Journalists’ Roundtable

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

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon" journalists roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me are Amanda Crawford of Bloomberg Business Week, Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal and Jeffrey Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times. Hundreds of Arizona laws took effect this week, and a few that were supposed to take effect did not. Amanda, the 9th circuit and courts got involved here. Talk to us about that.

Amanda Crawford: The big one was the 20 week abortion ban. Arizona was one of nine states who banned abortion at the 20 week Mark in the last two years. This is the first of all those to go to court challenge and reproductive rights activists along with the ACLU challenged it as unconstitutional because before these laws it was thought Roe v. Wade allowed abortions and barred states from banning abortion prior to viability when a fetus can live outside of the womb, about 24 weeks. What these laws are doing is pushing the envelope on how far states can go in banning abortions. The case went before the court and the lower court allowed it to go forward and the 9th circuit stepped in this week and put a stop to it allowing them to argue the constitutional issue.

Mike Sunnucks: This will probably end up in the Supreme Court I think. The appeals court will make a ruling and whoever loses will take it there and the year after we'll see it in the Supreme Court. You'll possibly see this as a presidential election issue. There's folks on the Supreme Court that might not be in those seats very long and who the next president is gets to appoint those. Obviously Obama and Romney have very different views on abortion.

Amanda Crawford: Next year, to note, is the 40th anniversary of Roe versus Wade. We could get in a situation where this challenge, which will draw the lines on where states can go on banning abortion, could be before the Supreme Court the same year's anniversary as roe.

Jeremy Duda: Attorney General bill MONROE says he wants it to be a challenge to Roe v. Wade. A lot of pro-life activists want to see that happen. But more than that it represents the strategy for a long time from folks like the Center for Arizona policy, and these incremental changes not trying to challenge Roe v. Wade outright. Folks in the legislature wanted to do that the last couple of years. The center for Arizona policy who pushes this stuff said no, we need to continue with this strategy.

Ted Simons: The idea of this particular debate is viability. Again, the law is Roe v. Wade said you can't ban abortion. You can regulate it. Now viability becomes the main factor here, correct?

Amanda Crawford: Right. Most states banned abortion at viability which was when a doctor determined the fetus could survive on its own, normally around 24 weeks. The argument behind this law and others are twofold. Fetuses feel pain and therefore the state has a legitimate reason in regulating abortion at this period, and that the abortion procedure is risky for women after 20 weeks, which it is, though proponents of abortion rights will argue having a child is also risky. That's really the key. The argument is how far will the courts allow states to go in banning abortion. This is really pushing the envelope.

Ted Simons: You mentioned I think County attorney bill Montgomery has been up front saying he thinks the viability standard is at play and should be looked at by the higher courts.

Mike Sunnucks: There's folks on the right on this issue that really want to have a bigger, broader challenge of Roe versus Wade. All the other major decisions like Amanda said. They want to keep pushing the envelope. Even if they don't maybe win outright on a Roe v. Wade ruling next year or whatever, they hope to win partial victories and keep moving the puck.

Amanda Crawford: Jeremy brought up a good point. A lot of what we have seen in Arizona and in many states over the last several years is just doing whatever they can to restrict abortion access because they can't ban it out right. You have the 20 week pushing the time frame in. then you have a host of other abortion restrictions that have gone in place in Arizona and elsewhere, regulations on what kinds of facility can perform an abortion and who can issue the abortion pill. A lot of these things critics will say it's not about protecting women or anything else. It's about making it hard for women to get abortions. Right now you can't get an abortion in Arizona if you're outside of Tucson and Phoenix because the restrictions have made it impossible in rural areas.

Mike Sunnucks: It's politically amenable and safer for the pro-life folks to do this. Most people have a common sense view on this issue. They are not on either extreme. When they have regulations and common sense things banning late term abortions most people say that can make sense, but they are not pushing for an outright ban.

Ted Simons: On the incremental front, Jeremy, another law that was passed but is not officially on the books, targets Planned Parenthood.

Jeremy Duda: We haven't heard arguments yet but the trial court judge put in an injunction until he can decide on it which means that law doesn't go into effect this week either. That would defund all state money for planned parent hood or for any group that performs abortions, would prohibit access other state agencies from signing contracts, anything that funnels taxpayer money to them.

Amanda Crawford: Note taxpayer money already doesn't go to pay for abortions. It's the idea that the money is fungible. You pay for a woman to get a cancer screening at Planned Parenthood and the argument is Planned Parenthood uses that to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood will tell you they spend more for cancer screenings than they get reimbursed from Medicaid, because Medicaid has notoriously low reimbursement rates. It's targeting and trying to undercut abortion providers.

Mike Sunnucks: The conservatives, Pro-life folks see Planned Parenthood as the poster child, so anything they can do to take money away from them. Both sides have raised a lot of money off this issue. You see a lot of fund-raising from both ends of the political spectrum talking about Planned Parenthood funding.

Ted Simons: When both these bills were debated, brought up, were heard, was there a passionate give and take or are things down there pretty much one sided and that's the way it goes?

Jeremy Duda: There was passionate give and take. They may be a super minority, but the Democrats still feel very strongly about this. There's a lot of argument and debate, but when the Republicans, predominantly Pro-life, are two-thirds it's hard to block them.

Amanda Crawford: I will note that on the 20-week ban ours is unique because it's actually the way it defines it puts it at 18 weeks of gestation, earlier than other states. It does dovetail with the exact time that women are getting ultrasounds. So we're banning abortions at the period that a woman learns that the fetus might not live more than a few days outside of the womb. I think that's where that law becomes really controversial is who are you targeting? Very few women get abortions after 20 weeks. The majority is because they found a severe fetal anomaly which means the child will be severely developmentally disabled at the low end or maybe not live more than a few months. We did see Republicans vote against that bill. We saw a bipartisan split on where there were Republicans who voted against the 20-week ban because it was considered, and the ACLU will call it the most extreme ban in the nation.

Mike Sunnucks: There's little nuances among the states. I don't know if that's just a natural process that happens or if it's kind of a concerted effort to throw spaghetti at the wall, see what will stick.

Ted Simons: We should also mention Congressman Franks tried to get a 20-week ban for the District of Columbia which Congress has much say over since it's not a state, et cetera, et cetera, that was voted down interestingly enough and that bill -- no provision for rape or incest victims. The Arizona delegation still all five Republican members voted for this. How much of an issue could abortion wind up being come November?

Mike Sunnucks: It's always on the edge of being a big issue in American politics. It's a dividing line between conservatives and liberals and moderates. No matter what we talk about in the economy is going to be the big issue but it's how people define themselves, for professional women it's a view of freedom and ability to make their own decisions. Obviously folks from the Catholic church and conservative Christian Protestant delegations, it's a big issue for them. It always seems to pop up at the right time to be a big I issue.
Amanda Crawford: Last year the Goutmacker institute said we had a record number of abortion restrictions passed in the state. The record before this year was 2005. 2011 was twice as many state laws around the nation than there had been in 2005. So we're seeing this on the uptick because it's a wedge issue.

Jeremy Duda: Both of these laws have got enjoined in Arizona. We have seen these passed in a number of other states. The planned parenthood defunding one was passed in a number of states and it was also blocked.

Mike Sunnucks: It's such a wedge issue because it's so hard to find middle ground because it's a personal issue, a religious issue for folks. So it's so easy for both sides to spread out on instead of coming together.

Ted Simons: There were laws that did take effect. 363 of them. Let's go over them one by one, shall we? Let's not. The law studying the Bible in public schools, you can hunt now with silencers, hunt with guns capable of five or more shells. Firms can keep their own environmental assessments and audits secret. That's an interesting bill because what it says is the idea is we're promoting you to take a look and make sure you're not messing up but if you are you can't find out about it.

Mike Sunnucks: It has support among the Republicans down at the legislature. It basically protects companies from somebody coming in and deposing you or doing discovery appeared finding out, hey, you knew about this and what did you do? So it's a big business protection bill.

Jeremy Duda: If you're breaking government regulations you can still be sued, still face penalties, but if it's your own study obviously that can't be used against you in a lawsuit. We saw other legislation not just on environmental stuff but tort reform in general, where as long as you're following government regulations you can't be held liable.

Mike Sunnucks: They pushed these tort reforms, business friendly, limit the lawsuits type bills for several years of the legislature on various front.

Ted Simons: studying the Bible in public schools, this is to look at the Bible's place in term of literature, history, not Bible school as it were. How do you differentiate, and make sure that instructors do differentiate?
Jeremy Duda: I'm sure there will be a lot of people making sure they differentiate. The sponsor of the bill said it was study literally quality, historical context, but critics, ACLU and other opponents, their concern is this is going to be used to promote Christianity, promote one religion. We saw one legislator during the debate, a Democrat who is LDS, tried to get an amendment to include Mormon scriptures and that failed. This is a debate you may see down the road. If we're going to study this, why not this. Why not the Torah - -

Amanda Crawford: Or the Qur'an. Talk about age of literary documents, the Qur'an certainly has history too.

Ted Simons: I think what they are saying with this is that the influence of the Bible is more than those other religious texts and so when you talk about Noah and the arc and these sorts of stories, what are you talking about as opposed to whether or not you believe in these stories?

Mike Sunnucks: I think folks on the conservative side, religious folks are always worried about spirituality being taken out of the public square. That's what they feel having a Christmas tree and a Menorah at city hall for Christmastime, calling it Christmas instead of a holiday. They are worried about the secular folks, ACLU taking those beliefs out of the public discussion. Not saying your endorsing those but worried that they will be totally excluded. You could have comparative religion classes where you include everything. They do have a perilous trip here because they are only saying you should study the Bible. Better if they had the other books there.

Amanda Crawford: The other side, ACLU and others are concerned that we're going to be indoctrinating children into Christianity. If you're talking about the age of a document being influential why aren't they just teaching the old testament.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, I think this dovetails a little bit regarding the chick-fil-a story. It's an election year. Everything becomes politicized including a chicken sandwich. Religious studies in school, what a particular restaurant owner believes, are we in for this for the next few months, everything becomes an election issue?

Amanda Crawford: Next few months, next few years. I think a lot of it is the tone of politics. We have gotten to a point where so many issues are very divisive. Gay marriage is one with activists fighting very hard on one side and the other side seeing religious beliefs. We saw this manifest over a chicken sandwich this week which was weird.

Mike Sunnucks: I think folks on the conservative side are trying to find things to get energized around and to turn people out around. You saw what happened this week with the Catholic church and evangelical churches urging people to go to Chick-fil-a and their dislike of the, President Obama, I think they are trying to find things to galvanize around. They have a lot of energy. Conservatives.

Jeremy Duda: Religious freedom issues you seen that emerge elsewhere in the last six 6, 12 months. Contraception, the affordable care act, whether or not that's mandated. We had that law in Arizona that said that employers don't have to provide that if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Amanda Crawford: They can fire the woman if she pays for the birth control on her own. That was the great part of that law.

Ted Simons: I think my question was answered. Let's move on now to testimony ending in the civil rights trial against Maricopa County sheriff's office. There were no real surprises yet no smoking guns here, were there.

Mike Sunnucks: No. A lot of the usual stuff about the Arpaio cases, how much in charge he is, what he's actually doing. Is he having a lot to do with the day-to-day. They put him on the stand for extended hours. He's a very different character on the stand than on TV or in press conferences. So I didn't see a lot of surprises there. Obviously this dovetails into the federal investigation, federal report that claims that the MCSO pulls over Hispanic drivers more, miss treats them. There really was no smoking gun there.

Ted Simons: It's also a bench trial and it really matters what the judge thinks in something like this. When we heard deputies and folks from the sheriff's office say the sheriff doesn't necessarily have control over everything that he either says or what is done in the field, does that in turn defuse the idea of systematic racism?

Jeremy Duda: Depends on what the judge thinks. When they say we know the sheriff said this at a press conference but that doesn't necessarily reflect what we're doing in the field, you know, obviously the sheriff says a lot of things for the media and the public sphere, but they have to show as we have discussed before that this is a systematic policy, something still going on, not isolated incidents as the sheriff argues. The judge took a lot of interest in some of the activities in the field that these deputies are doing. When they ask a Latino driver who doesn't have I.D. and they call over a 287 G-trained officer to look over the immigration status. The judge wants to know, do you do that for everyone that doesn't have I.D.? No, we don't. You start planting that doubt in people's minds.

Ted Simons: Does this case and the publicity surrounding the case and what's coming out of the courtroom, is that impacting Arpaio's popularity?

Amanda Crawford: It's hard to say. I haven't seen a lot of good polling on it recently. Arpaio has been considered bullet-proof for so many years. We are at a point where there's so much against him right now that he might be at his weakest point. Seeing his testimony, I don't know if anyone who watched the trial very carefully, as you said -- did it reflect a sheriff in control of his agency even? There have been questions there about his control of the agency, his competence and other things to lead. We do see some knicks in the armor, but Arpaio's base is strong. Arpaio's base comes out to vote for him in a way that for example Latino opponents don't. A lot of it as well as everything in our election this year will really matter on turnout. Will people paying attention and really concerned about Arpaio, if they come out to vote it could be a hard election for him. He has a pretty strong democratic rival, maybe stronger than we've seen in past elections. So we'll see what plays out.

Ted Simons: I thought I saw a poll from somewhere, you never know where they are coming from, 52, 53, 54% approval rating, which is considered problematic for Sheriff Arpaio, but any politician out there would take a 53% approval rate.

Mike Sunnucks: 53% approve. That's more popular than Brewer, than Mitt Romney, than the president. I think Obama had 46. Voters did not like his pursuit of Obama's birth certificate. About two-thirds disapproved of that but three-quarters still like the Green baloney, the tent city stuff. He has a strong base. I can't see a Democrat winning a sheriff's race in Maricopa County. They need somebody that's high profile, power based, that other Republicans get behind. I don't see him losing. He's weaker and it could be closer, but he still is pretty popular with the folks in Sun City and the conservative base.

Amanda Crawford: It's all about turnout. When we were sitting here before the Russell Pearce recall people thought it inconceivable he could be recalled. It was a very small chunk but very Republican chunk of Maricopa County. We saw Russell Pearce go down in that general election. If you can mobilize on that level across the County then that's where Arpaio gets in trouble.

Mike Sunnucks: the problem is Obama trails in Arizona and in Maricopa County. More Republicans than conservatives will turn out.

Jeremy Duda: Another problem is $7 million in the campaign war chest compared to, what, 250,000 for PENZONE. There's probably more money where that came from.

Ted Simons: The governor and the EPA are at odds over three coal fired plants around the state. Talk to us about this issue. We're talking states' rights issues but also what could possibly be the shutdown of some of these plants.

Jeremy Duda: Once again of course Governor Brewer and the EPA are locking horns. They have done this before over the Navajo plant in northern Arizona. This is over three other coal fired plants, and the EPA wants to put in some pretty strict new rules, requires new technology to limit nitrogen oxide emersions. The state has their own plan they feel the Feds should defer to. They say this is sufficient. This limits a lot of these chemicals and particulates. The Feds disagree. The point is it isn't a health issue, it's to reduce regional haze; air visibility. There's a lot of national parks and landmarks in the area. This is supposed to protect visibility. The state, Governor Brewer, chamber of commerce, the companies who operate these plants say this is more about Obama administration's dislike of coal fired plants. They want to crack down on it. They are using this haze issue to tackle health issues.

Ted Simons: They say it's retrofitting these operations the utility companies say could cost up to $1 billion. They may have to shut down.

Jeremy Duda: between three plants it would be a billion. APS says this wouldn't shut down the entire plant, they have four or five units. It would shut down one of them. It would have a severe impact on the local economy, on APS, of course.

Mike Sunnucks: The coal industry has been fighting this anything other states appeared they hope to make it an election issue in coal states, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, those places. I think it's part of a national effort. Obviously Governor Brewer doesn't miss any opportunities to take on the Obama administration.

Ted Simons: we don't miss many opportunities to once again bring up the Phoenix coyotes, the wandering coyotes in Glendale looking for someone to give them a home. Now, this Jameson group, we keep hearing he's going to buy. This weekend, what's the status of this?

Mike Sunnucks: He still does not have the money. Still hasn't bought them. There's been court fights that Glendale has prevailed upon. There's a sales tax measure homebuilders and Sanderson Ford were pushing. Glendale won the first round that kept it off the ballot. They are going to appeal that. Jameson's still trying to get the money together. They're not moving any time soon. They probably won't move this season because it's probably too late, but they are still owned by the league.

Ted Simons: This becomes basically a lame duck season. Training camp starts relatively soon. What do they expect from hockey fans?

Mike Sunnucks: That's been the problem. They have made the playoffs and they haven't been able to capitalize that because people aren't sure if they will be here. They could probably miss some games because of that.

Ted Simons: The west side could lose the coyotes. One new law we didn't mention, Amanda, the poet laureate is now established for the state of Arizona. Got some free time?

Amanda Crawford: I plan on auditioning for it.

Ted Simons: Do you really?

Amanda Crawford: I think my brand of political analysis poetry is what the legislature is looking for. I don't know much about this bill. I hope our legislature reads poetry out loud on the floor and that's how they determine it and make sure it's a wide breadth of different kinds of poets. Maybe we'll have cowboy poets.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, is this a Wallace Stephens free verse kind of thing or an ode to a horse?

Mike Sunnucks: We might have limericks.

Jeremy Duda: I'd like to see bills in haiku form.

Amanda Crawford: Now that we have the Bible in classrooms perhaps our poet laureate would just read psalms.

Ted Simons: They have to put in historical context, of course.

Amanda Crawford: Yes.

Ted Simons: So the F-35 fighter pilots thing. That's a big deal.

Mike Sunnucks: He lobbied hard for that. Elaine Scruggs, the Glendale folks, the governor lobbied hard to keep that. Replacing the F-16. An expensive piece of equipment. We'll see what happens with the defense cuts. They were worried if they replaced the F-16 that Luke would be gone. It's an economic symbol and favorite out there.

Ted Simons: It's either a buffer against defense cuts or part of those defense cuts. We'll find out. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us.

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