Journalists’ Roundtable

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

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Jeremy Duda from "The Arizona Capitol Times," Mike Sunnicks of "The Phoenix Business Journal," And Steve Goldstein of KJZZ radio. A letter from the feds and some legislative intrigue accompany the latest Medicaid expansion news. Let's start with this letter from the feds, Jeremy. They basically came out and cleared the air a little bit on what?

Jeremy Duda: On exactly what we can do with our Medicaid program at the end of the year and still get federal funds. This is a question we've been waiting four or five months on and it's been a key talking point for Governor Brewer. Under our current agreement with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, under that, we get a demonstration waiver, two to one matching funds from the feds, they cover two thirds of it and under that agreement, that's what allowed us to do this freeze, this enrollment freeze for childless adult. The numbers have dwindled, but there will be about 60,000 at the end of the year and the governor's office has said they're not going to allow us to do that and still get federal funds but we had never gotten a clear answer on that and yesterday just as her opponents were getting ready for a big rally against Medicaid expansion, they got their answer and they said you're not going to do this, so if we want to continue covering those last 60,000 people which include: people getting cancer treatments, people who have been on it for years now, we're going to have to cover it with state money only, which for the first three years would cost 850,000,000-880,000,000 probably.

Ted Simons: Indeed, the Governor's office sent out kind of a letter to everyone listing four different options now for the state; including hers. Which was the only one according to the letter that's remotely viable.

Mike Sunnucks: This works for both sides of this debate. Obviously, the governor can point to this like Jeremy said and say look, we have to do what she wants and expand it and bring those childless adults back in it to get the money but the folks on the other side, one of their arguments is we're beholding to the feds all the time for money, we don't have any control. And State President Biggs was talking about the -- let's do a state only program, we can do it ourselves, we don't have to listen to the Obama administration or the feds. I think both sides can play that issue a little bit.

Ted Simons: Really? This viable at all?

Steve Goldstein: I don't know, all the numbers Ted, but the senate president wants to use the rainy day fund the governor's spokesman says there's no way, it would run out within two years and where would we be at that point? I think the most interesting thing politically is that Senate President Biggs was leading this charge and he is saying I'm not even -- I don't want this to even come to a vote on the floor and who knows, there may be a palace coup coming at one point.

Ted Simons: And thus the intrigue. We've had Senate President Biggs on before, leadership shows up once a month. He's been relatively adamant that he's not a big fan of this and doesn't sound like he's going to want to go forward with this. Could the king be dead?

Jeremy Duda: Potentially. Biggs put his foot down this week and said I'll do everything in my power to bring this to the floor. Ya know, he decided he's going to die on this hill. He said the only way it gets to the senate floor is if I get rolled, in his words. There's a couple of possibilities here. One, the nuclear option, the serious one would be deposing him as Senate president, which you would only need 16 people for which means you would have to get a small handful of republicans in the Senate that are for expansion and join with the 13 democrats and choose one of them as the new Senate president and that's one option. The other is there are a number of procedural moves that can be used to bring this to a vote without his approval. Normally, the Senate president and House speaker decide what comes to the floor, what actually gets the vote. So with a simple majority, they can push this straight past him, they can suspend the rules and the normal Senate rules and force a late introduction of a bill. There's a few options.

Ted Simons: How likely are any of those options?

Steve Goldstein: The nuclear option is unlikely because I think the feeling is that Senate President Biggs is not going to, once he knows what's going on behind the scenes and speak to those in favor of Medicaid, then some are hoping he'll allow a vote to happen. I had Senator Rich Crandall on my program this week and he brought the nuclear option up on the air. He's saying if it comes to this and if I go back a little ancient history a few months ago when the leadership was chosen, when Senate President Steve Pearce was undercut and Senate President Biggs went in, a lot of the moderate Republicans were very unhappy with that and they've been unhappy so far.

Ted Simons: This is showing fissures on the Republican side. How far does this go?

Mike Sunnucks: It's going to be a tough go. If they do this in the Senate, that might embolden the opposition in the house to this and at that rally that Jeremy mentioned, they were kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall. They felt like they were emboldened in their opposition, they're tying in the abortion issue, they've thrown out the state option to do that themselves. They've questioned it. There's other Republican states that aren't doing this. We're not in a bubble here. So I think the fear is if you go after Biggs and push this through the Senate, can you keep the votes in the house?

Ted Simons: The first option is to keep the freeze covering the remaining childless adults, 800 some odd million as you mention. You end the freeze, you're talking like a billion dollars or something over the next three years. Eliminate coverage for everyone, that's for the morally repugnant, that's going to fly for everyone, and then there's the governor's plan. That's really what they have to work with.

Jeremy Duda: And the governor's theme for months now, do the math, do the math, and this kind of bolsters her point of view but some people, they like the idea of the state only plan, even though it costs $850 million, wipe out the rainy day funds, but I was talking with Republican representative Warren Peterson, the headliner of this rally the other day and I asked him this will cost a lot more than the state's share of the plan but once you get past a few years, you look down the road, I don't know what's going to happen, this will be cheaper down the road, we have no idea what's going to happen and the governor's plan down the road might cost us more than we think.

Mike Sunnucks: They keep going back to 2004. They say the estimate of the costs, number of people enrolled were never even close. They'll referencing that and that's their fear, they're going to get caught up in some kind of program with much more people and costs than promised or the feds are going to pull the rug out from under us and we're going to be paying for this.

Ted Simons: As far as the palace coup, any names for a successor?

Jeremy Duda: You have to get one of the Republicans who would be supportive of the governor's plan. Bob Worsley is a freshman and that leaves with four, you have Steve Pearce, the deposed Senate president from after the last election, you have Adam Driggs, John McComish Rich Crandall, and he's going to be resigning at the end of the session. I don't know if that makes him a more or less appealing candidate.

Steve Goldstein: If there's anybody. To me, McComish is someone who's shown he can work both sides but he's very soft spoken and doesn't like to be out there too boldly and I think when leadership was set up, the idea was you have them more moderate, that was supposed to balance out the leadership.

Ted Simons: He would be a reluctant king, though.

Steve Goldstein: Absolutely, that's why I don't think it's going to happen.

Ted Simons: And Crandall might make the most sense because he would be an interim king, and interim president and he's gone and they can do the rough and tumble business of who will really run,

Jeremy Duda: He would have no political repercussions later on to deal with.

Ted Simons: And a hundred day session kind of came and went and really not a lot is getting done down there.

Mike Sunnucks: It's the waiting game, and that's the governor's final trump card. It's the power of the executive against this part-time legislature that doesn't like being in the valley when it's hot. So that's one of her last plays on this.

Steve Goldstein: Even the idea of it next week they're going to start a three day session because everything has slowed to such a crawl, this shows how absurd this is. Governor Brewer is in her office, she may turn down the air conditioning a little bit and make it really, really warm down there.

Ted Simons: And still and she has priority. You've got the sales tax reform, common core which, by the way, survived because there was some sort of attempt to kill common core, that didn't quite make it. So she has other priorities, as well.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, and the biggest one, of course, is Medicaid and they're still trying to work out some of the details of the sales tax, the common core thing is working its way through, but ultimately you can't get out of the session until you have a budget and you can't do that without Medicaid and like you said, the governor can wait them out. She's willing to just be here through September if she has to.

Mike Sunnucks: The challenge for her is she can't horse trade much with some of these Republican folks. They don't want anything. They don't want any pork barrel stuff. They want smaller government and so there's not a lot of bills out there, they've done abortion bills, there's some gun bills but I don't think she's going to go far to the right on that and these folks in the Republican side that are worried, they're looking at people to their right challenging them in the primaries. They're not worried about the governor as much as we think. They're worried about someone challenging them on this thing your voted for Obamacare.

Steve Goldstein: Forgive me for being naive, but I saw a quote, which was I'm worried at this point about what we're going to run into in the primary vote and I feel like the general public doesn't vote in the primaries. This becomes a Republican battle, okay. That matters I guess but to the population at large, I don't think it does. Maybe it matters more to the voting public.

Jeremy Duda: The governor met with about to Republican lawmakers last week and one of the arguments she was trying to make if you don't do this, the voters are going to punish us, they can give power to the Democrats, Republicans are going to lose their seats, they could lose statewide races but the Republicans who are opposed to this plan or are on the fence, that's not what they're worried about. To get through a general election, you have to get through the primary first and people are already recruiting.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of parallels to how Republicans in Washington voted on gun control. Widespread support for background checks, but Republican primary voters not so much. And I think a lot of Republicans still working that mindset.

Ted Simons: Let's keep it moving here. Steve, let's talk about the governor's race. After all, it's only next year.

Steve Goldstein: Andrew Thomas is going to become the de facto governor based on what we saw today. Was that too bold?

Ted Simons: What did we see today?

Steve Goldstein: Well, Jeremy was actually there. I think all of us received the e-mail message from Andrew Thomas who said he is going to fight corruption as he always has, he is going to make border security a major priority and he says the polls are going to show him as a major contender to be governor of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Is this news that he wants to run for governor and is going to run for governor is the stunning news or shocking news?

Mike Sunnucks: I'll go with stunning. Obviously, first glance, you don't think he has much of a chance but we did have Ev Mecham as governor. How many people were in the race? 15, 20 people? When you get a crowded race, he could make a little noise, he's not a frontrunner, he's got a lot of baggage. Interesting to see who would support him.

Jeremy Duda: This would be like electing him in after he was impeached. He was disbarred last year, the former county attorney, almost won the primary for attorney general in and he has lost his license to practice law. He can't run for attorney general again.

Steve Goldstein: But Evan Mecham was a car salesman. He defeated one of the most respected politicians in the history of this state in a primary because no one took him seriously. I will never, ever predict Andrew Thomas to win this, if he was able to get the conservative vote --

Ted Simons: Not just eight people but his presence there, in terms of the dynamic, in terms of how it disrupts a Republican primary, I mean that changes, doesn't that change the water level there?

Jeremy Duda: A little bit. This will suck a lot of air out of the room just because of who he is. He's going to be competing for the hard right of the Republican base, another candidate who announced this week. But I was talking to one Republican consultant today said he can't win but he can have an impact and take away votes from other candidates, namely State Treasurer Doug Ducey, solid conservative, people view him as one of the leading candidates. He appeals to conservative voters and he's got a lot of opponents and if Thomas and Melvin or someone else can start siphoning votes away from him, that can help with the other challengers. Ken Bennett, who knows.

Mike Sunnucks: I would say wedge issues, immigration, some of the social issues, same-sex marriage, abortion, pop up, then Andy's adept at that publicly and he could have that kind of impact. One thing that hurts him is that he ran for attorney general twice and didn't win. Not only being disbarred, you've got to convince people I was a two time loser, why are you going to be able to do better after being disbarred.

Ted Simons: I'm not allowed to practice law but I want to be governor. How far could you take something like that?

Steve Goldstein: I think all the stress he's been through, the disciplinary hearing, the feeling that he was being fought by powerful forces, the feeling is he has his own sense of reality at this point and isn't really listening to sensible advisors.

Jeremy Duda: Even if he has no chance of winning a primary, he has a core base of 15, maybe 20% of the Republican electorate. They believe he was unfairly targeted and they're going to vote for him.

Steve Goldstein: Those are the people who vote in primaries.

Mike Sunnucks: If you get 20% in that primary, you're pretty far up there.

Ted Simons: Let's go to the democratic side, Fred Duval makes it official. Nothing's shocking about that. Talk about his candidacy and what he expects to face first in the primary, and then perhaps in a general.

Steve Goldstein: I think the primary's pretty interesting because I think that once Dr. Carmona decided he wasn't going to run, that opened up the field and the idea is that he's the most attractive democrat might not bode well for Democrats in the general election, he's only run for office once, he ran for Congress, tried to make himself into a rural Arizonian which no one really believed. He is someone with a great history, former governor for the interior secretary, no one doubts his capability. When I see Duval, I think a little bit of a nicer friendlier version of Mitt Romney, someone very well groomed but maybe isn't ready for the rough-and-tumble of politics.

Ted Simons: Duval seems policy oriented, seems to want to work across the aisle, all those good sorts of things but can he get down and dirty and messy and win what could be a really volatile governor's race?

Mike Sunnucks: I think he would have a chance if you see kind of a wounded Republican come out of there, if they really mess things up in their primary, in the legislature, things can change a lot in politics, obviously. The economy, those types of things, immigration. If you see someone come out that's kind of wounded or such a big race in the Republican side, such a crowded race that you see somebody come out there like Andy Thomas, so somebody that's wounded, like in when Brewer came out with SB1070 behind her -- if somebody comes out strong, he's the underdog.

Jeremy Duda: You've got obviously, the Duval supporters are hoping he can cruise through the primary and take on some wounded candidates. You've seen supporters urging Chad Campbell, they're urging him to not get in saying Duval's the guy, we should clear the field for him, his supporters are saying it and he's trying to create really a sense of inevitability about his nomination in the democratic primary, they're lined up all these endorsements, he's raising money. They're trying to build up as much as momentum as they can right now.

Steve Goldstein: I think there's something in the general election too that I think voters want to be excited about people. It's hard at this point as we see negative ratings for the legislature, negative ratings for Congress. Duval is not Jan Brewer who can really go hard core. He's not going to get people as excited as Dr. Carmona in that Senate race. So it's going to have to come down to this feeling of we want someone who will work across the aisle, who's very capable.

Mike Sunnucks: So many big issues that are in flux right now, immigration, guns, same-sex marriage, Medicaid, Obamacare, what kind of Democrat will Fred be when he runs in the general election? That doesn't play real well in this state.

Ted Simons: What kind of country will this be, what kind of state will this be in terms of the economy, in variety? We just had bombings in Boston, that could change the landscape, as well. Who is Mark Bernavich

Jeremy Duda: He's the state gaming director; he worked for the Goldwater institute, a private attorney, pretty well respected in legal circles. People are talking about him running against Tom Horne who has had an investigation about his campaign finance, the FBI following him around and Horne is definitely somewhat wounded so there's folks looking out there. The thing is Horne is a good candidate. He's beat a lot of people and for whatever faults people find in him, he's a smart politician and I think Mark could be the underdog in that but he's looking at the race.

Ted Simons: Any other Republicans likely to take on Horne at all?

Jeremy Duda: I don't think so. I've heard a lot of names but most of them have shot it down. His is the first name who was actually looking at it but it's a long way to the race. A lot of people might be waiting to see how the court cases play out. Horne's gonna be in court next week. They're trying to get MCAO tossed off the case, challenging Bill Montgomery's right to even prosecute him, then we'll finally start seeing the first court action on this.

Steve Goldstein: Many people are anticipating to see a rematch, but it would be interesting to see contested primaries. Horne against Bernavich and then Rotellini against Goddard.

Ted Simons: Do you think Terry Goddard is still looking at that?

Steve Goldstein: I think he's looking at it.

Ted Simons: That would be very interesting.

Mike Sunnucks: The thing is sometimes in politics you've got to run. You lucked and the incumbent, something happens and you step in there, and then you're golden after that. And sometimes, it's willing to take that chance when people don't think you're going to win, but Horne's got some baggage right now and things could get worse for him.

Ted Simons: Speaking real quickly, what's going on with John McCain's approval rating here? 21-year low, is this just fatigue, folks saying we're not crazy about him but you haven't given us an option?

Steve Goldstein: The thing I think that stood out to me was this idea that two thirds, 67%, it's time for a new senator with new ideas. And that struck me the most because in Arizona if you elect to conservative Republican, the ideas are going to be the same. We're sort of tired of McCain. His peak numbers were in 2005 and I think that's kind of interesting, that's when he was on the national stage, we saw a lot of him, and now since then, after 2008 , his numbers went down, people saw him as a little bit crankier. I'm curious to see what happens based on his gun control vote.

Ted Simons: We should mention this poll was taken before both gun control vote and immigration proposals.

Mike Sunnucks: You look at disapproval ratings, 33% for conservativs, liberals and for moderates . So John is all over the place on issues because he's a Maverick so conservatives don't like him on immigration, liberals don't like him for his criticism of the president on foreign policy. The thing is nobody's going to beat John McCain. They're not going to run against John McCain, they're going to wait it out and the one thing about the poll if they asked people rate anything and fair, that's 53%, that's where most incumbents are at.

Ted Simons: It's one thing to say I'm not crazy about the guy but if he runs against an Andrew Thomas, who seems to be running for everything, it might be different.

Steve Goldstein: This is a dream for all of us, a dynamic where senator McCain was complaining about inspector Napolitano this week, if they could ever run against each other.

Ted Simons: That would be interesting. Before we go, Don Shooter's troubles continue. What, we have more witnesses?

Jeremy Duda: You've got a couple more employees at this charter school and three students were in the classroom. Hard to say whether or not the police will actually file those charges. I'm not sure on what grounds the students would have. It seems like piling on because he's a prominent figure, he's an important politician, he's got enemies.

Ted Simons: Accused of disrupting his grandson's charter school class because he thought he was being bullied by the teacher. When does the ethics investigation begin?

Mike Sunnucks: We'll have to say when that happens, probably after Medicaid right. The cell phone footage doesn't help him P.R.-wise or with the political pressure because that's been on the news a lot.

Ted Simons: And what do you think?

Steve Goldstein: He used the old celebrity line of basically don't you know who I am? That never looks good.

Ted Simons: Conflicting reports on that?

Jeremy Duda: He called the head of the charter school association and he said -- now, it seems more like this woman association wanted it hushed up, it may not have been him saying, "Hey do you know who I am," or more of the woman saying, "Hey do you know who he is?"

Ted Simons: Well, I can tell you what time it is, it's time for us to wrap it up. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll go into greater detail on the state's options regarding Medicaid funding. And ASU pollster Bruce Merrill takes an early look at the options for the next governor's race. That's Monday evening, 5:30 and 10, on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, a debate on the pros and cons of Phoenix police officers doing union work while on the job. Wednesday, it's our weekly legislative update with "The Arizona Capitol Times." Thursday, former U of A professor Guy McPherson will tell us about living off the grid. And Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists Roundtable. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us, you have a great weekend.

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