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: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable: The governor extends the state's ban on driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. And Arizona's jobless rate jumps a full percent above the national average. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Announcer: "Arizona Horizon" made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon" 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. Governor Brewer announces an expansion of the state's driver's license ban to include any immigrant granted deferred action from deportation. Mary Jo, give us a background of what's going on. This particular move getting a lot of backlash.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This comes in the context of a lawsuit filed against the governor for her decision from last year to not grant driver's licenses to dreamers, young people who came into the country I think they have to be under age 31, over age 16. That lawsuit is challenging her ability to do that saying you let other classes of people get driver's licenses so expand the class. See if that argument will fly in court.

Howard Fischer: This is interesting because there were two claims that were brought by the ACLU and National Immigration Law Center. One, that governor's decision was preempted by federal law. That the Feds get to decide who stays and the trial judge said, I don't think so. But the judge refused to issue an injunction but the judge did say, wait a second. You do understand what equal protection means. There was testimony that there were 500 people with deferred action. This new program that Mary Jo was talking about is deferred action for childhood arrivals. If you're the victim of domestic violence and are here illegally, the government will allow you to stay so you can flee. They get work authorization cards. Rather than give the dreamers licenses I'll take it away from everyone else.

Ted Simons: domestic violence, human trafficking, sex exploitation. People who are victims with capital Vs. Critics are saying this is vindictive, spiteful, heartless. Is there any chance she would reconsider?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think this is the sign the governor has dug in and doubled down on her position. I think only thing that will shake her off it is a court ruling to the contrary. But the fact that she has expanded the class of victims who will be denied access to include as you say people who are victims with a capital V, suggests she's not about to retrench.

Howard Fischer: It's creating some very negative publicity, almost 1070-like publicity. It's one thing to say we'll fight about the dreamers but to take on everyone else and this state is just recovering from 1070 in terms of some of the things that went on in the economy in terms of tourism and the conventions. This is not what we need.

Ted Simons: Ben, general reaction, what you have been seeing at the capitol. As far as the connections and such, it just sounds like this has created a bit of a firestorm.

Ben Giles: It has. I think Mary Jo is absolutely right. It's the governor digging in trying to defend her position by getting a jump-start before this heads back to court. It's been portrayed as being a wildly unpopular decision. I don't see any reason to believe otherwise.

Ted Simons: Howie, do you think the governor knew the ramifications of something like this?

Howard Fischer: Well, on one hand I would say she has to understand. But what fascinated everyone about this, it's not like the governor's office was up front and announced this. We found out about it from the ACLU telling us that ADOT had amended its policy. So maybe they thought it would slide unnoticed. Like that was going to happen.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Here's one question I have is that the deferred action for the childhood arrivals, it's a two year window where more than a year into that. When that two years is up and they are out of the picture, what will happen to the other classes of people?

Howard Fischer: Theoretically you may have other folks coming in who may qualify. We're up to about 15,000 folks who have qualified for the DACA. The other thing is they are going to get renewed every two years. This will be an ongoing issue. One of the interesting theories was Bob Robb who came up with a nice way of handling it. He says this is 1996 State law that says you can't get a driver's license unless you're authorized to be here. That's a state law problem. Congress has authorized Homeland Security to grant deferred action. Congress has authorized Homeland Security to grant these people permission to work, employment authorization documents. Maybe there's a good case to be taken in state court if this whole equal protection argument falls apart to say she's violating state law.

Ted Simons: Also from the governor's office just here not long ago: Ben, there's a new edict, don't you dare call it Common Core anymore, this new education standard. Nothing changes if I'm reading this correctly. Nothing changes but the name. What's going on here?

Ben Giles: Same standards, different name. It's just the governor bowing to the pressure from largely the Tea Party movement that has been blasting Common Core since at least this most previous session there was a huge push against Common Core and any type of legislation that had a whiff of it attached to it simply because it's a view of a federal government intrusion into Arizona's education system.

Howard Fischer: What's fascinating about that is this is not Congress. This is not Arnie Duncan at the department of Ed. This was crafted by the national governors association --

Ted Simons: A compendium of states.

Howard Fischer: adopted by Arizona in 2010, called the Common Core by the governor in her State of the State speech in January in her budget preparation and it's sort of like sounds communistic to me.

Ted Simons: Mary Jo, that sounds over the top there, how much over the top is that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This falls into the category if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it's common core. I would wager it will still be referred to as common core in academic circles. It does not change any of the standards. Certainly the opponents who have been very outspoken, they are not stupid. Then they will call it whatever this new title is and wage their campaign against that.

Ben Giles: Is the name Arizona College and Career Ready Standards going to fool the people against Common Core?

Howard Fischer: Well, they put the word Arizona in there. "Look, they're our standards." It's the same group. What happened in is the board of education looked at these, excuse the expression, common core standards --

Ted Simons: Watch it.

Howard Fischer: There's a felony in there somewhere. Took about 85% of them, added about 15% Arizona stuff and came up with Arizona's version. The important thing about Common Core is the whole purpose was we had AIMS. AIMS only tests us against ourselves. We want to find out how we're doing against other students across the nation. The idea was to have a standardized test so we could measure ourselves now it's, what, we're going to be competing?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The opposition will continue but there was a sort of faint-hearted attempt at a ballot measure which they thought would help get at undermining Common Core and the thing never got off the ground. You question how much oomph this will have to foil common core. It doesn't seem like it's going to go very far.

Ben Giles: It's also important to note these standards are already being adopted in Arizona schools. I don't think people who are against Common Core realize that.

Ted Simons: Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal was going to tea parties and they were yelling and screaming at him. The governor, no standards imposed on Arizona by the federal government, reaffirms Arizona's right to set education policy. Is this going to mollify the critics?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No!

Ted Simons: If it does what does that say about the critics?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, it's not going to mollify the critics. I think it's just a change in name only. So you can call the ball field down the street BOB or you can call it Chase Field. It's still the place where the Diamondbacks play baseball.

Ted Simons: It's a rebranding, how's that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There you go.

Howard Fischer: I like that.

Ted Simons: Like that?

Howard Fischer: We know how well they work. Remember when we rebranded downtown as Copper Square?

Ted Simons: Sure

Howard Fischer: You're calling it that, right?

Ted Simons: All the time. They are appealing the ruling regarding campaign finance limits, these new campaign finance limits. Give us a brief overview. What's going on?

Howard Fischer: What happened during the session is that the legislature said the current limits, like $440 from any one source for a legislative candidate, is too low. And there are some questions about whether constitutionally you can wage a campaign for that. So they went ahead and raised them and did some maneuvering so it's now $4,000. They got rid of the limits entirely on how much a candidate can take from PACs, they got rid of the limits entirely on how much any individual can give over all. But what they didn't do at the same time was raised clean elections folks. The clean elections folks are saying wait a second, because we referred to the regular limits in our 1998 ballot measure and said they were reduced by 20% that's voter protected. The judge didn't buy that so now we're at the Court of Appeals. Tom Collins, the executive director, says we need a quick decision. We have fundraisers going on. Tonight the governor is at a fundraiser at Reg Ballantyne's house raising money for a bunch of lawmakers who supported the Medicaid expansion. Everybody's operating under the new limits. You can't put the genie back in the bottle.

Ted Simons: The question here is what does the voter protection act protect?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. In terms of how it relates to the limits on campaign contributions. That's the clean elections commission felt the lower court didn't quite get that argument so they are taking it up to the Court of Appeals I think this first week in October.

Ted Simons: All right, we'll see how that goes. Ben: Ken Bennett, did he announce for governor? Did he not announce for governor? [laughter] Did someone else announce for him for governor?

Ben Giles: Depends what day you read the news this week. But earlier this week, there was a paper in eastern Arizona that reported Ken Bennett announces finally he's running for governor and he's also going to resign his office, I think about maybe four months in advance of the election. Not exactly true according to a spokesman later in the week who said, no, no, no, he's never going to resign. He'll serve the remainder of his term. He also has not officially announced he's running yet. He intends to run but is still exploring the race. It's -- it's as good as announcing I guess you walk over the line then walk back.

Howard Fischer: Part of this is the game that is getting played with the -- there's another constitutional amendment that says you may not offer yourself for office except during last year of your term. So if Ken Bennett wants to run for a different office he has to wait until January 3 of 2014 since his term is up in 2015. Well, they danced around. We have exploratory committees, we have draft committees, we have thinking of running committees.

Ted Simons: I thought that was supposed change. With Resign to Run --

Howard Fischer: It changed that he can now have a real committee, he can announce, but he still can't file his paperwork before the last year. So everybody has been speculating about who is jumping in when like we don't have a long enough campaign season now.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Then to sort of keep stirring the pot on that, we did have one candidate, two other people eyeing the governor's race. Say, okay, I'm out of it, I'm not going to do it. House Minority Leader Chad Campbell decided that he will not, citing family issues. He is termed out of the legislature after next session. He says he will not run for any office in 2014, but obviously put his marker in that he's not done with public service. Then yesterday Hugh Holman after a great deal of consideration, which from what he told me sounded like it was about a half hour, decided that he would drop his bid for governor and instead set his sights on state treasurer, this at the behest of many supporters who signed a letter saying why don't you do this? Written between the lines, you won't get very far.

Ted Simons: He made it sound like certain business leaders were urging him to run for treasurer. It sounds like they were also urging him don't do the other one. Is that pretty accurate? Pretty fair?

Ben Giles: I think that's a pretty fair assessment. There were a lot of politicos at the capitol didn't think Hugh Holman had a very good chance. What's considered to be a really crowded Republican primary for the governor's office. I think it was Monday there was a lobbyist who put out a "draft Hugh Holman for treasurer" letter and days later he decides, yeah, that's a good idea. As Mary Jo said, I don't know exactly how much thought was put into it, but I think it confirmed what a lot of people were suspecting for a while, that Holman would look for something else to do besides run for governor.

Mary Jo Pitzl: So this will be interesting because we also have Martin Sepulveda who announced he's seeking the Republican nomination for treasurer, and a businessman, Jeff Dewitt, he just filed last month, we haven't heard much from him. So now it looks like we have at least a three-way contest on the Republican side for treasurer.

Ted Simons: Does that make Holman the prohibitive favorite?

Howard Fischer: If you look at the list folks that signed this letter it basically commits them to raising money for him and some high profile names on there including former treasurer Dean Martin.

Ted Simons: Speaking of raising money and perhaps hoarding a little bit of money, with Chad Campbell out, Fred Duval, it's pretty clear sailing. Is anyone else in the weeds?

Howard Fischer: It would really take Fred self-destructing somehow in a way that we can only imagine sitting around here for anyone else to even gain the kind of traction -- as much as Chad says there were family issues, Fred had soaked up every conceivable endorsement there was including some folks who were Chad's people in the house. So I don't know where there is left to go.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There is another candidate who has filed to run for the democratic nomination for governor. I'm sorry I cannot remember his name. He's a minor candidate that does not have any name I.D. but technically he's out there. We'll see if he makes the ballot.

Ted Simons: One more possibility of running is Speaker Tobin thinking of the CD1 race going up against Ann Kirkpatrick. Adam Clauseman of Tucson is running and this rancher Gary Keanny is running as well. Kirkpatrick, everyone thinks she's vulnerable, and perhaps she is, but I'm surprised we're not seeing more in the way of Republicans crowding into that contest.

Howard Fischer: You have a couple of problems. Number one is who lives in the district. Tobin doesn't even live in the district. It's not a constitutional requirement but that's part of it. Number two is Ann has protected her right flank. There was a whole CSPAN piece with her and Gosar explaining how they were working together for the common good. She's been very careful to recognize the issues in temperatures of whether it's pollution or forests for her district. She's trying to protect her flank. Is she vulnerable? Well, it's not a presidential election year. Certainly anything is possible. The question becomes who the Republicans put up. Adam Clauseman is a young Turk, if you will, in the party. He comes from basically the Tucson end of the district, which is the tail. I don't know that folks in northern Arizona are going to say who this is kid?

Ted Simons: Would Speaker Tobin have a shot?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think definitely. He will have no problems fund-raising. He can move into the district. I think he has a business office that is technically located within the confines of CD1. Who is out front on Yarnell in trying to get benefits for the firefighters' families and for future wild land firefighters?

Ted Simons: Real quick, how is that going? Is there going to be a special session on that? What's happening with that?

Howard Fischer: I think it's hard. I think they're still trying to figure out how they do it legally. Because you have to do it in a way -- there's a constitutional prohibition against gifts, a constitutional prohibition against special legislation. So you can certainly address issues prospectively. The question of filling in retroactively to say, you weren't members of the public safety personnel retirement system before but post mortem you are. That's a real problem.

Ted Simons: He also wants the state to build Yarnell, he also wants the state to help the cost to Prescott. He's asking for quite a bit from the state here. Is he leading a parade or --

Howard Fischer: Can you say Tobin for Congress? I'm sorry.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Certainly he's at the head -- there's tremendous amount of sympathy for what happened up in that community, especially for the families the firefighters, but there are limits to how much the state's largess will extend. I am waiting to see who will be the person who will step up in the legislature to say, wait a minute, we have to think about this also from a cost perspective. It would be interesting if that comes from a Democrat. This is their natural inclination is to help. The Republicans don't want to look bad on this. Something else I find interesting is the discussion of trying to add a lot of these firefighters in the future to the public safety retirement system if they are not already in there. Hasn't the legislature been taking a hard look at the pension systems already and complaining that that one especially is not well funded? How does this help?

Ted Simons: Put them into something we're not crazy about to begin with. Speaking of the budget, sound like the surplus is better than expected. They got $200 million more than expected, the governor crediting her sound fiscal leadership.

Ben Giles: The governor is crediting about $2 billion in spending cuts recently. Certainly it's going to improve Arizona's outlook although every time there's a surplus it comes with a but wait we still have to be vigilant and prudent and make sure that we don't just spend our money in a crazy way, which I think it will be interesting to see come next session what people want to do with that $200 million.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They had ideas this last session on what to do with the surplus. This is a result of keeping your foot on that brake. The penny sales tax has gone away. They have the rainy day fund and now this $800 million plus cushion to cushion the blow from losing the $900 million a year from the penny sales tax.

Ben Giles: I haven't seen the projections, but if I'm remembering correctly, it's no too many fiscal years out when JLBC is predicting we'll have a deficit. Two years. I don't know what the $200 million impact will have on that, probably something like a drop in the bucket eventually, but it doesn't hurt.

Howard Fischer: And the problem becomes, it's easy to say we have this excess. Well, have you looked at how much we have cut education in terms of what the funding formula should be? Have you looked at some of the other agencies?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Have you looked at CPS, despite even getting a little more generous funding this year problems still persist. It ain't fixed.

Howard Fischer: I can make myself look like I have a surplus at the end of my fiscal year by simply stopping spending on certain things like educating my daughter but what's the point?

Ted Simons: We got a press release and obviously some celebration from the governor's office on that. Did we get a press release on the jobless rate?

Howard Fischer: Funny thing. When Matt Benson was at the governor's office every time the unemployment rate would go down there was crowing. We went up .3 of a point, which is a lot in one month. Hear the crickets chirping from the governor's office. Nothing at all. To be fair there's some reason to believe some of this may be statistical aberration based on a sample of 1,000 people. Are you working, are you looking for work. There's other indications that suggest nothing major has changed. For example the first application for first time unemployment benefits hasn't changed a lot. There were still jobs being created, but we still are very deep in. We have only gotten back about half the jobs we have lost since the beginning of the recession. The economy is not speeding up.

Ted Simons: Does it put a little bit of a damper on -- what is it, the Arizona comeback?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The governor has touted the Arizona comeback which is Arizona coming back from the depths of its budget problems and economic woes. Of course if you're lagging the national unemployment rate by a full percentage point it does put a damper on it. Give it a little time to see if this is a one-month or several-month fluke. Most economists predict it will take two more years before Arizona is out of the woods.

Howard Fischer: At least that. The housing is coming back. Of course, there may be another bubble as investors come in and out. There are other issues. Sequestration, manufacturing has taken a hit. If the federal government shuts down all bets are off.

Ted Simons: The interesting thing about the report is Arizona actually did add jobs and added jobs at about the 10-year average rate. Nothing like it was in the past couple of years but we added jobs, but these were government jobs, education jobs, not construction and manufacturing jobs.

Howard Fischer: That's the key. The government jobs, it's a funny thing. The folks go back to school and the custodians are now employed. Looking just at the private sector, the jobs were leisure and hospitality. Do you want fries with that? May I clean your room? Manufacturing jobs actually got lost. Not only month to month but year over year.

Ted Simons: Ben, real quickly. This is kind of information. We got the budget surplus, we talked about the impact that might have next session. If it persists, keeping wobbling at a full point above the national average, how much impact will that have next session?

Ben Giles: I think there would certainly be a call for ways to use Arizona's revenue to plug it back into the economy, to infrastructure, to add jobs. But there's going to be such a fight over how to spend that money.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Didn't we just hear that yesterday in the special task force studying the state income tax?

Ben Giles: We heard a snarky remark from one representative saying, well, if you know the magic way to get that done please let us now know as soon as you can.

Howard Fischer: I think they will say, you know, we just need to cut more taxes and revenues and essentially we'll get the tax rate down to zero and we'll be infinitely wealthy.

Ted Simons: Okay. But realistically will someone come out with a different idea or different way to go about this?

Howard Fischer: They already are talking about income tax issue is we're working on tax fairness. Well, what's fair to you may not be fair to me. There are folks that want further reductions in corporate taxes. They want the income tax rate down to zero. They all think that's the key.

Ted Simons: We've got to stop it there. Good discussion, good to have you all here. Monday on Arizona Horizon, we'll hear about a celebration of local projects that emphasize environmental excellence and sustainability. And how much do after school competitive activities impact future life success? Those stories Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday a conference that connects businesses with sustainability projects. Wednesday, how companies can develop their own secure mobile Apps. Thursday, someone who met the snap challenge of living off a food stamp budget, and Friday, journalists roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Announcer: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The Arizona Republic;Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services;Ben Giles: Arizona Capitol Times

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