Journalists’ Roundtable

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

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are: Jeremy Duda of "The Arizona Capitol Times," Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Steve Goldstein of KJZZ radio. It's been ten days since voters went to the polls to decide the 2012 election. Here in Arizona, tens of thousands of ballots are still being counted while some candidates still don't know if they won or lost. What the heck's going on?
Jeremy Duda: Got more than 160,000 ballots to be counted and for the most part it doesn't matter to most of these races. What we have left now is down in district two, Congressman Ron barber and his challenger Martha McSally. Less than a thousand votes. That's the only congressional race, legislative race that people are watching that's still up in the air but that's really been going in Barber's favor.
Ted Simons: I want to get to that race in a second but what's going on with all the ballots? Is this unusual, more so than in years past?
Howard Fischer: There seems to be a larger number of provisionals. Ken Bennett insists we always get this many but Maricopa county is up by 20%. A lot of this comes down to a couple of things. People show up at the polls without identification are the conditional provisionals, but you had a lot of folks who ordered an early ballot but forgot to return it, they show up, you've got to vote a provisional ballot. And for all the talk about how early balloting was going to smooth the system, well folks, here we are.
Ted Simons: And we have secretary Bennett and Helen Purcell of the county on next week to try to explain a little bit here. Why don't you explain it for them?
Steve Goldstein: What strikes me most is this whole provisional ballot thing and yet, when you look at people who are actually working at the polling places, they don't really understand the rules. I think that's this is coming from, this idea that do you send someone to a different polling station or give them a provisional ballot, and actually let them know the provisional ballot might not even count.
Ted Simons: What are we hearing as far as a reason for all of this going on?
Jeremy Duda: We're not hearing much of a reason but what's interesting is the last two presidential elections, it's pretty much taken about the same amount of time to count all these ballots. The issue is there's a lot more provisional ballots. 20,000 or so more in Maricopa county alone but the actual timeline isn't too much different but I think you've got a lot of people who are up in arms, who are, you know, protesting against the county, against the election officials. I think part of the problem is we saw so many issues leading up to the election with Spanish language ballots, a lot of people being very edgy.
Howard Fischer: And that's the whole conspiracy theory. If ballots aren't being counted, what's being done to them? We have the incident down in Cochise county where they weren't properly sealed? Is someone playing fast and loose? These are the same people looking for the other folks on the grassy knoll.
Steve Goldstein: I don't know, when you have a lot of people trying to register and mostly Latino voters, they were folks who registered those people informed enough themselves to say listen, you might run into situations, here's how you handle it and I think that could be a problem, as well. You have to tell them what goes on in elections.
Ted Simons: And we should mention, registration problems, voting in the right precinct, that was another problem and making sure people didn't already vote by mail is another issue among the reasons. You mentioned barber and McSally down there in CD2. It's not over but is it over?
Jeremy Duda: It's looking like it might almost kind of soon be over, you know. Last week, you know, the first week after the election, every day that lead flipped two or three times, one minute it's barber by 100, next, it's McSally by 150. Barber took a very slim lead and held onto that and added onto it very slowly but gradually. Now, they're up to more than 900 votes and the returns keep going in his favor.
Steve Goldstein: An automatic recount is only going to be triggered if he gets within 200. I hesitate say -- do you think that maybe the Martha McSally might sue to have all the ballots counted?
Howard Fischer: There's no provision. This is the issue. There might be a situation where they offered to pay for it, I don't know if the rnc is ready to come in here and start doing that. There's no provision for it. That's part of the reason for election deadlines. Election challenge deadlines, which is what happened to our friend living in Avondale or Goodyear and you have very specific things so you don't drag this out into January.
Ted Simons: 130 votes were kind of debated over and kind of an interesting decision here regarding we're going to count them but we're not going to count them unless we need to count them.
Howard Fischer: It was a really good decision by the Cochise county judge. There were 150 provisional ballots that may have not been sealed in their envelopes. That raises the possibility that somebody could alter them, could look inside and get rid of the ones they didn't like. So McSally said they shouldn't be counted. The assumption was that these were going to be barber votes. Well, the judge said I'll tell you what, let's count them. If we're within 130 votes in the end, then we can litigate over whether these should be counted. If not, no harm, no foul and why should I waste the court's time?
Ted Simons: And 130 votes, if it winds up that close, there are other mechanisms in place to make sure that we get something else done. Okay. So we've got that down, too. We've got Kyrsten Sinema and kirkpatrick declared winners. Talk about those two candidates. What were they like as state lawmakers and we know kirkpatrick, but what do we expect out of those two?
Jeremy Duda: Sinema is a very interesting case. She was known as this radical lefty bomb thrower, she was known even before she was elected to the legislature. And she really started to change her style. Less inflammatory, more reaching across the aisle, working with what Republican lawmakers actually passed bills which very few democrats do. The Republicans tried to hang all of this lefty radical stuff on her during the election and by how close it was, some of it probably worked but she overcame that. I think the margin is 8,000 votes. Vernon Parker conceded the race on Monday and she going to maintain in that Congress? Is she going to stick with that reaching across the aisle.
Howard Fischer: And that gets to a larger question of whether the Republicans in Washington are actually interested in working across the aisle. I mean, we saw the last two years the main focus with the Republicans was deny Barack Obama anything he wants. So it may be that she may try the same things and not find a receptive audience.
Ted Simons: What about kirkpatrick?
Howard Fischer: Kirkpatrick wasn't much of a player last time. Of course, being a freshman out of 435 in Washington, you don't get to do that a lot. I think she also recognizes that to get things accomplished, she represents a rural district, even the democrats there are conservative, and I think she recognizes that she has to side with Republicans on certain things, whether it's pollution matters, whether it's some of the federalist matters and I think I hate to use the word voice of moderation but I think there's some of that there.
Howard Fischer: And that's a tough district there. Brought home a lot of pork. We're in a different frame right now because we have the deficits but I think that's what kirkpatrick can play nicely with Republicans and I would be surprised if Sinema didn't as well and yet let's look at the actual Arizona litigation. You're going to have probably if barber holds on, five democrats and four Republicans. Does that internal dynamic change things and give her a little more confidence even if they are in the minority in the federal level?
Ted Simons: You can talk about that but those three races as we just discussed, they were so close that you know in two years, they're going to be close again. They might as well start campaigning for re-election right now because those are barn burners now, they're going to be barn burners again.
Jeremy Duda: No doubt. These are the three competitive districts that were redrawn and I don't think anybody thought barber was in trouble and he was actually losing it for a while.
Howard Fischer: Let me give you one other wildcard in there. There's a case pending in federal court brought by the legislature that said based on our reading of the U.S. Constitution, only the legislature can draw congressional boundaries. If they convince the judge that's the case, and that the irc is not a legislative body, you're going to have a whole new set of maps and the Republican-controlled legislature is going to draw a whole different set of maps than the ones we have now.
Howard Fischer: So never give the irc credit after all the courtroom shenanigans they had to go through and trying to take people away. They did go competitiveness. We've got three of the most competitive races we've seen in Arizona, at least in the last couple of decades.
Ted Simons: Some folks are saying look at Arizona may have more democrats in the house than Republicans. Hey, they're turning purple, blue, redistricting happened.
Howard Fischer: Redistricting happened, even at the legislative level. I mean, look, the Republicans maintained control of both chambers, there was never any question about that. Could they have picked up a few more seats with a different map? Certainly. Independents outnumber democrats in the state. So it is a red state and will remain that way for at least a while.
Ted Simons: We will remain as well trying to figure out what the governor's going to do regarding the health insurance exchange. This deadline was supposed to be today, either state run or federal run and they moved the goal posts on it.
Jeremy Duda: They moved December 14th, it was supposed to be today and I think Arizona's one of only seven states who hasn't signaled what we're going to do with this health insurance exchange, which is a critical component of the affordable care act. Now, it sounds like most people feel like brewer's leaning towards this, taken all the steps so far, $30 million in federal grant money to start laying the groundwork. She hasn't made the decision yet. There's a lot of lobbying going on right now to try to get her to decide.
Ted Simons: What decision is there to make?
Howard Fischer: To a certain extent, I don't know it will make a difference to anybody who's buying through the exchange. The hospitals believe if the state controls it, the chambers believe if the state controls it, we can better make it suit Arizona issues, the same way we wanted a local deq versus the E.P.A. managing things but there are folks who were insistent there's a vast conspiracy here by the hospitals to bring in billions of dollars by adjusting the benefits package and that somehow it will end up costing folks. The other piece of what you've got is legislative where there are folks who say if we cooperate with Barack Obama to the slightest degree, we are coconspirators. We shall fight them in the alleys. Fight them in the streets
Ted Simons: You can fight all you want but they're going to win. It's either going to be you have some control or no control.
Howard Fischer: Are you surprised that Arizona's fighting a battle with federalism at this point? I think the governor has proven with prop 100 as one example that she is willing to go along with practicality sometimes and go with the business community over what her conservative brethren would like.
Howard Fischer: The tricky part is going to be a local exchange probably requires legislative approval. Now, you've got Andy Bigg as president of the Senate. We know he hates the idea. There's a lot of opposition in the house. This could be problematic.
Jeremy Duda: One of the ironic things about this situation is the people in the legislature who would be fighting for more state control or federal control are the ones who are agitating against having a state-run exchange. It will embolden Obama or validate what he's done, it might cost the state more and there's a lot of unanswered questions about how exactly this thing would operate.
Ted Simons: Not only that, there could possibly be a hybrid, a little more state, a little bit more federal than otherwise there's a vast gulf in between isn't there?
Jeremy Duda: Yeah, there is and, you know, we can start off with the federal one as well and I think we have two years to decide to switch back over to state run if we really want to.
Ted Simons: That explains the delay it putting it off a month. Most states are confused. Yeah. All right. We'll start with you on this one. Give us a child of the '60s line right now.
Howard Fischer: I know nothing about what you're talking about. We've got our first clinic.
Ted Simons: Our first license now out in Glendale. You know what that means. If you live within 25 miles of that clinic, you've got to cut down your plant.
Howard Fischer: I've got the lawn mower out. This is an interesting quirk in the law. It was always envisioned that there would be a system of up to 125 dispensaries to legally sell the drugs spread out across the state. The problem is there were all these legal challenges to the issue of dispensaries. So the law had a provision if you're not within 25 miles, you can grow your own, up to 12 plants, and probably pretty good amount of stuff in there. Most of the card holders have grow licenses and they're growing their own. All of a sudden, Glendale, this week, Tucson next Tuesday, you're going to be joining a 25-mile radius around those things and saying the new licenses and renewed licenses, now you've got to go to that store, and you can no longer grow your own when your permit expires. Now, how many folks who are growing their own are going to give up their seeds? I'm not holding my breath to use a pun.
Jeremy Duda: The people who have those cards, they'll be allowed to keep them. I think they expire after a while. They can't renew them. They can use them for a year but once that's done, the party's over.
Steve Goldstein: Again, I'm struck by this whole concept of here we go, so there's an approval. There are more suits, bill Montgomery or the attorney general, I know the feds said they're not going to go after this, they have more fish to fry but ultimately, this does clash with federal law. Is this just an uphill battle where it's never even going to come to fruition?
Howard Fischer: A lot of it is dependent on the election we had earlier this month, a Romney administration would have a different attitude. I think the Obama administration's made it clear they've gone after some California dispensaries because unlike in Arizona, where you have to show where your marijuana's coming from and there's controls, California dispensaries just buying it out on the street. They're going after them.
Ted Simons: So it's almost de facto federal supervision.
Howard Fischer: It is federal benign neglect I think. They're saying look, don't do anything stupid, don't call attention to yourself, don't have the neon sign outside saying y'all come down now and get your pot and we'll leave you alone.
Steve Goldstein: And don't forget that bill Montgomery has promised to prosecute the dispensaries when they open, too.
Howard Fischer: But he can't even -- that's the thing. He has nothing to prosecute them on because he has no jurisdiction over federal law. He wants to go ahead and say that the county doesn't have to issue the necessary paperwork. I don't think he can actually prosecute and if he does, he's going to wind up very quickly in federal courts.
Jeremy Duda: If, in fact, this doesn't come and happen, would feel bad for Will Humble there's been a real conscious effort to be conscientious and not do what California has done but might go up in smoke.
Ted Simons: We'll move on.Governor brewer said that she could if she wanted to run for governor again. [ Laughter ]
Howard Fischer: Can she? Is she smoking something?
Jeremy Duda: Governor brewer says she can. Her general council for two years says she can. But you talk to pretty much any other attorney in the state and the message is no way, no, how. The institution seems pretty crystal clear on this. We passed an initiative in 1992, limiting governors and the other executive officers to two terms, eight years. Any part of a term served counts as a term. The arguments is voters didn't mean to it to apply to unelected terms but there's no indication of that and the language is so abundantly clear that you'd have a hard time getting around it.
Ted Simons: And the quote shall include any part of a term served. Now, I understand what Jeremy was saying that if you are appointed, you didn't campaign for it, you didn't run for it, you didn't try to get it, you were just shoved into the position. It doesn't say that in the law.
Steve Goldstein: No, it doesn't and Howie would know the history. I don't recall, Jane hall, I don't know if she would have made noise to run again.
Howard Fischer: She has actually floated the idea and I think got such a reception that she said no, I'm not even going to bring this to constitutional challenge. Look, there is -- I'm no attorney. The old saying you play one on TV, I'm going to play an attorney on TV. If she takes this to the Supreme Court, even though she's appointed the majority of the court, the majority of this supreme court, they're going to bounce her on her tush.
Jeremy Duda: Why do we think she would run? I wonder if this is just she hurts the term lame duck so much.
Ted Simons: Is she doing this to make sure everyone knows I can do it if I want to.
Jeremy Duda: That's the majority perception. I don't know if anybody would actually try to expect her to do this in 2014. I remember this last year around May, the end of the legislative session, a lot of Republicans were mad her for vetoing a bunch of conservative bills and she said I just wanted to make a point that everyone's saying I can ignore conservatives so I don't have to make the run again. It seemed like she was trying to deflect that criticism.
Ted Simons: What would it do to the other Republican hopeful?
Howard Fischer: Let's just say that ken Bennett has got a little harakiri knife out there. She could not even make her announcement until 2014. Doug Ducey is sitting there panting at the prospect. We assume Horne is not a gubernatorial candidate at this point but there are other folks out there and it does change the landscape and she would be hated by her own party for keeping everyone in the guessing game, even if she formed an exploratory committee if she couldn't formally say until January of 2014.
Howard Fischer: And how attractive of a candidate is she going to be? When we look back at 2010, by 2014, she will have been in office six years most people are going to be tired of her at that point even if they appreciate her job. I think she could face a real challenge in the primary, maybe not from Ken Bennett but from someone else.
Ted Simons: I think the Bennett situation is interesting. What if the state decides to file suit? Is he going to be the one that challenges?
Howard Fischer: I think it would have to be another candidate. The state itself would not end up as a party. He would be a nominal defendant, in fact, because it would be his office deciding whether to put her on the ballot. He would be in a really funny position. He wants to shove her out of the way with his elbow there but somebody would have to say she is not qualified and ask a judge to say she should not be allowed on the ballot.
Ted Simons: Also, considering a run for governor apparently is Andrew Thomas.
Steve Goldstein: Many of us got an e-mail and it said that a lot of people have been encouraging Andrew Thomas, the former county attorney, disbarred, to consider running for governor and I come back to this. It's like you're at a party, my friends think I'm funny and I'm going to be a comedian. Who's telling him to run! Consdiering the tea partiers
Ted Simons: This is quite a stretch, if he were to jump into the race, how disruptive could he be? There are a lot of folks, especially within Republican precincts out there, a lot of conservative folks that think he was railroaded. They're fans of this guy.
Jeremy Duda: He would have his supporters, there's no doubt. He couldn't get any traction though. But think back to the attorney general's race in 2010, before he was disbarred, even then, such a close race and most people feel like he would have won with the base of support he had if not for all the stuff he did.
Howard Fischer: This is a variant on jan brewer, just keeping the name out there, keeping the flame alive. I mean, the funny thing is if he had challenged this disbarment, and could put on a show and make a show of why this was political, maybe he would have something but he rolled over, played dead, and now he's going to say oh, now, I want to argue that somehow is railroading?
Ted Simons: I still wonder about the murky political machine aspect. When you talk about precinct chairman and you talk about both parties, goes of us on the outside, we don't know what goes on in there, interesting things are happening.
Steve Goldstein: If we were to say a primary where Jan Brewer didn't run, we could see all sorts of varieties. Most of us think he's not going to run for governor or attorney general. Andrew Thomas is in the same position. Would we see them getting any sprinkles? I don't want to be a psychoanalyst here but I think Thomas because of all the corruption aspects, he sees himself as some kind of superhero and he thinks he's going to fix all the problems, he's going to have enough followers who agree with him.
Ted Simons: What does he have to lose?
Howard Fischer: He's got nothing to lose. The funny part is he might be able to gather enough votes for attorney general, except in the state you have to have a license to practice law to be attorney general.
Jeremy Duda: One thing you mentioned, you said this before, said well the federal government declined to prosecute me, they couldn't find a crime and I have been exonerated. Well, you weren't indicted, you weren't prosecuted but when you're a former county attorney who's been disbarred, that's a long way from being exonerated.
Ted Simons: We've got a couple of minutes left here. Let's talk about the fact that apparently a lot of Arizonans want to secede from the union. What's going on here?
Steve Goldstein: Apparently, the White House decided to set up a site where people who were dissatisfied, they could put some signatures up and if it reached 75,000, then the Obama administration will take a look. Apparently, it looks like Texas so far is leading the pack. Arizona had last I saw was 14, 15,000 and as far as we know, a lot of people, they aren't even from Arizona -- it almost reminds me when brewer was raising money, a lot of the contributions came from out of state.
Howard Fischer: You could probably get 75,000 people to sign any online petition for anything just because hey, look I'm up on the White House website, that's my name over there. Look, it's not realistic. Perhaps the only state that could legally do it is Texas, because they were a republic when they entered the Union. Even the governor thought to say you've got to be kidding on this and if jan brewer, Ms. federalism is saying this is the United States of America and we fought that war, put a fork in it.
Ted Simons: We're safe for now.
Howard Fischer: For now!
Ted Simons: Thank you very much. Good to have you all year.

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