Journalists’ Roundtable

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Journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon Journalists Roundtable". I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." We will get into Arizona issues in a second. First we want to start with what happened on touch on what happened in Connecticut. And just impossible to comprehend, and it is obviously still raw right now. But if we can, when something like this happens, something with this magnitude, people tend to look at public policy and to see where we can correct a wrong or do something at all. Will the legislature look at something like this and do -- and act, push certain laws, focus on maybe gun control, mental health? What, what can be done?

Mary Jo Pitzl: At this really early stage it is hard to say. I haven't seen anything coming out in recent hours, but it is widely expected that the guns on campus bill will be back for the next legislative session. Whether today's developments slow that down, remains to be seen. It is a little hard to believe. The supporters of such legislation, just fundamentally disagree that there is a nexus between availability of guns and people not being safe. In fact, they argue the opposite, that the more people who are armed and know what they're doing, the safer we are. I would expect to see some gun bills introduced once again, but the debate on that will be heightened because of today's events.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Mike Sunnucks: Think they will introduce some of those bills and maybe they will be muted. Maybe the governor will take a more skeptical view towards them. She has had problems with bills in the past, trying to get weapons -- government facilities -- image we're trying to get over with immigration. If we pass a gun bill that allows them into schools after a couple of these incidents, I think that would be bad for the state's image and I think that is in the governor's mind.

Jim Small: I think how the debate takes place is what facts emerge in the days to come. We don't know a lot of details in terms of the mental health status about whether this person bought a gun legally. So many unanswered questions that I think are going to have to be answered. I think Arizona in a lot of ways will be a little bit of a bystander in this. This will have to be a national debate about this. There will certainly be bills that will be introduced either to expand or curtail gun rights. There are every year. We went through this two years ago with a local tragedy in Tucson, and that didn't lead to any kind of rush of legislation to curtail gun rights. I mean, they didn't do anything to cut -- to curb the access to guns then. I don't know that this tragedy, as horrific as it is on the other side of the country will have a different impact.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And well as Jim noted, after the shooting down in Tucson, that injured Congresswoman Giffords, not only did it not bring about bills for gun control, it still -- it was the year -- it was a big year of gun bills, guns on campus,guns on public buildings, and I believe there was legislation that also would loosen up the requirements to allow people who had a history of mental illness to have some level of access to firearms. If it didn't happen then, when it happened in our own back yard -- at the same time, the president did today somewhat hint that this is something that he might be taking up regardless of the politics.

Mike Sunnucks: I think on the cumulative effect on the mental health services, the Loughner, the thing in Oregon, and now this horrible thing. I think eventually sometimes there is enough momentum and realization that maybe we need to take a different approach. Maybe more proactive approaches. Maybe more spending at the federal and state levels. And maybe changing the rules again about institutionalizing these people or getting them help against their will like it was back in the 70s. Those things have changed over the years. Maybe you could see a national wave of things. It is hard for states to change their ballgame on that because that requires spending and big-picture kind of thoughts.

Ted Simons: I was wondering after the Giffords shooting, like the legislature couldn't wait to name a state gun. So, I just wonder if that kind of thing, if there is a bit of an a tone deafness, even among supporters a little concerned about that, if that kind of thing will alter debate and argument at the legislature. I guess we will find out.

Mary Jo Pitzl: We will find out. It's a different legislature than the one that brought us the state gun. I think that partially was because there was a centennial coming up and they wanted to have that going.

Mike Sunnucks: This thing is so bad, such a tragedy, this will resonate and you might see little more cooler heads to prevail.
Ted Simons: Hard to imagine, just, just impossible to imagine. Ok. Arizona issues, medical marijuana, sounds like County Attorney Bill Montgomery, he is keeping on going.

Mary Jo Pitzl: He is not giving up the fight. Attorney Montgomery is opposed to the medical marijuana law, saying that the law that was passed by voters in 2010 conflicts with federal law, therefore, you can't have the dispensaries opening up. He has gone to court. He lost at the lower court level. Earlier this week to the court of appeals to issue a stay, they wouldn't. And I think -- I think -- and then he still has this issue before the appeals court to get the reverse the lower court's decision.

Ted Simons: He is basically saying not only is this federal law, I can't do this. He is saying he is violating his oath if he gives them ideas and suggestions on how to implement this.

Jim Small: Yeah, I mean yeah, the document said he is going to uphold the constitution, both of Arizona and of the United States. And part of that is upholding federal law, and, you know, his view is -- you know, I think it was a heartfelt one, certainly something that he has talked about a lot in recent years, is that, you know, enabling people to smoke marijuana, whether it is through a medical program or otherwise, violates the federal control substance act and he is responsible to uphold that. I think something was interesting at the trial court, ruling last week, judge said you say this undercuts the federal law. He said, in reality, it actually makes it easier to prosecute because now we have a list of everyone who can go out and buy marijuana everyone who is growing it and everyone who is selling it. And if the feds really care that much, and they really believe that this is a violation of the control substances act - hey, there you go! They can go out and round these people up.

Mike Sunnucks: This is a repeat from what the governor tried to do when she tried to stall this thing. She wrote letters to the feds asking for similar clarification about enforcement, and I think what is kind of lost on those opponents, there is medical marijuana laws in other states, California, Colorado, and nobody has gone in there and arrested a county prosecutor or county official for approving some kind of clinic. The feds, under different administrations have proven that they're not going to come in and arrest a county employee because they give some kind of zoning or permitting approval for this.

Ted Simons: It is an interesting interpretation of the law though by saying the state law does not keep the feds from prosecuting their own law, provided they want to prosecute it, which apparently they don't want to do, then everything is okay.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, I mean there are some inherent conflicts between states that are passing laws and the federal government that has the controlled substances act. The feds have tried to thread the needle and say - we are really trying to go after the big suppliers, illegalities, and not the people opening up dispensaries but its sort of one size fits all.

Mike Sunnucks: The only other thing that feds have said is that they're concerned about some big dispensary operation and then having some ties to illegal drug operation. Concerned about, like Mary Jo said - they're not going to go after grandma, grandpa, smoking pot.

Ted Simons: And meanwhile, we have our first dispensary open in Glendale last week, another one in Tucson. I think Cochise county set to go online soon. It sounds like the only real concern is that these places may not have enough marijuana to go around.

Jim Small: Yeah, and that is because we are still at the beginning stages of this. The dispensaries can't grow their own. They have to rely on the grow houses that are scattered across the state. And those places are a little slow in getting up and running. What we have seen at the beginning, at least, is up until this point, care givers. Because there were no dispensaries open, people could grow their own and caregiver licenses more or less that would let people grow certain amounts of marijuana. It looks like the dispensaries are buying excess marijuana from the care givers and using that as their stock until some of these grow houses get up and running. And that is where they will end up getting all of the medical marijuana from the state.

Mike Sunnucks: You see kind of the first crop of dispensaries and centers. They are not always the best business people or operators and you see some of them come and go, and they are weeded out, sorry for the pun. And so you will see another more professional, people know how to do their business come in and do that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What is interesting in terms of the community impact, reminds me a little of Indian gaming. When the state first went down that path, a lot of concerns, if you open up casinos near or in urban areas, oh, my gosh, everything is -- okay, go to pot -- keep the metaphor going, but things are going to go downhill, and there have not been a lot of documented instances of that. Likewise these clinics that have opened, in the early baby stages, there have not been negative problems that we have heard back from the community.

Ted Simons: Ok, let's move on. Racial discrimination suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Little bit of mixed things here. Department is off the hook, Arpaio, not so much.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, its kind of an interesting split decision, that they are going to move forward with the civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff but the judge said not against the office itself. Which is kind of interesting. And Arpaio was fighting that. Now they say bring it on. Let's put our cards on the table and make the justice department prove all of these things about racial profiling and polling over Hispanics more than rights and mistreatment of folks that don't speak English at the county jail.

Ted Simons: There have been talks of the idea, Arpaio's attorney is basically saying that language discrimination is not a civil rights discrimination. It's not a civil rights problem there. That you can discriminate because someone may not be speaking a language in communicating as well as you want them to?

Mike Sunnucks: The federal report, investigation, said that basically folks that speak Spanish get mistreated in the jails because maybe they don't follow directions as fast or officers have a bias against them. The sheriff's office, one of the many arguments against this, it is not because they're from Mexico or because they are Hispanic. It is a blanket communication problem with folks that do not speak English. That could be any number of groups. They have a lot of different defenses in the arsenal and this is one of them.

Ted Simons: All right, so the Arpaio suit goes on.

Mike Sunnucks: Never ending.

Ted Simons: And never ending ! Also, never ending concern over access and funding and Medicaid expansion. It is complicated. Let's try to figure out what is going on here and what the state is facing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Perhaps it's not never ending, but I think things are perhaps a little clearer. Arizona is like every other state, is eligible to expand its Medicaid rolls, and in this case, its access under the affordable care act. But there were questions about how -- how much of the match of federal money could the state draw down by doing this. Governor Brewer wanted to lift the freeze for the last two years, we have frozen out any childless adults who make up to 100% of the federal poverty level as income. She wants it restore that population, but wants to see if she can get the heftier match that the federal government offers. This week they clarified that. You don't get the enhanced match unless you cover people up to 133% of the federal poverty level. That means you are covering more people. It is more -- the state will have to put in more money. They trigger a much more generous match if they were to do that. That is the direction from the feds, and with that in place, at least early indications are that maybe the state will just say thanks, no.

Ted Simons: The feds are basically saying no partial, no phase in, it is all or nothing?

Jim Small: Yeah, basically if you get the standard match, two to one. Every dollar the state spends on access program, it gets $2 in federal money back. If they do the entire expansion, up to 133%, which is roughly $31,000 for a family of four every year in income. Then the state will get five to one and five to one for the first 100%, and then the federal government is going to cover the entirety of that next up to the 133% for the next couple of years and the state will be responsible for 10% of that cost. There are still unanswered questions in terms of will the federal government continue to pay for that long term. Is the state going to be saddled with it? On top of that, prop 204 was passed, there was never an expectation that so many people would sign up for access. People heard childless adults, and they think folks in their 20s who don't have kids. In reality, senior citizens and empty nesters, mid to late 50s signing up for access in droves. The state, the cost for that ballooned out of control. So there is some uncertainty - is this 133% plan, is it going to lead to that as well? Even if the feds are paying 90% of this money, how much is that 10% actually going to be in how big of a pool is this? What is the state going to be on the hook for basically in perpetuity?

Ted Simons: That is the big question. What happens after the initial few years are come and gone.

Mike Sunnucks: That is a big question. Another big question, this Obama care debate, for republicans like Jan Brewer and republican legislatures. If anything is tied to Obama care, are they going to shoe it away and oppose it? Conversely, are the feds going to not play ball with states like Arizona who are not joining certain parts of the health reform act. Is this going to be a bigger, longer term issue, blue states with democratic governors getting the money and matches and crafting deals with the feds and the red states that are not going along with any part of Obama care and they are losing out in other arenas.

Ted Simons: At what point does not going along with Obama care shooting yourself in the foot?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It depends where you come from and what populations you are representing. There is already a vocal lobby out there now saying that the state should go for that highest eligibility requirement of 133% because of this five to one match. And figuring that as things -- as the economy rebounds, things get better, there will be more state revenue coming in and perhaps as the economy improves, fewer people are going to need to use state-provided health coverage. You don't know what the future holds. If you are an a lawmaker and sitting there trying to work on the state budget, you don't know. They are trying to do the budget three years out. And Senate President elect Andy Biggs this week was saying you do not know what is coming at you in another year or two and they don't want it bet the whole house on this and only have it come back and put you in a deficit.

Ted Simons: I bet you hospitals know what is coming at them. If it doesn't go through, everybody and their brother will be in an emergency room expecting coverage.

Jim Small: For hospitals, this announcement was kind of like a nightmare. There was a lot of hope that the federal government would say even if you go to this 100% level, you will get the five to one match. Which would have made the debate about doing what Arizona set to do a decade ago. That is almost tough of the table because you are -- almost off the able. Three times as much to restore the prop 204 as it would have under the ideal scenario. Hospitals are meeting with lawmakers and policy makers saying we have been hurt really bad in this, especially the rural areas. Smaller hospitals, people show up in the ER to treat major illnesses is through the roof. That cost gets passed on to people who are insured and to the taxpayer ultimately, and you are threatening hospitals, and some may close.

Ted Simons: And some of them are now working with municipalities, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. This week, the Phoenix city council passed an ordinance that -- I forget what they call it, but essentially it is a bed tax. Here the hospitals will put up some money, and the city will collect that. It will trigger a match from the federal government and it will take some of the burden off of these hospitals and their emergency rooms, which people are using as their primary care. In effect, it is a way of the city saying well, we're going to do what the legislature is not.

Mike Sunnucks: I certainly think the cities are the way to go on that. You pushed a couple of things. Five to one match. A lot of conservatives look at that as being the size of government, federal government, mandate thing. We're talking access for childless adults, not a lot of support in the legislature in the republican caucus for that. If they want to get these done, I think the city is probably a politically easier avenue.

Jim Small: Necessity is the mother of invention, and that's what this is going to lead to. The governor, even this week, even after this announcement came out, her office said well, this is going to -- this spells bad news. They kind of changed their tune a little bit and said, you know, we still want to do this. We want it find a way to do it. We need to investigate it. See if there is an a way to be creative and come up with an idea. I think what that leads to is a bed tax or other tax that has been discussed in recent years and this might be the impetus to go forward with something like that so that way the state is able it get the money, people are able to get health coverage, but it doesn't put the state's general fund on the hook for it.

Mike Sunnucks: I just think that the gut reaction from a lot of republicans, Obama care, bed tax, that means tax increase and size of government. It is tough to get them past that to talk about specifics, and the issue of who are we covering and what we are covering with these Medicaid programs?

Ted Simons: Alright, campaign finance, post-election campaign finance reports. Governor Brewer's political action committee apparently got 900 some thousand in donations. Most of that money coming from a Las Vegas casino owner?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, Sheldon Adelson?
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Mike Sunnucks: Yes, he was a busy guy. I think he was the new Gingrich benefactor? I think Mitt Romney got it?
Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah. He got a lot of folks.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah so Jan got a lot of money from him. She raised $900,000, that's pretty good ! She had some not last minute, but late in the game ads against a couple of democratic congressional candidates. Ron Barber one of them. And so Jan did spread the money around again to other candidates. This happens a lot in politics. Somebody contributes to a pac and the pac moves it around to somebody else and she helped Jeff Flake. It shows that the governor has some muscles nationally with conservatives. Not all comes from 1070.

Ted Simons: Well this one person in particular, I mean this is a significant sum--

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah.
Jim Small: Yes, he is a big fish and he could choose where he was moving his money to.

Ted Simons: Yeah, he brags of himself as a bit of a king as well.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah I think that was the question this week - What is the connection with Jan Brewer and why is Sheldon Adelson so interested in her political action committee? And her office just said - well, they have met before and talked before and as you point out, I mean, he has -- he has a very large national profile, and so does the governor. Why not give to somebody that, you know, might be a mutual benefit there. I will note that, you know, Brewer was successful, the money she put into the Flake campaign. But her efforts to defeat three democrats that were running for Congress, those -- that did not move the needle.

Mike Sunnucks: I think her finger wagging at the president still resonates with a lot of people in that corner of the political spectrum. They like somebody who would stand up to the president and she certainly did that.

Ted Simons: Alright, real quickly here. The redistricting court case. We got a three-judge panel ruling on that. Who wants to take that one?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We have got -- a number -- I think four redistricting lawsuits going on. You need sort of a flow chart to keep track of it. But on the federal level, this is the lawsuit that is questioning the way the legislative map was drawn. There will be a trial on this in March. The redistricting commission wanted more time to prepare, and the court said no, you know, come to court. They will do scheduling next week. But we are going to have a trial in late March. Earlier in the week, state court of appeals took a look at the lawsuit that -- this is the investigation that Attorney General Tom Horne had started saying, alleging that the commission violated the open meeting law. He lost at the lower court level, went up to the court of appeals. Court of appeals says well, you know, it gets convoluted, but that the commission is held to the open meeting provisions of the constitution, not of the statute that -- were they -- he did find a violation under the state law provisions that said that there is really no reason to go forward. And by this time, the case had passed from Horne to Montgomery because Horne had a conflict in the case.

Mike Sunnucks: Open meeting laws, violation law suits are like - It is a version of obstruction of justice. When you don't have anything else, you get them on obstruction of justice. I think that is what people do on the open meeting violations. They can't win on anything else. They didn't like how the lines were drawn. You talked to somebody in the hallway, or via email and you broke a law---

Ted Simons: Basically, it sounds like you broke the open meeting law because Bill Montgomery didn't necessary pursue the investigation. We have it leave it alone. Nothing for us to do.

Jim Small: It is because he dropped the appeal. Lower court tossed out the investigation. You don't have any grounds to even begin this investigation. And they didn't appeal that part of the ruling. So the appeals court said, well, hey, we're not going to talk about it if you are not going to appeal it, we're not going to talk about it and the investigation is pretty much kaput.

Ted Simons: Alright, before we go - David Schweikert and how he was removed from this committee, the house financial services committee. We talked about this before. We thought it was retaliation because maybe he was too conservative. There may be another reason now?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, I mean there is a mix of things. He was a group of committee chairmen that got rid of -- and they were more conservative folks, folks that bucked the party line on some things. There is question about how he got along with other members and leadership. Probably all of the above could be true when you are talking about Washington politicians, there might be some prickly relationships there.
Ted Simons: Yeah, there was quite a pejorative used here now that you think of it?
Jim Small: Yeah.
Ted Simons: Considered a you know what --

Jim Small: Yes, if Howie were here, he would have loved to get to that.

Ted Simons: He would love to but that is why he is not here.

Jim Small: One of the discussions -- said that he was basically an A-hole. He and these other people - not did they just buck leadership, but were jerks about it more or less and the way they treated leadership of their colleagues -- at the end of the day, confluence of factors. You certainly -- you can chalk it up to anything, and I think all sides have at this point.

Mary Jo Pitzl: You wonder if this is also an attempt to assert some discipline in your caucus. Boehner has a divided caucus and he has to assert his role as leader and he has a lot of big battles ahead of him.

Ted Simons: Thank you for using that particular term there. We appreciate that. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," it's our yearly roundtable with a panel of local economists. We'll look at the major money news of 2012 and what our panel expects for the coming year. Our year-end economic roundtable, Monday evening at 5:30 and 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon". Tuesday, renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss stops by for his monthly conversation on the latest science news. Wednesday we'll take you inside the Basha Gallery for a look at Eddie Basha's vast collection of western and native American art. Thursday relive the news of 2012 as drawn by political cartoonists Steve Benson and Brian Farrington. And join us back here next Friday when a panel of journalists will predict the news of 2013. That is it for now. Thank you for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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