Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local 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 Luige del Puerto of the "Arizona Capitol Times," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Dennis Welch now of 3 TV.

Ted Simons: Good evening, thank you for joining us, we watch as Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett gets caught up in the birther movement. Give us the background.

Luige del Puerto: The State asked Hawaii to verify whether it indeed has a birth certificate of the President. And of course he explained that he did it because he's received hundreds of e-mails basically asking for him to verify or look into this matter. Among the tools he had is to ask that state, the State of Hawaii, to basically tell him whether or not it indeed has the birth certificate. Of course he walked into a political minefield.

Ted Simons: He did indeed.

Ted Simons: Hawaii basically told him we don't just do this for anybody. Show us this is necessary in the normal operation of your business.

Mike Sunnucks: They played around with this a little bit. But he voluntarily walked into this minefield. It got him the press and the right wing press, the Drudge Report picked this up and everybody ran with it. If he was trying to endear himself to the conservative base, he did that at least for a while. Hawaii eventually sent him a letter with the information about the President's birthplace and his parents and all that.

Ted Simons: That means it's all over, right, Mike?

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely. Donald Trump is still out there, you've got the sheriff sending his deputy and posse member to Honolulu to pass the picture around.

Dennis Welch: This is not over by any long shot, this thing's going to linger on forever. Eventually that birth certificate is probably going to end up in the grassy knoll of history. One thing about this conspiracy theory -- and that's what it is, at this point -- the President's birth certificate has been shown time and time again, they have shown the documentation that Hawaii has this, this guy was born there 1960, 1961, the announcement was in newspapers. The notion has been discredited so many times. To still believe in this is almost like believing in a conspiracy theory.

Mike Sunnucks: Somebody like Ken Bennett, barely known in the state, comes out and says something like this, he's on YouTube and Fox News and MS-NBC. There's a string of politicians that appeals to. We have a -- a sheriff that does that, that knows how to work the media. His background, his time in universities, time in Illinois, time in the Senate, they don't think his policies were vetted well enough in the media. Folks in the media feed on that.

Dennis Welch: I agree with you on that. Every time you do bring this up there is a lot of media attention. I think the game maybe has changed here. Mr. Bennett got beat up in the media for well over a week about this thing.

Dennis Welch: He ended up basically kind of apologizing.

Ted Simons: What kind of apology was that?

Luige del Puerto: He said if he had embarrassed the state then he was apologizing for it. There was a qualifying "if." He did say if he had embarrassed anybody he's sorry for it.

Mike Sunnucks: He's running for office, this wasn't something he just kind of did quietly and made this request on behalf of all these constituents out there that are concerned that the President was born in Kenya or anywhere else. For any kind of an apology, it's kind of a wink and a nod.

Dennis Welch: He is running for governor, any type of political bounce he was hoping to get is nullified by that apology. Really a small percentage still believe the President wasn't born in the United States. He's reported on that and these people really look at Mr. Bennett as he kind of caved on that, they kind of got to him, that kind of thing.

Ted Simons: The idea of him being -- secretary Bennett, the cochair of the Romney for President Arizona campaign, critics are saying what's going on there?

Luige del Puerto: And as a result, making the connection that there's a guy who's a cochair of the Republican nominee's campaign, and he's essentially saying or at least hinting that there's a chance that Mr. Obama might not be on the ballot this November.

Ted Simons: I think more than anything the idea of Secretary Bennett saying he may keep the President of the United States -- off the ballot if X, Y and Z -- I think that's what really --

Ted Simons: The birther story never quite goes away. When you have an elected official saying, I might keep him off the ballot, that raises eyebrows.

Dennis Welch: Even Senator John McCain really bristled at the notion of taking the President off the United States -- off the ballot. He highly respects the office, no matter who's in it. To remove the President of the United States from the ballot is really a drastic step in any situation.

Ted Simons: There's an MCSO deputy and I believe a posse investigator in Hawaii.

Ted Simons: What are they doing there?

Mike Sunnucks: Looking to see if they can uncover anything more into the President's birth papers. Our sheriff is an expert at getting involved in these stories to varying degrees throughout his career. This story is kind of made for him and Donald Trump. They seem to fit this story very well. It's a way for him to needle the administration.

Mike Sunnucks: He has a lot of conflicts with them with the lawsuit and immigration. I think it's part of this kind of grand poking at the White House.

Dennis Welch: The only thing the sheriff is looking for out there is a little bit more media publicity. This is a situation in which Joe saw an opportunity to seize on, because someone was trying to out-Joe Joe, being Ken Bennett on the birther issue.

Mike Sunnucks: This has gone on for a while. This isn't just Obama and Republicans. There's been a trend in American politics who think people shouldn't be in office and they are illegitimate in office.

Mike Sunnucks: Clinton and George W. Bush and folks on certain ends of the spectrum think this guy is a fraud.

Dennis Welch: There's just no legitimacy to the story at this point. If you want to keep looking at it, keep looking at it, but don't do it with public time and money.

Luige del Puerto: And that's what I'm still really scratching my head about, why Ken Bennett walked into this political minefield. I don't think he could do anything to satisfy those people who essentially suspect the President is not an American citizen.

Ted Simons: Sounds like the birthers are going to be upset with him and the non-birthers are upset with him, kind of a lose-lose.

Mike Sunnucks: It puts him on the map for some people, maybe nationally. He's got to then follow that up with substance for the conservatives. If it's just this and it goes away, he's back to square one.

Ted Simons: The whole Ben Arredondo, now it sounds as though they want the documents here sealed because there might be activity for further ongoing investigations. Talk to us, please.

Luige del Puerto: They mentioned that there are other ongoing investigations. And therefore they are afraid if they divulge information or whatever evidence they discover in this particular case, it would impact those other investigations. Basically saying the way to do it is to seal it. We agreed we would not release any information, meaning both sides, Arredondo's side or the others --

Mike Sunnucks: It's the Fiesta Bowl.

Mike Sunnucks: I would think that's the logical --

Ted Simons: This probe started before the Fiesta Bowl.

Mike Sunnucks: It fits into that, they have delayed the sentencing a couple of times as he cooperates with other folks. They are putting the squeeze on some of the lobbyists involved in this. He was part of the Fiesta Bowl thing and got some tickets. I think they are trying to let these play out on parallel tracks.

Ted Simons: Bribe and extortion for accepting tickets to help a bogus business, but it actually was an FBI front separation. It went on for a year and a half for $6,000 in tickets? Something else is going on here.

Dennis Welch: To put this in context, the Feds went to the trouble of setting up a false company to go after one person? As soon as this initial indictment came out, a lot of people in the political class out here started talking, just what you said. Hey, they did all this just for one Councilman? I doubt that. Seems there would be a lot more going on, and this is further proof of a deepening version looking at other areas.

Mike Sunnucks: I agree with Dennis. Real estate developers have run this town for a long time politically, they hire a lot of lobbyists. If they wanted to tempt elected officials for sports favors, I think they could probably snag a few more folks. There could be more looking into similar types of things. For a lot of folks the Fiesta Bowl is the obvious connection.

Dennis Welch: There are a lot of folks thinking about previous conversations with previous people and what was said and done.

Dennis Welch: Look how many people have lost their seating on the reservation, two lawmakers indicted on federal charges this year, Junker with the Fiesta Bowl and his legal problems, it's really crazy.

Mike Sunnucks: They took so long to do this, it was a year, there are a lot of tickets around this town. You give somebody one set of tickets, you could make the argument, I misunderstood. He went to a lot of games.

Dennis Welch: It seemed like the Feds hadn't gotten the goods on him even before he was elected.

Ted Simons: With that in mind and this indictment in there and all sorts of attention, where are the ethics complaints against Ben Arredondo? What are they doing?

Luige del Puerto: When Scott was facing an ethics inquiry, the one thing that came out of it, the Senate ethics committee decided not to investigate in the middle of an ongoing governmental investigation. We will not see the state legislature wading in while the investigation is ongoing. It depends on several factors. If he resigns, there won't be an ethics investigation. If the Feds wrap up quick, we could see an ethics inquiry that might force him out without legislation. There would have to be a settlement between him and the Feds.

Dennis Welch: I don't think there's a big rush to get him out, we're not in session and he's not running for reelection at this point.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Mike Sunnucks: And he's a Democrat and they are in the minority there. His vote really doesn't matter. He was called to step down right after that but that's been about it.

Dennis Welch: I've covered Mr. Arredondo for a long time. If he is guilty of this, it would be a terrible way to end a long, distinguished career for him in politics in Arizona. There are things named after him in Tempe. Going all the way back to Tempe High School, winning a state football championship. It would be a really tragic way for them to end that legacy.

Mike Sunnucks: People that might be in trouble for this are wondering what they should do, somebody might flip. Bill Montgomery did not pursue any chain charges against any lawmakers. Even if you don't get convictions or fines on those things, it puts the screws to people a little bit and helps them to know there is a conviction, I might want to wonder, what's going to happen to me.

Ted Simons: The new legislative districts are looking like they are set for the new election coming up here. One group has decided to change -- they are saying they are going to let the current elections stand. After that, though, all guns blazing.

Luige del Puerto: They are not going to try to redraw the maps for 2012 liaison.

Luige del Puerto: The fact is, there's no way to -- I mean, there are deadlines. We probably will, and that's a big reason why they backed off of asking for that to be withdrawn again at this point.

Dennis Welch: These campaigns, there are so many deadlines and really one of the biggest ones is the printing deadline for the ballots themselves, which have to be printed towards the end of June to get the early ballots out to the overseas voters.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you can make the case this gave them an easy out for a case they weren't going to win.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, do they pursue as they say they are going do?

Mike Sunnucks: We'll get them next year? I don't think so. I really don't. The patrol is they hired they are doing it, they got shot down by the courts. You can disagree with the decisions they made but in the end it's going to look like they made them within the rule book. They didn't have the players the Republicans wanted.

Dennis Welch: And I think the fire kind of dies with this lawsuit, the fire to really push forward with this. A big problem with that was they cited the commission drew Republicans and incumbents to fight each other. Those elections are going to happen and those wars are going to be fought.

Mike Sunnucks: You have incumbents that are there in that won, this isn't too bad.

Ted Simons: And Speaker Tobin who has been adamant the whole thing was wrong, fixed, the fix was in, et cetera. Is he going to step back and say, okay?

Luige del Puerto: The thing for the lawmakers, especially those seeking election, that they at these districts are guided whether to run or not. She's faced with a decision whether to run against Steve Pierce. In the new district it's mostly rural Northern Arizona, or does she just stay out of it for this point? And remember, by the end of this month they have to send their nomination.

Dennis Welch: And to your point, Mr. Tobin has been getting time to come in on this issue. He's also beholden to his members. After that he's got to be reelected. After they go through the rough and tumble ballots.

Ted Simons: Made a lot of investments there, let's not mess it up.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you'll see a push maybe to booklet rid of the system. Whether to fight it in of course probably not going to win. I don't think that's going to help them.

Ted Simons:I think an automated self-poll of votes. Romney 48%, President Obama 43%. Romney leading by 10%.

Mike Sunnucks: It kind of shows where harass trot it was a decent campaign to be competitive and have a chance to win, he'll carry Arizona.

Dennis Welch: This kind of takes the air out of that narrative that Arizona is actually in play. Remember the firm that conducted that public policy polling from back east, a Timic leading firm.

Dennis Welch: They have been rated as very accurate polling and stuff like that. It really takes the narrative out because for the past few months the national media is saying maybe Arizona is in play. I don't think it is.

Luige del Puerto: The one thing that really confirmed that is the fact that the independent points had been upended. We see typically in polling where the nominee, once he's got -- once it's learned he is going to be the nominee, he sort of consolidates support among the different factions. I guess that's what we're seeing.

Mike Sunnucks: The Democrats are so hopeful, Kirkpatrick and the new ninth set, and maybe a punchers seat. That's Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, I don't think they are going to say, we're going to try to pick up Arizona where the numbers are against them. Two thirds of whites gave bad marks to the president. Even the gender gap to women are not that good here for Obama.

Dennis Welch: First of all, I would kindly disagree with you. I think Carmona has much better than a puncher's chance for winning. What's real bad for Obama is when you have Democratic strategists saying, maybe he can provide Democratic coattails for the President.

Ted Simons: Carmona can lift this vote?

Ted Simons: Or the President may not be able help that vote.

Dennis Welch: I think it's more than that, it's ridiculous if you really are thinking that a Senate candidate is going to bring the President up. The President is the top of the ticket and he's the one that should be driving out the voters.

Ted Simons: Couple of other things in the poll worth mentioning. The idea of Governor Brewer as a vice presidential candidate with Romney, the idea of John McCain as a running mate dropped him 5%.

Luige del Puerto: I guess -- I don't know how to read those numbers. But I think it's the sense that we know, people may be looking for somebody fresh.

Ted Simons: That's really interesting. I think that sounds like these are names, familiar, all that's familiar still to Arizona's new difference?

Mike Sunnucks: I think there's some of that, some fatigue with incumbents on both sides. And probably some folk that left Mike Romney don't see his helping the campaign that much. That might be a wild card that really helps Obama in some other states.

Dennis Welch: And to that point, it does show that maybe those voters out there are unhappy with the direction of the other state and with its leaders, McCain, perhaps wouldn't want to see them on the ticket. Maybe that's a good sign for Carmona.

Ted Simons: Have you got any numbers there?

Luige del Puerto: He contained a hole showing that Oshart is leading by three percentage points within the close margin of error. From one reading this race is a dead heat, it's very close. The campaign is saying that's good for us, we're running against an --

Dennis Welch: Think about this in the bigger picture, too. Then you have the special election in Tucson next month. Jesse Kelly looks like he's got a really great shot at winning that. Can you imagine the administration sending them to Jesse Kelly.

Mike Sunnucks: If he wins that race, I think Arizona is pretty much off the market nationally. I think Republicans will look at this race and say, look, we have won Gabby Giffords' seat in an open race. When one party wins and loses where it's a bellwether for some folks.

Dennis Welch: It was really bad news for Ron Barber's campaign, the numbers came out and it shows that Democrats over the last two years have lost big numbers in that district, and Republicans have made some moderate gains.

Luige del Puerto: This is a special election based group for Gabrielle Giffords' seat, we're going to have a new seat and a new district in November.

Ted Simons: We'll keep an eye on that and other things. 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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