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 Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Ben Giles of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Medicaid expansion remains a major topic at the Capitol. Mary Jo, now some counties are getting in on it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's part of the continuing campaign for the governor and her supporters to get the legislature to vote for Medicaid expansion. Every week there's a new level of support that rolls out and this week it's a couple of counties in northern Arizona. Interestingly, a lot of those counties encompass district speaker Andy Tobin's district. He's going to be a key player because he'll eventually have to bring it up for a vote.

Ted Simons: These are counties with a majority, if not completely Republican. County Board of Supervisors, I'm sorry.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes.

Howard Fischer: And I think Andy Tobin could be talked into this. He says, I need to be able to give my caucus something. Now, some of that can come from external forces like the board of supervisors. But they want changes, they want some guarantees that the circuit breaker will work, that we will step away. There's a new issue that's come up about abortion, saying you can't fund family planning because that money goes to Planned Parenthood, and they might use to it fund abortions. There's a lot of changes that Andy wants, to make it acceptable to his caucus.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And the fight that will inevitably crop up about whether the assessment levied on the hospital would require a tax, a two thirds vote. That battle will come, we just don't know when.

Ted Simons:Back to the external forces. The rank and -- we know what's happening with Republican Party headquarters and precincts and these sorts of things. But boards of supervisors? Impact there?

Ben Giles: I don't know how much of an impact it'll have. I feel like the Tobins and Biggs of the world have to work it out that way. Biggs has said for the first time, more specifically, he's willing to bring it to the floor, but he's reiterated he wants a majority of his caucus to be comfortable with it. Maybe a little outside influence will be able to help members of his caucus slowly creep towards the Governor's side. But if he's to be believed, things haven't changed much since the session started.

Howard Fischer: In other words, if you have a Don shooter and a Yuma supervisor saying, okay, we need this, Don can come back and say we need this. We're funding mental health care right now out of the county budget, that we could essentially have the state, federal government pay for, and then provide other services.

Mary Jo Pitzl: A lot of this is at this point trying to provide cover for Republican lawmakers who are hesitant for whatever reason about voting for Medicaid. Maybe they like the idea, but they are a little nervous or very nervous about how that will play out at the polls. Or maybe they don't like the idea, but they are going to be convinced to vote for the expansion. You get local officials and grass roots to say they support you, by getting a lot of Republicans, so you all jump off that cliff together.

Howard Fischer: The other cover needed, the business community, the chambers, the hospitals have been out there saying we support you. What the business community hasn't quite said, and I think some of those people are waiting for us, if I get a primary challenge are you going to provide the 30,000$, that I need. Nobody's going to make that promise, at least not in front of us. But that's what these folks are scared of. They have watched the Tea Party folks within their own districts start to take over and do these challenges and bump off incumbents.

Ted Simons: It's interesting to watch the campaign here. The Governor is making this pro-life. I'm a pro-life governor and this is pro-life. And now Havusayapai County Attorney, Sheila Polk, says this is a law and order issue. We need some help.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, it's many, many arguments, whatever you can bring to the table to help sell it. I think she's got a point. Some of the most egregious shootings in the country have been traced back to people who have mental health issues. If they can get access to care, maybe this Tucson shooting wouldn't have happened. Maybe the Colorado shooting wouldn't have happened at the movie theater.

Howard Fischer: There's a lot of money coming in. The state's cost, 240$ million, is going to be pay paid for by this assessment on hospitals, it's going to bring 1.6$ billion, 300,000 people into the program. That's very powerful for people like Sheila Polk, who say people are falling through the cracks.

Ted Simons: Real quickly Ben, you mentioned the Senate President said he would be willing to get this out there, I guess. Now, that's the stand-alone vote, correct? He sees this as not necessarily needing the two thirds, the whole nine yards?

Ben Giles: He hasn't seen that yet. I think he sees it as needing a two thirds majority vote and he'll be on the front lines of that fight to get 20 and not 16 to see it through. Him saying "I'll allow a vote" doesn't mean he wants to see it get out of his chamber. It's a recognition this is the biggest priority for the governor. For a lot of ways, it's the biggest issue the Republican Party will face this year. He can't just avoid it. Politically it wouldn't be a good maneuver for him as president to try and squash this.

Howard Fischer: The math works out that way either way. If you need nine Republicans to get it out of caucus, and assuming that the majority of the 13 Democrats who go along, you've got your two thirds, same thing in the House. If not, the rules of Andy Tobin and Andy Biggs are I want half my caucus, you'll have your two thirds, this will be avoided as a discussion.

Ted Simons: Is there any indication the Democrats will play a little football here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: From the beginning, they have said we are for Medicaid expansion. We're not going to play games with it. Now you're starting to hear these little footnotes, we're not going to give away the store. We're not going to vote or it at the cost of steep tax cuts or, you know, deep reductions to education or doing some kind of program they don't approve of. There are some caveats on it. For the most part it's I think still safely assumed that the Democrats are going to be a vote for Medicaid expansion.

Howard Fischer: The way the Governor structured this, the money that's coming in, actually the assessment on hospitals not only pays for the match, but also brings in some additional money that helps pay for other costs which supposedly frees up money. The Democrats are seeing that as the opportunity to say, okay, now we've got money.

Ted Simons: Let's move on to Bisbee, Arizona, a wonderful little town, beautiful, hilly.

Howard Fischer: It's a wonderful town, you know?

Ted Simons: And yet they vote for civil unions for gay couples. Talk to us about this. This is just within the city boundaries?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The ordinance was approved on a - vote earlier this week by the Bisbee Council who says we will recognize civil unions within the limits of city authority and within city boundaries. I don't know what Bisbee's geographic spread is.

Howard Fischer: Actually it's sort of funny. That community has always been split into three different factions down there. The issue comes up because several Arizona cities. including Phoenix. have what they call domestic partner registries. In Phoenix you can register as a domestic partner and you will get hospital visitation that's due to spouses. What sort of drove this as an issue is Bisbee said, and we're going to say inheritance laws apply as if you were married. Now, look, the fact is Bisbee doesn't have the authority to tell the Cochise County Superior Court judge how to apply probate laws. It's a nullity. Tom Horne said, look at me, I'm here defending the family. He wants a declaratory judgment to have the law declared invalid even before anybody tries to enforce it.

Ted Simons: I think he said three southern Arizona lawyers came to him and said, do something about this. Is that correct?

Howard Fischer: The three lawmakers said you've got to stop this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They said they were doing that because they heard from their constituents presumably in Bisbee --

Howard Fischer: I'm not sure that a Bisbee constituent said that.

Ted Simons: How wise is this for Horne to take on?

Howard Fischer: Well, anything that diverts attention from having bumped into an expensive car is probably a good deal. I don't know that this is a brilliant thing for him to take on. The fact is, first of all, I don't know that a judge will take this. Generally courts like a real controversy. In other words, somebody goes in, I'm a domestic partner, I should be entitled to this benefit, the will, the probate. Can we apply the law. He's asking on a purely academic level for a judge to decide this law is unenforceable. He's setting himself up to be rejected. He doesn't need more bad publicity right now.

Ted Simons: I was kind of curious about that. Was it wise for the governor's office to be involved with this sequestration with the veterans? Veterans services director resigns next day, says I want my job back, I was forced out. Governor's office says no.

Mary Jo Pitzl: No way. It's her agency, she's the chief executive of the state. The directors of state agencies serve at the pleasure of the governor. What happened here is that Joey Strickland, the director of the veterans department, hired a former state lawmaker Terry Proud, a former female lawmaker from Tucson. And Proud has a penchant for sometimes putting her foot in her mouth, and she did that with an interview where she said she doesn't believe women should serve on the front lines because they have menstrual cycles. Proud quickly denied it, but it caught the Governor's office's ear. We told Mr. Strickland a year ago not to hire her because she was going to take a job with an agency. You can't do that. So Strickland apparently interpreted that to mean, I can't hire her while she's a lawmaker. But she's been out of office since mid January and he hired her. When they got word of that, especially after her comment about women on the front lines, they said we're done, both of them out of there.

Ted Simons: What is the reaction to this? Does it sound like the Governor's office might be tone deaf? Or do they understand -- I'm guessing it's her, or someone at her office making this decision. What are you hearing?

Ben Giles: I think they understand this is the Governor's employee whether there was a miscommunication or not, at least in her mind Joey Strickland disobeyed an order from his boss, the Governor. Maybe it's not the best way to lobby the Governor to get the job back. I don't think that's going to please Jan Brewer very much. No more than hiring a former lawmaker for whatever reason. Her office wouldn't give very specific reasons with what issue they had with terry proud. They did not want her in that office.

Howard Fischer: I've stayed out of issues with the Department of Veterans Services, my wife used to be the women's veterans coordinator there. To somehow say I was `coerced by the governor's chief of staff, that you know, I didn't know what I was doing sort of thing, or I was drunk at the time, it's the same sort of thing. It's hard for people to understand you were a lieutenant-colonel and you were coerced?

Ted Simons: It's also hard for people to understand, we're getting nothing but blow-back on this. Everyone's saying, governor, let's rethink this one.

Mary Jo Pitzl: He's very popular in veterans circles, they are very displayed to see him leaving. I suspect that's part of the reason he asked for his job back. The Governor was asked again about the sequestration and just said she's said enough, she's done with the issue. I suspect this might be case closed and they have already started to move on to find a replacement.

Ted Simons: Interesting. It sounds as those Democrats tried to get some amendments regarding gun control. And talk to us about this. This is somewhat procedural, in that you're not hearing any of our bills. So let's pile on a bunch of amendments so you have to hear them? This is again gun control legislation.

Ben Giles: They do the maneuver all the time, Democrats in the Senate and the House when they can't get their bill heard for whatever reason. You had 18 ammendments With one for Lopez, as devGallardo. They were assigned to rules, basically the bill graveyard, whatever the Senate President Andy Biggs doesn't want coming up, and you will never see it again. The hope is you spark debate and get people talking about it on the floor.

Howard Fischer: The other thing it can do, you could ask for a role call vote on the thing, so it gets people on record and you say, wait, you said that it's okay for people to have a magazine that holds 30 bullet? It provide some help down the road.

Ted Simons: Bang, bang, bang, they were all shot down, they weren't even close.

Mary Jo Pitzl: As senator Gallardo said, this gun is what everybody is talking about it and on Monday when this happens, only Democrats spoke about this. The only time Republicans spoke up was to make a procedural objection and try to shut down the debate. That's the best shot the Democrats have.

Ted Simons: Were any Republicans interested in negotiation.

Ben Giles: Not in the slightest. The only time they would speak up if there is a ruling on whether or not you can even have discussion about it, period. Once we got to the roll call portion of the voting, they got through three of them before Senator Steve Pierce said, let's skip all this nonsense and vote and get done with all this. They don't want to have to continually on 18 amendments take roll call votes on everything like banning city automatic weapons, making sure that domestic violence offenders can't have guns.

Howard Fischer: This is part of what's happening. I think the Democrats are sensing, maybe not in Arizona but nationally the mood is changing. The issues of background checks, for example. You can see the mood changing. The Republicans don't even want to discuss the most basic things. There was a related issue this week where they didn't want to fund temporary mental health services. Again, the other half of the equation. Let's provide the services to keep the Jared Loughners from getting guns.

Ted Simons: With an issue like this, did the Democrats do themselves any favors with this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It gives them something to campaign on. A way to further draw a distinction between themselves and any Republican opponents they may face down the roads. As Howie said, the mood is changing nationally, but not so much in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Federal judges upholding the international equipment -- this is a lawsuit almost before horizon was on the air.

Howard Fischer: The argument was the federal law says there's an Equal Opportunity Act. Is has been interpreted as meaning you have to teach them English. Arizona wasn't living up to its end of the bargain, or they had -- the state had to do something. The Supreme Court said you've got to go back and revisit it, we do have an emergency management programs, four hours in class. Finally Collins said look, things look okay. They may not be learning geography science. That's not the problem of the court anywhere.

Ted Simons: The four-hour is valid educational theory, not the best perhaps but good.

Howard Fischer: I talked to attorney Tim Hogan from the Center for Law. He said, I don't think I can get more done in this case. But if kids are being denied other education opportunities, maybe we're starting another 20-year odyssey.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. One was aimed at the footsteppers unit, you have to renew that every year. The federal judge struck it down, you left out these deductions, these groups. It was targeted and you can't do that

Ted Simons: Any impacts on current anti-union bills -

Howard Fischer: they have pretty much given up on most of the reaction goals.

Ted Simons: How that's going? Do we know?

Howard Fischer: I think it's very premature. He's got until next July. Depends on the voters.

Ted Simons: From a distance we hear about these laws, and years later they go to court, we forget about them with the bill that was passed and the signature there in the governor's office. They wind up in court or getting squashed or something. From a distance we think, what are you doing this for if you know it's going to court and you're likely to hear --

Ben Giles:Lawmakers will have an attorney tell them this is probably unconstitutional and headed to court, but they will vote it out anyway.

Ted Simons: Doesn't make any difference?

Ben Giles: In a lot of cases a statement is worth millions in court and legal fees.

Howard Fischer: Campaign contributions.

Ted Simons: It's basically a statement, symbolic.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah. I think in those cases where they get to avoid practice. It makes a few thinking the other way, we're fighting for X or Y and the election cycle goes by before you have a court ruling.

Ted Simons: And you wind up forgetting, years later the reasons for which they were passed in the first place.

Howard Fischer: We'll tweak the law a little bit. This law was a tweak of an earlier version of the law that had been struck down.

Ted Simons: This is right up your alley, Howie.

Howard Fischer: I represent that.

Ted Simons: It's an interesting marijuana case involving driving.

Howard Fischer: Yes. It's very clear you cannot drive with certain drugs in your system. Any level is considered unacceptable. This case involves a guy who was stopped. His blood tested positive not for THC, but a secondary metabolite which stays in the body for 30 days. He was charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence. The fascinating part about the case is the state's own witness said there is no evidence that this metabolite causes impairment. Yet the county attorney is trying to get the Supreme Court to say we can still charge them with being impaired. Now that the law says certain people can legally smoke marijuana, if you use medical marijuana at all, you can never drive because every 30 days you can get tested.

Ted Simons: But what does impaired mean? What kind of influence are you talking that you're driving under?

Howard Fischer: According to Bill Montgomery, it's up to the legislature.

Ted Simons: It is something the legislature is interested in tackling?

Howard Fischer: No, no, they are going to wait for the supreme court to step in on this. Marijuana, it's like any other drug. If you're considered any amount in the system -- now, the court is deciding, really going down the rabbit hole, when the law says THC or its metabolites, does it mean every one, whether it impairs you or not?

Ted Simons: Howie did a good job of explaining that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, Professor Fisher.

Ted Simons: He's a child of the sixties.

Ben Giles: You could do it much better than I could.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here, good to have you all here. Thank you so much for joining us. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons.

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