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' Roundtable," we'll discuss the debate between candidates for Arizona's open seat in the United States Senate, a debate hosted by "Arizona Horizon." Also tonight, we'll look at the troubles of Attorney General Tom Horne. And a judge okays the legislature's sweep of settlement funds intended to help homeowners facing foreclosure. That's on "Journalists' Roundtable," next on "Arizona Horizon." Good evening, I'm Ted Simons. Joining us are Dan Nowicki of the "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal." Candidates running for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Senator Jon Kyl held their first debate this week here on "Arizona Horizon," they were also there with the "The Arizona Republic" with you guys. Dan, let's talk about the debate because it was the first time they had a chance to kind of clash in public on television. Was there a winner of this thing?
Dan Nowicki: That's always in the eye of the beholder. I'll refrain from picking a winner to save myself the hassle of having to deal with a lot of angry e-mails after the show. I think it's hard to deny that Jeff Flake was pretty prepared, I think he did put a lot of effort into the debate preparation and I think it did show, in both appearances. Politico kind of dismissed Carmona's performance as lackluster, and that's Politico's word. Generally, it's hard to say, I don't think anybody had any big faux pas or anything that hurt them.
Howard Fischer: Well then again, appearance is everything, as a certain presidential candidate or current president knows. Flake was smiling, on his game, quick with answers. Carmona was looking down, seemed preoccupied. Didn't seem to want to be here. Didn't want to be answering any of these questions and seemed to be perturbed by the whole thing.
Ted Simons: Well that's interesting. This is interesting to hear this from both of you. We got some response here, basically saying that Flake seemed better prepared, but Carmona seemed more sober, wasn't smiling all the time, a little more, as our former president used to say gravitas, no more gravitas there--. So, what do you make of it?
Howard Fischer: To the extent that he tried to talk policy, you're right. But appearance is everything. It would be interesting to see -- it's like the Kennedy-Nixon debate. If you were just listening while working in the kitchen, did you come away with one impression? Was there a different impression if you were watching it? I don't know if there was a clear winner. And again, I also don't want to get the nasty phone calls from each side, since both of them put out press releases each saying they were the winner. I think it gave the voters a much better chance to see. But, what was interesting, as much as you try, bless your heart, they were busy accusing each other of flip-flopping. So much of the debate was about, you said this back in March, and you said that back in May, and who's the real person here.
Mike Sunnucks: It's incumbent upon Carmona to take this race from Flake because of the voter registration edge that Republicans had. Romney's probably going to carry the state by a decent margin. So, Carmona's got to get people to cross over. They are going to vote for Romney and also vote for him, a Democrat, that's a challenge. So, while he was somber and serious and we talked about it in the green room, how he came across maybe as a doctor, former surgeon general, for vascular surgeon hospital executive. I don't know if he was energetic and positive enough to convince some of those folks that a Republican or maybe moderate Republicans, or independent Republicans to switch over and not vote for Jeff.
Howard Fischer: And there's one other piece and this has to do with the commercial running this week, where a former deputy HHS secretary is accusing him of showing up at her house in the middle of the night and pounding on her door. The fact is, I've talked to some of my colleagues and we've covered Carmona when he was running the county hospital there and he does get short, he has a little bit of a temper. He seems to be perturbed about being asking being questioned. Maybe some of that came across and that --
Dan Nowicki: It kind of came across in the editorial board a little bit, when some of the editorial board members of the Republic were pressing him on issues. There was a little push-back by Carmona.
Mike Sunnucks: I think that's very dangerous for his chances. His whole campaign is built on his character, his life story. Born very poor in the Bronx, surgeon general, Vietnam, Special Forces medic, SWAT team in Tucson. When you have build yourself up like that and you have an ad like this that comes out and questions your character, it kind of diminishes your narrative. And goes after two groups that were talkative and very important to Democrats in his race: women and Hispanics and they are running this on Spanish language televison. It could be really hard for him to overcome.
Ted Simons: How is the Carmona campaign responding to this ad?
Dan Nowicki: They had a news conference today and also launched their own counter-ad saying Flake should be ashamed, they are calling on him to take the ad down. The ad is very powerful and it's gotten a lot of national attention. I looked earlier this afternoon and the YouTube link to Flake's ad was linked on the Drudge Report. How often does that happen, that they just link to a raw YouTube TV commercial?
Howard Fischer: And demeanor is important to voters. They want somebody who, yes, meets their political views, and obviously Carmona is moved, as you sort of pointed out, they have both sort of moved to the center in an effort to catch the voters. But the demeanor does become important. That's going to be Carmona's Achilles' heel.
Mike Sunnucks: You had the veterans group come out against Flake with the ad about him voting against the G.I. Bill, voting against the veterans' benefits some extra pay for soldiers. I think that really helped Carmona's chances. Then you had this Flake ad, which got a lot of attention, where this former Bush administration official, very serious, very somber, very upset on the thing, just her talking and I think it has been very effective messaging.
Dan Nowicki: The Flake people will point out, too, these issues about Carmona's temperament are not new. The Los Angeles Times in 2002 had an exhaustive study of Carmona's career and when he was nominated to be surgeon general. He told various incidents that he had to run-in with a nurse, he had a run-in with a county commissioner in Pima County. I have asked Carmona about this, and he says, well the Senate looked at it, I got asked about it. Ted Kennedy asked about my confrontational personality at my confirmation hearing. Still got confirmed unanimously, so the Senate was fine with it.
Mike Sunnucks: To be fair, he's probably not the first candidate or politician that's had a temper issue, a few run-ins with people. We have a few U.S. Senators out there, a few other folks that maybe privately or have some intense conversations with people. I think the effectiveness is it happened with a woman and that's a key vote for Democrats in his efforts.
Ted Simons: We had Former President Bill Clinton and Former President George W. Bush in time for an event over at the Phoenician. But only one of those former presidents actually left and went to a campaign rally for a running senator, and that was Bill Clinton stumping for Carmona over at ASU.
Howard Fischer: Yes and talking about somebody that's a rock star, even among certain Republicans, that's Clinton. Watch him. The speech he did at the convention, he knows how to work a crowd. We're not talking about raising money. Former President Bush would be very good at that, Newt Gingrich would be good at that. Small groups talking --What the Democrats need is once again, energizing the base following President Obama's lackluster performance, and Bill Clinton is very good at that.
Ted Simons: Talk about the presidential race. I want to get to some of the congressional races here in a second. With that debate performance and more debates coming up, there was a lot of talk that Arizona could be inching toward something. Did the debate stop that cold?
Dan Nowicki: Well, yes and no. I think it still comes up, I still get, you know, press releases and stuff from people saying Arizona could still be in play. I don't think anybody really believes. I certainly know some of the national political analysts do -- I'm not hearing that from the national Democrats or the Obama campaign anymore, really. They have kind of ceded it to Romney, I think. It would be very tough for Obama--.
Mike Sunnucks: I think the polling shows Romney's above 50% now and the expectation is he'll carry it in a similar fashion that McCain carried it, that George W. Bush carried it. The one thing, the fallout of this is maybe the enthusiasm gap. Republicans are a little more energized now nationally and statewide. It's like watching a baseball game when your team's ahead, you like watching it. When you're behind you maybe flip the channel. The debate kind of improved their outlook on things. Maybe that helps Flake.
Ted Simons: What does that do down ticket? Let's start with the senate?
Howard Fischer: Obviously this isn't New York where you voted a line. It brings out the right people. Which is going to be interesting, because if in fact the Democrats suddenly realize, we need to energize the ticket, look, I'm with Dan here. I don't see Arizona in play on the presidential side. I think it could be in play in the Carmona race, it could be in play in terms of Sinema versus Parker, the whole new congressional district there. There are some places for the Democrats to pick up some opportunities. Top of the ticket? Nah.
Mike Sunnucks: I think the one thing from the debate and how that went, was you saw a narrowing of the gender gap with women. Obama had a big lead with women, as Democrats usually do. After the debate Romney closed that. You look at the Carmona ad, here that Flake ran, those dynamics kind of benefit Republicans if you have a narrower female gender gap in voting.
Ted Simons: Let's go to CD-9, Parker v. Sinema, that particular race. First of all, what are you hearing regarding polls? A lot of national money in this race, the ads are hot and heavy. We got a debate. We're going to have another debate next week between the two leading candidates here. What are you seeing?
Dan Nowicki: It seems like even though it's been painted as kind of a centrist swing district, I think it's a tough district for Republicans to win in. And it's kind of interesting that there is so much national money, which tells you some groups out there think it might be winnable for the Republicans. I think it's going to be pretty tough.
Howard Fischer: And one of the other pieces of this, we saw this in the primary. I think we talked about it in the show. Vernon Parker seemed to be phoning it in, even in the primary. There was no energy in his campaign. I don't know, even now that it's head to head, I don't see it. Now, the debate should be interesting. Because you know, Kyrsten is sort of the in-your-face type, although she has to dial that back, so it's not to come across the wrong way. Parker, however, again, debating a woman, sort of like the Sarah Palin versus four years ago in terms of the vice presidential race, you've got these kinds of issues there. Vernon, it's Vernon's to win. I think like Dan does, I think Sinema's got the edge on this, she's got the momentum, despite the bizarre commercials as showing her part of--.
Ted Simons: The campaign ads, how are they affecting this particular race?
Mike Sunnucks: I don't think that much. I think the polls show her up by three or four points. I think the one way Parker wins is if there's a big Romney, Republican swing nationally. I think that Clinton rally at ASU, even if it was for Carmona, she's the one that benefits from that because if ASU kids turn out big, she's probably going to carry that. I think his best bet is for a big Republican wave.
Howard Fischer: I'll tell you one of the edges that seems to given a Kyrsten fight, this image of her being out there, you've got women talking about the things she's done for kids care and nursing moms and all that stuff. She comes across as caring about real people. And that helps combat a lot of that nut case stuff.
Ted Simons: Congressional District 1, Kirkpatrick and Peyton, that one seems like a toss-up, as well. What are we seeing there?
The national Republicans for what it's worth put out a poll that showed Peyton up by five. That's another one that's kind of difficult for Republicans to pull it off. It appears that Peyton has got some momentum. Ann Kirkpatrick lost the Republic's endorsement and Peyton picked that up. And she's really getting pounded by outside advertising, as well.
Ted Simons: I noticed "The Republic" went with Peyton because of his temperament. Peyton's temperament, has that ever been a concern there at the state legislature?
Howard Fischer: He doesn't smile, that's part of -- when he was running for Congress in a different district and I talked to his press aide, and I said can you get him high on something? The guy needs to smile. He's very serious and somber, and I think that sometimes works to his advantage. His big Achilles heel in this big payday, Peyton thing, where I understand why he supported some of the payday lending issues, in terms if you don't have any more options. If you don't have any other options, it doesn't wash well in a state that beat back a $17 million campaign by the payday loan industry.
Mike Sunnucks: I've seen polls that show him up one point. It's pretty much a toss-up, but that's a pretty good place to be as a Republican in that race. Democrats have a voters' registration edge, there, but I think it's rural and conservative enough that they benefit from kind of a national picture. Again, if Romney's carrying the state pretty well, I think it helps Peyton.
Howard Fischer: And the other piece of it is, the typical Republican playbook, they have got shots of her saying, I support the President, I wouldn't question the President. If this is a race about Obama and how do you feel about him, that works against Kirkpatrick.
Ted Simons: The one ad where she's dancing with the parties, that's a pretty effective ad. And you've got payday Peyton on one side and you've got with paying $200,000 for two days of work for one of your staff members and the others. So, there's a lot of mud to throw around.
Mike Sunnucks: And she was the incumbent. This has come up in the Flake race where there's still anti-incumbent sentiment out there among the voters, that don't like Washington regardless of party. And so the challenges have been able to use that effectively.
Ted Simons: The Arpaio-Penzone race, how close is this really? Are we going to see a flood of Arpaio ads here if it gets any closer?
Howard Fischer: The guy is sitting on this wad of money, you bet you're going to see a lot of this. Joe wants to go out on his own terms. He does not want to be defeated. If he has to spend $8 million to do it, he will. He's trying to come across as moderate. I'm just out there doing the job people asked me to do. I didn't make the laws, I'm out there rounding up --
Dan Nowicki: Here's my life.
Howard Fischer: The whole thing. Very serious, very somber. My background in law enforcement and everything else. He's going to pull out all the stops. The question becomes -- what does the rest of the media that he's gotten mean? The Republican did a great series in terms of what was going on at the department. What wasn't going on at the department and does that stick?
Ted Simons: Indeed, that's a question. And another question is this third-party candidate, who could siphon votes away from Paul Penzone, enough to where if it really is a close race, could make it --.
Mike Sunnucks: People are maybe voting just against Arpaio and don't exactly know which one to vote for, because Penzone doesn't have a lot of money, he's getting a lot of earned media, a lot of attention. This independent Stauffer guy could get a few percentage points. The Arpaio folks, Republican folks, don't think the race is as close as the polls that the Penzone people came out with. But they are taking it seriously, like Howie said, they spent the money he did the add on the incident at Penzone's house with his ex-wife, certainly if you were breezing to victory, he may not -- would not have taken that out. They are definitely taking this seriously, and they will spend the money. I think they feel a little more comfortable than maybe the Penzone people would like.
Ted Simons: Your impression, is this close enough for --
Dan Nowicki: I think there's a definitely kind of an Arpaio fatigue out there. The campaign is aware they have to take it seriously and can't take anything for granted.
Ted Simons: We talk about this last week and the only new information now is we're getting more on the investigation into Tom Horne's troubles and the e-mails. Apparently, everyone and their brother was promised a job over there.
Howard Fischer: This is interesting. Sometime middle of the week we got 3,264 pages of raw documents. Bank statements and everything, and let me tell you, if you can look at pages and clicking the mouse until you're getting carpal tunnel, none of this was a surprise. The question is, did Tom Horne want to know about the political affiliations of those who were inheriting? Did he want to know where in fact was giving him money? Not an unusual question, it's only unusual because of the fact he had said I wasn't doing like all of those other attorneys general. One of the funny things that came up was there were only four dozen interviews. Sometimes I think they weren't going the way the FBI wanted, and they were double teaming people. They would show up at somebody's home in the evening and double team them. And several times I found in there where they would say to somebody, you do remember Martha Stewart, don't you? She didn't go to jail for securities fraud, she went to jail for lying to the FBI in an interview just like this. So, Martha Stewart is now the new boogieman for the Phoenix FBI.
Ted Simons: What do you make of all this with Tom Horne? Obviously, there's stuff borderline salacious, it doesn't look all this good when people are told, they are making a salary, go find a job for them, this sort of thing. How does he handle all this?
Mike Sunnucks: I think it really hurts his prospects for running for governor, obviously people assume he was going to look at running next time. It's a crowded field of folks in the Republican side and they will be obviously some Democrats in there too. I think it's makes it tough for him to run in the primary, that's a lot of ammunition for people to look at. The salacious stuff is what people remember and that hurts, especially when you're the head prosecutor, head law person in the state. That resonates a little more than some other positions.
Howard Fischer: I think it's clear, right now, he's going to run for attorney general again. I think he recognized he would have a clearer shot at that. I don't see any clear Republican foes for that particularly because Phil Montgomery said he's not running for it, so I think he's going to take the safe bet next time out.
Ted Simons: One of the few not running for governor next time out.
Howard Fischer: Yes
Ted Simons: Okay. The court okays this mortgage settlement sweep the legislature did regarding money that was intended for relief or help assistance, guidance for those facing foreclosure, caught up in the housing crisis. This was quite controversial at the time. Goes to the Court and the Court says, take it.
Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. They said the legislature's argument, they were within their rights to sweep this money into the General Fund, because the whole states been hit by foreclosure and you'll see an appeal of this and I wouldn't be surprised if you see a pretty strong appeal because it's a pretty good argument. This is settlement money for mortgages and helping homeowners and they went in there and raided it. It's been the trend with the courts to be on the side of the legislature at these kinds of things.
Howard Fischer: The Court is not looking to overturn legitimate laws. The Court has been under fire from the legislature in years. The actually -- saying it's been put into a court-ordered trust. Trusts have a specific lagal term and it's supposed to be used only for specified purposes. The judge in this case, Judge Mark Brain, said this was not a charitable trust in a traditional sense, and therefore it was not protected and therefore the legislature as policy makers could go in and take it. Here's the interesting thing. You're looking at two possible avenues of the appeal. One, was it a trust. Number two, Horne signed a deal approved by a federal judge saying, we will use the money for certain specified purposes. While the language is a little on the squishy side, do you have a breach of contract there? Have we in some ways violated the terms of Horne's side?
Ted Simons: Dan, does the idea, though, of the legislature takes money from a settlement designed and intended for a certain group of folks facing problems in their lives, and decides that much of that money, half of that money, whatever the case may be, we can use it the way we want to use it. Regarding the education tax, and the idea you can't sweep this money, and this particular--. Does that impact that particular proposition?
Dan Nowicki: No, do you think so? The 20 years I've covered politics it's just one scheme to sweep funds after another.
Mike Sunnucks: Politically it's hard to make that argument to voters in a commercial or sound bite. Here's what the legislature did and here's why its wrong. That takes a while to get across to voters. This should have resonance to people. A lot of people's mortgages are still underwater and they settled this money, a multistate settlement. The legislature just goes in and takes it out.
Howard Fischer: But nobody -- look. They have swept hundreds of millions out of highway user revenue funds, money supposed go to fix the blankety-blank roads that we've got. They have taken money from education. Theoretically it was protected by a 2000 ballot measure. If they are not going to rebel over that -- this $50 million?
Ted Simons: But of course court cases weren't decided five or six weeks, whatever it is, before an election, where a proposition would not allow us to touch this education money was going to be decided. No impact at all?
Howard Fischer: I don't think so. I think 204 is going to be decided on much broader issues. The antis saying this is special interests, various pots of money, badly designed. Proponents will say the legislature has cut more in this state than they have in any other state and we've got to keep legislators from cutting again. In terms of using this mortgage settlement thing, it takes too long to explain.
Mike Sunnucks: It's a little bigger narrative. The history of the raid, like these, does resonate with some voters. Mortgages, housing, haven't really come up in any of the campaigns. I don't think they have talked about it much during the presidential or vice presidential debates, because nobody really has an answer to it. The Republicans at the legislature don't want to do anything about it. They want to let the market kind of weed everything out. The programs that are out there, state or federal, really haven't addressed the problems because the banks can't or won't cooperate.
Ted Simons: One minute left, Howie. Who is Ann Scott Timmer?
Ann Scott Timmer has been on the court of State of Appeals for approximately a dozen years. She's been in practice now for about 30, very well thought of, a Republican, fairly conservative in terms of her rulings. Again, that's not unusual given our courts. They really aren't activist courts. The cases we have just talked about, the Governor had three names to choose from under the Constitution. She also had Diane Johnson was Democrat, who was the perennial bridesmaid in these sort of things, when the Republican governors are around. She had the presiding criminal courts judge in Maricopa County, Judge Cates, and the Governor said, I like Ann Scott Timmer and I'd like her to be on the Court.
Ted Simons: Very quickly, same question: The idea that this is someone who was passed over twice by Governor Brewer and once, I believe, by Governor Napolitano, now gets in because there were only three people. Does this impact the proposition regarding more selection for judges.
Mike Sunnuncks: I don't think people connect the dots on that.
Ted Simons: You just don't think people are paying attention on anything.
Howard Fischer: That's just his readers.
Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there for our viewers. Thank you, gentlemen. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Dan Nowicki:Arizona Republic; Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services; Mike Sunnucks:Phoenix Business Journal

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