that play to the hometown crowd. It's red meat for Republicans.

Dennis Welch: Very, very talking points when it came down to it to the immigration stuff. The real winner in that was Joe Arpaio who got some good camera time from CNN when they did the closeup on him in the audience when his name came up. There was no disagreement and they also missed an opportunity there, the idea of immigration sweeps was kind of brought up but they didn't drill down further. I would like to see if any of the candidates on that stage supported what Arpaio has done with immigration. That would be an interesting answer.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of them avoid that question. John king would ask that. Gingrich, when he was up there, at the top of the polls, took that on and had a differing view. What are you going to do with folks who have been here for 20 years, the grand marks the guy that's, the construction worker, the mixed families? Those are tough issues to deal with for both sides. And when they ask those questions, they all just tend to ignore it and say, we want to have employer verification. That doesn't really address some of the really root problems that are tough to decide.

Dennis Welch: I thought Newt had like an interesting night. We have seen Newt that's not going to go negative, we have seen negative Newt, grumpy Newt, then we saw Newt who was trying to crack jokes a couple times throughout the debate when -- I thought he did pretty well considering like staying in the back ground, staying out of the back and forth between Santorum and Romney and I thought he helped his chances a little bit.

Ted Simons: Was it a surprise that the governor did not endorse anyone prior to the debate? Or like really right at the apex of the attention? I mean, that circus has now left town and if she wants to endorse anyone it's not going to get anywhere near the attention that it would have prior.

Jim Small: No. She had said all along she wouldn't choose, she wouldn't weigh in before the debate and honestly I think we will probably see it on Sunday. She is going to go on "Meet the press" and I imagine she will, everyone that I have been talking to and I am sure that Dennis and Mike have been talking to feel she's going to go on TV saying who she's backing. She said Romney did a fantastic job in the debate. Odds are she will probably back him. He looks like he will win Arizona, anyway.

Dennis Welch: Even if she doesn't, let's say she didn't back somebody on Sunday. You know, what does she benefit out of this? This is a politician. She is getting towards the end of her career in public life. There's nothing she is going to really get out of any of this like other endorsements from other candidates or Napolitano four years ago came out real early in support of President Obama. We know that probably had something to do with her getting tapped to being homeland security chief. This governor, it's probably the end of the road for her road.

Mike Sunnuck: The book sales, get on "Meet the press." I think it's been a problem for Romney. He hasn't got a lot of big endorsements. It's like in Florida, some of the big fish, Rubio, stayed out of the race. For the presumptive front runner it helps to have those endorsements. If he was the front runner you would see somebody like Brewer be on board faster.

Ted Simons: Does it look like it's Romney on Tuesday?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, some of the polls show Santorum really gained there from the end of January but I think it's come back a little bit. I think Romney is ahead seven, eight points. One poll showed early voters --

Dennis Welch: Need but if Romney doesn't win by big numbers it's a big loss for him. He's been campaigning for president in this state for, what, 20, 30 years now it seems. He's been here for a long time and he could win by big numbers and if he doesn't that's a big problem.

Mike Sunnucks: There's the Mormon perspective, too. He won in Nevada which has a big LDS population. Big population here. He was on home turf in Mesa and if he wins by five or less then that's a loss.

Ted Simons: Does he have to win by a lot in order to win Arizona?

Jim Small: Yeah, I think so. I think it kind of goes with the whole narrative we see nationally when Romney wins and he doesn't win big, people look at that and go why? If this guy has the establishment behind him, has all the money, has, you know, has all the stuff going for him, why isn't he being able to get over the edge and get voters on his side?

Mike Sunnucks: If Santorum did nothing in this state. No money, no organization, showed up for the debate and if he loses by five or five points that's a win.

Ted simons: The legislature released their budget this week, actually released it on a holiday and had committee meetings the next morning which surprised a whole lot of folks. At least put a whole lot of folks on their back heels. Talk to us about this budget and how much of a surprise was that.

Dennis Welch: Well, this budget was not received very well by the governor. Down there they rolled it out, an $8.6 billion budget. It's a little bit less than what the governor wants to spend. They did, it was really strange. They rolled it out on a holiday weekend and the next day they had hearings on it which started earlier than normal, which a lot of people, a few people, mainly Democrats were led to question whether this was the most open, transparent way to do this whole process.

Mike sunnucks: Our legislature doing that, we don't like holidays either. They don't like MLK day here. We don't like president's day now. Really it took a lot, everything that the governor, her little spending items on school construction, community colleges, prisons, corrections officers, new cars for DPS and a lot of that was zeroed out. Now, they could come back and the end product could be cut the difference or she gets half. But they zeroed a lot out so it was pretty hard line, pretty fiscal conservative.

Ted Simons: How much debate was down there considering how fast this thing was presented and how fast the committee hearings heard the bills?

Jim Small: There was as much debate I think as we have seen in recent years on the budget. At least especially in terms of notice and I mean the way this budget typically goes is they announce went day they are going to introduce a budget and the next day they have committee hearings and the next day after that they take it to the floor and then they vote on it by the end of the week. And part of that is political. It's arm twisting. It's the way that they kind of corral votes. When this is a little bit different in the sense that normally when you do that you have a deal and you have hammered out an agreement with the governor and you come to the table with something and you are introducing bills that are actually going to become a budget. This time that's not what he we saw. These bills are stalled. They are waiting to see what they are going to do with them and the governor's office has already said, look, I am not going, our staffs aren't going to talk until you guys decide you are going to change your tune and you are going to address some of the serious deficiencies that she believes they have in their spending plan.

Dennis Welch: I think what's driving some of this is we have all heard this talk down at the legislature with lawmakers are unhappy that the governor is not negotiating with them more. This is a way to kick start those negotiations like we're going to show her that we've got the votes for this budget which is no spending on hers and that will give hem some bargaining leverage when we sit down at the table with her. What was funny because she said, OK, go ahead and do that. Well, I'm going to put an end to budget talks until you start addressing some of my concerns.

Ted Simons: This is pretty hardball stuff going on down here. The governor calls it reckless and irresponsible and all these sorts of things. I forget what some of the other words. But she's waiting for what she calls as good-faith effort from the legislature.

Mike sunnucks: Yeah, I think it's a rivalry right now between her and leadership and her budget was not ambitious at all. To most folks there wasn't a lot of extravagant spending in there. She wants the personnel reforms, school construction, yeah. Pretty middling stuff. Second term stuff. And they come out and he zero it out. So I can see where there's some bad feelings there. But they're all the same party. I think in the end they will give her a choice of cuts, pick three or four things you like.

Dennis Welch: I think if she waits them out the longer she waits out she's got the upper hand on this. Everybody down there is getting ready for an election except the governor. She's not getting ready for an election now so she can wait them out as long as she wants to because she's not going anywhere.

Ted Simons: Isn't she still meeting personally with leadership? Not the staffs but they are still meeting?

Jim Small: They met earlier this week, I think on Tuesday. The speaker the Senate president and the governor met. They hope to continually meet. They have a standing weekly meeting. They are going to continue doing that but that the point in the process that's not where the budget work happens. It happens with her budget staff and the legislative budget staff getting together and figuring out where they have common ground and what they can do to address the differences.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the biggest issues most interesting fight will be how they approach next year without the sales tax revenue which could go away. That's where we hit the Cliff and that's how you prepare and that's the biggest difference. Split the difference between DPS and school construction spending, they can do that. That happens all the time. Next year is going to be a whole different world depending on how they approach this.

Ted Simons: Jim, the difference between the two budgets, we keep talking about the fact she wants something and they don't want anything, they want to zero things out. Let's get specific here. When it comes to education we are talking school construction, soft cap, these sorts of things?

Jim Small: A couple hundred million dollars for those things that the legislature didn't include in their plan that the governor had in hers. Mike mentioned the DPS vehicles. You have got a fleet of cars that's averaging more than 90,000 miles and so they need to replace these cars.

Ted Simons: DPS pension fund that need to be taken care of as well which means the governor's office says you don't take care of those we will lose 73 officers.

Jim Small: Absolutely. There are certainly things have been put off, things that have been cut when we had staggering budget deficits that he needed to address. So they did short-term maneuvers or delayed paying for things. Those chickens are coming home to roost.

Dennis Welch: Some of the stuff, prison construction and spending for education out there that weren't included in the GOP proposal that the governor wants. And, look, some of the stuff is pretty interesting because they're unveiling this budget that proposes no new spending when it looks like there's a lot of good signs that the economy is starting to rebound, Dow Jones hits 13,000 for the first time in years. JLBC released a report that tax collections are up.

Ted Simons: We heard it from some other folks down there they are saying they are expecting planning for a double dip recession.

Dennis Welch: Don shooter knows there's a double dip he recession.

Ted Simons: He says I am going to have to prepare for something like that along with the run cent sales tax and the national health care.

Jim Small: That's the big thing. You look at '14 is when the sales tax goes away and in '15 is when all the requirements on Arizona for the Federal health care overhaul go into effect. The worst case scenario that the legislative budget analyst put out was almost $700 million in red ink that year. And so that's kind of what they are pointing to. We need to save money, we need to put $250 million in the state's bank account and hold on to it for those, you know, for when this happens. We can't just spend it Down.

Dennis Welch: That's really driving that, don't forget, too, we have the big tax cuts from the jobs plan that are going to kick in. So a big part of this whole Cliff that we are falling into is really the legislature's own making.

Mike Sunnucks: It's philosophical. There's a lot of hard right conservatives down there that don't think government should spend basically on anything and this is their chance. They look at even $200 million for school construction, they can't get on board with that. This is a chance to kind of starve the beast and keep the beast starved and they like small government and they don't want to see it creeping back.

Ted Simons: But it likely will creep back. Won't it? These are negotiating ploys. The two sides wind up tiptoeing back toward the center. Right?

Dennis Welch: $200 million in the grand scheme of things, not a whole lot, is it?

Jim Small: In a $9 billion budget, it's not a whole lot. Again, you are right. It's posturing.

Mike Sunnucks: How hard do you push for something? She's this is her last term.

Dennis Welch: She is pushing pretty hard right now.

Mike Sunnucks: She is. But what does she do? You saw Napoletano really laying it on the line for a few things, you will see the governor pick and choose a couple things. What's going to be the priorities?

Jim Small: The danger you have and you can already kind of see the early signs of it is similar to what happened in 2009 where the legislature dug its heels in early and said we are not going to go with what the governor wants to do. That was a much bigger issue but you know, we are still talking half a billion dollars here that are apart on revenue so that's one of the biggest things. So that half a billion dollars compared to the billion dollars they were talking about in '09 you are still in the same ballpark. And so if legislators going to dig their heels in and the governor has demonstrated she is capable of digging her heels in and winning the budget fight, this could be -- could be a fun, long year.

Dennis Welch: They will find out again once again the power of one. And that's going to be the executive branch because she has no problem, no problem whatsoever taking that veto stamp throughout and slamming it down.

Ted Simons: Let's gets to the Paul Babeu story, his ex-lover speaking through an attorney denying that he hacked inot the congressional campaign, denying he stole sheriff Babeu's identity. Who is this guy, this José, do we know much? What do we know about this guy?

Mike Sunnucks: There wasn't anything, we didn't even show his face at the beginning of this. Now we have seen that. He's obviously been involved with the sheriff there. There's questions about his immigration status. He is a Mexican national was here on a Visa. Things aren't real clear about what the status of that Visa is and I think we will find some things out going forward. That plays into the kind of threats or possible threats were made from the sheriff's camp towards him. That sparked the story. People out around there knew, a lot of people in politics knew of the sheriff's lifestyle. It was private. This kind of opened the door because someone claimed he was wrongdoing and using his office and his political power to make threats which made it a more, legitimate story.

Ted Simons: It Wasn't all that private when you are sending photographs up and down the internet, is it?

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think most of your voters in Pinal County even knew.

Ted Simons: No.

Dennis Welch: That's the question. Beyond the whole, you know, being outed as a gay man in a very conservative district in a Republican primary, there's the judgment question. I mean, what kind of judgment, this is a guy who wants to hold a seat in Congress, the U.S. Congress. And he's sending these types of photographs out there on the internet like that? That's going to put a big doubt in voters' minds whether he is capable of dealing with that kind of responsibility.

Mike Sunnucks: In a mostly rural --

Ted Simons: Very conservative seat. That's about as conservative as you are going to get.

Jim Small: The thing that was kind of amazing to he me was he was asked that question. Does this, does this reflect poorly on your judgment? Is this a sign you exhibited poor judgment? And he stood up there and said no, it's not. This was private. I can do -- if this is all about my liberty to do what I want in my private life. Which I think kind of reporters you could hear everyone go, a collective "What?" And later on he was asked, you know, well, are you going to keep doing this? Keep sending these pictures out? He said, well, I haven't done it for a long time but he refused to say he wouldn't ever do it again. It's like, I don't know that that's going to resonate with voters. I think voters will look at that and go, wow, are you kidding me?

Dennis Welch: I think you have to question at that point whether this is an individual who really understands, you know, what it is to be a modern elected official. We have already seen similar examples like this in very recent, over the past year, particularly with representative Weiner in Congress that your private life isn't that private anymore if you are an elected official. Especially if you are doing --

Mike Sunnucks: It does raise questions about what kind of privacy an elected official has. How much -- if you don't play your personal life on the campaign station, you don't send out Christmas cards with your family on it, do you enjoy some privacy if that's not part of your political life? How the media, different aspects of the media covers different spectrums of the political spectrum on this? Folks on the left, the media left loved covering this, like the fox news loved covering the Clintons. There's a lot of interesting issues here in terms of politics, media and what kind of privacy folks might enjoy, any.

Jim Small: But the whole thing about privacy is interesting because we are not just talking about someone who sent pictures to a partner or to a husband to a spouse, to a boy friend. We are talking about someone who sent pictures to someone he thought was a stranger who he met on a dating website. So it may well have been his boy friend. But he didn't know that. He thought it was someone else who was not his boyfriend until his boyfriend confronted him with it.

Dennis Welch: I got to say from a political calculus, from a strategic point of view, what a failure this was. Because I mean that cease and desist letter his campaign was dealing with this in early September. And he announced for Congress, what was it? In November. They knew this was going to happen. Yet they didn't do anything until -- they didn't -- they didn't prepare for this. They played defense. They knew this was going to go down and for the life of me I can't understand why they let this happen. I talked to numerous consultants and I'm sure you have who all said they warned Babeu, they told him, you need come out about your personal life before your opponents do.

Mike Sunnucks: Everyone was expecting some of the other Republican campaigns to put this out somehow that he was gay. So Dennis is absolutely right. You play offense, you get ahead of this thing, it's not as big of a story if you are already out of the closet. But there's some interesting things about how the media cover conservative Republicans private lives.

Ted Simons: Let's be clear as well. The state solicitor general is looking into this. This is more than a private life issue. Arizona prosecuting attorney's task force is looking into this. This is more than a personal private issue.

Mike Sunnucks: -- Pictures online, I am sure there's Democrats and Republicans who are straight out there who are on or plenty of fish that have pictures --

Ted Simons: They are not looking into that.

Mike Sunnucks: But the media, parts of the media, the story seems to be, Oh. here's a picture of the sheriff.

Jim Small: That may be.

Dennis Welch: A story about judgment and abuse of power.

Ted Simons: That's what the investigations are. They are looking at abuse of power. The pictures are salacious for whom they want to be salacious for, but they have the feds looking at his chief deputy regarding politics on the job. A lot of attention now at the Pinal County sheriff's office that wasn't there before. Does he have a political future? Paul Babeu?

Jim Small: Not, I don't think not, certainly not in CD 4 running for Congress. I have a hard time seeing how he's able to just to make this message resonate with those voters. This is the most conservative district. It's a rural district. We have already kind of seen some polling numbers that had kind of leaked out that a consultant had done that showed the slide is starting. And I think it's only going to continue.

Ted Simosn: Can he paint himself as a victim thin?

Mike Sunnucks: I think he can if he's got some political skills and media skills. He didn't show them so far. But he's a personable guy. He's got some good speaking skills, he's pretty good with the media when he deals with them. He's catapulting himself into a national figure on immigration. It's going to be tough, but he has a better chance than maybe some of the candidates do.

Dennis Welch: I think as far as Congress he's done. It's ridiculous to think he has a shot at winning the Republican primary. He may want to start to consider if he can pull back and save his job as Pinal county sherrif.

Mike Sunnucks: He needs to the Newt Gingrich route and take on the media, blame the liberal media. Liberal media didn't send those pictures, man. I tell you.

Ted Simons: We have to stop it right there. Good discussion. Thanks for Joining us. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle debate the new legislative budget plan. And an ASU political scientist explains why Arizona's constitution is among the most progressive in the nation. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday we will preview a competition that gives Arizona nonprofits three minutes to make their case for major funding. Wednesday an ASU economist talks about his new report on poverty in Arizona. Thursday we will hear from the author of a new book on the hisTory of the cactus league, and Friday we are 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.

Dennis Welch:Arizona Guardian; Mike Sunnucks:Phoenix Business Journal; Jim Small:Arizona Capitol Times

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