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 Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business adjourn, Howard Fischer of capitol media services, and Luige Del Puerto with the Arizona Capitol Times. Today, was a deadline to avoid automatic Federal budget cuts. Mike, this is strange because everyone expected, you know, yesterday would be very different than today. It's not very different. This is a gradual thing. What's going on as far as state lawmakers talking about this?

Mike Sunnucks: Sequestration has arrived. We're on the air. So, some things are continuing. They did not reach a deal in Washington. Obama and the Republicans and Congress, and they are probably going to let there go on for a while. It's starting to feel political like the shutdown between Gingrich and Clinton in the s, and I think that Democrats and the White House think that they have the advantage. Out here in Arizona, there is big worries from the defense industry, there is a lot of contracts, a lot of jobs out here, Boeing, Ratheon, general dynamics, Honeywell, and the fiscal conservatives are not as worried assay Greg Stanton, the Mayors because they are worried about not only the defense and jobs but the grants that come in to local Governments for all kind of programs. Those are going to face some cuts. Your fiscal conservative side of folks, they think that this is a good thing. They think the Government needs to slim down and they need to -- they want to move the puck along.

Howard Fischer: Except for the fact that the slimming down is being done, you know, not with the scalpel of saying this program doesn't work, which is what the Republicans have been asking for, as opposed to we are going to take offering. So, for example, by April 1st, we're going to lose, you know, a certain merge of air traffic controllers. And which is, I was listening on the news, and they say well, we're going to get rid of to flights an hour in Atlanta. And if you have to go anywhere you have got to go through Atlanta. Talk, about you know, screwing up the nation's travel system. The posturing has been just that, you know, Democrats saying, you know, why won't they close the loopholes on boats for the rich. And the Republicans are saying, look, we agreed to some tax, tax hikes earlier. It's your turn to move now, and we really need to look at the spending cuts.

Ted Simons: With that all in mind, are you hearing much at the capitol? Because, those defense cuts could impact the west valley a whole lot. Aerospace and defense, that's big business here, and if it's compromised in any way, that's going to affect the Arizona economy. Is there concern? Are they worried about budgetary goalposts being moved?

Luige Del Puerto: I'm sure they are concerned. The interesting thing, I have not seen a lot of feedback or reaction due to the fact that today is the first day of the sequester. And I think that I saw one press release from, from lawmaker Chad Campbell saying, we, we really hoped that, that, you know, you guys could, could have sold this problem. But, not whole lot of, a lot of reaction at this point.

Howard Fischer: Well, the other half of it is, they are fighting their own problems. Remember, we don't have a state budget for next year, and even the Republican leadership has not agreed with the Governor, she wants that whole Medicaid expansion bit. So, it makes -- it does make, doesn't make a lot of sense to worry about things that they cannot control when they are trying to get a handle on things that they can.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the biggest reaction has been on the immigration front, with the news that the Feds had released some, illegal immigrants held in detention centers. That ties into this, and Jan Brewer and the pinal county sheriff were out there on the scene, and beating the drum on this, and immigration has always been a winning issue for the Governor, so she is jumping on, this but it's a case where the administration, you know, the Federal administration has some explaining to do, why are they doing these? They put out a list, state-by-decide lists of the programs, that we're going to get cut, and there is things that people want it spent on, head start and the grants to schools and police, and so there is a lot of politics at play, and I don't know if the Republicans out here or nationally know how to react to this because they don't want to get caught up in what happened to Gingrich and Republicans back in the s. They are coming off this kind of stinging defeat of Romney, and so, I think that they are muted in trying to just let the, the public decide.

Ted Simons: I guess my point is, is not so much, you know, what's happening on the Federal level and both sides, and when you talk about what you can and you cannot control, the fact is, if you are working a budget, and you are working a budget with an economy, that is, that is in the x, y, z range, and all of a sudden, we get the sequester, which could move the economy to, to an lmno range, you have got to keep that in mind.

Howard Fischer: When the finance advisory committee met last month, this is a group of economists who get together to advise the legislature on what the revenues going to be, they had a, a box there. And they said, if we hit sequestration, this will affect now. A lot of it is going to be pushed out. I mean, the Federal contracts and the income that comes from the civilian employees, is, is a piece of it. Arizona's economy, state economy is built on sales taxes, and the real key going to be what people spend. If people start spending less. And a lot of this is consumer confidence t has nothing to do with, with what's really going on. When people are confident, they go out and buy things. Some things have to occur. We are seeing a big increase in the number of cars being sold. Not because people are necessarily confident, but they have not bought for years and the wheels are falling off the junker, so some of this happens by itself.

Mike Sunnucks: If you look at the stock market, they shrug us off. They were going up, and a lot of folks on Wall Street think this is a good thing because it moves the, the country towards addressing the debt problem. I don't think that a lot of your average folks out there are really into sequestration or what it means. I think the expectation, it's a political game between both sides. And they are going to let it go on for couple of weeks, and they will come to a deal.

Luige Del Puerto: The interesting thing, though, is that it's not just a political gain. The cuts are real. And the problem with the cuts, we noticed, mentioned, that they are indiscriminate cuts. If they were to use a scalpel, in cutting the defense budget, most of the industries here in Arizona would probably not be affect because we deal with high end stuff. And you know, research and all of that. And, and so, that's one thing that we have going for us, if necessity use this scalpel to do the cuts.

Howard Fischer: Now we're down to whose cuts? If you've been reading the problems of the F-, that we're counting on coming here, you know, they have got, you know, cracked engine blades and things like that. There is a lot of folks in the military say, we were not sure that we needed the F-. They are building aircraft carriers, and I realize that's not our issue, so it comes down to everybody has got, they spread out the military spending enough to build up enough support, you know, from Senators and representatives nation-wide. Do we need three versions of the F-35? One for the army. One for the air force, and one for the marines?

Mike Sunnucks: I think that there is a realization that, that we're too dependent on defense. Greater Phoenix economic council and, and Mayor Stanton and the Smith from Mesa, we're talking about this. And we have one of the highest per capita, per gdp for defense spending in the country. And we're spending, the U.S. is spending billion a year. We spend back before /. That's not sustainable. We're not going to continue to do that long-term. And so these folks are worried about us, and we're too tied into the defense industry and the contracts. And whether sequestration sticks or not we're going to have to diversify things.

Luige Del Puerto: I guess my point is, Arizona has good reason to be really worried. You mentioned the, the finance advisory committee, but, earlier than that, there was a, an economic outlook conducted out in Phoenix, and basically, the economy said, Arizona is doing well. And we are rebounding, and not as fast as we would like, but, you know what, if the sequester happens, you can tear up whatever projections we have right now.

Ted Simons: Right. All bets are of, if you will, and we had a supreme court hearing this week on, on voting rights case in Alabama, but boy, Arizona is paying a lot of attention.

Howard Fischer: This goes back to the s and the voting rights act. And essentially, what they said is certain states with a history of discrimination. Cannot, they have to do two things, number one, they can not alter voting laws without first getting preclearance, and number two, they have to, to do anything in a way not to, to dilute minority voting strength. Now, the preclearance is one of those procedures you have got to go through, but it's the rest of it that becomes interesting. And for example, when we redistrict, you know, do we have to keep a certain number of minority districts? When we move a polling place, we have got to get preclearance because we want to make sure that we are not diluting the minority voting strain. We want to go to an all mail ballot, we do that. Arizona shouldn't have been included because the problems were more historic than that. We have a history, particularly against the African-American community here, and Republicans out challenging folks at the polls. But, that was more historical. And b, if we had a problem, it's gone now. That, that the argument is that, is that Hispanics can vote. You talked to the Latino community, and they are looking at the bills going through the legislature right now, and they are saying, thank God for the voting rights act and we can stop them.

Ted Simons: And you have a tribal lawsuit over the voter I.D. law, and a concern regarding school boards, and how native Americans were not given the same opportunity to be elected because of certain voting thing. And with those two things going on, the other side says, there are still concerns, and the voting rights act, section , I believe it is, still does apply.

Luige Del Puerto: And one of the arguments, one of the am cuss briefs filed in support of the rights act, specifically this provision of that, basically, says if we were to, to not go through the preclearance, the states would be able to pass whatever laws that they want, and they could pass any law, and a bunch of them. And, and those folks are affect by those laws. Would have to go to court, and if they went to court, they would, they were not able to keep up. Litigation is costly. And if they just keep passing bill after bill after bill, then, to them, having a preclearance, if you will, a preemptive strike.

Howard Fischer: But the question then becomes why only this handful of states? Should they, they be preclearance nation-wide or is it discriminatory? And I think that's one of the arguments, and the arguments that I heard from the supreme court Justices when I looked at the transcripts were, they are not convince that whatever is going on in the , is applicable now. And you still have, as you point out, it's, it's more lengthy but still have the remedy if somebody tries to pass something to, to dilute the minority voting, you can go to court.

Mike Sunnucks: And I was surprised that there was not a bigger push for, for a native American district in the redistricting. That group out here in the west, obviously, has had a rough time. And, and there was talk about, about carving out a district to include the Navajo nation, and included a lot of the other reservations. And that, that really didn't stick. One thing that happens when you have these Hispanic districts, like we have in the state, is it hurts the moderate Democrats, you get a, a 65% Hispanic district like pastor has, so it doesn't really make it competitive so you have kind of seen the Democrats go away, and this is one of the reasons for that. Is these redistricting rules because they, they have to draw a certain amount of districts that are minority, and majority.

Howard Fischer: Which gets us into the redistricting case that's going in Federal Court right now. The argument is, that the redistricting commission, that somehow it was gained by the Democrats. And the districts of unequal size, the Democrats in some districts, and Republicans into others, figuring you get fewer competitive districts and, and some of the, some of this was done under the, under the ages of the voting rights act.

Ted Simons: And this -- the redistricting lawsuits, again, it sounds as though the court rules that the commissioners now, the idea that they had some sort of legislative immunity because they were part of a legislative commission doesn't hold water?

Howard Fischer: Well, it's, it's not as clear as all of that. The, the three-judge panel had conclude that, that the commissioners legislators, to extent that if you are Suing the Arizona legislature over a bill, you cannot bring in Andy Tobin and then say, why did you vote for this bill so the courts have said, you cannot ask them about their thoughts. But, you can ask them about the processes that they went through, that they cannot -- there is no blanket immunity to that, to the extent that you are trying to prove the underlying case that they purposely did unequal districts for political purposes.

Ted Simons: Which means to that extent, no legislative immunity, you have got to answer the questions.

Luige Del Puerto: Well, in a sense, as Howie pointed out, this may not be as broad but the essence is that if, if the information you are trying to get from the commissioners, is directly tied to the process of crafting this, this district, and the claim, of course, the argument by Republicans is that this was rigged all along, you could get to that information.

Howard Fischer: Well, what's going to be really interesting is that, is that let's assume that they can show that there were political purposes. You have got several of the judges, and in the earlier hearings saying ok, but, redistricting by, the definition, is political. And they are not sure that even if the Republicans prove their case, that they were political motives, that that's a violation of Federal law because they have acknowledged, you know, with a certain exception, of gerrymandering, politics is a fact of life.

Mike Sunnucks: And you can draw these districts in countless ways. Countless, you can draw these to get the right number of people, the necessary number of people, and the voting rights act, and all these other factors, they are supposed to, to, to consider under the statutes, so there is a million ways to do it. And how do you prove that they did this because of this political partisan reason?

Ted Simons: Well, we'll keep an eye on that, it's perpetual, and speaking of perpetuity, teachers can carry concealed weapons, rural schools, what's this all about?

Luige Del Puerto: This is one of the least restrictive bills that being offered to deal with, with potential mass shootings at school. So, this bill by Senator Crandall, would allow a school district that, that is far away enough from a police station, with, that has a certain number of students, faculty, or fewer than a certain, fewer than . And that, that a teacher that would be able to respond to, to, for example, in the case of an attack, it's been amended to include a, a retired officer, probably, that's working --

Ted Simons: It has to be retired law enforcement or military, correct?

Luige Del Puerto: Correct.

Ted Simons: Ok.

Luige Del Puerto: So, it's not as if anybody, who happens to be an expert in the gun can say, I'm an expert, and let me carry a gun.

Howard Fischer: But that's the addition on top of the, of the teachers. Now, what's really interesting on this, is you had Senator Rick murphy, who said, let me see if I got this right. We're going to make rural schools safer than urban schools? What's the difference between being minutes away versus minutes away or across the street? A lot can happen. And I know there is going to be a move when the bill hits the floor to amend it to apply to all schools to allow teachers who have been, have been, into a training session to carry weapons.

Ted Simons: How far does that amendment go?

Howard Fischer: I think that there is a certain sentiment to that. Now, the tricky part is going to be politically at, the Governor always is a little hinky about arms and schools. She might be willing to accept a limited bill, so the political reality is going to be do we take the bit that we can get for, for the small schools, you know, minutes away, or do we try to, you know, to amend it? Why minutes, why not or three minutes because a lot of, a lot can happen in three minutes.

Mike Sunnucks: With these issues, sometimes it's better, if you are an advocate, you are the gun rights advocate, take incremental bills, that gets passed and come back and expand it next year, and get it con in minutes or minutes, and seconds. If you have a concealed thing where everybody in Phoenix can carry a gun in the school, I think that, that the Governor will probably veto it.

Ted Simons: Let's move on, we have election reform bills that pass Senate. Michelle has been pushing a lot of bills, let's start with the idea of, of the mail-in ballot scenario. And then initiatives, as well. Talk to us about this.

Luige Del Puerto: So, Senator Michelle Reagan, chairman of the elections committee, and therefore dealing with the elections related bills, and we're assuming she'll run for Secretary of State in one of the proposals would say that if you were, you were on the, the ballot list, and in the last two elections, you did not mail in your ballot, that, that the, the elections officials were able to send a notice to you and say, you did not mail in the ballots. You are supposed to, that's your job. You did not do it. Let me know if you want to be on that list. And if you don't respond in a month or so they are going to take the name off that list.

Howard Fischer: And what's important is that while some in the Latino community have become unglued, they are not taking you off the registration. You still can go to the polls, and you can call and say, I want an early ballot, and so there is a certain amount of alarmism, this is the permanent early voting list.

Mike Sunnucks: I think that, that, they look at past motivations from Republicans, motor voter, Federal and state, all kinds of them.

Mike Sunnucks: Section five voting rights.

Ted Simons: We talked about this but keep going.

Howard Fischer: Look at past motivations from Republicans, and every time the Republicans do something that looks restrictive, the folks on the other side, Latinos, native Americans, Democrats, think they are trying to percentage the voters and reduce turnout. Whether it's a legitimate argument, or not, on either side, that's the history of the issue.

Ted Simons: And the other side said there is too many people on the permanent early voting list who are not voting.

Mike Sunnucks: Right.

Ted Simons: Who are not voting early.

Howard Fischer: Right.

Ted Simons: They are bringing the ballots in and clogging up the voting places.

Howard Fischer: And that's part of the issue, that, you know, they get the early ballot, and look, I get an early ballot and there are times that I might want to bring it in. That, of course, is why it took us a week.

Ted Simons: That's, you are part of the problem Howie.

Howard Fischer: We have bills to say if you are going to get an early ballot you have to mail it earlier and other bills to say that we are not going to allow a certain special interest group to pick up the quote/unquote laundries baskets and bring them in. It has to be somebody else who is not part of some special interest group.

Mike Sunnucks: That's an interesting provision. Who take your mail-in ballot, and how do, how do you catch that person?

Howard Fischer: Well, it's not even -- it's not that they could not take it to the mailbox but if sudden suddenly come in on election day, and that's been the issue.

Ted Simons: A family member or a household member?

Howard Fischer: They stripped that down to say, I could let bring it in, unless you are working for some special group. Michelle took so much grief over that provision, that she, that she script out the part that this, it had to be a family member, just somebody you have to acknowledge in writing that you are letting somebody --

Mike Sunnucks: It comes down to, what's their motivation? Is it efficiency? Is it to get a better voting process so they don't have bunch of provisional ballots. Or are they trying, are they trying to reduce turnout? And I think a lot of folks on the left and in minority groups think that they are trying to reduce the turnout with these things. They keep going back to that, that's the motivation. That's why they are worried.

Luige Del Puerto: And Reagan, her argument in terms of this proposal, their argument is simply that we saw what happened in the last election. There was a glitch from the counting because of the huge number of ballots that came in. You can look at this as a problem or you can, you may look at this not as a problem. My point is that, is that they would say, look, if you have many people, coming in, and bringing in their provisional ballots, what's the problem with that? The second point is that, is that the counting last time was a day shorter than the counting that they did two years before. So, that's the normal sort of time frame when you count all the provisional ballots.

Howard Fischer: And what leads to, leads to the paranoia of the community, what's the agenda here?

Mike Sunnucks: I think the glut is because the voting system is based in the s, s, and it's not, certainly not now. And that's the problem. I don't think that it's -- I mean, if you are complaining that too many people turned in ballots on election day, you have got a problem with democracy.

Ted Simons: There is a problem regarding initiatives, and that's another election reform bill making the rounds, what's this all about?

Howard Fischer: Part of it comes down to the fact that last time around, there were two ballot measures. That, that were, were still being litigated. The deadline for filing is July. And take a certain amount of time to count and verify it should be on the ballot. And in one case the Secretary of State said it did not match. And they were still in court, and in August, even as Karen Osbourne, the election director was saying, I have got presses ready to roll. And one of these measures would roll back the deadline from early July to may. The question there is, so, you are taking two months off of, of the time to file, and when you need a quarter million signatures, or more likely , for a constitutional measure, given how many are disqualified. That complicates it. And some efforts to reduce the number of signatures, if you are going to reduce the time it has failed. And as a companion bill that says right now if I need my quarter million signatures I can get them. I can get in, them in one block if I can find t you would have to get them from five different counties. And at least % of them would have to come from outside of Maricopa and Pima. A hurdle being put in the path of those. And there are a lot of folks saying look, we propose our own laws because you idiot legislators won't do what you want, whether it's heritage fund, whether it's caring for the poor or whatever.

Ted Simons: And didn't we have that with the Glendale city council giving people that wanted the, to reverse the sales tax out there, the coyote mess, wasn't there a disappearing window?

Mike Sunnucks: This is what this issue is about, that they tried to get this initiative on during the summer and the, and Glendale argued missed the Diana Sullivan based on the most current election, and you could never catch up with it. And Howie is right, that's what the popular vote people will think that they are just putting more barriers up to try to stop this. This is what Glendale did, they lost that case, and Glendale ended up winning the votes, but it's not going to change the lawsuits. They are going to file lawsuits to try to derail these things, if you are opposed to it.

Ted Simons: We don't have time for the anti-bias ordinance in Phoenix. I think a lot has been written, but let's talk quickly before we go, the announcement for attorney general.

Howard Fischer: Surprising.

Ted Simons: Yeah. Got a shot?

Howard Fischer: Definitely she has a shot. She came close last time, and since the incumbent has had a few issues, shall we say. He keeps putting back, pushing back the daylight of the trial for leaving the scene of an accident as opposed to pleading out and letting it go because his attorney wants to find out why the FBI was tailing him. He has the separate civil action in front of the county attorney, about the, the, the, about Kathleen, whether they were coordinating the independent efforts. I realize voters may have a short memory but the longer he drags this out, he's, he's damaged goods.

Mike Sunnucks: The question is who else gets in the race? Does Terry goddard make a run? He has a big name idea on the democratic side, and does somebody decide to step up and take on horn in the primary because he's politically damaged.

Ted Simons: A good shot for her?

Luige Del Puerto: Absolutely. In fact, if I'm mistaken, the chairman of the companion is Richard caluna, and if I'm not mistaken, yesterday, one of the big local unions endorsed her, which some people agreed to say, got, you know, don't get in the race.

Ted Simons: Interesting. All right, guys, good stuff and thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," a member of the Phoenix city council will explain how the city's new anti-discrimination law will be implemented. And the new Dean of ASU's WP Carey stops by. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10 on the next "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, a debate on allowing guns in schools. Wednesday our weekly legislative update with the Arizona Capitol Times. Thursday, we'll talk about the the anniversary of one of the most famous arrests in U.S. history. And Friday, another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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