Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, as local reporters recap the big news of the week.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon"'s journalists rounds table. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times, Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal, and Luige Del Puerto of the capitol times. Arizona lawmakers still not amused at the administration's denial disaster of the Yarnell hill fire. Jim, we're talking not fighting the fire, the Feds did have a grant situation in there, but as far as insuring people who didn't have insurance, replacing, rebuilding their homes, the Fed said I don't think so.

Jim Small: Feds said the severity of the fire and the damage that it caused, to the town of Yarnell and surrounding areas, wasn't enough to meet the criteria to provide federal emergency aid. State lawmakers and the governor all expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling. There's certainly a political unity at this time of some sort involved in trying to get this federal aid. They are saying about appealing T. house speaker Tobin and House Minority Leader Campbell, who oftentimes are at loggerheads and don't necessarily see eye to eye on issues, jointly put out a joint statement saying the federal government needs to reconsider and that they sent a letter to FEMA asking for exactly that.

Ted Simons: FEMA basically saying state and local governments, charities, the region, the area, the local folks can take care of it, we're not needed.

Mike Sunnucks: That's their argument. Obviously folks disagree. Senator Mccain says he got a lot of assurances alluded to the vice president who came out for the funeral for the firefighters, making some assurances. I think the point they only asked for a couple million dollars, a drop in the bucket for FEMA's budget. The damage of the fire was minor but the perception of the fire was severe because of the horrible fatalities of the firefighters. So there's this kind of maybe disconnect about the damages of what FEMA could do and what actually happened with the fire and of course the horrible things that happened.

Ted Simons: It's interesting; we'll talk about this in a second. FEMA is looking at spending far less in the city of Prescott would spend for death benefits for some of the firefighters yet the Feds are saying you can take care of this. Good luck.

Luige del Puerto: I was looking at when was the last time FEMA had actually declared a major disaster for Arizona. It was in 2010 when we had the flooding up in the north. After that all the fires that we have had have been declared incident management which basically says they would help. They had helped in putting out the fire, but they haven't since declared a major disaster stable announcement declaration for fires. You're right, this is a small money or small sum that we're talking about, but in their letter to the president of FEMA, they basically said, look, it's 6,000 acres that were destroyed. It's 200 percent of homes destroyed. More than 100 homes were destroyed by the fire. More than two dozen or so that have minor problems as well. So even though it may seem small for this small community it's a huge thing. Of course the fact that we have 19 firefighters dying of course they say that just adds to the gravity of this incident.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a lot of partisan and kind of regional and community overtones and under-tones. The Obama administration is democratic. McCain and the governor and Flake are all Republicans. The issues the state has had with the administration. There's also the argument that FEMA and the administration maybe favor certain types of communities, bigger cities than the rural folks. It's been a debate that's been going on in Congress for a little bit that they will throw tons of money, Sandy, Hurricanes, things back east, throw tons of money at. That how much are they spending there. Then you have smaller things out west in rural areas that they are not as maybe aggressive on.

Ted Simons: You mentioned partisanship. Some critics of what the state is doing, they're crying hypocrisy here. They're saying you want the federal government off your back, don't tread on me, and yet for $ 2 million you're raising a big fit over this. That's what some critics are saying. Lot of folks agree with them.

Jim Small: Well yeah and certainly you know far be it from anybody to abstain from making a political point over a tragedy. That seems to be the way things go nowadays. All politics is local. That's what we see in Andy Tobin's district. He has a stake in it. Mike kind of talked about the partisanship issues between McCain and flake and Obama. But you do have Democrats who while they may have their own political interests but who do see a value in pushing for trying to get the federal government to do it. Saying look the state should step up and pay this money itself. We can find the money in our budget. We got a $ 10 million budget we can find $ 2 million dollars.
Ted Simons: Will the state do that Luige do you think?
Luige del Puerto: I think it's a question today, right, one of the firefighters who had died essentially the state, essentially calling the governor for a special session so state benefits could be extended to all of the crew members who had died. I talked to, communicated with Mr. Tobin this morning. He says that may be a bit premature. We want a firmer grasp of what would be the cost of this. The legality of retroactively extending benefits those who died. Obviously there were many that wanted to do it right away. Rubin Gallegos, representative from Phoenix, says it's 2 million out of a $10 billion dollar $ 9 billion dollar budget. It's a rounding error if you think of it. He's pushing and they are okay with the special session to do it.

Ted Simons: Special session also has been considered as you mentioned regarding benefits for some of the firefighters. 13 of the 19 firefighters who were seasonal temporary no death benefits talked to us about this. This is creating quite a divide between some people who see the visual but also understand that these folks did sign up for this.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, the folks up in Prescott, the government up there, is really in a tough spot. This could cost them a lot of money. There's folks Northrup making dire predictions about the financial cost but the flip side is the human tragedy and sympathy and empathy for the firefighters and their families. I can't see the legislature not doing something on this. The local folks have a tougher time because they have the budget constraints.

Ted Simons: What would the legislature do? Speaker Tobin was on the show. He says he's drafting stuff as we speak. Are you talking about full benefits for temporary seasonal, all temporary seasonal?

Jim Small: What speaker Tobin is talking about doing is saying any first responder who dice fight ago fire on state land, whether they are full-time, part-time, whatever their employment status is they would get basically benefits equivalent to a full-time employee through the state's public safety retirement system. The insurance; pay a cash payment. Things like that. They would qualify instantly for that by the enact they are first responders and heroes who sacrificed all in defense of the state. The real question becomes when does the legislature tackle it? Do they wait a month or wait until January? No matter when it's going to be retroactive for to June 30th. The issue is when does the legislature take it up? The legislature will find a way, just when does it actually happen.

Mike Sunnucks: It's just uncharted waters. Such an isolated case they are dealing with. I think they still need to figure those things out. I adopt think the local folks have the wherewithal financially to deal with that.

Ted Simons: What basically you're saying is got to be a firefighter, have to lose your life fight ago fire on state land, if you're nonemergency responder, if you're a seasonal temporary worker, not necessarily applying to you.

Luige del Puerto: Well, right now we Don't have the language in the bill. To make it so that those who died, there will be first responders, they died in a state trust land they would get full benefits extended to them by the public retirement system. That's essentially the idea. The contours of this one we don't know yet. That's one of the reasons why we talk to some of the legislators this morning, what do you think? Some said yeah on an emotional level something has to be done. To be clear, all of them say something needs to be done. It's just that when do we need to do it? Do but need to do it right away? There's so the Thom and I'm sensing hesitation from some lawmakers. There's some thought maybe the families are receiving or have received right now some lump sums that that may be enough for the moment to tied them over until the next regular session. When they can and when for sure they would tackle this issue.

Jim Small: I think the issue is there's a concern they don't want to rush into inning something out of emotion. When you do things like that, that's a recipe for doing something maybe inadvertent or maybe writing it too broadly. To your question about who it's going to apply to, that's part of the debate. They are trying to get advice from the pension system to see who all this would cover. If we got back to the state and write the language like this, who is going to be included? Is it going to be including groups or people who maybe it's not intended to? Is it going to have some kind of ramification where it is going to cost more than what's expected? I think those are part of the discussion happening now behind the scenes. It's really a matter of when they settle on something and then take it to the legislators, when do they get that --

Mike Sunnucks: We'll see if it's a narrow bill just for this group or if people start throwing in police officers, National Guard, people at the border, those types of things. It could be a can of worms and in unintended consequences, policy wise, and money wise is a thing to really worry about.

Luige del Puerto: I think the key to this one would be to define it so narrowly it would apply to in this particular case the firefighters who died. That would be the key to success. Otherwise you open all sorts of cans and people would push for everything.

Ted Simons: We had him on the show this week talking about that. We find out that maybe he's nosing around for congressional district 1. First of all, is he nosed around for congressional district 1?

Mike Sunnucks: He's nosed around for congressional district 1 and others a number of times. He has political aspirations. He's looking at running up there in that district. Ann Kirkpatrick is a Democrat. A Republican would have a chance. This would be the time. She won this new district. This would be the time to take her on. I think he's taking a serious look. He's got some political chops.

Ted Simons: Will he say speaker in.

Luige del Puerto: He would stay speaker. We spoke with one very close to him. Our source essentially said the speak letter stay on as speaker. You can wait another year. It's not going to happen next year. He will stay on as speaker. They probably see some benefits. You do have that sort of minor bully pulpit, so there's that. He's fielding calls to see if he has support. There are a couple of things you have to go through. They have to make sure his family is okay with it. He does have a business and a business partner. They have to square that away with his business partner. There are other things. Does he move physically to the new district? Does that mean he would move to city one and reside there? Those are questions that they are going through now. We expect something either by the ends of this month or early next month.

Mike Sunnucks: That's a challenge in that district for Republicans. Has the Navajo nation. That put Kirkpatrick over the top. She's a pretty moderate Democrat, not OVERLY partisan; has taken some stances against the administration on some things that -- so she's a middle of the road old time blue dog Democrat maybe. He's moving in there. So that's a challenge.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though the Circuit Court of Appeals has gone ahead and said Andrew Thomas, Lisa AUBUSHON, you are not immune from prosecution in your duties as prosecutors. It sounds like the night circuit said when you filed that civil racketeering suit against everyone and his brother you were acting in a political matter.

Mike Sunnucks: That's been their argument all along through the disbarment and all the ethics hearings. We were acting in that capacity so we can be sued. It's another step back for Thomas and his gubernatorial aspirations.

Ted Simons: Every time we mention Kansas for governor we have to mention Andrew Thomas. He's one of the few that has said I'm running. If he's liable for some of these lawsuits, what does that do to a come pain?

Jim Small: I don't think it dissuades anyone who already supports him. He has ardent supporters. After the disbarment, after the lawsuits, after the allegations, just after the whole thing, they support him lock, stock and barrel. But in terms of what it means for the broader electorate I think this is just another thing. I don't know I guess another black Mark on him as a potential candidate. No one in the Republican establishment takes him seriously as a candidate. But that doesn't necessarily matter. We have seen time and time again they have chosen their candidate and the upstart or underdog comes in and wins. The challenge is to make sure he gets on the ballot so he can be further considered.

Ted Simons: Has he responded to this night circuit decision yet?

Jim Small: He posted a statement on Facebook where he claimed he was railroaded, claimed this was yet another example of judicial corruption. Listed a series of decisions that the night circuit, which issued this ruling, that the night circuit has issued in recent years that he disagrees with. Some of which have been either upheld by the Supreme Court or the Supreme Court has not over turned the night circuit on and says as governor of Arizona a state official he will work to reform the judiciary apparently in San Francisco in the federal the night circuit. It's a little unclear in terms of how that would happen. He held up this rooming and the past ruling as judicial corruption.

Ted Simons: But does that indicate the fact that this is such an ideological campaign? Potential governor of Arizona is going to somehow impact the federal judiciary. Are we just talking about simple, straightforward ideology, everything else get out of the way?

Mike Sunnucks: I think so. A guy like Thomas, a candidate is effective when he's dealing with issues that he maybe appeals to the Republican base in Arizona. He's been effective when he talks about immigration. When he talks about himself, it happened to him in both A.G. runs which he lost, when you're dealing with that, when conservative ideologues like that they lose their muster, their juice.

Ted Simons: Alright Luige, it sounds like independent elections for Phoenix and Tucson. First of all explain what was going on here. The legislature weaned those things on the ballot for the generals and the city was saying we'll get lost on the ballots. They fought it and kind of won didn't they?

Luige del Puerto: They did win. The court essentially said the city of Tucson and Phoenix are only the cities of Tucson and Phoenix because they're charter governments theirs can hold their elections whenever they want because they are chartered governments and therefore they can decide when to hold their elections. That's basically what allowed them to not skirt but not have to follow the law. This law was created a few years ago. It was meant to coordinates with the general election. Among the reasons for it was supposedly it would increase the number of people who would actually go to the ballots and vote for this election. Typically municipal elections are low turnout. Another reason by consulting elections we would save on costs. Obviously if you're not having to have these elections in other years, then you're saving money. The court basically said, well, we're not so sure about whether this would actually save money. We're not so sure about the fact that it would it might increase voter participation but we're not so sure. The court also mentioned that the length of the ballot created by consolidating these elections could be a disservice in fact to voters who may fill up the first one, two pages but not the six or seven. Do remember Linda gray has fought against this law, bringing about five, six pages saying this is what we have now. You're going to add few more pages to this one.

Ted Simons: Basically the idea of doing this is to get more people to participate. The judge is saying the ballot could be so long you would have fewer people voting.

Jim Small: That's exactly what the judge is saying. If you look in Maricopa County the last general election, with judge retention, ballot propositions, federal candidates, all of the stuff that's already on there, you had a ballot that was 200 items long. If you're going to add more you can already see it as you go down the ballot, fewer and fewer votes are cast the deeper you get into the ballot. The judge said there's no way to guarantee this will actually increase voter turnout. This may have the unintended effect of having fewer people vote. They will get tired, I'm done, I'm going to stop.

Mike Sunnucks: Some argue it will make it more partisan, all the partisan races and presidential and even number years, city elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. They not always are as we witnessed by the city of Phoenix the last few cycles. If folks want to change the elections of Phoenix and Tucson they can change the charter, elect mayors and council members, take it to the voters and change it that way. It's not like the door is totally closed. It comes to the frequent fight between the state legislatures and big cities. It is part of that too.

Ted Simons: Basically the judge, there was a constitutional aspect to this but did the judge even mention that?

Jim Small: The judge basically punted. He said he's not going to rule on it. That's one of the things that Tucson and Phoenix had argued was that this is unconstitutional. It grants charter cities the ability to govern themselves, have more control over how they are governed. They had a constitutional ruling on a case a few years ago that involved Tucson elections and changing the way those are conducted. The court said, no, you can't do this. This goes against the charter government system. That's one of the arguments put forward and the judge said, no; I'm not going to weigh in on that. That's why it only applies to Tucson and Phoenix. He didn't enjoin the law for every other city.

Ted Simons: Luige, who is Representative Bob Thorpe and why does he keep stepping in it?

Luige del Puerto: He's a representative from the northern part of the state, first time legislator if I'm not mistaken, he's considered to be more I'd logically driven, more tea party type of candidate. He's Waded into other controversies before. During the session he had written a letter to all the house members and staffers basically saying, complaining about support for or the push for Medicaid expansion and he listed specific names of colleagues he thought were supportive of the government's proposal. He was, and Mr. Tobin said essentially no, you can't do that. He's a freshman. He's not exactly immune to controversy. He's done it before. Now it seems like he's done it again.

Ted Simons: He did it because of some tweets, racially insensitive tweets, correct?

Mike Sunnucks: The Justice Department, Eric Holder, issued some executive orders to lessen drug penalties to have less jail time for nonviolent drug offenders, and Mr. Thorpe tweeted that, well, that policy will help African-Americans, Mr. holder's African. That's his motivation. Race is a big part of the drug war. African-American males, African-Americans make up a widely disproportionate amount of folks arrested for drug crimes, convicted of drug crimes, lots much studies on disparity treatment between whites and Hispanics and African-Americans in drug sentencing, in drug laws. Race is an issue there. Mr. Thorpe took a rather insensitive approach to that and Drew a connection between the race of the Attorney General and folks that the change in policy might benefit.

Ted Simons: That's not all. There's a rodeo clown involved here.

Jim Small: Yes, another tweet that was sent out the same day, this I a few days ago, that essentially expressed support for he characterized as a crowd pleasing rodeo clown at the Missouri state fair dressed up in a mask of President Obama that had become kind of -- Missouri state fair board says that wasn't a good thing and they disciplined the rodeo clowns, sent them all to sensitivity training, fired one of the clowns, gave him a lifetime ban. The result was Democrats and liberals in Arizona started making hay with it publicly and getting into twitter discussions with him over twitter about it. He was defending it. Eventually he decided I've had enough of this. I'm going to make it private and start blocking liberals and members of the media from viewing my account. That all happened in the span of about four hours.

Ted Simons: There wasn't one of those apologies that reads to anyone who was offended I'm sorry as opposed to a blanket apology.

Mike Sunnucks: He took down the tweets so they weren't misunderstood. A lot of conservatives have called this Obama clown, a free speech thing, political satire and parody. It was accompanied by those Justice Department tweets also.

Ted Simons: This is the same man who invited a body armor salesman to the legislature to do like a demonstration?

Luige del Puerto: Yes. During the session when they were talking about ways to ensure school safety one idea was if we're talking about school safety we may as well talk about safety in the state legislature. It's an open body. Anyone can come in. While both chambers have rules that say you can't bring a gun into the chamber no one is checking that. They don't have melts detectors. He said let's have a bullet-proof vest party in the house basement and quickly aborted the idea after a couple of criticisms.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it there. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Jim Small: Arizona Capitol Times; Mike Sunnucks: Phoenix Business Journal; Luige Del Puerto: Arizona Capitol Times

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