Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon"'s journalists' rounds table, the group pushing to change Arizona's elections to a top-2 primary system files signatures for a spot on the November ballot. It's a move that has the governor and lawmakers ready to call a special legislative session to counter the top-2 proposal. And former Arizona governor Raul Castro is detained by border patrol agents south of Tucson. The journalists' roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons, joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl the Arizona Republic, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media, and Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times. Thursday was the filing deadline to get initiatives on the November ballot. An effort to change Arizona's elections process is getting a lot of attention. Talk to us about what these folks want to do and what kind of reaction.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Okay, well, yesterday the open elections, open government, they need a shorter name, came in with 365,000 plus signatures. They want to establish an all in primary. So you have one primary, not a Republican primary, not a Democrat, not libertarian primary. All candidates compete in a primary. You can run with your party label or not. Or you can run as I understand it with a label of your own designation. The top two finishers then go into a general election runoff. The intent is it will create a more moderate kind of candidate because they will have to play to the middle, not the extremes.
Howard Fischer: that's particularly important. We have discussed on this show how the folks who tend to vote in the primaries, a third of the folks who are Republican, a third Democrat. That may be 50, 60% turnout of that, half of them vote fort candidate. You have a very small percentage of people deciding - who are the red meat people -- deciding I want somebody because they are really this end or this end. That's fine except that you have perhaps three-quarters of the legislative districts in the state where once you have won your primary, absent something major, you've won the general election because if you're a Republican running in Tucson, forget it. Similarly for a Democrat in east Mesa. You're not going to get elected. The idea is if you force everyone to come to the middle you could force people to appeal to everyone the way city council candidates do.
Ted Simons: This is how a lot of cities, municipalities, run their elections, correct?
Jim Small: It is, but the tricky part, they say they want more independents to participate in the primary process with the idea that independents can't even though they can, they can vote in a rope can or democratic primary, they don't. And I don't know, the goal is to get more independents involved. Those are the people that are in the middle that you want to appeal too, not the normal partisan primary voters. If they don't show up I don't know the effect of this. California just went through this last month with their primary the first time they have done it in their congressional races. Independent voting was either static or it was down. It didn't do what they say they wanted to do.
Ted Simons: Isn't the focus not so much that first vote, it's the second vote where everyone can join in and say this person is too, or this person is too wishy washy. Whatever the case may be. It's that second general vote.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Right but everybody can participate in the first one too. But yes the idea is to winnow the field so that's why you take the top two and have them run off. The belief is that -- there's all kinds of ways to game the system. We're seeing a lot of those examples coming out of other states that have gone down this path or we're hearing a lot of hypotheticals out of the Arizona legislature. This thing gets filed and today Governor Brewer and lawmakers say they are on the verge of calling a special session so they can offer an alternative to this or at least an alternative to a portion of this overhaul of the state's primary election season.
Ted Simons: what kind of alternative?
Howard Fischer: The alternative is to go back to Mary Jo's point the way you might read the language it says a candidate running in the primary shall have the choice of listing a party affiliation. Now, it doesn't mean if you're Republican you can choose but you can choose if you're a Republican not to list yourself as a Democrat. Or you can say I'm an independent Republican or a Ronald Reagan Republican or anything that fits in 20 characters. The argument by the governor is that that leads to problems where people are disguising themselves. They want to be able to say you should know somebody is a Republican or Democrat. Now I'm sorry, I don't see this as a major change necessary to mess with the system. We went through an election, the city of Phoenix. How many Phoenicians did not know who the Republican was? He has red hair, and his first name is Wes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out without a party designation on the ballot.
Ted Simons: But again on that first vote where it's all comers, all hands on deck kind of a thing, if you do list yourself as a Ronald Reagan Republican, but you're really more of a George McGovern Democrat and you siphon off some votes or get enough, is there a possibility for some fooling around here?
Jim Small: That's one of the things that the opponents are raising is that, yeah, it gives the possibility for ringers. A party can recruit a sham candidate as we heard so much about during the recall process. They can do that. With the express goal of basically diluting the support from maybe one of the major party opponents in order to let, say, two weaker opponent, two people who otherwise wouldn't get through the election advance to the general.
Mary Jo Pitzl: As much as that's a concern with this model, if it gets on the ballot, it's a concern now. We had sham candidates last election. We had sham candidates in '08. We had Republicans who were recruited to run as Green party candidates, homeless people recruited to run as Green candidates. There's a lot of deception that happens anyway. This assumes, probably correctly so, that there's power in labels. If you put an R, or a D, after your name that signals things but doesn't necessarily as we have seen with some of the sham candidates.
Ted Simons: Both Republican party officials, Democratic Party officials, they aren't too happy about this.
Howard Fischer: I think it's more the issue of the Republican party officials it's good to be in power right now. They control the governor's office, all the role offices in both houses, the legislature. The Democrats are in a funny position here. I think the party people as what happened when they tried to put this on the ballot in '98 are not happy with diluting the party. On the other hand Democrats don't want to be on the record saying we know better than what 364,000 people signed. They are going to be relatively quiet if they even show up for the legislative special session.
Ted Simons: is there going to be a legislative session? They do have to show up.
Jim Small: As it stands now they are planning to have a legislative session. That would probably begin Tuesday although maybe Monday, maybe Wednesday. Most people say Tuesday. We'll see. The call hasn't been issued yet. Last we heard they were still fanagling over the details, figuring out, ok, what is the language. Legislators are pushing something broader with the party affiliation. They want to put up a complete competing measure. There's some negotiating between the Senate, the house and the governor's office to figure out what they are going to do. Then they have to make sure they have the votes for it then we get a call get issued.
Ted Simons: Ok last question on this. Critics say this is just a way to confuse the issue, get something on here that may -- voters will see two competing measures they will say I don't want either of them, a pox on both houses, you hearing that already?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh of course, that is a concern. There's a track record of it but there's also examples that cut in the other direction. If you remember in 2002 we had three casino gambling related proposals on the ballot. Voters didn't nuke all three of them, they sent two away, approved one. We saw that with the smoking bans in 2006. They figured it out. A lot of that would hinge on what kind of education campaign the campaigns do, what the media does for those people who still pay attention to the media.
Howard Fischer: The tricky part is, and we saw this with the King Holiday way back, is that some people say I have this and this and they seem to conflict. I guess I can only vote for one. And that's not the case. You can vote for both. If they both pass the one that gets more votes becomes law. That becomes the confusion. That both of them -- there's a theory that the real plan is to have both of them lack 50% and they both go down and then the parties are happy again.
Ted Simons: All right. Who is going to be happy if Arizona can reject federal moves? This is a checks and balances. What are we talking about with this?
Mary Jo Pitzl: This is a federal null fix initiative -- nullification that would say if you get a vote of the people or a vote of the legislature on a bill signed by the governor, then if there's a federal policy that Arizonans doesn't like or the legislature doesn't like, we can reject it. Where it goes from there is another issue. It's a way to say, hey, you don't like Obamacare, you don't like air quality regulations, let's put that up for a vote and tell the Feds to go pound sand.
Ted Simons: Compare this to other states' sovereignty moves, measures, attempts during the session and trying to get on the ballot.
Jim Small: This is in a lot of ways similar to one that made it through one chamber last year in the 2011 session. It would have create add panel of legislators that would have been taxed with evaluating every single federal law that gets passed and making recommendations and it was convoluted and didn't get through the statehouse. But, that issue, the critics are the same thing about this one now which is this was settled in the 19th century. That century there was a slew of Supreme Court cases where they weighed in on the issue of federalism versus the states' ability to nullify federal acts and every time they said no. You can challenge a federal that's unconstitutional as violating the 10th amendment as they may with the federal health care reform, but an individual state, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada can't just say, no, we're not going to approve this. We're going to reject it and go our own way.
Howard Fischer: That led to the questions we asked which is if you believe we can reject it why not secede? No, I don't want us to secede, I just want us to be able to reject it. The guy has an interesting point. He said, let's look from the other perspective. In 1850 Congress passed the fugitive state of act which said northern states had to send back fugitive slaves and some northern states said no. Just because the federal government says it's so doesn't make it right. It may make it legal. At that's where we come to the question should we allow states to have their own laws on segregation? To overturn Roe versus Wade and what the Supreme Court has said about the constitutional right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy.
Ted Simons: One guy financing this thing, $1.2 million. One guy.
Howard Fischer: It's good to have money. He owns something called tag employer services. They do outsourcing of payroll and human resources. I guess business is good. His house is worth a little bit of money so he could mortgage it. One of the questions we asked him was, don't you think you could do a little good with this money, charities? We give to charities but I think I have an obligation to help my fellow citizens defend their constitutional rights.
Ted Simons: Will he be paying for the court cases that will no doubt arise?
Howard Fischer: No, that will be the state. You and me.
Ted Simons: Oh we'll pay for that, all right. What about the other measures already on the ballot. What are we seeing come November?
Mary Jo Pitzl: There are seven measures that the legislature referred one last year and the rest this year. They range from the protecting allowing state land, trust land exchanges to protect military bases. There's always the state trust land measure it seems on the ballot.
Howard Fischer: The eighth time is the charm. This time we're going to do it.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah. One that would change the way money is distributed from the revenue that we make off selling state trust land that goes to benefit education and state treasurer Doug Ducey came up with a method that he believes will provide a steady, predictable flow of money to that education trust fund. There's some changes to the judicial merit selection process for judges. Not scrapping it but raising retirement age, giving the governor more control over appointees.
Howard Fischer: Then of course the other initiative, which is the one that's going to court later this month, which has to do with the permanent extension of the education sales tax that one is going to be interesting because you have as we discussed in the show the question of what is the official copy that was filed with the Secretary of State's office. Does it substantially comply, we got an interesting court case this past week on substantial compliance having to do with Ms. McDermott/Cheuvront --
Ted Simons: These she's going to be on the ballot under what name?
Mary Jo Pitzl: As Jean Cheuvront McDermott. It will be McDermott, Jean Cheuvront, which is different than how she filed her paperwork. She wanted to hypenate the two last names which reflect her first and second husbands respectively. The court basically took out the hyphen and bought her argument that Cheuvront was a nickname.
Ted Simons: The reason being the name apparently holds a lot of water. That big of an advantage to have that name?
Mary Jo Pitzl: People can't spell it.
Howard Fischer: Here's the advantage. There are signs all over the district, vote Cheuvront. Vote the team. It's good to be able to run two people on one set of money and one set of sides.
Ted Simons: All right. Staying with this kind of a mindset, John Nelson decides to retire and this was a surprise?
Jim Small: I think the timing was a surprise. There had been some talk that he may not run again, or he was collecting signatures and had heard from people he was thinking about walking away. He had some people saying, look, John, you've done a great job. The way your new district is, the way things are set up maybe it's time to step away. You've spent three decades in public service. You've done some great work. Go out on a high note. Don't go into this really contentious election with Don Shooter, the appropriations chair, the tea party stalwart from Yuma. It was going to be a tough race, definitely. The timing was surprising. He certainly could have done this before the signatures were due, said I'm going to retire. I appreciate everything. I'm just going to walk away. Now his name's on the ballot. They have already printed the ballot. It's tricky, but otherwise, I think a lot of people had an inkling that maybe he wasn't going to be back next year.
Ted Simons: Long time lawmaker. What is his legacy at the capitol?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Pushing for state trust reform and military base protection.
Howard Fischer: He's more known to a certain extent for his time on the Phoenix City Council even though he's living in Litchfield park now. He was on the counsel for many years. A lot of his legacy has to do with some of the way city government changed over the years going back for two, three administrations.
Ted Simons: Back to the ballot, couple of things that did not make the ballot, the surcharge to fund Arizona parks. That didn't make the ballot, correct?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Right.
Howard Fischer: What happened there is over the last couple of years the legislature has been looking for money. Okay, so we're going to not funds parks with tax dollars. Okay. Now what else we're going to do, the money you have been collecting and the fees, we're going to take that too. It resulted in closure of some parks for a while, some deals with some cities to run the parks. So this Parks Foundation, which is a separate independent group, came up with a plan. Said we're going to put a $14 surcharge on every vehicle registration that will fund the parks. You can opt out, but again, you'd have to opt out. Note that on the form. We think that we can raise 30, 40 million dollars a year. We can run the parks. We would also pit some language in there that precludes the legislature from raiding the money we've got. And do it in a way that ensures that parks are there. Now, the problem was it's a nice idea but good luck finding the money from people to buy the paid circulators.
Ted Simons: They could not even come close to getting enough signatures, correct?
Jim Small: It's expensive. You have to have a lot of money. You figure signatures go between two and $5 a pop to get them. This is going to be several hundred thousand signatures you need to get. You're up half a million dollars in. You have to go raise that money. That's a challenge. There's a lot of things out there now demanding that money. It's an election year. It's really tough. It's kind of a bit of a later start. You see some initiatives started after this election, some that get started next spring. They will have a year and a half to do it.
Howard Fischer: Bill M. has sead, as head of the parks foundation, said he's going to ask the legislature to put this on the 2014 ballot. That way they are not doing it themselves. There's not the tax pledge. I don't see this happening. Part of the problem is they asked the legislature to put this on the ballot for 2012 and the lawmakers told them where they could go with that plan. So, it's nice idea, but they really have to get the signatures.
Ted Simons: Different set of problems getting a pay raise for lawmakers on the ballot. That didn't make it either, but for entirely different reasons.
Howard Fischer: There's a commission that sits down and studies, well, should we give the legislature a pay raise. They deadlocked 2-2. Normally this is a five-member commission but house speaker Andy Tobin did not make his appointment to that panel because he didn't want to see anything go to the ballot. He doesn't think this is the time to raise elect legislative salaries, which our $24,000 a year have remained there for the last 14 years.
Howard Fischer: Pretty close. They went up to 15. When I started coming on the legislature they were at six.
Mary Jo Pitzl: They don't get just 24,000. They get paid per diem and mileage. There's a little more to the paycheck.
Howard Fischer: And part of the problem they have had is that the purpose of the commission is to recommend what they think is appropriate. So for example, six years ago they put $36,000 pay proposal on. That went down. Well, then four years ago they put a $30,000 pay raise on a proposal. That went down. Two years ago the governor pulled what Andy did this time, she didn't reappoint her member so they couldn't even meet to put something on the ballot. It takes a lot -- no matter what you think of lawmakers, they are down there doing the work. This isn't the old territorial legislature where you gave up your plow for four months, came down to the capitol, did the work and went back to your plow. This are down there on longer sessions, special sessions, interim issues, special commissions, you're doing constituent work. On one hand you shouldn't do it for the money, on the other hand are you getting what you're paying for at $24,000 a year.
Ted Simons: Indeed. Scott Bundgaard. Seems every week we have a new story. He has sent a letter out basically saying, what, there's a vast conspiracy?
Howard Fischer: Yes. This is -- it's hard to keep a strait face as a journalist when you have a guy who witnesses said dragged his girlfriend out of the car in the median of state route 51 and beat on her and he says everyone is out to get me. Phoenix police is out to get me, his political foes are out to get me.
Ted Simons: Why are the Phoenix police out to get him? Why is Ron Gould out to get them? Why are these people out to get him?
Mary Jo Pitzl: There's various reasons. The Phoenix police he allege they are friendly with his now ex-girlfriend. So they were sort of cutting her a favor by hanging him out as the perpetrator rather than the victim. In this letter he notes he was initially listed as a victim. He received victim's assistance as he went through this. Ron Gould doesn't like him because supposedly Scott was going to eye running for the same congressional seat that Senator Gould is now running for, trying to eliminate a potential primary foe. There's a reason for everything. For all -- he has a rationale for all of this. This will play out in his $10 million claim against the city of Phoenix. We'll see where that goes.
Ted Simons: All right. $10 million.
Howard Fischer: You could buy your way on to the ballot for that kind of money. [laughter]
Ted Simons: Last thing here, what happened to former governor Raul Castro? Why was he stopped?
Howard Fischer: This was something that actually came up about a month ago. Raul has a pacemaker. He goes and gets it checked. It's powered by a little radioactive device. Well, you go through these fixed checkpoints on I-19 and the border patrol agent leans in the car and he's got a little detecter and it shows radiation. I understand why they have those things with the whole post 9/11. So they send him over to the side. He says, look, I was just in the hospital. I just had my pacemaker checked. No big deal. I think what caused the concern is the guy is no spring chicken. The guy is
Ted Simons: 90-something years old.
Howard Fischer: I'm sayin'. Sitting out there in the sun. They didn't take him into the air conditioned office because lord knows he might blow up or something. They have him out there, I don't think he was mad about it. I think his companion was more mad about what happened. Do you know who this man is? Now, he was not stopped because of his race. This wasn't any allegation of racial profiling, it was a question of what should the border patrol know about people with pacemakers.
Ted Simons: The question becomes discretion when you have someone who is a 90-something-year-old gentleman dressed in a suit and tie for some function. Birthday lunch or something like that. Leaving him out in the sun or out in the heat. I think that was what the critics are saying.
Mary Jo Pitzl: There's dispute over how long he was made to wait out in the sun. The border patrol goes on the shorter time frame, 10, 15 minutes. His companions say it's about double that.
Ted Simons: Still not a very good story coming out of Arizona.
Howard Fischer: No. The problem is that it's like everything else. It comes on the heels of 1070, on the heels of new racial profiling allegations, on the heels of the ACLU going to go back to court to seek a new injunction on 1070. It's just the kinds of news like the sovereignty issue, is this the kind of news we really want for Arizona that makes the Daily Show so popular?
Ted Simons: Well, yes, and helps us on Fridays as well. It's good to have you all here. Thank you for joining us. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," Arizona must decide if it will participate in the affordable care act's expansion of Medicaid coverage to 133% of the federal poverty level. Monday, 5:30 and 10:00, right here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great weekends.
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