Journalists’ Roundtable 6/14/13

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary K. Reinhart from the "Arizona Republic," Jim Small of the "Arizona Capital Times," and Jeremy Duda, also from the "Arizona Capital Times." After months of political maneuvering and feuding, state lawmakers finally adjourned early this morning with a budget that included, most notably, Medicaid expansion. But I don't know how far it's going to go.

Mary K. Reinhart: All of the above. I think there was a lot of exhaustion, there were a lot of late nights-two back to back to get this done-hours upon hours of speeches. I won't call it a debate because one side didn't respond. A lot of unhappy campers down there-but in the end I think everyone tried to part ways with a handshake and a hey, have a nice summer.

Ted Simons: How far does that handshake go Jim?

Jim Small: It was anything but politics as usual. I think Mary K.'s right. Raw nerve doesn't even do justice to what was going on down there. It was a situation-things haven't been this bad since the impeachment. There were really a lot of hurt feelings. I think time heals all wounds and the time between right now and the beginning of the next session is in question.

Ted Simons: What do you think Jeremy?

Jeremy Duda: We'll see. The Governor's only got one more session left, we'll see if that's enough time left to heal some of those wounds. People are incredibly angry at her. Tuesday when she called the special session, the atmosphere was just toxic. The anti-expansion Republicans were blind-sided by this, the Governor felt blind-sided by what Speaker Tobin and Senate President Biggs did about being adjourned next week. Nobody knew what was happening, a lot of anger and frustration.

Ted Simons: Let's go to the dramatics here. We can talk about the -- the session is over and we've got a budget. But really, the drama regarding Medicaid expansion and the special session. Speaker Tobin decides to take day off or so, the Senate President decided to take a few days off or so, and just like that, boom, special session? That's what happened?

Mary K. Reinhart: Pretty much. There were seriously stalled negotiations leading up to that. But that was described as the last straw when Speaker Tobin decided to take Wednesday off. That was the day this bipartisan coalition had decided they were going to bring this forward and get those budget bills and Medicaid expansion through. Took the day off, can't do it now. Senate President Biggs, it was rumored he said, I was going to work on Thursday, but the Governor's office and others believed there would be then the House adjourning Wednesday, the Senate adjourning Thursday, Friday no action at all until the following week. At that point they said, we're done, this is it, we're going to move, which is what happened.

Ted Simons: And how unusual was the move?

Jim Small: Special sessions to do budgets are not unheard of. But in this manner, the Governor basically -- there was a meeting with the Republicans, you know, a group of the 14 Republicans that ended up voting for the budget. And Democratic leaders, where they hammered out what they were going to do and how this was going to happen. Who was going to be responsible for pulling what weight. They didn't tell the Republican leadership. Reporters started to call saying hey, we hear there's a special session that's going to happen. They said, we haven't heard anything. Lo and behold, the paper comes down from the governor's office saying, we're calling a special session.

Jeremy Duda: The House was going to vote Thursday, the Senate would have voted a few days later. The Governor and coalition didn't trust that things would move along. They felt there had been intentional delays. They had a way to be sure there would no more delays. People were basically plotting to remove Tobin and Biggs if they obstructed things.

Mary K. Reinhart: During that meeting, which came about after the Speaker decided to take the day off, there was no doubt this group was willing to remove the Speaker and the Senate President if they wouldn't agree to preside over this special session. What you had was clearly I think people are saying, unprecedented, where you had the leadership, same party as the governor by the way, not even notified of the special session until after it was basically called. Then we go to the floor and see these coalition members were the first to arrive, these Republicans. I don't even know if the Democrats trickled in at that point. Then sort of the leadership comes walking in going, what just happened to us here? Then the game was on and it really went fast after that, literally hours, rules suspended, straight to the floor. Debate was one-sided. It moved about as quickly as they could move it.

Ted Simons: Kind of a semi boycott wasn't it the first night? A lot of Republicans decided to sit in the gallery, something along those lines?

Jim Small: They were on the floor to get counted for attendance, then they went up to the gallery. Maybe a dozen of them or so sitting up there. They left one in the House, one anti-expansion lawmaker, a freshman Representative from southern Arizona, who gave a pretty fiery floor speech and kind of lashed out at the governor and his colleagues. Lashed out, more so than the Democrats, certainly everybody.

Ted Simons: Then we wind up with nine hours of debate before the House debate. From what I understand, it was pretty nasty stuff.

Jeremy Duda: Oh, yeah. First of all, like you said, calling it a debate would not be extremely accurate. The anti-expansion Republicans kept asking if they would yield to questions, and they said no, no, no, over and over again.

Mary K. Reinhart: I think it wasn't -- really, everything has been said at this point. So there are these dueling narratives. There was a lot of concern about transparency and the rules and leapfrogging this and getting it onto the floor. Most of what's in there people had been talking about for months.

Ted Simons: There weren't a bunch of amendments being offered anyway.

Jeremy Duda: You know, they knew they were going to lose but they were offering amendments on abortion, things on principle, tougher circuit breakers for the City's federal matching funds. They knew they were going down, but they were going to go down with the ship.

Ted Simons: Without much comment, they did go down with the ship.

Jim Small: Basically it was little more than sponsoring the bill, oppose the amendment, sit back down. That was kind of the extent of it. The other folks, the rest of the Republican caucus standing up making speech after speech after speech about why the amendment was good and the tactics were bad and the substance of the budget. The health care part was bad and would lead Arizona into disaster.

Ted Simons: The criticism of these speeches, a little badgering and taunting going on, as well? Were these straight policy speeches?

Mary K. Reinhart: I think there was a combination. Clearly some very sincere concern about the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion and the federal government's ability and willingness, and the future, the sustainability of it, and whether or not we're going to end up left holding the bag, insuring another 300,000 400,000 and ending up paying for the bulk of that. There was also a lot of frankly politics and ideology. You guys better watch it, we're going to -- you know, when the primaries come around next year, you can be darn sure folks are going to know about this. Your political careers are short.

Ted Simons: Representative Farnsworth said the Governor was throwing a temper tantrum. Another said she would go down as the best Democratic governor in state history. Why is he ashamed to be a state legislator when a majority of the legislature wants something and got it?

Mary K. Reinhart: Well, that's a really good question. Part of it was the process. They felt completely -- well, betrayed by a Republican governor and some of their own colleagues in the Republican caucus. They felt -- you know, the narrative there was, we were going to get there, we were going to get this done, get a vote on Medicaid expansion. You guys didn't save any time. The process angered them. And the policy itself, Medicaid expansion, they just feel it is an abomination, unconscionable, something this legislature should not be doing.

Ted Simons: A lot of people thought it was an abomination to cut this in the first place. There were vitriolic speeches. But goodness, gracious, someone was tweeting, I think an ex-lawmaker, that these people are slime. People from the outside look at this and see the hard-line Republicans more worried about the Republican Party and interparty politics than actual policy. Was that idea floating around out there?

Jim Small: Well, I think that's one way people will definitely look at it. Whether you like what happened or abhor what happened, I think a lot depends on where you come from. If you're an Independent or a Democrat, you may not have a problem with it. If you're a Republican, you know, a conservative or a Tea Party member, you're going to look at what happened and you will be offended. Most of the people we've talked to that are from that perspective are. You know, you can kind of sympathize with them and understand. They passed a budget. While they did -- while a lot of these concepts were out there, they passed a budget that didn't go through a single committee. The House never considered any part of the budget. All of those House members, while they may have been generally aware of what was in the budget, they had never gone through the actual process. That budget never went to committee or caucus so they could discuss it. They never got to fight for things in it. That was really the root of where a lot of this outrage came from.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Jeremy?

Jeremy Duda: A lot of the horse-trading, a majority of Republicans in both chambers were cut out of this. They had the coalition of 14 Republicans and the Democrats, the deal-making pretty much went on there, revolving around the Medicaid expansion. Everyone else out of the loop.

Mary K. Reinhart: Getting back to the point that, yes, it didn't go through a House appropriations -- it went through House Appropriations and they killed the Medicaid expansion bill. Whether or not they didn't know what was in the Medicaid bill, I think, you know, the Governor's office and the coalition would argue everybody had a pretty darn good idea what it was they were voting on.

Ted Simons: Senator Biggs said it was tragic we couldn't have open debate and discussion on these issues. I've been hearing that for years from the Democrats, saying the same thing.

Mary K. Reinhart: A lot of Democrats saying, welcome to my world.

Ted Simons: Some were saying that the conservatives and anti- -- they described themselves as a minority party.

Mary K. Reinhart: They did describe themselves as a minority party. There was a feeling that because they hold the majority in both the House and Senate that their policies should be the policies of this state. The Democrats, you know, Jack Campbell stood up and said, gee, guess what? We are Democrats, we are 13 in the Senate and 24 in the House and we also represent the people of this state. And you know, we have -- together with these Republicans we have a majority and that's how it works. That's how it used to work years ago. That's how things used to be done.

Ted Simons: Who are members of the coalition? Are these folks in districts in which they are somewhat safe? Not safe at all?

Jim Small: Some of them are in districts where they are potentially safe, some are in districts where they are really probably not safe. It kind of runs the gamut, which speaks to a little bit of what Mary K. was getting at, that this was a vote by the majority of both chambers. There was no doubt about it. Yes, the Governor did reach outside of her party to cobble this majority together. There's no question about it. Some of these people are going to be in trouble. Look at someone like Doris Goodale, the most conservative county in the state. It's the only county that rejected Prop 100 three years ago. Obama-care was a central issue in the Senate race there last year. That's going to be a huge issue this time. She's going to have an uphill climb to get over that hurdle.

Jeremy Duda: But a lot of interests pushing for Medicaid expansion in the chamber of commerce and hospitals, and the Restore Arizona campaign, they have been saying all session, we are going to come to your aid. There's even some pretty snide remarks about stuff like that on the floor the past couple of days, people say the special interests and the governor basically paid these people off to vote for it, which the Governor denied. I'll be happy to campaign for them, but the Restoring Arizona folks, they pretty clearly made that offer all session long. They were going to come to people's aid all session if they need it.

Mary K. Reinhart: If you talk to the members of the coalition, to a person they will tell you this was a decision about what's best for the State of Arizona, not about their political careers. The Governor at her first rally said, I'm here to do what's right, not here to get reelected. There's a couple of freshmen in this group, they may be one-termers and knew that when they made the decision to support a proposal they knew would get them primarried a year from now.
Ted Simons: Before we get to this, the budget overall and the session overall, one last thing on Medicaid expansion. There was talk from the beginning you needed two thirds of the majority to get this through, because it's a tax and not an assessment. You can parse words any way you want. Is it headed to court here?

Jim Small: Almost certainly. Jeremy spoke with them today and they have been up front for a long time saying we think this is a problem, we think you need this two thirds majority to get this passed. They are already starting to look at the legal issues involved in this. I would imagine they would file a lawsuit at some point in the near future.

Jeremy Duda: Also the threatened citizen referendum on the issue. Former lawmakers Ron Gould and Frank antonori, connections to some deep pockets also planning some things, too. You need 86,000 signatures in the next 90 days. You probably need about 120,000 to make sure you have enough. Then this gets put on hold until after the 2014 election. It makes this a major issue for next year's election. Hard to say who that benefits, but put the magnifying glass on whoever voted for this.

Ted Simons: And getting those signatures in the first place, how likely? How difficult?

Mary K. Reinhart: We have a relatively low threshold of those who voted in the last election. I don't -- 85,000 86,000 and change, it's going to be the heat of summer. A lot depends perhaps on whether they can pay for those petition circulators or if they have to go out and get them. They have a good network of precinct committee people, the grass roots political operatives in the GOP that opposes the expansion, and I'm sure they will be out in force remember. We'll have to see.

Jim Small: It depends, I think Mary K.'s exactly right. If they get money I think they can do it. 90 days is not a long time to gather 120,000 signatures, especially with an all-volunteer effort. In that case they can have 18 months to do it. So this is a tall order. If someone can come in and pony up $300,000 to pay for signatures, I think it's very doable.
Ted Simons: Okay. With the idea of getting signatures and the initiative process in mind, there were other pieces of legislation. Jeremy, the minute the special session ended did everyone just go screaming for their desks and looking over piles and piles of paper? How many bills had to be considered here?

Jeremy Duda: Speaking of getting signatures, there was the omnibus elections bills. Tacked onto that very recently, changes in signature requirements for third parties to get onto the ballot. It makes it extremely difficult for Libertarians and Greens. There's some stuff in there that weeds people off the permanent early voter list. This has been very contentious all session. If you receive an early ballot and don't vote for a couple of cycles, they basically take your name off the list and send you a thing that makes you sign it and send it back or they take you off. They prohibit picking up early ballots, a real staple of Democratic campaigning.

Ted Simons: It looked like they may not make it toward the end, and boom, they made it.

Jim Small: The reasons they weren't going to make it was some internal politics holding bills up, some fighting amongst Andy Tobin and Andy Biggs in the House and Senate. Everything kind of rolled into one package and went up. The first vote one Republican state senator, Steve Pierce, former Senate President Steve Pierce voted against it, didn't explain, only told one of my colleagues, because he promised someone he'd vote no. He'd been talked into voting yes it for.

Ted Simons: So he votes yes.

Jim Small: It's the way things happen a lot of times on sine die night. To move another piece of legislation to get something else somewhere else. You've got votes changed and that's what happens.

Mary K. Reinhart: It's kind of a day that makes your head spin, that last day of the session. You do, you have bills flying around, people know they have like 20 minutes get this done, everybody's going to go home. You have people trying to line up votes, amendments on dozens of bills. It's really hard to keep track of and they are flying every which way and boom, it's over.

Ted Simons: We didn't have time to vet the Medicaid expansion was not necessarily a voice for the other bills.

Mary K. Reinhart: It was the last chance they had.

Ted Simons: Quickly now, the sales tax collection reform, a TPT as it's called. That made it, but I know there was real concern with cities and towns on this. We've done some stories on this.

Jeremy Duda: Cities and towns are concerned it's going to cost them money. It changes the way a lot of taxes are collected and where they are collected. It's undergone a number of revisions. The Governor made a major concession a couple of weeks ago. The league of cities said they would withdraw their opposition for a couple of changes here and here. It had enough support to pass by yesterday, but the bigger question was going to be, are people at the legislature so angry this was their number two priority. It was vastly overshadowed by the number one priority. One of the quarterbacks for this said we have the votes but Republicans have been coming up to me and saying, I'm going switch my vote because I'm going vote for the governor's priorities. A near-unanimous vote in the House, a unanimous vote in the Senate. Despite the bad blood that, could bode well for the governor coming up in the next session.
Ted Simons: Talk to us about the bill real quickly, why did that not make it.

Jim Small: A bill got introduced very late, introduced on Monday. It went through the appropriations committee. It would have done multiple things, it was designed primarily to allow state health officials to go into clinics and provide abortions and do basically unannounced searches and I guess, yeah, compliance searches. Without having any warrants or cause to go in there. It also affected Medicaid, would it have limited how Medicaid money could be given to clinics to provide abortions and things like that. There was a lot of concern from the ninth floor of the Governor's office because of that component. That trickled down to the bipartisan coalition. The bill was supposed to go to the floor a couple of days ago. There was an amendment that would have gutted the entire bill, and so the proponents backed off. By the time the dust settled yesterday it was clear the votes were not going to materialize.

Mary K. Reinhart: The vote was tied to Medicaid expansion. Cathy Harris had proposed identical language to defund Planned Parenthood and any abortion provider and that was unacceptable to Democrats. Every vote needed on the Medicaid expansion, that was not going to go anywhere. She tried and made many efforts. If the governor wanted Medicaid expansion, that was not going to happen.

Jeremy Duda: It was funny that language resurfaced. After Cathy started to raise the issue a few months ago, they sat down, tried to figure out a way around it that would stand up in court. After a few weeks the Governor said, just rejected the language, it's unnecessary and unlikely to stand up in court. Just kind of thrust it aside. It was interesting to see them raise the language and bring it up again at the last minute.

Ted Simons: Yes or no, the dramatics of this session spill over into the next session.

Jim Small: Yes.

Mary K. Reinhart: Certainly on certain issues. K-12, health and welfare, for sure.

Jeremy Duda: I think it's going to be tough for the governor to get votes from a lot of these Republicans.

Ted Simons: Good stuff, guys, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

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