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 capital times, Mike Sunnucks from the Phoenix business journal and Mark Brody. Medicaid expansion is still the 800-pound gorilla at the state capitol. Jeremy, what's the latest?

Jeremy Duda: The governor's Medicaid expansion road show is continuing, a lot of press conferences with doctors and healthcare professionals. She went up in Mohave county the other day, the most conservative part of the state. Not a lot of support up there. Did another one down at the capitol, which is the third in five weeks, this one on mental health, the benefits of mental health but I don't know that any of this is getting her any more support at the legislature which is what she really needs.

Ted Simons: How much support does she have at the legislature?

Jeremy Duda: It's hard to say. Assuming all the democrats vote for the plan which I'm sure they will, you need three Republican votes in the Senate, seven in the house. The three in the Senate are there, the house, no one is sure. I've had a couple of lawmakers say they don't think she's got seven votes and some of those votes are shaky. People are falling off. We had one of the six Republican lawmakers who stood with brewer a couple of weeks ago, he's now pretty much dead set against this over the abortion issue that's coming up. She's losing support. She's further away from it now than she has been since the whole thing started.

Ted Simons: That's a bit of a surprise. You would think the tidal wave would be moving in that direction.

Mike Sunnucks: The full court press has been on by the governor. She's done all these events. What are these events doing to get more conservative Republicans or semi conservative Republicans to vote for this. The anti-abortion folks want some pro-life language in there, if that goes in there, what happens to all the democrats then? It's quite a minefield for the governor politically.

Mark Brody: It seems there are a lot of questions associated with this that don't have answers, the abortion issue has come up, whether or not you need a two thirds majority to actually vote on this. Are there the votes? There are a lot of questions about this issue that don't yet seem to have answers.

Ted Simons: The two thirds majority, whether it's stand alone, we have legislative leadership on last night saying there's nothing really concrete for them to move on anyway.

Mark Brody: Well, there is bill language but the speaker is not prepared to put that language up for a vote quite yet. I think it probably goes back a little bit to the fact that there's still so much work to do on the budget itself. The finance advisory committee met just this week and had some projections about revenue and all and there's a lot of work to do on the budget so it's kind of hard to say whether or not Medicaid fits into that or it has its own bill.

Jeremy Duda: This may end up as part of the budget. There's a lot of prostrating that's going to have to go on to get the speaker and president Biggs to bring that up which they've been pretty resistant to.

Ted Simons: As far as a couple of polls released this week, I think a few were actually released but a couple originally, one seemed to show a lot of support, kinda for the Medicaid expansion. The other showed not quite as much and a lot of Republican opposition. How much does that play now?

Mike Sunnucks: I think that's a lot the second poll because it talks about certain districts and how likely Republican primary voters would be to not vote for someone in the next election if they sided with Brewer on this, that's got to scare a few folks. You have dueling polls out there, you see a full court press by the governor's lobbying folks, the events at the hospitals, all the business folks that are behind this but again how is that going to get some conservative Republican that's on the fence to vote for this and it's tied to Obamacare, too, and that's one of the other things that's a tough sell.

Jeremy Duda: The poll that focused on the six individual legislative districts, it focused on districts where the Republican supporters are coming from or people who were viewed on the fence, they're trying to send a message that the people who vote for this are going to lose in their primary.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, are we hearing from business, are we hearing from pro Medicaid expansion folks say don't worry about the primary, we'll back you up, you may get hit, but we'll be here for you.

Mark Brody: I think lawmakers are hearing that but they're also hearing from business and hospitals and other medical folks, regardless of whether you win or lose your next election, this is something that has to happen for the state, that you have to look beyond your next election at what's good for Arizona and I think that's one of the arguments that the business folks and the hospital folks are making.

Ted Simons: What about you mentioned Obamacare just saying that word would be trouble in a Republican primary in a lot of districts. What about the word tax? The hospital assessment, we have leadership on this they are calling it a tax.

Mike Sunnucks: One person's user fee, one person's assessment is another person's tax. I think the Obamacare catches people more at first glance but there is the anti-tax crowd out there that's going to use this as a drum beat and it could hurt some Republicans who vote for this and I don't know if the folks that want the expansion have made the argument well enough about what this actually does. The income levels, how poor people are that qualify for this, it's like $23,000 for a family, $29,000 for a family of four, that's not a lot of money for somebody to live on and I don't think they made the argument about the income limits and who it would benefit.

Ted Simons: Is there an argument to be made? Because again when the Senate president says that things, the status quo right now, that's what we'll go back to if we don't accept this and he doesn't seem all that concerned about it, what kind of argument can you make?

Jeremy Duda: It's hard to say exactly what we're going to go back to if this doesn't happen. We're operating under an agreement with the federal government healthcare authority and that agreement expires at the end of the year. That provides the two thirds funding that we use for the current Medicaid program. Now, the governor's office, Access, they say the feds have indicated they're not going to renew that, we might not get any funding for a childless tell you the so the only way to get that funding is to pass the Medicaid program. Others say it would make them look bad, we should just keep it the way it is and restore some of the funding cuts once we have the money.

Mark Brody: There's also concern about federal money that goes to hospitals that care for a disproportionate share of Medicaid patients and what the hospitals will tell you is that money is going away under the affordable care act, a lot of these rural hospitals, places like Maricopa medical center, Maricopa integrated health systems, they're going to lose a lot of money because that federal money isn't coming in because the federal government assumes there's going to be more money under Medicaid.

Ted Simons: So best guess, from a 30,000-foot thousand level here. Does Medicaid expansion happen in Arizona?

Mike Sunnucks: I think there's a good chance. The hospital and business lobbies pushing for it. I think she can get it through.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Jeremy Duda: I think so. I think most of the people I talked to down there agreed. I don't know how she's going to do it but eventually, you have to believe that the governor's going to get what she wants. It is so important to her and I think people assume if she doesn't get what she wants, it's going to be a scorched earth strategy where she vetoes everything that comes across her desk, everything that's important and eventually, she's going to be able to use that stick to get what she wants.

Mark Brody: I think Jeremy and I have been talking to the same people. It might not be fast, it might not be exactly what she wants but that's ultimately that think she will get it.

Ted Simons: The caucus of one can make difficult for the caucus of many. You mentioned vetoes, the Capitol Times did a big spread on the governor's veto tendencies and it's a genuine guessing game at the capitol.

Jeremy Duda: One lobbyist I asked how do you guess what she's going to veto, you put up a dart board. Brewer, I believe has vetoed more bills than any Republican bill in Arizona history and she's still got most of this session and all of next session left and figuring out how she's going to veto something or why but even some of the veterans down there don't know. There's a few trends that are fairly consistent, one of them is that if you send her a bill with fiscal impact that costs money before the budget is done, she's pretty likely to veto that. We saw that yesterday, her second veto of the session. We saw a veto today on the healthcare price transparency where she worked with the governor, made some changes, and then they vetoed it for a bunch of reasons that she said they never even brought up. Even if you work with the governor's office, she might veto it.

Ted Simons: Lack of communication, as well an issue here?

Mike Sunnucks: I think so. The governor's office has kept things very close to their vest when it comes to bills, even the folks that work on the bills stand up there and see what happens. Basically, it would have had the hospitals and E.R.s what they would be paying for procedures and stuff and that was vetoed. I wonder how that plays in with the hospitals supporting her Medicaid expansion. So she's been very pro-business, very anti-abortion, very consistent on those thing but some of the other bills that are very vague on specific legislation.

Ted Simons: Is it good to have that kind of confusion, though? You can kind of win by having everyone not knowing what you're doing or you can just make a mess of everything.

Jeremy Duda: It depends on who you ask. To the people who spend all session working on a bill to have it vetoed for reasons they didn't see coming, they would say it's a bad thing. You can reach out to the governor's office but they're selective on what they're going to engage you on and part of the reason is we have, you know, more than 1,100 bills introduced this session, more than 1,300 last session. The governor's office doesn't have the time or the manpower to engage every lawmaker and figure out what's going to make it palatable to jan brewer. Sometimes, you've got to throw the dart.

Ted Simons: Let's move on here and talk about something she did sign and that was an increase in campaign finance limits. Talk to us about this and what it does in the grand scheme of things.

Mark Brody: It allows political candidates to raise and spend a lot more money than they've been able to so far. A lot of Republicans are saying the limits are too low that especially after citizens united you have all the outside groups that are spending all this money that the candidates have no control over, this is sort of a way as a candidate to take back control of your campaign by being able to raise more money, spend more money and get your message out as opposed to the messages from these outside groups. Now, Democrats and the elections folks are saying this is just another disincentive for people to run with public money and that is just even more money in the political system, which is, for a lot of Democrats, not a good thing.

Ted Simons: What is this doing to elections?

Mike Sunnucks: Another stake in the coffin. Businesses want to see the caps raised a little bit so they can get their money in there and support more candidates and have more money to spread around. So again it brings more special interests money directly to the candidates.

Ted Simons: So again if the concern was, a couple of breaks, outside money was just outrageous. But this doesn't do anything about that. It just says you can raise more to what, help offset the outside money?

Jeremy Duda: The argument in favor of this is that the reason -- one of the reasons you get so much outside money is we have some of the lowest campaign contribution limits in the country, 440$ for a statewide race and double a national race, and so people don't have the money to get their message out so these ours groups took up the cause for their favorite candidates or go after the people they don't like. If you're a legislative candidate and you can go up to raising, you know, $, per cycle, you can control your message, you can run your campaign the way you want and there isn't as much of a need for outside groups. We'll see if the outside groups, you know, stay out. I don't know that they will.

Mark Brody: Well, I think what might be interesting to look at is the folks and the groups who donated to some of these outside groups in previous cycles 2012, it will be interesting to see now that they can give more to candidates themselves if they will or if they'll continue to give to the outside groups or not.

Jeremy Duda: In the end, now, you can give $4,000 to a candidate. If you can still give $400,000 to an independent expenditure and plus remember, a lot of what those do is they do the dirty work that candidates can't. You do the attack ads, you get down and dirty and go after people in a way that a candidate is more likely to want to take the high road, that makes you look bad, too.

Mike Sunnucks: It increases the overall money in politics. It doesn't shift where it's at but it's a rising tide lifts all incumbent boats.

Jeremy Duda: One interesting thing about this bill, there's probably going to be some kind of court challenge over proposition 105, the voter protection act. When the voters approved the clean elections act in 2000, it included a provision, it almost seems arbitrary, what it does is it says the contribution limits are cutting that by 20%, gives it a 20% haircut and the reason the supporters wanted that is you have to keep the traditions that privately funded things low, otherwise no one's going to use them but the supporters now argue that this violates the voter protection act, that says you need a three fourths vote to change a voter-approved measure. Now, the supporters of raising the limits will say past bills that have had to abide by this, they didn't mention that statute.

Ted Simons: It's a separate track.

Jeremy Duda: It's a completely separate statute, it's not mentioned in the clean elections act.

Ted Simons: We'll find out. It's fascinating stuff to watch there and it will be very interesting to see how it affects things because the last election cycle, we saw some big money going to some just state legislative races. All right. We'll move on here. Tom Horne wants to once again get some outside patrols, Colorado city.

Mike Sunnucks: The attorney general's office has been paying for that and Horne wants the legislature to step up and pay for the sheriff's office up there to patrol instead of the local police up there, which has been accused of some malfeasance of being an arm of the polygamist church up there. It's a big mess, something that should have been addressed a long time ago in the state and it always seems that it's the attorney generals that take the lead on this. Now, Horne is doing a little bit on this and it doesn't seem like the legislature or the governor is that interested.

Ted Simons: If we had the house, it's 52-7 regarding some bills that had some kind of oversight up there and the Senate never hears it. That seems unusual to me.

Mark Brody: Horne has been pushing this, especially recently. He called just this week, we referred to what's going on in Colorado city as one of the great injustices going on in the state right now, where people try to leave and they're brought back, punished and just sort of the way the law enforcement works up there. And as mike said he tried to do this last year, it didn't work, he found some money in his office, 400 something thousand dollars to pay the county sheriff to do some patrols but he needs more. That's what he said at the time, this is a one year temporary stopgap kind of thing. I'm going to need the legislature to step up here.

Ted Simons: Why isn't the legislature stepping up?

Jeremy Duda: Some people have some concerns about this, even though it didn't pass like 90% in the house, last year, they've been running a bill to try to give the state the power, the counties the power to take over the towns' police departments if a certain number of people have been decertified by state officials and the concerns that some people have voiced is that they don't like the notion they can just give people the power to strip away local control even though this bill, especially this year's, has been very narrowly tailored in a way, they want it to only apply to Colorado city.

Mike Sunnucks: This is a legislature that wants to tell people what bathrooms they can use when it suits their purposes just like the feds do it to states. They don't like their impact fees or something, they do this. There's not been the political will in this state among Republicans who control the legislature to address Colorado city for a number of years. Not been a movement among folks, even the acts by attorney generals have not been that strong. It hasn't been out there and it's a big injustice up there.

Mark Brody: The fact it is so narrowly tailored is another concern that we can't pass a bill just on Colorado city law enforcement. That's not right.

Mike Sunnucks: They keep setting it up for failure. One side will say we don't want to have this sweeping thing and then when you try to tailor it to Colorado city, this egregious case, they make that argument.

Jeremy Duda: If they wanted to do it, they could. They could narrowly tailor this, you're not allowed to pass special legislation, but there are so many ways around that.

Mike Sunnucks: Population levels.

Jeremy Duda: They want to do something that only affects that county, they can say this new law affects counties of populations of more than 300,000 but less than 1 million or something like that, so it obviously only applies to one situation.

Ted Simons: Does this become an evergreen kind of legislation at the capitol now? It never seems to go anywhere so it's always likely to pop up. Is the likely?

Jeremy Duda: She's going to bring it back next year.

Ted Simons: All right.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you'll see a governor come out and really make it an issue. They're not going to do anything.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the fight for that casino out there by Glendale is going to capitol hill. Representative franks getting involved. What's he doing?

Mike Sunnucks: They've been trying to stop this casino for a while and they've lost every case in court because of a 1986 I think law that allows them to replace some lands they lost down in Tucson because of the dam construction with unincorporated lands. So they secretly bought that parcel near the stadium and the arena for this casino. Every lawsuit that the other tribes have brought has been shot down because of that law. So, Trent Franks has stepped forward with some other lawmakers and introduced the bill to get rid of that law. The other cosponsors are kirk Patrick who happen to have the tribes in their district.

Mark Brody: And this is the second year that Congressman franks has done this. With great fanfare last year he introduced this bill. This year, it seems like the introduction was a little bit more low key but the same concept of what he's trying to do.

Mike Sunnucks: In the end he may not need this. They have won all -- god knows how many court cases have been going on about this. There's one that sounds like it has a better shot, there's another one, the NRA's 1986 law that Mike mentioned-- the 1988 law that authorized Indian gaming in the first place, there's some provisions in there about when the land has to be purchased and after a certain amount of time, you can't put a casino on that. The one exception I believe is if there's a dispute over it, tribes fighting with another entity and this isn't the case. They kind of just bought up the land and one day said we're going to put a casino here.

Ted Simons: And the franks will with no casino on Phoenix metro land until 2027, which is when the contract ends, Phoenix metro land, what does that mean? I've seen casinos and freeways everywhere I go.

Mike Sunnucks: Any new ones, so it would grandfather in all the existing ones and the sponsors are representing those tribes. It's funny how the legislature doesn't want to carve something up specifically for Colorado city but we have a correctional bill that would look at Phoenix Metro land.

Mark Brody: And there have been efforts in the legislature you remember a couple of years ago they were working a bill that would have allowed Glendale to under emergency circumstances annex that land back into the city. There was a dispute earlier about whether or not that land was part of the city and what the municipal planning area phrase meant and there's been a lot of dispute about this.

Ted Simons: And so this will be something I guess that will continue -- I just wonder at what point are we going to start seeing construction out there on that land and they're just going to go ahead and move forward.

Mark Brody: From what I've heard, if you're looking to play the slots, don't save your nickels or quarters for a little while yet.

Mike Sunnucks: They're not going away. They're going to build that thing eventually.

Ted Simons: It seems like and it's so far every time they go to court, they come out with a win. There's that one. Before we get out of here, we had like -- it was Amway or something with bullet proof bests, what happened?

Jeremy Duda: Bob Thorpe, freshman Republican house rep wanted to invite a seller of bullet-proof vests to the capitol to ply his wears to his colleagues. The legislative attorneys told him you can't bring in a private seller and set up shop in a house conference room but this became news after this e-mail leaked out and he wasn't so happy about that and then sent out another e-mail complaining about how someone leaked it and pointed his finger specifically at one democratic lawmaker but the important lesson he learned is what is a public record? Any e-mail you send out on your legislative e-mail account is a public record, any of us can put in a records request and they'll have to turn that over and that doesn't even include if someone on either side of the aisle says I want the press to know about this. I think it was in all of our inboxes within like minutes.

Mike Sunnucks: It fits into the gun debate, everything that's going on and the legislature that is very adverse to any kind of gun control already kind of controls on armor piercing ammunition.

Ted Simons: I think some pointed out the irony the Senate rejecting a ban on armor piercing bullets, a lot of rejections on amendments that were thrown in regarding small schools and yet rejecting that and yet if you really are worried about it, we've got some bullet-proof vests.

Mike Sunnucks: I'm sure there's a group of legislators who would like to have a gun show at the legislature.

Ted Simons: Before we go, and we keep that in mind, I want to go back to the casino because I like the prediction aspect of all of this, are we going to see a casino on that land?

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, I think we will. That tribe is so committed to building that thing. I don't think they can get it through the Senate, that federal legislation through the Senate and they have prevailed on every court case before.

Ted Simons: Before or after the compact ends?

Mike Sunnucks: Before.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Mark Brody: Most of the people I have spoken with think it will happen. The timing, I don't know when.

Ted Simons: So likely but --

Mark Brody: It will probably happen but it might not happen quickly.

Ted Simons: Okay. What do you think?

Jeremy Duda: Without getting out my dart board again, I'm going to pluck this answer and say yes, the momentum seems to be on their side and franks can't get through the democratic Senate.

Ted Simons: Does that knock the whole 20027 -- the whole compact for a loop? What happens to the compact?

Mike Sunnucks: There will be an argument but there's language in the compact that I think gave them another casino so I think you can make the argument that it's not a poison pill.

Ted Simons: All right. All right. That's good enough. Good to have you here. Lots of stuff to go through. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll talk about the life of famed architect Paolo Saleri and we'll discuss the town of superior's option to the copper mine. That's Monday evening 5:30 and 10 on "Arizona Horizon." 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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