Journalists’ Roundtable

More from this show

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," a referendum against election law changes appears headed for next year's ballot. Attorney General Tom Horne says he'll fight an order to return disputed campaign donations. And Secretary of State Ken Bennett wants a court-ordered change in federal voting registration forms. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times," Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times," and Steve Goldstein of KJZZ Radio. Looks like voters will get a chance to decide on a long list of election law changes. Give us an idea here, Jim, exactly, this is the stuff that was passed toward the end of the session, a lot of controversy here. Enough signatures collected so far?

Jim Small: So far, it looks like they will have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, with the caveat being that there's likely to be some litigation to try to keep it off the ballot. As of right now the verification that county recorders have done on signatures that were turned in, it looks like they will have enough. I think the latest tally back from the Secretary of State's office was that county recorders had a verification of about 105,000. There's potential for that number to grow a little more, to get close to 110,000 or so, depending on when these three more counties that have yet to finish their verification. When they do, the challenge is going to be for the people that support this law that, when and if they go to court, the challenge is going to be can they find reasons to get enough of those signatures tossed off. If they are able to do that then, you know, we could see this not go to the ballot. Right now it looks like it's on its way there.

Ted Simons: If the signatures are valid, the law is put on hold, correct?

Jeremy Duda: This could have a major impact on the election next year. Most of these provisions really undermine Democrats and help Republicans, which I think the opponents of the law will tell you is the exact point of it. But this prevents Democrats, or prevents people, from going door to door to collect people's ballots. It makes it easier to take people off the permanent early voter list. These are staples of the Democratic get out the vote efforts. I'm sure that now that they can still do it, they'll be putting it to good use next year.

Steve Goldstein: From the standpoint of someone who covers this, not quite as much as Jeremy and Jim do, I'm actually quite intrigued by the fact that, if it gets on the ballot, it could really cause an even more interesting wedge when we get to the actual Secretary of State's race. We've already seen some fights within the Republican Party in terms of who's going to win the race, but the Democrats are still sort of searching for that strong Secretary of State candidate. I wonder if this -- we won't know, but if this seems to be a fact of getting on the ballot, it might make a stronger Democrat stand up, and say this could be a real wedge issue in this election.

Jeremy Duda: Michele Reagan, the State Senator who is the person who drafted most of these provisions, at least in the Republican primary I think she very well might hang her head on this. It's all going to be stuff that's going to be popular with the Republican primary electorate, maybe less so in the general election, but that's hard to say. The Secretary of State's race is a down-ballot race, most people are going to be going on party identification so Republicans generally have the upper hand in that race.

Ted Simons: It's usually a down-ballot race and people usually do this but an issue like this, especially as a referendum on that same ballot, that could -- as Steve mentioned, if you have the right candidate in there, Democrats, independent, Libertarian, whatever, with the right candidate you could make some noise, couldn't you?

Jim Small: You could, but that's kind of a big if. Steve's right. Right now they don't have that person identified yet. There are a couple of Democrats that are looking at potentially running, a couple are exploring. But no one's really jumped out and taken the lead on it. Whoever the Democratic candidate is, whether they can get the funding to convey that message, as well, that'll be the next hurdle to get over.

Steve Goldstein: We always come back to as well to this Latino voting monolith we think will have a big impact. This is a huge issue and one would think that would bring out Latino voters, but will it? Will enough be registered?

Ted Simons: Do we have a timetable as to when all the counties have to report and the Secretary of State has to have a final verification and certification?

Jeremy Duda: Not entirely sure on that.

Ted Simons: Do you have any idea?

Jim Small: The final due date for the counties to get this stuff in is November 4, but they will probably -- I think they will probably get it in before that. Once they get it in, the Secretary of State's office has maybe three or five days to certify the results and declare that yes, this has enough signatures.

Ted Simons: One way or the other we should know relatively soon if this is on the ballot, A, and B, if everything in that law is suspended.

Jeremy Duda: As soon as the Secretary of State's office finishes its work, we'll have the lawsuit against it. Raising money and putting stuff together to oppose this, they have been throwing out arguments as to why they think signatures should be invalidated. They have raised questions about some of the people who are collecting signatures for this and another initiative down in Tucson. A judge actually invalidated their signatures for residency issues, felony issues. It's unknown how many signatures this could affect, and whether or not the courts up here will agree with the courts in Tucson. That's probably what the pending court case will focus on.

Ted Simons: Steve, we talked about this last week, Attorney General Tom Horne, and of course the order from the Yavapai attorney's office, $400,000, pay it and do it fast. Now Attorney General Tom Horne says no.

Steve Goldstein: Attorney General Horne says he has evidence indicating that he did not actually -- he and Kathleen Winn did not actually talk together, independent expenditure group --

Ted Simons: Explain what that's all about.

Steve Goldstein: Boy, Ted, how much time do we have? Tom Horne is accused of being involved with Kathleen Winn who has an independent expenditure group who is managing this, basically collaborating and corroborating with her on this particular campaign situation. Actually helping right scripts for ads, which is a major no-no. Horne is saying at this point he was not directly involved. He can as a candidate have some involvement. Phone calls he made to Winn and vice versa, were after the fact and not about the particular topic. Most people seem pretty confused about this. And the fact that two county attorneys have said, we think Tom Horne is wrong about this. It seems sketchy. But he has been standing on this all along, that he didn't violate anything. If we look at the actual, if we get on that Occam's razor right there, who knows what's exactly right.

Ted Simons: Quotes from the attorney general, facts in the allegations are false. Interesting way to put that. He says he has documentary evidence. What is the documentary evidence he has shown so far? He's responded kind of, but not fully, has he?

Jeremy Duda: Not really. The documentary evidence is not nearly as convincing as he tried to lead people to believe. He said the crux of the Yavapai County Attorney's case came down to -- and probably the strongest part of the case -- a series of emails between Kathleen Winn and the consultant working on the $500,000 TV ad. They have records showing that in between these emails Kathleen Winn was calling Tom Horne, it looks pretty bad. She gets an email, calls him, gets off the phone with Horne, sends an email back to the consultant, gets another response back and calls Horne. What Horne put out the other day, the statement shows that Kathleen Winn called the treasurer of the campaign and says she just told him to come over to the office, and that's who she was really talking to. The email says we don't like the way this is worded, we want to change this. Sheila Polk, Yavapai County Attorney, said "we" is her and Tom Horne. She says "we" is me and the treasurer. That shows in no way she wasn't still talking to Horne about this.

Ted Simons: Thank you for that explanation there.

Jeremy Duda: Is that detailed enough?

Ted Simons: That's detailed enough to make you wonder who's buying this.

Steve Goldstein: Tom Horne is buying it, which is pretty important at this point. Although, as we'll probably talk about a little later, he is a major challenger now in the Republican primary, and Mark Brnovich, former gaming director. I think one of the things that's interesting, before Jim pipes in here, is this concept that okay, he is to pay $400,000 back, which I think we'd be stunned if he actually did that. But we're looking at this three years later. Felecia Rotellini, maybe she would have beaten him, we don'te really know that, maybe he would have eked it out. Now we're still talking about it three years later. The campaign finance laws are so absurd because it's so far after the fact that even if he admitted wrong, which he never would, he still won the election.

Ted Simons: Independent expenditure committee. The operative word here is independent. We just got through Jeremy's dissertation here as to what may have been going on. That doesn't sound all that independent.

Jeremy Duda: Well, no. That's really what the crux of the case is, that this wasn't an independent effort, that it was a situation where the candidate was impermissibly coordinating with this committee. You know, that is exactly -- you know, what we're arguing about here or what Tom Horne and the Yavapai County Attorney are arguing about here. Politically the interesting thing about this is, you know, Steve talks about how this is three years later. It is, and this thing threatens to go well into the fourth year which is an election year. This thing being the primary, and this may be going through the administrative process and the court process at the same time Tom Horne is out there running. Politically, if he's not exonerated or even if he is vindicated, depending on when that happens it could still have a political -- there could be a political backlash.

Ted Simons: And the backlash could occur in the primary, he's got a challenger in the primary. And who knows what happens in the general.

Steve Goldstein: Exactly. I spoke to a couple of Republican operatives this week and asked them flat out, do you want Tom Horne to win this primary. These are just a couple of people and they said absolutely not, we do not. Because he's going to go in and even if Mark Brnovich isn't well-known, Horne is such a wounded candidate by that point, even the fact that he's been such a great campaigner over the years, maybe people have underestimated him over the years, he has come out on top. Will he do it again even with all of this stuff hanging over him? Is Rotellini as good a candidate as maybe we thought she was three years ago? We don't know that either.

Ted Simons: And the interesting point you bring up is whether it's court cases for the most part, campaigns for the most part, he does win. I mean people do tend to underestimate Tom Horne. He tends to win. One of my sources refers to him as a political street-fighter, I think was the term. The primary against Andy Thomas, he was badly wounded himself then, it was about as narrow a victory as you can get, but he did still win. But some things are going to be a little bit different if this is a rematch between him and Rotellini next year. 2010 was the best Republican year in ages. It might be a good Republican year, but it's not going to be that good. Rotellini has been running for a long time, raising more money, she's probably not going to have a primary. She's got some advantages she didn't have last time around.

Ted Simons: All right. Let's talk about a couple of Arizona campaign groups, these groups that face now a $1 million -- sounds like a lot, a $1 million fine in the state of California for violating California rules, regulations, perhaps even laws. They were facing $33 million though, they didn't do all that badly over there.

Jim Small: It sounds like a lot. To be sure, it's the largest fine this California commission's ever levied against similar committees. In that respect it's historic, and both sides claim victory. Realistically, I think these two Arizona-based committees, they are the ones that came out on top of this deal. They paid about three percent of the fines they were facing potentially. A criminal investigation into them got closed. The civil investigation is now over and they didn't have to disclose ultimately where the money came from, even if it was the actual people, they didn't have to disclose kind of that nonprofit daisy chain that we talk about a lot.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Jim Small: At the end of the day it was business decision that, you know, okay, we can fight this, we will spend a couple million dollars on attorneys' fees or we can pay a million dollar combined fine and get away from this thing, close it and walk away.

Ted Simons: Talk about these groups. Who are they? What were they accused of doing by the state of California?

Jeremy Duda: There were a couple of groups. One was called "Americans for Responsible Leadership," and they played a pretty big role in elections in Arizona last year. They put, I think about $1.2 million fighting a couple of ballot measures. Another is a group called "Center to Protect Patient Rights." These are both more or less run by a local political operative named Sean Noble, very deeply connected to the Koch brothers, very wealthy business men who fund a lot of conservative causes. There are a number of groups Noble is involved with and the Koch brothers are involved with. They're pretty well-known for funneling money from one to the next to the next, so you never really know in the end where it came from originally.

Ted Simons: In this case, Steve, it sounds like -- Tell us who was responsible, you amorphous group over here, and the amorphous group says this other amorphous group is responsible. And it is a daisy chain, and we never did find out, did we?

Steve Goldstein: No, and this California commission is interesting Ted because many people make fun of Arizona folks who are in favor of clean elections or in favor of term limits, good government groups is what they're called. California was able to turn a good government group into a state commission, and they still don't really have any teeth because the laws are confusing. People want to say it's about Citizens United. This isn't really directly related to that, but there's a limb there, a tree, a connection, a root. Ultimately, I'm not sure where the information comes from.

Jim Small: And you want to talk about the lack of teeth. You said had they forced the "Center to Protect Patient Rights" to disclose where it came from, again, it's another amorphous group. There would be no way to get back to who actually gave the money. The people or companies that gave the money. At the end of the day you've got IRS federal tax law protections that say these groups don't have to turn it over, make it public. California could have all the laws in the world or Arizona could or any other state could. At the end of the day, until the IRS changes guidelines and the federal tax code is changed it's not going amount to a hill of beans.

Ted Simons: Are we going to see much of these groups or groups like these two groups or folks associated with Sean Noble in the upcoming Arizona elections?

Jeremy Duda: There's no question. I don't know about these two groups in particular, but there are so many others to take their place if it's not them. It's important to note that we don't have the same laws as California. These folks don't have to really disclose anything. If you file a campaign finance report that says this came from company X, and it ends at that. You don't know where it came from.

Ted Simons: With that said though, Steve, if you don't have to disclose, go ahead and spend. Are we going to see a lot of spending next year?

Steve Goldstein: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There's no reason not to, Ted. This is about winning and getting your point of view across. It's not about really giving as much information to voters as we'd like to hear. Sean Noble worked for John Shadegg for many years. Shadegg was not a big fan of public campaign financing. This ideology is very clear.

Jeremy Duda: We're seeing some of these issues coming up now with groups tied to Sean Noble and Kirk Adams running the "Americans for Responsible Leadership." With all this stuff going on with APS, where they acknowledge after initially denying it, I believe, that they were putting money into these Noble and Adams groups, putting out ads and fighting for changes in the net metering policies with the corporation commission, the solar energy policy.

Ted Simons: Former Speaker of the House Kirk Adams. Is he making noises about doing anything politically? Public office?

Jim Small: No. He's done with public office. Last time I talked to him he said no, never again. But what he's doing now is he's doing consulting and this nonprofit, these independent expenditures. I think that's the area he moved into. We're going to see him involved in Arizona politics but from one of these outside groups, not in the sense of somebody actually down in the arena fighting the fight.

Ted Simons: Steve, it sounds as though the dual track voting system, which the Attorney General said it's the only way we can abide by the law -- and by the way, the Secretary of State mentioned this would be the only way. The Secretary is now going, I'm not too crazy about this idea.

Steve Goldstein: It didn't go too far, Ted. I will leave some of the details to Jim and Jeremy because I'm a political animal if nothing else, but for me the interesting part is that Arizona is once again affiliated with Kansas. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who we all know was involved with Russell Pearce very strongly with SB 1070. For me the most intriguing part -- I wish Ken Bennett weren't running for another office because then I could say he really believes the system needs to be changed. It's hard not to be cynical. We know he's running for governor, and we know he wants to win the Republican primary.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about why the dual track voting system would be in place if it is in place. And what Ken Bennett wants, which is basically for the federal government to address this issue and change the way they have federal registration forms, voter registration forms.

Jeremy Duda: He's trying to force the federal commission that doesn't actually have any members to make a change to the federal voting forms. The voter registration forms as they use them in Arizona and Kansas, to require people to show proof of citizenship in order to register. Arizona requires that. The Supreme Court says we can't refuse to take the federal forms, too, which is where Bennett and Tom Horne came up with the idea for the dual track system that if you use the state form, you can vote in all elections, but if you only use the federal form that doesn't require this proof, then you can only vote in federal elections. It turns out, as we figured out pretty quickly, this is expensive, cumbersome, very unwieldy, maybe working better as a threat than actual practice. He's telling the federal courts now this is really burdensome, we don't want to have to do this, so we want you to force the Election Commission to make this change.

Ted Simons: But as Jeremy pointed out with alarming clarity, there is no one on the commission. There's an executive director. I think Secretary of State Bennett wants the executive director - the executive director can't do what he wants her to do, I think it's a woman.

Jim Small: It begs the question, how the court can force a commission with its own leeway and its own discretion to do things as it sees fit to do something when the commission itself exists in theory and maybe with some staff, but without actual commissioners. We will see. I'm assuming that'll be part of the argument from the federal government when they respond to this motion, we can't really do anything.

Steve Goldstein: Ted, have you asked ASU law professor Paul Bender about this because it was confusing when Justice Scalia threw that out as a possibility. I think most people said oh, ha-ha, that's funny. Now Secretary Bennett and Attorney General Horne they have tried to take that bull by the horns.

Jim Small: The other interesting thing too is I think there are a couple of Democrats that have been nominated for the commission, but the Republicans have yet to nominate anyone for the commission and the nominees haven't gone anywhere anyway.

Ted Simons: Before we leave this, what are the Horne-Bennett dynamics in this whole thing? What are we seeing here, anything?

Jeremy Duda: Bennett has to enforce the election laws and the prosecutorial responsibilities go to the A.G.'s office. In a more simplified way, Bennett's running for governor, Horne's running for reelection, they both have Republican primaries if you look at it that way.

Ted Simons: Political animal , what do you make of the dynamic?

Steve Goldstein: Ted, I think they are hoping for a buddy film, like we saw with Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas, and I'm not sure it fits with these two.

Ted Simons: I wasn't expecting a buddy film, but ok, we'll move on here. No special session for the redistricting commission. What's going on with their funding? They have to have funds, they have to operate. Where do they get the funds and when?

Jeremy Duda: Probably January. This is the long-running saga, I think the third fight of just 2013 over their funding. The Arizona Constitution requires the legislature to fund the redistricting commission. They don't like the redistricting commission, they give funding, but just enough to last a little while. Every time they've needed more, the legislature has been in session to approve more. Now they are out of session, the commission warning that they could run out of money for legal expenses in December. If they don't, they can forward some money they have socked away for staff and operating expenses. Even then it'll probably run out in the middle of January right around the time the legislature comes back. If they don't basically immediately approve more funding, they have to turn off the lights, lock the building and fire the staff. We don't have anyone to pay staff to go to the legislature and ask for more money.

Ted Simons: That's if things are status quo. What happens if more legal stuff comes down the pip between now and then or if additional responsibilities are thrown onto the heap?

Jim Small: I think that'll really change the urgency in the debate here. That was something the IRC talked about at a meeting the other day. The way it works right now, we think we can make it to the middle of January. But with the giant caveat that if things change, if the courts come back and order us say to redraw maps, we're going to need some cash to do it. My guess is if the courts were to come back and say those maps are garbage, you have to draw up new ones and you got to follow this criteria, the Republicans would probably spring into action and show up and say here's as much money as you need to get this done. Again, it gets back to what Jeremy said. It's a little parlor game at the capitol. They kind of toy with them, maybe we're not going to fund you. The Constitution says you have to and we will win in court. The Republican legislators stand up on the floor and say, I don't want to do this, I really don't like it, they have abused the process. We don't have a choice, here's your money.

Ted Simons: Right, but that's when you have a floor to stand on and a desk to pound on. Until then, Steve, could they sue?

Steve Goldstein: Sure, I don't see why not. Then you have to get into attorneys' fees. I'm not sure if Brady would work pro bono, I don't really know at this point. It's just so absurd. We go back to when Colleen Mathis was kicked off by Governor Brewer in the legislature and then we went through the whole Supreme Court hearing, this is never-ending fun. I think we've got another decade to look forward to. 2020 hopefully will be that much more fun.

Ted Simons: And we're looking forward to that. We found out that a candidate Christine Jones was convicted of DUI back in 2006, I think the arrest was in 2004 and dismissed and then brought back. I think she spent a day in jail, something along those lines. This is a candidate for governor and she admits, says I messed up. I made a mistake. I did a bad thing. I moved on and I've learned my lesson, it was a hard lesson to learn. Is it going to be a lasting lesson?

Jeremy Duda: There's no doubt people will use that against her. A few weeks ago some reporters I think from Channel 12 asked her, do you have anything in your past that may be a problem in this campaign? Nope, absolutely nothing. Couple of weeks later we find this out. It could come back to haunt her but you know time will tell.

Ted Simons: Seven years ago a DUI wasn't too much, but it was a DUI. But again there was a lot of hemming and hawing as far as the response.

Steve Goldstein: It certainly helps not to bury something intentionally. We are also in a state though that has very, very strong DUI laws. And it's funny I thought the GoDaddy hard racy ads were going to be a hard point for her. Not to bring up an issue that isn't vitally important, but Governor Brewer had some issues with did she or didn't she in the past. She's been able to overcome it. Christine Jones is probably not as politically savvy as the governor. We don't know.

Ted Simons: This is something -- will opponents bring this up?

Jim Small: Only if she's in contention in the race. If she's running third or fourth in the race, no one's going to attack her over it because she's not a viable threat.

Ted Simons: Will she be in contention? What kind of a candidate do you think she's going to be? There are so many folks on the Republican side.

Jeremy Duda: It's so hard to say because she's such an X factor. No one knows anything about her she hasn't really been involved in the political scene; a lot of people think she's got a good amount of her own money to spend of her own money if she needs to. She's got a pretty good background.
Ted Simons: And she might need to spend some of that money.

Steve Goldstein: We saw how that worked for Buzz Mills and Will Cardin. You need money and a story to tell.

Ted Simons: Well we will see what the story is and how it is told. Good stuff, gentlemen, we didn't have time to talk about John McCain running perhaps for another term, but another time. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll speak with Bob Schieffer, long time news correspondent for CBS News and this year's recipient of the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism on Monday, right here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Jim Small:Arizona Capitol Times; Jeremy Duda:Arizona Capitol Times; Steve Goldstein:KJZZ Radio

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
airs May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: