Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times. The Governor tries to rally support for her plan to expand the state's Medicaid program, this is becoming quite the battle, isn't it?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Oh, yes, and the news conference that the Governor held this week at the capitol just the latest never roadshow, if you would, to sell the public and sell those lawmakers on her plan to expand Medicaid in the state.

Ted Simons: How is it selling?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Better on the outside than the inside. Lawmakers keep saying, we need to see the language, we need to see language, we have not seen a bill. We cannot take position on this. Except for those who are adamantly opposed to it.

Howard Fischer: And what's interesting, the tenor has changed. It used to be we're saving our hospitals. But I think anybody who has gotten a hospital bill and seen the $12 dollar aspen and the $40 dollar use of the bed pan, is, is having a little trouble with that, so this Press Conference was, was children will die, if you don't expand Medicaid, and what they did is they brought in an M.D., an osteopath, a nurse practitioner, and a child, you know, doctors, specalisit and pediatrician, and the idea is broad base, also people from rural areas and brought down someone from prescott to put the pressure on folks to say, these are your people. And the money makes sense. We're going to, to spend, you know, $150 million, which is coming from the hospitals, on a tax, we're going to get back 1.6 billion so how can you say no?

Ted Simons: The pressure is coming from all direction, though, isn't it? Some of these Republicans are looking at folks who are threatening, if you vote for this, we're going to come at you in the primaries.

Jim Small: And I think for Republicans, the biggest concern is that political, you know, in a primary, how is it going to sell to Republican voters, and more so to the Republican grassroots base so if you are a lawmaker and rely on the base, to help, help get you into office, are they going to abandon you and go and recruit somebody to run against, and, you know, we have seen, I think, now, three county parties, Republican parties, and six or seven legislative district parties have passed a formal resolution, opposing the Governor of their party. And calling her out, and saying that this should not happen and their lawmakers should not vote for this, which, you know, those things don't carry any actual weight, they cannot be enforced. At the same time, they send a message for lawmakers, and they are, they are very receptive to those things.

Ted Simons: And they are going against their party.

Mary Jo Pitzel: And if they vote for Medicaid expansion, and there is tremendous pressure on them to do so and consider, there are 26 freshmen in the house alone, of them 13 are Republicans, and this is, a big, big hurdle to be asked to clear in your first couple of months in the legislature.

Howard Fischer: And this comes back to on the point Mary Jo Pitzl is making. Show us the legislation, we have nothing to defend, you know, there is a circuit breaker, they keep promising, what's that? How will it work? And even if you put it in, one of the things that Andy Tobin was saying, we put in the circuit breaker, the Federal money backs off, we are kicking people out hospitals? From my member's perspective we are better off not putting them in the hospitals in the first place at government expense.

Jim Small: But the argument against that is the state right now, operates its, its proposition 204, which is up to 100% of the federal poverty limit. It operates that program and gets federal money only because of a Federal waiver, and the feds give us $2 dollars for every dollar we spend, that waiver expires at the end of the year, the way Obama care is structured they are not going to extend that waiver. So that means Arizona will give no matching funds to pay a for prop 204 , which means it will cost a billion and half dollars to do, so instead of this argument about 450 million versus 150 million, it's really 1.5 billion versus 150 million.

Ted Simons: So, I think a lot of folks, you know, do the math, is another catch phrase for all of this, and you know, 9 -1 as far as the Federal matching, another bunch of numbers, and for those who are against the expansion, if it doesn't happen, if they succeed, and everyone votes no, what's next?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, as Jim said, the population that Arizona voters said Arizona is supposed to cover, childless adults up to 100% of the Federal poverty level aren't going to be covered. We aren't going to have an access program We don't have a program for the medically indigent if that waiver is not extended after the end of the year.

Howard Fischer: And that becomes interesting because, because you have got a voter approved mandate, now when, they drop the childless adults, there is language in there that says to the extent that there are, there are quote available funds, and the supreme court said, in that case, we'll let you drop the childless adults because the state was in a financial mess and, and I don't know what would happen if this went back to the court. And the state budget was, was healthier, whether they would say oh, yes, you can ignore the will of the voters and go back to the old days, pre-1982 when we had counties responsible.

Ted Simons: I guess, and that goes back to my question, there are those who are adamantly against this and want the legislature to say no, and think the governor has gone back -- but, there is a day after the vote. And you have to figure out what comes next.

Jim Small: And I think that that's one of the biggest frustrations we're hearing from the Governor's office and from the proponents. You don't like there plan, give us a plan. Tell us what it is that you want to do instead. If you don't like a, present us with b or c or d. And so far, no one has done that. All you have seen is we don't like this, vote no.

Ted Simons: And again, another aspect is whether it needs a two third vote to pass. Does it need that? Do we have, obviously, it would not get a two-thirds' vote, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzel: As it stands, it does not appear it would get a two-thirds' vote. Does it need it? I don't know. I'm not a supreme court Justice, and I think that that's where this issue will be decided. And Governor Brewer's position is, is that because the state's match for this, would be funded through an assessment on hospitals, that's not a tax. And that's an assessment that would be administered by the director of the Department of Health services, and that's allowed under another, another voter approved measure. And others say not so sure, you know, that's a lot of money raised by this assessment, sounds like a tax to us and, and we're going to have to wait and see after there is language and after there is a bill on the floor and it gets votes no, doubt. Someone will challenge that and take it to court.

Howard Fischer: You are not just talking about what the legislature has done in the past to get around this two-thirds' requirement, they will tell, let's say the department of real estate, you have permission to raise fees to whatever need to run the agency. And now, we're talking in comparison, nickels and dimes. They are giving them permission to levy an assessment of up to 6%, based on what he says they need for the Federal match, and where, we're getting awfully darn close to a tax, and we're also in danger of, forfeiting the legislative rights to the, to, and to an appointed department head.

Ted Simons: So either are, are the votes there for a two-thirds majority, go ahead and say no.

Howard Fischer: Yeah.

Ted Simons: And what about just a simple majority? Are those votes there?

Howard Fischer: I think you can find them, assuming all the Democrats go along, you have got, you know, you have got 13 Democrats in the Senate, and you have got 24 in the house, and you need 16 and 31. Can you find enough Republicans, I mean, former Senate President Steve Pierce was at the rally. We can count on him. We can probably count on people, perhaps, like Cran Lee, I am out of here at the end of the year anyway. You know, I might as well go along, and you can probably cobble together half. The question is will the leadership, will Andy Biggs let it come to the floor with 13 democratic votes and three Republican votes?

Ted Simons: Is that one of the deals where leaderships says we aren't necessary going to carry the flag, but we won't get in the way?

Jim Small: Right now, no. Andy Biggs told one of my colleagues this week it needs to have the support of the majority of his caucus, which is nine members. And again, means you are going to have, to have a supermajority to get it out of the senate. The house hasn't said what they are planning on doing but Andy Tobin has no great fan of this program, and although he certainly opened, I think, more than Andy Biggs as to the horse trading and finding a way to, you know, to get something in return for, for him and for his caucus. And in order to, to let this go forward.

Ted Simons: I think President Biggs also is big on getting this session out on time and not staying any later than usual. I'm guessing the Governor has absolutely no problem keeping these folks as long as it takes.

Jim Small: I think all of us were there in 2009 when we sat around for months and months and waited until the last minute when there was a rush, and a budget got passed and didn't include the Governor's priorities and she kicked it right back, and I think that that's, that's what the situation is now, the Governor will, will outlast them, and wait as long as it takes and tell them, you are not going home until you give me this Medicaid expansion.

Mary Jo Pitzel: And I agree, I think that's where, what we're looking at, in 2009 there was one month when the legislature was not in session. And you know, they were not in session constantly for 11 months but parts thereof. And if somebody, if lawmakers are not taking a page from that experience and learning about Brewer, look at how long she held out for the sales tax that's what that big stand off was about in 2009. This is very high stakes.

Ted Simons: Let's move onto the budget, or the lack thereof. Is anything happening?

Howard Fischer: Well, something is happening. It is happening slowly and behind the scenes. You know. The fact is, the Governor put out her budget, which we all saw in January, and lawmakers this year did not put out a budget, they put out a baseline, and then said we know we're going to have cps expansion, and we know how many kids were going to have in school, so we know what's there. Beyond that, we're arguing over what are the revenues. And particular, now, with the Federal Government and going over, you know, the mini fiscal cliff and we got another cliff coming, you know, the Federal spending, does it go down, do the contracts go away, and I think that until you can even agree on the revenues, you are not going to see a legislative budget. You are seeing bits and pieces, little things that they want to do, and there is money, for example, for, for certain members of schools to expand to the 200-day school year but the big package, not here.

Ted Simons: This sequestration cuts, I tried to bring this up in the past couple of weeks, seems to me that especially in the west valley when you talk about Luke and the aerospace industry, and other parts of the valley, that becomes a bit of a moving target. All of a sudden you are expecting x, you are going to wind up with y.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Although, cuts to the defense industry have more of a medium term effect on the state's economy. If they laid off people, at Luke tomorrow, the state budget is not going to crater it overnight but it would have the effect of reducing sales tax and income tax revenue because we have people out of jobs, and they will pull bag on spending. And in fact, some lawmakers have looked at the, the sequestration cuts and said yep, that's all the more reason, we need to be very, very cautious on this budget, and we have got to really, we cannot spend too much more money.

Jim Small: And the other thing that's really holding up the talk is what we just spent the first eight minutes talking about. It's Medicaid expansion. It is, whether it's a budget bill or, or whether, it does not matter, it's tied to the budget. This is money that, this access money is something that, that the state has to figure out what it's going to do, the legislature has to decide one way or another what it's going to do and, and until that issue gets settled, I don't think the budget really goes anywhere.

Ted Simons: Ok. And we got to move here onto, move on here, to, to this recall reform, initiative reform, is it reform--what is going on? The election reform down there, never stops.

Howard Fischer: And I always love the word reform, if you are for it, it's reform. If you are against it, it's, we're really screwing up the system. And recall is one of the more interesting things, and this is still outgrowth of what happened to Russell Pierce. You had, essentially, two Republicans running against each other, and because the constitution provides for a single election, or at least that's a theory, the Democrats, the independents could vote for the guy who beat him, and that's what happened. Which is how Jerry Lewis got in. And you are now seeing a move to have a primary and then a general, so it would be the, you know, would have been Pierce against a Republican, and then presumably, in that kind of district, the Republican will win. We're seeing the same thing now with Joe Arpaio. And what's fascinating, they are making this move for the primary and general, retroactive to any, any recall that started after January 1st. What sheriff could that be? Who could that be affecting? There is also an interesting constitutional problem with it. The constitution says, the elected officer, will appear on the ballot. And well, let's assume the elected officer loses in his own primary. So, he loses and still gets on the ballot, plus the winner of his party, plus the other person?

Ted Simons: What problem are we solving here with this legislation?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, as some of the supporters of the bill see it, the problem is that the recall process should match the, the election process by which you get into the office in the first place, which has a primary and a general, and all we're doing is, is taking the recall and, and breaking it in two and having a primary and a general. There is another benefit to that, and it creates distinct fundraising cycles, as well, and there is other bills, other legislation is moving that defines limits for, for just the primaries and the campaign limits for the general, so it can double your take.

Ted Simons: And did I read the Democrats, with all of this election of reform, going on, the Democrats are starting to say, maybe the department of Justice would like to take a look at some of this stuff.

Howard Fischer: For the moment. And maybeMonday the supreme court, it will be someone else but we are subject to section 5 of the voting rights act, which means, not only do we have to, to make sure we don't do anything to dilute it, but preclear, so even if the legislature were to pass, this the department of Justice could say, no. And their perspective, their belief is, given the state's history, and given that, that, for example, there is a bill that, that went through the committee the other day that talks about who can pick up the absentee or early ballots, and if it has the effect of diluting minority voting strength, the department of Justice is required under section 5 to say no, so they are waving the flag and saying, if you don't like this Federal preclearance, stop doing this stuff.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Yeah, and another point of recall is that the bill that, that came out of the house yesterday is similar to one that, that didn't make it, into the law last year, so it failed, and there is another bill that's moving, that came out of the Senate, that looks to, to define the start and end period for recall elections, and it keeps it as one cycle. At some point, those two bills going to collide, and they are going to have to be reconciled.

Interesting. Jim, who is Steve Montenegro, and why does he want to be The Secretary of State?

Jim Small: Steve Montenegro is a third-term house Republican. From the west valley and Litchfield park area, and he wants to be the Secretary of State because he was kind of drafted by a coalition of conservative and Tea Party leaders to, who said boy, what we really need someone, you know, a conservative to, to run in this race, and this is the second position before Governor, and, or the position right after, after Governor, and basically, it comes down to they down to is they don't like Michelle Reagan, who is running an exploratory campaign, and is, you know, everyone kind expects that she will run for the post. She has been long viewed as a moderate and rhino, and every other kind of epithet that people from the party have thrown to her, so they don't like her or want her to be on that stage, to be one, you know, heartbeat away, basically, from being Governor. And so, they want to put a conservative up against her and figured with the focus on the Republicans and Latinos, who better than, than a Republican conservative Republican Latino.

Howard Fischer: And that's the key. I mean, you know, there are not a lot of Republican Latinos in the state. And to the extent that they want to drag them back, with all the emphasis on the dreamers, although they tried to put the dreamer driver's license bill through again, and it didn't go, but, you know, the party is suddenly recognizing, wait a second, have you looked at the demographics of Arizona? When John McCain said, last month, that, that the, the, the Republican party is in danger becoming the minority party in Arizona, folks stood up and took notice. Montenegro is a steady conservative. He is steadily almost over the edge up pro-life, and he's steadily minimum Government. And that's the kind of person that maybe you want to groom for Governor.

Ted Simons: Is his district heavily Hispanic?

Howard Fischer: There are elements of it out there, but it's not really heavily Hispanic. Litchfield park, little bits of Avondale, and, and that area, but, it's not really that way, but, he's managed to, convince enough folks out there, based on his pro life stance to re-elect them.

Mary Jo Pitzel: And if Montenegro does make the run for Secretary of State, and if people vote just by name alone, perhaps, that would bring in a lot of Latino voters, but I would suspect that there would be a vigorous campaign to remind voters of his voting record as a lawmaker, which, which often cuts against a lot of the interests of the Latino population here.

Howard Fischer: And including his sponsorship.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Howard Fischer: And not only 1070 but he sponsored the bills, for example, to get rid of equal, you know, affirmative action and things like that. And for a lot of the minority community, those are important issues.

Ted Simons: And Jim, who is Chester Crandall and why does he think the state needs more state sovereignty, period? [Laughter]

Jim Small: The Senator from eastern Arizona, and Heber, and this legislation talk about is similar to something that failed to be on the ballot last year. The idea of being that the state has the ability to, to nullify, for lack of a better word, Federal laws that, that the state feels, or the voters feel don't follow the U.S. constitution, and after a process, Arizona would be able to opt out of them more or less, and --

Howard Fischer: What's fascinating about this, is, is if you believe, as a state, that the Federal law is overreaching, you go to court. And you resolve it that way. This is a, a measure in search of a problem.

Ted Simons: And a Federal party line vote.

Howard Fischer: And that's, that surprised me because I watched the board, and I looked to the moderate name, the Michelle Reagans, and I say why are these people doing it? It was defeated by a 2-1 margin at the ballot. Or virtually identical language.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Four months ago.

Howard Fischer: What's the point of doing this other than, we need to buck up our right wing?

Ted Simons: Is this the thing that the house is going to go along with? Jim, do you think this may happen? What do you think, this soon? Maybe next year?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, I could see the house going for it, but since this is a referral to the ballot, you know, you can always sort of back burner it and say, we'll bring it back next year, and you know, and there used to be this sense that you waited for the all ballot measures to deal with them in the even numbered legislative years so you could shape the ballot, and whatever the legislature wants us to do, but I don't have a clear sense of where the house is, what they are going to do with this.

Howard Fischer: And as a big fan of the daily show, I am hoping and praying it gets back on the ballot. Because only in Arizona could you have this stuff happening.

Ted Simons: Quickly, ten seconds, 15 tops, Rich Crandall, no more after this session?

Jim Small: He told me yesterday that he is going to go into, going to resign after the session is over, late summer, and he's, he's got some opportunities to go do consulting work with the education at the national level, and across the country, and so he's a big education guy and he's going to, to take that, that, take that opportunity and run with it.

Ted Simons: Is he going to stay in politics?

Jim Small: I think he will stay involved in one way or another but not at the level he's at.

Ted Simons: And he would probably have a rough go of the next campaign.

Jim Small: Probably would have a hard-fought campaign to get back.

Very good, and good to have you here and thanks for joining us. And Monday, on "Arizona Horizon," Senate President Andy Biggs and house speaker Andy tobin will join us for their update on what's happening this legislative session, that's Monday evening, on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, a debate on proposed changes to public employee unions. Wednesday, our weekly legislative update with the Arizona Capitol Times, and Thursday, we'll talk to an expert about the role of arts and culture in the st Century, and Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I am Ted Simons, and thank you very much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times

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