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: Welcome to Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me are Mary Jo Pitzl, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media services and Hank Stephenson of the Arizona Capitol Times. A federal government shutdown is over for now and the state no longer paying to keep the Grand Canyon national park open but questions about the park's closure continue. That is because we had this house hears in congressman Gosar a part of the committee but also has made it known- explain this to me now. The park was closed because it's a federal park. He says it really didn't have to happen or happen in that way?

Mary Jo Pitzl: That was his contention during this house hearing. He wants an investigation into why Grand Canyon national park was chosen to be closed arguing that it could have remain open even though he was among the Republicans in the house we know by not voting for a clean C.R. effectively shut down the government.

Howard Fischer: The other part of it, of course, is that from the very beginning although after she had to back track after saying the Grand Canyon isn't important, the governor did offer to come up with the money. It took something like 11 days for the Department of Interior to get its act together and say, you know, that would work. The part of the question I think is legitimate to ask is why did it take the Department of Interior 11 days to take money.

Ted Simons: Congressman Gosar said it took that long because the Feds wanted to make this as painful as possible and this was the president's own idea.

Hank Stephenson: Exactly. Yeah. The president's own idea. As painful as possible, which actually makes a lot of political sense if you're looking at it. If you want people to recognize that the government is shut down and make a case that government is important as Obama has since the shutdown has ended, then you want people to notice it. One way is to close down the Grand Canyon, close down national parks.

Howard Fischer: The fact is you cannot have a national park, fire dangers, danger to animals, danger to people, from animals people falling off the edge, that's simply unstaffed. Now, I think a more legitimate complaint against the Obama administration may be you've got the World War II memorial in Washington which is just an open area. It took you more people to shut it off than to keep it open. But it clearly needs to be closed whether they needed to wait 11 days I don't know.

Hank Stephenson: All the employees were furloughed or the vast majority were. They weren't there to work the park. It does have practical reasons for it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Keep in mind Arizona wasn't the only state that came up with this bright idea of we'll foot the bill to keep our parks open. Utah, Colorado and New York. So there might have been a line forming. Don't know who started that line, if Jan Brewer was the first to set that off, but certainly the Grand Canyon is an icon. It's well known everywhere.

Ted Simons: The Feds are basically saying remember we can't perform functions that aren't appropriated. There were exceptions made and it took ten days or such to get a deal work here but when you come after the Feds and say you're not doing this, it's not appropriate. We can't do this.

Howard Fischer: No. This is part of the Republicans' plan to call at the Obama shutdown. It's not like the president was saying I'm going to shut down the government unless I get Obamacare. He had Obamacare. It's on the books. It exists.

Ted Simons: That's a breakthroughs, Howie. Run with that story.

Howard Fischer: They sort of started rolling people but that's a whole separate issue. It was the Republicans who drew a line in the sand and said over our cold, dead bodies, appeared sure enough it was.

Ted Simons: Congressman Gosar wants to see the park service investigated and the decision making and how they went about things. [laughter]

Hank Stephenson: To what purpose?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think this might be helpful for the next shutdown, which will probably be, what, in February?

Hank Stephenson: That's what they were saying through part of this hearing. Why weren't there contingency plans ahead of time. Did you not know we were going to close this down? Why did it take you 10, days to allow the states to open them back up. But really it was a media circus. It was designed for the cameras.

Ted Simons: We should mention Democrats called it sham and one Democrat called it McCarthy-like in its five hours of fussing and fighting.

Howard Fischer: Political. Yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What will be interesting going forward is to see how representative Gosar and some of our other Republicans in the house vote on reimbursing the states because the part of the whole exercise point was that the government spends too much money. So if you close the parks, you save some money. Well, now you've had the states come in, hey, it's a Hobson's choice. You don't want to harm your state, which came up with money to presumably you don't want to harm your state which came up with money to keep the park going. On the other hand do you want to keep the federal government on this path of continued spending?

Howard Fischer: He's put it out. He filed a bill to do this. Ann Kirkpatrick, Democrat, already worried about attacks from her right wing, as a Democrat, has basically signed on. Said she would support it too.

Ted Simons: But as it stands there's no reimbursement.

Howard Fischer: No. The only money the state is getting back, the state had to front the money for seven days, then another nine. The commitment always was if we have too much we'll give you back what we don't spend. It's about $1 million. About 200,000 of that actually goes back to the town and the businesses there. The balance goes back to the state tourism fund.

Ted Simons: Do we know how much this all cost?

Hank Stephenson: All said and done less than a half million.

Ted Simons: Coming out of, what tourism?

Hank Stephenson: It's coming out of a variety of funds really. The business community from up north put some money into it, and then tourism funds.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, again, the governor announced like the day before the actual reconciliation in Washington that the state was prepared to go another seven to nine days but that was considered moot once we got the agreement.

Howard Fischer: She had to make that decision because the deal she signed with parks says we need to keep two days' worth of money in the account which means close of business Wednesday. She had to have money there.

Ted Simons: Let's get to campaign finance laws. This is pretty deep weeds here. Trial judge rules one thing, appeals court judge -- what's going on?

Howard Fischer: Oh, this is a whole fight over the legislature passed a bill sharply increasing the amount of money that candidates can take and that individuals can give. Under the old law goes back to 1986, if you're running for the legislature you can take $440 from any one individual or political action committee. Higher for statewide offices there are limits on how much you can take from all pacs, limits on how much any one person can give. The legislature said about 4,000 dollars for legislative candidates and no limits on what they can take from pacs and no limits on what individuals can give? The clean elections commission sued under the argument that while those limits predated clean elections in 1998, the limits were somehow linked to the public financing. A trial judge said, no, these are separate. Court of Appeals issued an injunction on Wednesday saying we're not going to allow the higher limits to stay in effect. We're not going to know the reasoning until next Wednesday. But the presumption is they bought the argument that somehow there is a link between what voters approved and the old limits.

Ted Simons: Talk about that link. 20% cut reduction of what, back in 1998. Are we supposed stay at 1998 levels.

No, but any increase in campaign limits is tied to limits that are imposed under the public financing law, which is clean elections. You take that amount that is private financing and discount it by 20%. Sorry, take the amount of public financing, discount it by 20%. That's the limit for people running with traditional financing.

Hank Stephenson: So in other words you would have to increase clean elections to increase private contributions. They are tied together. Well maybe.

Howard Fischer: Well, that's the issue. Technically what you're saying is that the argument by the state is look we can take the private numbers up to anything we want subject only to the 20% reduction. If we want to make it 20 billion dollars…

Ted Simons: But that gets back to the point of what the complaint is here. That is that what is a 20% reduction if it's a 20% reduction in whatever the other side wants it to be?

Howard Fischer: That's exactly the argument before the court. The trial judge said you can set it at whatever you want. We don't think the voter approved measure precludes the legislature from doing anything other than 20% reduction. The appeals court is saying the voters clearly wanted some limits and you basically make the whole system of the 20% reduction meaningless if the legislature is free to set it wherever it wants.

Ted Simons: The trial judge brought game theory into the whole effort which confuses everyone. The fact remains, we had a whole month of folks going crazy out there and now what are they doing with that?

Hank Stephenson: That's the issue. Some attorneys are saying you might have to give it back, probably not right now, maybe just keep it in case this gets overturned and we end up being able to use it. Basically I think the best advice is hold on to it now and don't spend it in case somehow you have to give it back. Do you really have to give it back if it was taken legally? This law was in effect for a good month there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What's also unclear from the few random calls I have made it's not like people were raking in buckets of money in the one month window in which the higher limits were in place for the before the injunction. The candidates were asking at the higher limits but that doesn't mean people were giving at the limits.

Howard Fischer: There's another piece that fits into this and our Tom Horne discussion. One argument made by lawmakers is the Supreme Court has equated money with speech. Up to a certain point. While the court has said you can set limits, you have to be able to wage an effective campaign. The argument was that being able to gather only $440 from any one source you could not wage an effective campaign. Therefore, we're required, A, to raise the limits, and B, if you fill out the higher limits and we can convince the court the lower limits are unconstitutional you have no limits at all.

Ted Simons: Until we get the opinion we don't even know how much that was considered but we have an idea that this protection because this was a voter approved clean elections law and they see this link to clean elections at least the appeals court says something is going on here. Let's put a stop for now.

Hank Stephenson: That's the most likely case. Everyone is in the dark until we get an actual verification of that but that seems to be the majority opinion.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The verification the court says will come by next Thursday, so that will be the appeals court. Then we'll see where the drama goes next.

Hank Stephenson: This whole law has been really complicated. Just a nightmare fort sponsor and for everyone else who has had to follow it. Basically the Attorney General and the Secretary of State had an opinion that the way the law is structured actually requires candidates to set up two different political committees, one for the primary, one for the general election. They can't freely pass money between them. That was a headache.

Ted Simons: We should mention as well we have a new candidate for Secretary of State, Justin pierce.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right.

Ted Simons: Welcome to the show.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Representative pierce formally announced on Tuesday. Right after this court hearing had happened. But before the injunction came down. So we talk to him, write a little story. Here comes this injunction saying higher limits are on hold, and so he's got a fund-raiser going the next night. He's like I don't know what to do. Today he largely I think in response to criticism from Will Carden, another candidate, he sort of ended that and said I'm going to run with public campaign financing so he won't have to worry about the limit being or $912 or $5,000.

Ted Simons: Let's move on to Tom Horne. This is another one that's kind of complicated. We have done this on shot numerous times. Yavapai County gets this after it's been bounced around here. It's been moved over here. This again involves the Attorney General's race in 2010, late cash coming into the Horne campaign that helped, some argue, helped him eventually win.

Howard Fischer: It did help him win. The question was, was it in the Horne campaign. The statewide race in 2010 was $840 from any one source and you can't take corporate money. Toward the end of the campaign an outside group call the Democratic Attorney General's Association runs an ad for the Democrat basically saying Tom Horne is soft on pornography. He doesn't have the money to respond. There's an outside group formed a separate committee that gets $500,000 to run a commercial at the last minute attacking Rotellini and for Horne. Not a problem unless, of course, they are coordinated. If they are coordinated, then essentially he was controlling the committee which means he was subject to the campaign limits which according to the Yavapai County attorney Sheila Polk said that was illegal. She had some really damning language.

Ted Simons: This is blatant stuff she had here.

Howard Fischer: She said the content of the emails between Kathleen Wynn and Ryan Murray, coupled with the timing of the emails provided convincing proof they coordinated undeveloped end of the political message. Then Horne had given Wynn some information he got a pollster. He intentionally and blatantly broke the barrier that was supposed exist between his campaign and business leaves for Arizona and it says the breech is so clear Horne must have recognized to be improper. That's really damning language.

Ted Simons: We should mention once he won the election Kathleen Wynn winds up on the Attorney General's staff.

Hank Stephenson: She was working there for quite a while.

Ted Simons: Now we have Sheila Polk, a Republican, Bill Montgomery, another Republican, both kind of hard to say that Horne is getting blasted from the left here.

Howard Fischer: It is. The question is Horne's attorney Tim Lasota says this is circumstantial. Some of it is. Kathleen Wynn was on the phone, doing these emails, and again through the 26 pages what Sheila Polk said it seemed obvious to her that Kathleen must have been talking to Horne while she was emailing this campaign consultant. Is that circumstantial? Yes, but some of the emails talk about the campaign and say we are not happy. We need some changes. Who is we?

Ted Simons: They will get you every time, won't they?

Ted Simons: 20 days now to basically return the money. This we're not talking any other penalty than that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's a civil offense, so reimburse the money collected in excess of what the law allowed.

Howard Fischer: Or if you don't do it, then she files a civil action and goes after him for three times the amount.

Ted Simons: Sounds like he plans to contest the order, that Horne and Wynn plan to contest.

Howard Fischer: He's got nothing, there's no downside to contesting it. Here's where also we come back down that rabbit hole in terms of campaign finance. One of Horne's contentions and Wynn's is that the limits on campaigns, $840, was so low as to be unconstitutionally low. If he can convince a judge the limits were unconstitutional and too low, there were no limits, therefore it didn't matter if he took a half million from someone else.

Ted Simons: But is this wise politically to stretch this out? This guy has a primary ahead and he will have probably another rough general.

Hank Stephenson: Last time they did this, it takes a long time this. Could well stretch into the primary if not the general if he makes it that far. Maybe it's better to pay your fees and move on.

Howard Fischer: Then you're essentially admitting guilt.

Hank Stephenson: And the he won't.

Howard Fischer: This is only part of his problems, hit and run, little afternoon trips to somebody's apartment. Look, Tom Horne has problems. He's already got a primary foe in Mark Burnvich. Felicia is chomping at the bit for another shot at him. Maybe even Terri Goddard may get in if they figure he's vulnerable enough.

Hank Stephenson: These pac ads just write themselves at this point. You have a variety of topics to pick from.

Ted Simons: When you're out campaigning and you want the headline to be I'm kissing babies and the headline is we have the court hearing regarding your campaign finance problems you have to worry about the efficacy of something like that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, what if he wins?

Ted Simons: I guess there's always that possibility.

Mary Jo Pitzl: He could say, I was wrongly prosecuted for this. They put me through hell. I prevailed.

Hank Stephenson: But does he win before the primary. The primary is in August.
Howard Fischer: It's October, folks. As you point out, look how long these investigations take. He's going to drag it out because he wants -- this could be evidentiary hearings, witnesses, talk about the daily drum beat of the press. You know we'll all be at those hearings.

Ted Simons: If he does win I imagine the Yavapai and Maricopa County attorneys' offices will have some explaining to do.

Howard Fischer: But I think it's much like a criminal indictment in the sense that you present the evidence, you have probable cause, can you look at these 26 pages and say based on this, there's probable cause? Yes. Is it enough to- I don't want to make this a criminal case, it's civil, but is there enough to sustain a civil violation? Criminal is beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil is basically preponderance of the evidence. You could make the argument either way.

Ted Simons: We can also make the argument the food tax was kind of gone. It was cut in half with a city council vote. This has become a real hot potato.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is a two cent increase in the Phoenix food tax enacted in 2010 I believe by a council vote, not a vote of the people. Done pretty quickly. Quickly became controversial. The city said they needed the revenue to help them through the effects of the recession, so as this debate has gone on at city hall the compromise voted on this week was to cut it in half. So it will drop to a penny beginning January 1st and then the second penny will go away in 2015.

Howard Fischer: Part of what makes it such a hot potato is the same time they are doing this, the headlines about pensions spike. There's not a lot you can do about the folks already there. But the mayor has kept saying I'm going to end pension spiking. Yet we're still waiting.

Ted Simons: Mayor also pledged to remove the tax.

Howard Fischer: Yes. So the question becomes the longer this drags out the people are going to say, wait a second, we needed the extra money. My extra penny on my dollar's worth of milk to pay for the city manager's massive pension? That does not wash.

Ted Simons: Sal Deceaseo is the one that keeps bringing it up it's basically being used to pay employee wages.

Howard Fischer: That's a typical anti-labor type thing but Sal has been beating that drum for years.

Ted Simons: All right, the drum beat goes on. The beat goes on, as you will. Last thing, I wanted to get to the Arizona board medical director. We talked about that at length during the week. We'll see where that goes with Lisa Wynn being fired, how much cutting of corners with licensing of doctors was done. We have not talked about Manuelito Pena, who died this week at the age of 88, and this was considered the Godfather of some young Latino legislators.

Howard Fischer: Leo had gone to school in an Hispanic school back in the days of segregation in Phoenix, in Arizona. Not legal segregation perhaps but effective segregation. He carried that with him. He also took excuse the expression no crap from anybody. Democratic governors, Republican governors. He made sure that he was there to represent his constituency. He made sure that things were explained, and he probably helped reinvigorate the Latino vote for the Democratic Party because they saw somebody get quoted doing things which led to some of the younger Turks who eventually came in, Alfredo Gutierrez, now younger people now.

Ted Simons: Quiet force behind the scenes is how he was described.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. Although I think he was a committee chairman during the two-year period when the Democrats actually controlled the Senate back in the early 90's. He was pretty well known for not having much patience for lobbyists. Just didn't- don't bother me with them. Either for money or for them to come to his office and lobby for his vote on legislation.

Ted Simons: Yeah. Served for 30 years in the legislature. Term limits weren't around back then.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Term limits and some would point to this as an example of why we needed term limits.

Howard Fischer: Or some may say we have lost some of that particular constitutional memory. You could say, why don't we do this? Wait a second, we tried that and it failed.

Ted Simons: Someone like Alito Pena still can be developed at the legislature or are those times so special and so different and term limits in place. Can you get that kind of a…

Howard Fischer: I don't think you can get that. There were two differences. One is term limits. You need time to really understand how the wheels of government work. The other piece of it is that there was more bipartisan spirit in the Senate. Not only because two years the Democrats controlled it but even the Republicans controlled it there was an understanding of things had to work together. Things are so partisan now that a Hispanic Democrat can't get the kind of leverage he or she needs to be out there to get things moved on.

Ted Simons: All right, we'll stop it there. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday we'll look further into the injunction on Arizona's new campaign contribution list and get an update on hearings on a proposed highway from Phoenix to Las Vegas. Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday we'll talk about new proposed standards for out of school programs. Wednesday we'll learn about a Tucson company that develops technology for law enforcement and the military. Thursday a program that teams business professionals with arts organizations look to improve their business practices. Friday another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Arizona Republic; Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services; Hank Stephenson:Arizona Capitol Times

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