Journalists’ Roundtable

More from this show

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

Ted Simons: Good evening, welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight on the "Journalists' Roundtable," Rebekah Sanders of the "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." The long 2012 election cycle came to an end Tuesday night for the most part, but there are still a few races that remain too close to call and to further complicate matters there are still a number of uncounted ballots hovering over the landscape. What is going on out there, Rebekah?

Rebekah Sanders I mean, many tight races that we may not know for, who knows, maybe two weeks because of all of these ballots that are uncounted. They consist of early ballots that people didn't have time to mail so they dropped off at the polling place on Election Day. And also provisional ballots for folks who may have a question of if that was the right place for them to be voting, if they were registered, all of that. Looks like over half a million still left uncounted in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Is there any indication if they skew one direction, Democrat, Republican, a little of each? Any indication at all? Obviously we don't know for sure but, in general, can you --

Rebekah Sanders: I think that's something that certainly the parties are trying to figure out so that they can better predict where these races are headed. But it's a lot of guesswork right now. We're just not going to know until the official tallies are in.

Howard Fischer: Ken Bennett had a press conference this afternoon. He insisted that these provisional are coming out of all the precincts, all the counties. And he seemed to have taken a little bit of offense at, well, does this seem to be skewed towards discouraging Latinos from voting, in terms of being asked for the provisional ballots. I think there may be a few reasons Latinos may be getting hit a little extra hard, including the new federal voter registration form, in which you don't have to have proof of citizenship, but if you showed up at the polls you still need I.D. So that may not have been made clear. People registered within 29 days of the election, they registered but not soon enough. Other folks thought they had mailed in an early ballot, but didn't get the early ballot. The numbers are shocking; we're talking 352,000 early, still to be counted. And as of this afternoon somewhere in the neighborhood of 173,000 provisionals, and that's a lot.

Ted Simons: Doesn't that seem like lot, regardless of what the secretary of state says. That seems somewhat unusual.

Jim Small: It does.But I think the number of provisionals - they haven't started to count those yet because they are still trying to work through all of those late early ballots that Rebekah was talking about. It's a hierarchy when they do ballots. The early ballots that come in after the 5 p.m. Friday deadline get counted first after election day. That's what they are trying to work through. It is a bit of an arduous task. It can take 10 to 15 minutes per ballot. They have to take the ballot, compare the signature on the ballot to what's in the voter file, in order to make sure that Joe Smith is actually the Joe Smith that's actually supposed to be voting. And that someone else did not take his ballot and that someone else didn't sign it.

Howard Fischer: And Ken Bennett insisted today that the percentage of provisional ballots, about 5%, is no different than the last presidential election four years ago. So while it seems like a lot, certainly the numbers are a lot; he said we've always had certain problems and there's a good reason for provisional ballots, to make sure votes get counted. It does give someone a chance to show back up with their I.D. or prove they forgot to mail back perhaps their early ballot.

Rebekah Sanders: He is insisting no group of early voters, Latinos or otherwise, was singled out. Although quite a few activists and groups including the ACLU have sent letters to him and to the county recorder's offices, asking for more transparency in the counting process. They are saying they have concerns but he insists there were no systemic problems here.

Howard Fischer: Well transparency? There are really two forms that transparency can occur. First of all, you can go onto the county's website and you can watch it. Now I don't know what that tells you watching people processing papers. That's almost as exciting as this show sometimes.

Ted Simons: It means your life Howie, is what it means.

Howard Fischer: But the other transparency that occurs, you will be able to go in precinct by precinct and analyze the number of provisional ballots. Then we can get a look and say, were these largely in Latino precincts. And we will get to do that perhaps after December. There will be a lot of people moving around a lot of numbers to find out.

Rebekah Sanders: People will be poring over those numbers for sure.

Howard Fischer: Yes.

Ted Simons: ok, so we've got these numbers out here, and they are kind of floating in the ether. What is it doing in some of these races? Let's start with CD9. Any change there at all?

Rebekah Sanders: Sure, so our three most competitive house races are still fairly up in the air. CD9 is here in the valley, and that was with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker. Sinema has been keeping about a two to three thousand vote lead over Parker the past couple days. She's saying she's confident. Parker has a legal team ready though. CD2, which is down in Tucson - that's the one with Ron Barber and Martha McSally. Barber took the place of Gabby Gifford when she resigned. And amazingly, it's paper thin how close they are and it's bouncing back and forth, their leads. That's probably the most surprising of this election season. People thought he had an edge. Then in northern Arizona, CD1 is Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democrat, and Republican Jonathan Paton. She has been leading with about a six to seven thousand lead most of this time. So A.P. has called it for her but Paton is not conceding.

Howard Fischer: And these are interesting things. And again, like we talked here, everybody's analyzing which precincts haven't been counted.

Rebekah Sanders: Right.

Howard Fischer: In the McSally versus Barber Race, are they the precincts that would skew towards her, particularly in Sierra Vista? Or are these east side of Tucson which would tend to skew toward Ron Barber? And you know we all play this game and by next Friday when we sit around a table, we may know more.

Ted Simons: Do we have surprises here regarding CD9, 1 or 2? Obviosuly the one in 2 is big. Talk to us about paper thin. I mean last night I think McSally was up by 400, this morning Barber is up by 500. This is about as close as it gets.

Jim Small: I think yesterday afternoon it went from McSally slightly ahead, to Barber by about 580 and then to McSally by 80 votes within a span of about 90 minutes; as those ballots came in. Right now I think the last we saw was Barber up by four or five hundred votes again. This thing is probably going to whip-saw back and forth a little bit as the ballots come in. Depending on, what Howie was talking before, as to where they coming from. Cochise has outstanding ballots and so does Pima. Republicans are confident that it's not going to work against them. We will have to wait and see, it'll be several days. You know, it's just -- it's really kind of an interesting thing to watch, the way the ballots are coming in, and see where this momentum is going. The Kyrsten Sinema and Vernon Parker race, it seems to be leaning toward Kyrsten Sinema. And she seems to be adding 3-4 hundred votes at a time.

Ted Simons: Rebekah, as far as the CD9 race with Sinema and Parker, the Libertarian got more than just a handful of votes. There are some suggesting that may have been a deciding factor in turning folks who otherwise would have voted for Parker away from that side of the aisle. Are you hearing that, as well?

Rebekah Sanders: I think it's so ironic. Powell Gammill, the libertarian, who was on this show a few weeks ago, his call to voters was - don't vote at all, not even for me.

Ted Simons: Yes.
Rebekah Sanders: Don't even vote for me.
Ted Simons: Yes.

Rebekah Sanders: He got about 10,000 votes in the CD9 race, a huge amount that could have flipped the race towards Vernon Parker for sure because, experts say the large majority of votes that go towards Libertarians come from conservative-leaning voters. If he had not been in the race it may have been a very different outcome.

Howard Fischer: but you can play this out. Look at the corporation commission race. You had a Libertarian, you had a Green candidates there. If you added that to Paul Newman's vote and subtracted something else from someone else, the political reality is --

Ted Simons: But I think what happened and what we're hearing from political experts on the CD-9 race, it was so negative, there was so much mud back and forth a lot of people said a pox on both houses. I don't know who this guy is on "Arizona Horizon" saying please don't vote, but I'm going to vote for him.

Howard Fischer: And there were of course the protest votes. I remember a classic in 1982 with a guy running against Bruce Babbitt in the primary was dead and he still got 17% of the vote. Tell me about protest votes.

Ted Simons: Did you still get an interview with him afterwards?

Howard Fischer: He was unavailable for comment.

Ted Simons: Alright. Last thing about CD2, what happened down there? I mean, Barber had the momentum, it seemed like, and who knows he may wind up. But that was -- it's so surprising that is so close.

Rebekah Sanders: Umm…

Ted Simons: Or maybe not so surprising.

Rebekah Sanders: You know, Martha McSally is everything the Republicans were hoping for in a candidate. She's a woman, she's got an inspiring story of being the first female Air Force pilot to go into combat. She is a hard worker, everything lined up that they needed in order to give a challenge to Ron Barber. You know, and it may have worked.

Ted Simons: Yeah, okay, we'll keep an eye on all the stuff. Of course with the ballots coming in, can't help it. Jim, as far as the Flake-Carmona race, looks like Flake won this particular race. We will see the final numbers here. Did the presidential race have an impact here? Did advertising have an impact? Why was this maybe not quite as close as some had thought?

Jim Small: We'll see how close it is after the ballots are counted. You know Carmona's campaign, they have acknowledged that they don't think they are going win but I think they expect it to tighten up two, two and a half percentage points, which is far better than any Democrat has done, I think since Deconcini. Democrats for two decades haven't been competitive in these races. So for them to come within two points of beating someone who's a Republican stalwart in a Republican state certainly is a good sign for them. Looking at a lot of the polling, at the end of it the negative ads that came in, especially from the outside groups against Carmona, really hurt him, I think. Flake didn't have the ability to define him early. Once the outside groups came in and dumped $30 million into this race, Carmona got defined negatively. You could see the declining numbers in his polls. He went from being think positive by eight or 10 points, to suddenly, on the final polls we saw, he was negative. And Flake was positive, which was a reversal where were two weeks ago.

Howard Fischer: And that's critical. Because he was counting on the favorable positives; you know the facts that he was surgeon general, the Republicans even asked me to run for office--

Rebekah Sanders: Vietnam vet.

Howard Fischer: The Vietnam vet. All that stuff certainly played into it.
And all of a sudden being redefined as just an Obama clone in a state like this, that certainly hurt.

Rebekah Sanders: Also, geographically Flake had an advantage of having represented Mesa in the East Valley for three terms in Congress. So, you know, the Maricopa County vote is what you need to win the Senate race. Carmona's base was in Pima County, just not enough to counter that big base in Maricopa County.

Jim Small: I think once all of these votes are counted we will see that Flake had a probably higher than normal turnout in the Mohave and Yavapai Counties; which are heavily Republican strong holds. They are combined, almost the same size, little bit smaller than Pima County. I think one of their strategies was to win Maricopa County by couple of points and really drive that turnout in those rural counties where Republicans vote in droves.

Ted Simons: Regarding the outside money a lot of outside money in this race and others. Now we're seeing Arizona implicated in some sort of a pseudo money-laundering campaign thing out of California. Anyone surprised by all this?

Howard Fischer: We were ultimately surprised about how many steps the money took. I mean, there was a group that Kirk Adams is a president of. Obviously former house speaker called Americans for Responsible Leadership. They put in a total of about $1.5 million into the anti-204, which is the tax, and anti-201, which is the open primary. California has stricter laws than we do. The California Supreme Court ultimately said, where did your money come from? Well, it came from Sean Noble's group here, which is some patient protection group. And Sean, some people have linked it to the Koch brothers. That wasn't even the beginning, the started off in a group in Virginia. Where that came from, nobody knows. We're in a situation that somebody dumped a bunch of money in here, two ballot measures in a state this size, that's a lot of money.

Ted Simons: And they dumped a bunch of money, didn't they?

Rebekah Sanders: Yeah, millions of dollars. They don't know the full total but it definitely is seen as making a difference in the prop 204, which was to permanently raise the sales tax by one cent to fund education, transportation and other issues. And boy, did that go down in flames!

Howard Fischer: Well, yes. But let's also understand that as -- whether you want to call it negative advertising or as things were explained to voters. In some ways, prop 204 was an unholy mess. This was not an extension of the one-cent where it was given to the legislature to find the best needs. Ok, we are going to take, out of the billion dollars raised we will do 500 million for this and 100 million for road construction. And we have this new family stability plan and people looked at it and finally said, wait a second? Why are we doing that? So it got buried. At least in part, because of its complication.

Ted Simons: The extension of the sales tax hike. Was it the issue or the campaign?

Jim Small: I think it was probably a little bit of both. One of the big differences, if you look at the Prop 100 campaign from 2010 versus this one, they ran that campaign and had about $2.5 million, close to $3 million they spent on voter contact this. Time about $1.5 million, a little less than that. You run a $2 million campaign with a million dollars and it becomes a lot more difficult. Voters were promised this would be a temporary tax. The group said let's make it permanent and complicate things by introducing these complex formulas. If you saw the spreadsheet, it would be money going into all these different pots. More than a billion dollars, 20% here, another 7% goes over here.

Howard Fischer: And that complicated their message. They did not have a simple message. If this had been one cent all for education, this one-cent sales tax brings in a billion a year, your lawmakers are going cut that out of your classrooms. Do you want that? They had a much more complicated message. The other money issue was, what money they had, they had to buy their way onto the ballot, in terms of paid circulations; and then they had to hire lawyers to keep it there.

Jim Small: During that legal fight they were raising no money. Their fund-raising dried up because it wasn't clear if they were going to get on the ballot. The people that could have started there campaign earlier, it was about six weeks where they were essentially -- they were drifting in the water.

Ted Simons: Same question, prop 121, which would change the nature of elections in Arizona? The top two primary, the issue or the campaign?

Howard Fischer: Well, I think a little bit of both. Again, why complicate things? If the ballot measure had said we will have statewide elections and city elections the same as city elections, they are going to be nonpartisan, people understand that. That's the way the school boards are, the way the City Council is. This got a little convoluted in terms of - if you can describe yourself with 20 characters and still be backed by a party and everything else, that became a piece of it. Now certainly the money against it, the Republican Party, you know big effort against it, a lot of money spent. Same thing in court, they had to go to court to get Supreme Court, on the ballot.

Ted Simons: Confusion means you lose.

Howard Fischer: Yes.

Ted Simons: But not by that much. It doesn't sound like people were interested in this.

Rebekah Sanders: Which is interesting because similar measures have now been passed in Washington State and in California, and independent voting interest groups say this is something that is going to gain in popularity.

Howard Fischer: But here's the interesting thing. You saw this on this one, League of Women Voters, nice, neutral little old ladies in tennis shoes and all of that; they didn't like it. They saw it as problematic. They saw it as problematic for the minor parties and when the League of Women Voters comes out against your ballot measure, which is supposed to be a ballot reform, you're in trouble.

Rebekah Sanders: I think it's an effective argument that the anti-prop 121 groups had, which was this is -- they are saying this is going lead to more moderates and more independents, but actually it could hurt. When you create that kind of backfire possibility --

Howard Fischer: And there was one other thing which was very effective argument. Every time we've done a ballot reform, starting with the 1986 campaign limits, public financing, redistricting -- o this is going fix it, this is going to fix it. I think voters finally said, hasn't worked up until now.

Ted Simons: Rebekah, I know you have covered Glendale in the past. They had the sales tax reversal on the ballot. That does not succeed. However, Weiers wins the mayoral race, he's no fan of this. What was the vote in Glendale all about?

Rebekah Sanders: This city is going through quite a time transition and has been for a few years. Almost totally new council now. I think that voters, you know, voted to keep the sales tax increase with gritted teeth. You know, there is not a lot of happiness within the Glendale population about this trouble with -- keeping the Coyotes afloat with city money. However, the alternative, which was hammered home by the police and firefighters association, was that the cuts would be Draconian if this sales tax increase went down. I think that's why they went for it.

Howard Fischer: That's always a great argument. Parks will close, fire stations will close, police calls will go unanswered. And we see that in every local salestax.

Rebekah Sanders: There was a mailer that went out that literally had a huge photo of a robber breaking into a house. I mean, that is effective.

Ted Simons: That is effective, I guess so. Jim, speaking of effective, Joe Arpaio wins yet again. Paul Penzone, I mean we don't have the final numbers, so maybe it's even closer than we thought. Why is he so successful? With all the negative publicity, all the negative things you could run against him, I guess $8 million speak as lot, doesn't it?

Jim Small: It certainly does. There are a couple of realities here - he's got a base of supporters who are going to be with him no matter what. They are a community abse. It's a sizeable amount of people. Second of all, a lot of his support tends to come, if you see the polling, older voters support Joe Arpaio more than younger voters do. And older voters turn out in far higher numbers in every election than people under the age of 55. Finally, you know, I think at the end of the day Mike Stauffer will prove to be the spoiler on this.

Ted Simons: You think so?

Jim Small: You keep seeing the thing getting narrower, and Arpaio is not going along with a 50% margin. At that point, you start to wonder - ok, did that third candidate -- how much of those votes would have actually gone to Penzone if they were anti-Arpaio votes?

Howard Fischer: The other thing, I think is the anti-Penzone ad about the spouse abuse. That was a very effective ad, not only because of what it said about the allegations against Penzone but it ended with, if you are the victim of spouse abuse, call your Police Department. So it looked like a public service ad, to boot. That was very effective.

Ted Simons: Alright, we will see just how close this race winds up being. It seems liked initial numbers, the number we have now, it doesn't seem all that close.

Howard Fischer: Well, if you look at the old "Horizon" tapes, you'll see a statement from me, where I said that - Joe Arpaio will be reelected, even if he's found in bed with a live goat.

Ted Simons: I am not going to look through the tapes for that, just did not want to burst your bubble. Legislature, Jim? We kind of have new leadership in the Senate, we don't in the house but we will have a different makeup. What do you see next session down there?

Jim Small: Right now 17 members in the in the senate. Sorry, 17 Republicans members in the senate, down from 21 over the past two years. The house has 36 right now, tentative, could go up to 37, down to 34 or 35. We'll have to see how the count works out. But the big news really was Steve Pierce…Senate President Steve Pierce losing his reelection bid. He replaced Russell Pierce as senate president a year ago and walked into that meeting and he and his supporters were confident and convinced they were going to walk out of it. They said, we have the nine votes we need. They counted the ballots, they counted them again and they counted them again. And he ended up losing 9-8 to Andy Biggs, who was one of Russell Pearce's biggest supporters.

Ted Simons: Does that mean echoes of Russell Pierce are going to resound next session or what?

Howard Fischer: I don't see Andy Biggs as going down that same path, number one. Number two, look at the other people that they selected. John McComish is a majority leader and Adam Driggs as majority whip, both of them voted against some of the Pierce bills. So that suggests that the caucus isn't going there. There's another factor at work. Steve Pierce decided he wanted to be a power broker and set up a victory fund to give out money, the day he got involved in primaries, which is a no-no for Senate President. And then b, there were some Republicans who wanted his help in the general who did not get it and did not get elected, including Frank Antenori, who is an incumbent. There were a lot of people who said that Pierce was more interested in a smaller caucus of his liking than in having 20 Republicans, which may not be of his liking. That bit him in the tush.

Jim Small: I don't know at the end of the day how much that really impacted the vote though. Because the people most upset about that were the people who were going to vote for Andy Biggs, no matter what. Frank Antenori was an Andy Biggs vote. The other candidates who could have been helped were going to be Andy Biggs votes. A lot of people signed a letter earlier in the year about this playing in the primary idea. Most of them were Andy Biggs votes.

Ted Simons: So with this in mind, a little 30 seconds or less in hand, Howie, what are the changes as far as policy next session, relations with the governor, these sorts of things?

Howard Fischer: I don't think there's much change there. I think Andy Biggs can work well with the Governor. He doesn't believe much in these special economic development programs where you target one industry or another, he's much more for lowering the taxes. He's much more a fiscal conservative but he's still got to work with Andy Tobin. And Andy believes in all this economic development stuff.

Ted Simons: Last question for you, Rebekah. In two years will we see -- think that they are bruising battles now, CD-2, 1 and 9? I think they are going to bruising a couple more years, aren't they?

Rebekah Sanders: I do think these competitive districts will stay competitive. But some analysts say that, for instance in CD9, it may become more and more democratically held over time, still, that's something to be watched.

Howard Fischer: And that's assuming that a federal court doesn't overturn the whole redistricting process and we end up with all new lines.

Ted Simons: Ok, alright then. With that, we thank you all for joining us on the "Journalists' Roundtable". That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
aired May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: