Journalists’ Roundtable

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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 Mary Jo Pitzl of the "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Arizona Horizon and yours truly played host to a debate last night between candidates for the state's new congressional district, CD-9. Mary Jo, a half-hour debate, hard to say there were winners and losers. Didn't seem like anybody lost a limb out there.
Mary Jo Pitzl: This was not anything on the level of the first presidential debate, with clearly etched lines. The format was tight, which I guess you can talk to your producers about that. And also, with the two major candidates, Vernon Parker and Kyrsten Sinema, having to share their time with the Libertarian candidate, who seemed that his biggest contribution was to encourage people to not to vote.
Ted Simons: Right. Yeah. That was a little disconcerting and towards the end. But about the two major candidates, Basically, we saw differing ideas on major topics. There wasn't a lot of crashing and banging, but these are candidates with different ideas.
Mike Sunnucks: This has the potential to be a contentious race. Kyrsten Sinema who's pretty liberal and Vernon Parker who takes on a lot of the tea party ideals, both of them can be really aggressive. You didn't see it in the debate, you saw it in some of the ads and press releases but they held back on things like health care and taxes and the role of government, Luke Air Force Base, Parker brought up that Sinema is wanting to close, which goes against orthodoxy politically here. It didn't really come out in the debate, and we'll see how that plays out in the end. You'd think there was a war of the worlds type of contest.
Ted Simons: It looks like at times there was a reluctance to get into too much mud. Almost like there was time to take the high road on both accounts.
Jeremy Duda: For all the really nasty attacks you've seen in the race, leeches, lists of murderers, SBA loans, communist newspapers, we didn't hear any of this. Parker early on throughout the Luke Air Force Base thing 10 years ago, and said it was very different politics at least publicly. Back then she supported the closing of Luke Air Force Base, and since then she has become much more moderate in a lot of issues.
Mike Sunnucks: She's become much more moderate personality wise too. Early on she was kind of a flamethrower, and Democrats that are successful here, Greg Stanton, Phil Gordon, a moderate temperament. I think you've seen her do that. Obviously she won a tough primary. She's trying to take that into Congress and trying to rise to the office a little bit. Something you don't often see in politics.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Another thing to keep in mind, a lot of the attacks on these two candidates have been done by surrogates and outside groups. The candidates, especially in a very public forum, sort of want to rise above that fray and look like they will have a nice exchange of ideas. There was a clash of opinion but not a big bang and crash.
Ted Simons: Substance reared its head.
Mike Sunnucks: The national trend will kind of decide this race. If the ASU kids are energized and turn out for Carmona and Obama, that'll help Sinema. If the state is really going for Romney and they have a big turnout. Romney may be able to win the race, otherwise not win.
Jeremy Duda: This is the only debate we're going to see between these two. I don't think they wanted the image of people throwing grenades at each other. If you watch tv, you see plenty of that already.
Ted Simons: No one in the debate last night suggested that I was pretty. [Laughter] I take a little offense to that. Apparently that's going around. What is going on with that?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Carmona and Flake were having a debate on Channel 12. Mr. Carmona at one point towards the end, after a rather testy exchange, the moderator said something about, well, now I know how Candy Crowley felt. And Carmona said, you're a lot prettier than Candy. That really made the rounds, apparently from some of our own discussion, the interpretations differed by gender. That looked to me like a shot at Candy Crowley, if not at women.
Ted Simons: What is he doing saying something like that? Is that just one of those offhand things that you think, I'll just throw that out there, ha, ha, and kaboom?
Mike Sunnucks: I took it as offhand, he knows Brand. he made a quick little comment in the middle of the debate, and suddenly it's on the national news and the Republicans are putting out press releases, the Flake campaign scurried and found some Mesa city councilwoman who took umbrage to this. Kind of shows the tone of politics. Some people are obviously offended by this. I took it as a quick quip with someone he knows.
Jeremy Duda: The problem for Carmona, the timing is horrible. It's just a couple weeks from the election, and he's hit left and right on accusations that he's hostile toward women. You have this former colleague of his from when he was surgeon general saying he showed up in the middle of the night evidently banging on the door and screaming at the house. You want women voters and independent moderates. That could be damaging.
Mike Sunnucks: There's been a lot of negative campaigning. The dichotomy between the two camps, the Democrats and Carmona have hit Jeff Flake on all his votes against all of his programs. He's a fiscal conservative and votes against basically everything there. That was going to come back to haunt him at some point. They point out the veterans services, cancer screenings, all these kind of popular programs. And support for uranium mining, which isn't very popular. The Flake camp brought out this woman he had this alleged confrontation with and now it's kind of policy criticism versus a very kind of personal temperament criticism. It'll be interesting to see which wins out.
Ted Simons: Sounds like it's neck and neck all the way. Late this afternoon a U.S. district judge basically barred the state action against Planned Parenthood. Give us a kind of overview.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Sure. Two weeks ago there was a case heard by Federal Judge Neil Wake. At issue was a state law our legislature passed the bill and Governor Brewer signed in the spring that no state tax dollars can go to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood sued and said this would basically cut them off, this was part of their lifeline. The state does not give money directly to Planned Parenthood, but it provides money to AHCCCHS, the state's health care program. They turn around and contract with providers on the basis of the ability to provide health care. Among the many providers was Planned Parenthood. This would cut them out of it. The argument is that there's no grounds for doing that. The requirements in Medicaid is that you pick providers based on qualifications. No one disputed the qualifications of Planned Parenthood to provide medical services to women.
Ted Simons: Exactly. So it sounds as though you want to get Medicaid, if Medicaid is involved, Medicaid is going to be involved and the qualifications have to be involved, as well.
Mike Sunnucks: Judge Neil Wake made the decision, not the most liberal jurist down there. It's based on the federal law. Obviously they will try to appeal this. I think he will try to rewrite the law to fit whatever they can to cut off Planned Parenthood. Both sides of the abortion debate like bringing this up, because it helps them to gin up their base. You saw the president bring up Planned Parenthood numerous times in the debate; it's going to be an issue as we hit the home stretch here and probably in the next session too.
Ted Simons: All right. Another court case here, voter registration law actually going to the Supreme Court. You wrote about this, this is the one that deals specifically now with these mail-in ballots, correct?
Mary Jo Pitzl: No. This is the one from 2006, I believe. There was a spate of four immigration-related measures. One of them said that to register to vote you must show proof of citizenship.
Ted Simons: The mail-in registration, I'm sorry.
Mary Jo Pitzl: So this rattles along through the courts and we got a decision in April I think saying that, okay, if people register on the federal voter registration form, you cannot ask for proof of citizenship. If the state wants to have its own form and ask for that, that's fine. You cannot require that from people that register on the federal form. Most folks tend to use the state form when they go to the MVD to register to vote. We have created basically a two-track system for voter registration.
Ted Simons: Two track system. Here we go again, federal law trumping state law.
Jeremy Duda: Folks who support this law say we have a vested interest in making sure that people are eligible to vote and there's no fraud in the system. Which we hear every election cycle. Dozens of laws in this state and other states to deal with this. You know, once again, you get back to the same issue. Does the federal law supersede the state law. Do we have to take this form which doesn't require proof of citizenship.
Ted Simons: The state says we should be allowed to ask for more documentation. Opponents are saying we know what you are doing here, that it's an effort to keep minorities, the poor, those who can't necessarily show that kind of documentation readily.
Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. It's the same argument you see with all these cases. And how the courts rule, again, on where the state's role is on some of these immigration voter registration matters and where that measures with federal law and what happens in the Arizona cases impacts all the other statessuch as with SB1070.
Ted Simons: Back and forth, back and forth, hasn't it?
Mary Jo Pitzl: It'll get to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court announced earlier this week, it'll most likely be argued in February and folks will expect a decision by June. So just about enough time for the next election cycle.
Mike Sunnucks: Supreme Court has been kind of a split decision on these things. They see some role for the states on these things, but it depends on how the federal is written.
Ted Simons: We had a judge with a ruling regarding Arizona's campaign finance law that on the surface seems interesting, but this could be pretty serious business here.
Jeremy Duda: This could be potentially ground-shaking. As of right now, it's kind of baffling. You have an independent committee from 2010 supporting Felecia Rotellini, the democratic candidate for attorney general. It was mostly funded by the democratic attorney generals group out of D.C. They spent money on ads attacking Tom Horne. They didn't register with the state as a committee. Tom Horne filed a complaint; the lower court said, you guys have to file; they appealed it. The Superior Court judge decided, this wasn't expressed advocacy for a candidate. It didn't say vote against Tom Horne. It said call Tom Horne and tell him you want to do this. It was more interesting, he said he was going to overturn the lower court ruling because all of these campaign finance laws require disclosure, these are all unconstitutional. But it was a brief ruling. We haven't seen the full order, so we don't know why.
Ted Simons: We've gone basically from you gotta register if you're going to do this kind of thing, no you don't have to register, so the judge is saying the whole system is kaput.
Jeremy Duda: This is basically a foundation of so many of our campaign finance laws and independent expenditures and PACs. Especially with the citizens United and these rulings. More and more people are involved in these races. You still pass laws saying you still have to disclose where your money is coming from. You still have to register with the state so we can see where the money is coming from. That could all go out the window with this.
Mike Sunnucks: It feels a lot like Citizens United when they struck down a lot of the federal campaign finance rules so you have these super PACs that don't have to disclose. And the conservatives that back these things argue, well, it's a First Amendment thing. It looks like a precursor to a dismantling of a lot of our own rules here.
Mary Jo Pitzl: As the Secretary of State's office said, we have not yet begun to fight. Ken Bennett's office has made it clear they will be appealing this. They will need to see the rationale for the judge's ruling before they do this. This one will go around the courts for quite a time.
Ted Simons: It wouldn't be an impact For this election at all, but future elections, a big impact.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, eventually.
Ted Simons: We'll see how that bounces around, as far as the appeals process is concerned. Let's stay in the courts now. We've got the redistricting maps, which was an interesting decision. Was it six-pronged and three were tossed and three kind of shoved?
Mary Jo Pitzl: This was a lawsuit brought basically by a couple of Republicans to contest the congressional maps. They went before the judge, a couple months ago back in August to a county superior Court judge who made their argument and said the maps are wrong for these six reasons. The judge takes a look at the case and says, first of all, it's way too long. He tossed the whole thing and said, if you want to come back, you can come back on three of the six points. We can hear you out and you can get your day in court and argue on other things, that the commission did not adhere to the open meeting law when they held some of their meetings. I'm going to forget the other point.
Ted Simons: There were so many. The ones he tossed outright dealt more with process? Was that an accurate description?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Somewhat.
Ted Simons: Made a decision at the last moment, in the dark of night, or something along those lines. It sounds like the judge said, so?
Mary Jo Pitzl: He didn't find grounds to proceed on a lot of this. He made it sound as if they just threw everything at the wall to see what would stick. There were some very entertaining footnotes in his ruling, look, there's no need to relive the drama happening about a year ago at this time. That's really not germane to what we're talking about today.
Jeremy Duda: This is pretty scathing and kind of funny sometimes. I don't know if he was going for some kind of comedy routine or something. The whole theme was basically, you're wasting my time. 135 pages and it's mostly irrelevant. At one point he wrote that the intro was 20 pages long. In his footnote, that's great, if you're putting out a press release or an expose, but it has no place in a legal filing. He wrote, yeah, gee, you can refile it, but I'm pretty sure nobody's going to come forward and admit they broke the law in this, so good luck.
Mike Sunnucks: Often when you see with people coming out on the short end, they often go with the open meetings violations, I think they were upset because the commission didn't take seriously what the republicans said in the legislative side. You could certainly disagree with what the commission did if you're on the Republican side, but it's a big stretch to say they broke some kind of law or overtly broke the rules. These maps are so subjective you could draw them thousands of different ways. They are kind of upset that they got schooled by the Democrats on this.
Ted Simons: It sounds like he's saying you can refile these if you'd like, dot, dot, dot.
Jeremy Duda: There's not going to be much grounds to do this, you're not going to get very far. You have grounds to sue and a claim to make but not much of a chance.
Mary Jo Pitzl: I think it's very clear that they will be back and they will refile. We'll go down this path. It's another eight years until we have to get a new map.
Ted Simons: All right.
Mary Jo Pitzl: So for the most part this ruling, however it comes out, should not affect the current districts. There's a possibility that the plaintiff might be able to successfully argue that they should adjust maps in future election cycles.
Mike Sunnucks: They might win some of those races anyway. They would say, well, never mind, it's okay.
Ted Simons: Yeah, okay. We had the 9th Circuit now looking at the day laborer law. This is yet another Senate Bill 1070 provision. This was interesting, I thought the judge's comments here were kind of interesting, as well. Don't have you traffic laws already? This deals with day laborers stopping traffic or something along those lines?
Jeremy Duda: Stopping traffic and soliciting work. In 1070 it was originally enjoined, and once this all came back and the governor's office and the state started fighting, oh, by the way, we're going to toss this part, too. The 9th circuit said, you already have traffic laws. Looks like you're just doing this to target illegal immigrants. Of course you can read that it was a part of 1070, so obviously the legislature who had been pushing for that for years, was pushing it for that reason.
Ted Simons: Are we likely to see the 9th going for this? This idea that…
Mike Sunnucks: That'll be interesting. There is a big argument saying, hey, don't you have your own traffic laws that apply to everybody? Couldn't you say maybe states have the right to expand upon those laws and restrict these things because that's a state issue? Traffic is not a federal issue. It would be interesting to see how they roll this. Could go up higher again.
Ted Simons: Jeremy, the commerce authority has a new director. I think it was reported that a $75,000 or something along those lines nationwide search and we wound up going with the interim director, not the permanent director.
Jeremy Duda :Kind of the same thing we did a year ago, when we got the first commerce authority director. Don Cardin ended up with the job after a nationwide search. He announces in January he's going to leave, a year into a three-year contract. They hire a head-hunting firm, conduct a nationwide search and found someone for our brand-new marquee economic banner, development organization. The group brought him a list of names back in May. They were all rejected and they said they were gonna continue to search. Five months later, they come back and saywWe're going to give it to Sandra Watson, who for a long time was second in command over there. Apparently she was the only candidate being considered. The Governor told us this after the meeting.
Ted Simons: Team ACA, this is an nonprofit group that is attached -- we've done stories on this, as well. You wrote extensively about concerns regarding this group. What's going on here?
Jeremy Duda: This is a private nonprofit originally founded by the commerce authority and now completely -- they do share a chairman in Jerry Colangelo, but they accept private contributions from businesses and they pay- they assist with the congress authority. In a lot of ways what they do is pay for things that maybe is not so appropriate for the commerce authority to use taxpayer dollars for. They paid for about half of Don Cardin's salary, a very contentious issue. They have told us who some of the contributors are, but a lot of them they don't know. They are not legally required to disclose this, People are worried they might have undue influence, if you give people money, there is the expectation that they will give something for that. There was a board meeting this past Monday to decide the policy on disclosure. They decide basically, we will follow the law.
Ted Simons: And the law says disclose to the IRS, but not necessarily to the public.
Jeremy Duda: You have to tell the IRS the identity of any contributors who give you more than $5,000. It's only one of the parts of the document not open to the public.
Mike Sunnucks: The problem people have is it's okay to market the state and have people out there recruiting, and okay to have a private board. When you have a private board in charge of tax breaks and incentives, people start to wonder whether there are some issues with that. The private part of it also fits into that. People will look at the structure and the transparency when the legislature comes back in. Sandra has been there a long time, sh'es been through all the wars the commerce department had, she knows her way around the block in terms of economic development. I think some folks, when Cardin was fired, more of a superstar outside person maybe coming in. But Sandra's certainly capable of the job.
Ted Simons: The congress authority. There are some mumblings and grumblings going on during the session?
Mary Jo Pitzl: They have always had some angst about disclosure and how much control there can be over the commission. And it's spending. A lot of the point of this was to reduce the level of state expenditure on this. Yet there is still a hefty chunk of state money going to it, and it is rather interesting if not a bit ironic, they have created this public-private partnership to replace what was viewed as a flawed public agency. And their new director is somebody with that allegedly flawed public agency.
Mike Sunnucks: Nothing material will happen until Governor Brewer leaves. But you could see gubernatorial candidates from both sides of the aisle promise some changes for the next elections. We'll see how that turns out after our current governor is gone.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Remember Bill Konopnicki? He died this past week at the age of 67 with a relatively sudden illness. Talk about his legacy at the Capitol and who he was. Because he was of a breed maybe a little different than what we see down there now.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Just a -- he represented Eastern Arizona for eight years from then legislative district five. He was a Republican and called himself a Reagan Republican. As his years in the legislature went on he increasingly found that he didn't really fit with where a lot of the Republican Party was going. He split with them a lot on immigration, especially when immigration came up as an issue. He's a business owner, owned a bunch of McDonald's. He understood the role of immigrant labor in the workforce and Arizona's economy. He worked on efforts to try to bring a guest worker program into the state, which was backed a lot by agricultural interests. He was willing to work across the aisle. Very shrewd man, wanted to be Speaker, just couldn't muster enough votes, enough disaffected Republicans to band with the Democrats to put him in the Speaker's chair.
Ted Simons: And the kind of moderate Republican you don't see a heck of a lot of down there these days. But that could change.
Mike Sunnucks: I'm with Mary jo, the temperament, what you used to see in politics, Tip O'Neill, Ronald Reagan, those stories. He was definitely a Republican but he did reach across the aisle on a lot of issues including temperament. You don't see that sometimes in our politics as much, where people are torn down.
Ted Simons: You heard the word statesman mentioned numerous times while dealing with Bill Konopnicki.
Jeremy Duda: He was always willing to talk with the other side. Everyone from both sides of the aisle talked about how much they loved working with him, how willing he was to work across that aisle. I think a lot of the democrats liked him as well because in the last few years he was known for his battles with Russell Pearce. In 2009, a precursor bill to 1070, he was one of the ones who left the chamber and prevented that from passing. He said, I hate this bill, but I vote aye because there's so much pressure it for right now.
Ted Simons: He was one of the early supporters of the top two initiative. He probably would have benefited from something like that, don't you think?
Mary Jo Pitzl: You gotta wonder if he cast an early ballot in that election.
Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness. Thanks for joining us. Good stuff.

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