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"'s journalist's roundtable, I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic. Luige Del Puerto of the Arizona capitol times, and Jeremy Duda, also of the Arizona capitol times. Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu facing criticism over his handling of what has been a tragic story, involving a family. Mary Jo Pitzl, let's talk about, give us how this story developed and bit of a time line here, and we'll take it from there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What we have is a criminal story, a crime story that also morphed into a political story. A torched out SUV was found in Pinal County over the weekend. And nobody really knew what this was about or who was in it, they found five corpses in there. The Pinal County sheriff's office came out initially and said this looks to be work of drug runners. We have got a lot of these cartels operating in this area, and that's probably who did this.

Ted Simons: Yes, and likely, likely connected to drug trafficking, and then said, I believe, was, I don't know exactly where, but he addressed Janet Napolitano.

Luige del Puerto: He made a statement on his Facebook page saying yeah, that this might have been the work of, of the drug cartels, and if that's the case, this is a wake-up call, and he added that, you know, the secretary of Homeland Security, the border is not secured.

Ted Simons: And so then Tempe police says wait a second, we may have something here.

Jeremy Duda: They said that before Babeu made the statement. In his original press release. Basically said halfway down the second page, this may have related to a missing person's case, and also, five people, same car.

Ted Simons: I was under the impression that he spoke before Tempe police had this lead. You are saying that he did know this before?

Jeremy Duda: They did not know for certain. It might be related, and they conveyed that information to Sheriff Babeu as he was informing the Mexican consulate and wrote things on his Facebook page.

Ted Simons: And how is the sheriff defending himself on this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: He's saying that he was just putting out information that he thought was likely. It was a couple days after the vehicle was found that they made that connection to the family in Tempe. And an Anglo family, no, no known connection to drug runners. Three kids. You know. A mom and a dad. And which, you know, on the face of it seems to have debunked the sheriff's original theory about what was going on.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And it is a tragic story involving that family. Lost in all of this it, seems, is a horrendous story. Again, sheriff Babeu says he never made conclusions about death. No conclusions, no pronouncements. Are people buying this?

Luige del Puerto: Well, I don't think that people are buying it. What happened, I think, is huge, rather, a P.R. disaster on his part. It seemed as if he made the conclusion, now he's saying that he hasn't made any conclusions, he was just relaying what was the best information available at that time. I don't think people are buying it. Saying this has something the Mexican drug cartels and it turns out it hasn't.

Ted Simons: And as far as Babeu's political future. So many things have hit this guy -- will he still be the sheriff of Pinal County?

Jeremy Duda: It just keeps happening. On top of all the stuff that ended his congressional campaign, you still have all the allegations that preceded that. All the stuff with military surplus equipment, and now you have, you know, the burned out vehicle thing, which kind of, what compounds that is that Babeu has a reputation before for going off the cuff and making exaggerated statements. A couple years ago he predicted his deputies would get in a shootout with drug cartels within 60 days. It's headless bodies all over again.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And so, where does this story go from here? Where does it go? Nothing but politics remains.

Mary Jo Pitzl: To your question about what does this do to his political career. It gives any opponent, one more thing to use against him, one more thing to remind voters, come election time, about the sheriff's, perhaps, overreach in terms of what goes on with his office.

Ted Simons: Have we seen a political figure, an elected political figure who is trying to keep his job, in this case, it was angling for higher office. Have we seen someone face this many, just wild stories? These are not just little things that get lost in the paper. These are wild stories.

Luige del Puerto: You remember, he's not the only politician, involved in very fascinating stories that are unfolding, not just the sheriff's office, the office of the State Capitol, as well.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And let's talk about one of those other politicians. Attorney general Tom Horne, accused, really, of covering up possible criminal activity.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. And it's hard to figure out where to begin with this one. Tom Horne, a few months ago, came out that he was being investigated by the FBI for allegations that he illegally coordinated with an independent campaign committee back in 2010. Then we thought the allegations are, you know, may have come, from you know, a guy in the Tucson office, he volunteered for his campaign. Well, we find out yesterday, that, that it's from an investigator up in the Phoenix office, he filed a notice claim. Or, a precursor to a civil lawsuit. And alleging that, that they covered up, up potential legal activity that, they harassed her and tried to smear her name because she went to the FBI.

Ted Simons: And she, according to the story, in the Arizona Republic, very detailed. Fascinating to read. She, basically, stumbled over this as she was charged to investigate who might have been leaking stuff to new times.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. Where this started was, she was investigating that leak and was investigating the target's emails, and found evidence of other unrelated possible criminal activity. Found evidence that someone may have submitted a fraudulent grant application to the Governor's office, and another employee claimed that, that they had come forward with the information, been threatened with being fired, if, they continued to come forward with that. And then, seemingly unrelated, another official over at the A.G.'s office according to her allegations, Amy, the public information officer, as she put it, disclosed that Tom Horne was directing independent expenditure activity in, so on top of the other stuff, she forwarded this along, too.

Ted Simons: And Mary Jo Pitzl, this circles back to Keppel, who caught the attention of a lot of folks in the local circle. He had been around a long time, was a judge. Had quite the resume. Abruptly resigned, doesn't say why. And leaves everyone kind of wondering now, again, he tells your paper why, and it deals with this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Today Keppel comes out and says this is why I left. I saw what was going on and the cover-up, and I could not be a party to it. There is evidence that he tried to -- that his counsel was sought. Can we destroy these documents and get rid of this? No, you can't. And so, he was advising, he knew which direction, he says, that, that Tom Horne and one of his chief deputies wanted him to go. So he counseled him against that. And Keppel left very abruptly.

Ted Simons: How is Tom Horne responding?

Luige del Puerto: He denied the allegations. He says this is a, these are fabrications. He, basically, accused the special investigator who filed this, notice of complaint, basically, accused of being partisan. So, it was a blanket denial.

Ted Simons: Not only that, but didn't he suggest that she had, the investigator had some sort of social, if not personal relationship with one of his political foes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, he said that, that he alleged that there was a personal relationship with --. This all stemmed from that race. Because it turned out to be a pretty tight contest. And Tom Horne benefited from the expenditure of an independent campaign committee. The allegation here is that while it was not so independent, that he was coordinating with them. That's what got a lot of this probe going. He cashed this in a political light and said these are political enemies, democrats out to get him.

Ted Simons: So the initial report he responded by saying it was a disgruntled employee, now he's saying this is not only partisan but there may be some sort of personality issues at play. I'll ask the same question regarding sheriff Babeu, are people buying this?

Jeremy Duda: In this situation we have not seen this go to court. We don't know, we know the FBI is investigating them. We don't really know the extent of it. At what they have. Or, you know, whether he's guilty, you know, these campaigns from 2010. But, this, you know, regardless, this looks terrible. You are talking about a guy who, you know, is presumed he wants to run for Governor in 2010. And even if he does it with this stuff hanging over his head, you wonder how much trouble he would have for attorney general.

Ted Simons: Same with sheriff Babeu, what political future does Tom Horne have? Obviously, those gubernatorial ambitions are clear.

Luige del Puerto: Yes. And it depends on what the FBI comes out with. I mean, there is an ongoing investigation. And whenever the Federal investigators laid out their case if, if they do lay it out again, it depends on what it says, and how he, he's able to defend them in court. There will be a court process. And of course, you know, we still have a few years before the, the gubernatorial race. There is still a chance that he could revive his name. It depends on what happens with this case.

Ted Simons: Interesting. And let's keep it moving here because late today, now, we find out coyotes have a deal with Glendale?

Luige del Puerto: Yes. City of Glendale, they voted to approve the $325 million deal with --. They are trying to bring in the new owner of the coyotes, and of course, the Goldwater institute, essentially, tried to stop the vote from happening at first by saying that they had not received the documents in time. And there might have been some transparency, and violations, and in addition to that, the Goldwater institute always said that this might have some problems with the state constitution. The gift clause so what happened is that, is that today's vote gave the Goldwater institute two things. They can, of course, argue the original argument this could be a violation of the gift clause, and also, that it might have violated the public notices law, so, what will probably, we'll probably see is the lawsuit from the Goldwater institute.

Ted Simons: It's almost inevitable. Once this deal was, once the hands went up and the votes cast, let's head down to the courthouse.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. They have really staked their name to this for a long time now. They have been fighting with Glendale for a while.

Ted Simons: And fighting for not only again, as Luige Del Puerto mentioned, access to records but the gift clause that keeps rearing its head. The Goldwater institute has that outlined as far as the constitution is concerned.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They used that argument in the city north case. City of Phoenix, that was an interesting decision when that finally got through the courts because I think that the courts said well of course you know, it was wrong but we'll let it stand. You cannot -- don't do this again. If I'm correct on that. So, we have another lawsuit coming, against the backdrop of the coyotes having gotten into the playoffs. And there is a fan base out there that just wants nothing more than the Goldwater institute to go away. They don't really worry about the finances of this, but Glendale has been struggling with the way to make this franchise work in their city for, what, a decade now. And the cost that they sunk into building the arena, and it does seem like, you know, you are in for a dime, for a dollar, but a lot of dollars.

Ted Simons: Isn't there part of this deal that suggests the Greg would wind up buying the arena after five some odd years? Did I get that correct? And if that's the case, it doesn't sound like a bad deal then.

Luige del Puerto: The Goldwater Institute's position has been, Anything that creates the impression you are giving away taxpayers' money to a private entity, without direct benefit, that means, you know, like when you are hiring a janitorial company, for example, to do work for you, you get the direct benefit. Goldwater, anything that, that you are not getting a direct benefit from, but you are providing or you are giving away or giving taxpayer dollars, that's a violation of the gift clause. So from a principle standpoint, doesn't really matter if, if some, at some point, somebody is going to, completely there or not, the Goldwater institute they are using taxpayer dollars, to their mind, in a not appropriate way.

Ted Simons: So an option is still down the road as far as they are concerned.

Luige del Puerto: Yes.

Ted Simons: Speaking of this activity, and speaking of the judge in the case. They tried to get a temporary restraining order on the vote for the Glendale city council. And that was denied by a judge who had earlier given the Goldwater institute a win as far as union activities involving police, officers on duty, give us a background.

Luige del Puerto: They have been trying to curb what in their mind is undue influence by the public sector employees or unions. On their bosses, which would be, you know, local Governments. Cities like Phoenix. So they, they Sued the City of Phoenix, and the police law enforcement, over, over contract between the two entities, that would allow officers to, to basically, get off their work, as policemen, and just do union work. The practice, again, the Goldwater institute said that's a violation. The judge agreed with them and said yep, there is a, a very good chance you will prevail on the merits, so the contracts only, only are upped until the end of the month, so expires in a couple of weeks . So, the Goldwater institute said we'll probably amend it to the new contract, that the city and the police union also signed would be included. Essentially, they are going to argue that, that contract violates the gift clause.

Ted Simons: Isn't there an idea among critics of what's happening here, is that the city will have to pay these folks anyway because, because they will have to be diverted from there, their police activities to do the union work, which involves protecting people from management and these sorts of things?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, they are on the payroll, on the, the police department payroll. The question, is how, how is the time to be spent, and I'm not sure how you, police, for lack of a better word, how they spend that time, if it's desk-work, how much of that time going to be devoted to union activities. I don't know how, you quite do that.

Ted Simons: I saw, I thought I saw 1.million but the critics are saying 1.5 million will be spent because you are going to have to find ways to get these people to do the jobs they were ordinarily doing on the clock.

Jeremy Duda: A lot of stuff was mediating deputies, and didn't have as much of a public benefit like lobbying for the unions and recruiting.

Ted Simons: Ok. Let's move on, and congressional maps, and back in the news again, Mary Jo Pitzl.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. It's part of the never ending litigation against the independent redistricting commission, and the latest came yesterday from the Arizona legislature, and they went to the U.S. district court and said, to argue that only the legislature, or anybody that the legislature might appoint, can draw the, the lines for the congressional maps. And they are not going to argue for this campaign cycle. Going to let everything go let the, the maps drawn by the, the commission stand for the 2012 election cycle. And, and the legislature's argument is that going forward, after that, it should only be the legislature that draws those lines.

Ted Simons: And that's, basically, gunning the congressional aspect. What about the legislative aspect?

Luige del Puerto: They are not touching that. Their argument is that, is that the U.S. constitution, the elections clause of the U.S. constitution grant the authority to draw the congressional maps through the state's legislatures, and therefore, it is only the state legislature here in Arizona, and that could draw the congressional maps, and so, so, they are arguing that the, the original proposition that created this is a violation of that particular clause.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And the response from the commission's attorneys who by the way are probably going to need another infusion of state money, from, from the legislature, and which, the state money will pay for the legislature's lawsuit. The commission argues no, this was settled almost century ago. Because, because the people inherently, the voice of the people, acts as the legislature and, and in 2000, Arizona voters said that we want to let, we want to put redistricting in the hands of the independent commission. Therefore, we respect, you know, the bounders that they draw. So, this will play out in court. What's interesting, too, is that this is the second go-around for the redistricting commission, and, you know, a decade ago, we did not hear the arguments. The house speaker says, a decade ago people were not upset with the maps. But that's not the principle. This is a principled argument about who should have control. And just because people were happy with the congressional map last time, but, you know, not this time, shouldn't really make a difference, but none left, no one sued. They are suing now, and this might have implications for the legislative map but Tobin wants to see where there this goes before taking that one on.

Ted Simons: Bottom line, he says, prop 106 took redistricting away from the people's elected representatives.

Jeremy Duda: This is not a theory you hear kicked around a lot. The constitution says state legislature shall determine the manner in place of elections. And, you know, the legislature says well, that's us. But, as Mary Jo mentioned, there was a U.S. supreme court said citizen initiatives are an extension of the legislative process because the U.S. constitution was written, there was no such thing as a citizen initiative. So, if you follow that logic, the redistricting commission is the legislative process created by legislative process.

Ted Simons: We've got a couple minutes left, we have got to talk about Ron Gould and his latest campaign ad, raising eyebrows and getting attention, what's he doing?

Luige del Puerto: There is no better way to Garner national interest in a congressional, local and congressional campaign than, than producing an ad where you brandish a shotgun, and like, as Keating, competition shoots that literally, a copy of the Federal health care law. Which is what he did in this, in this particular ad. He, basically, said that we cannot afford this law. This is what I would do to it, and you see the video cut to this. The flinging into the air, and he brings it, the shotgun, and blasts it to bit.

Ted Simons: Is there a twinkle in the eye during this? Or is this -

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, I think that there is -- I saw a bit after twinkle in it, and this thing is getting a great run, especially on the left leaning cable, like msNBC is playing the heck out of it. Because they are appalled at the gun use. But that, that sells pretty well in Arizona. We have had gun commercials for legislative candidates in the past.

Luige del Puerto: And this is the first time that we have seen congressional candidate do this. Two years ago, there was more guns. I think that there was three kinds of guns, and she shot several times, as well.

Ted Simons: All right, we'll stop it right there. Thanks. Appreciate it. Monday, on "Arizona Horizon," we'll talk more about the Glendale city council's vote to give the coyotes a 20-year, $325 million deal. And we'll hear what panel of experts thinks about efforts to reform state taxes. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, find out about the potential impact of the U.S. airlines merger, and the Dean of sustainability ASU. The Dean was honored by the United Nations. Thursday Arizona Artbeat look at LA-based Latin dance company that features workshops to elementary school students. And Friday we're back with another edition of the journalist' roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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