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" -- Journalists' Roundtable, a referendum heads to next year's ballot. A change in leadership for Senate Democrats leads to charges of racism and sexism. Republicans look to the state Supreme Court to reinstate campaign funding limits.
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me are Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media services and Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal. Groups opposed to changes in election laws have succeeded on getting their opposition on next year's ballot. We've been talking about this because the effort was underway, sounds like the effort worked.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's worked so far. The Secretary of State said the referendum against house bill 2305 had enough signatures to get on the ballot. Everyone expects a challenge to this, this will go to court before it gets on the ballot. Court effort to prevent it from going on the ballot, but they have cleared a major hurdle. This is the first time a citizen referendum has gotten on the ballot in 15 years.

Ted Simons: The referendum on what?

Howard Fischer: On a series of changes, some of them shoved through at the last minute. Things like who can take whose early ballot to the polls. There are changes in terms of the any of initiative law. The ability to propose our own laws, they say you have to have strict compliance as opposed to substantial compliance, which when you're doing citizen initiatives is very difficult. Then the thing that's gotten a lot of people very interested is Minor party candidates now have to get as many signatures on the petition as the Democrats and Republicans. There are lots more libertarians than Republicans or Democrats.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That also applies to Democrats. They have to get more signatures than they are currently required to. At least on a statewide basis it skews to favor the Republicans. They are the ones that pushed that measure through at the last minute.

Howard Fischer: I'm shocked that the Republicans would push election law changes through that may disenfranchise voters and benefit them. [laughter]

Mike Sunnucks: It's kind of impressive they've this group of nonprofit civic groups were able to collect these signatures. You've seen a lot of initiative efforts not be able to do that on hot button issues. This isn't exactly an issue that you can explain quickly at the grocery store or people are seeing on the news a lot. It's an inside baseball thing and they did a good job.

Howard Fischer: Remember, the unions came out, education unions and SIU, folks like that gave them the money. When you can hire people it's amazing what you can do.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Fairly short time, less than 90 days. They needed 86,000 signatures, they brought in 146,000, about 139,000 submitted for processing and there you go.

Ted Simons: 111,000 were deemed valid and off you government these laws were designed to streamline ostensibly the election process because County recorders have a lot of difficulty and they were pushed through by, this was Michelle Reagan's?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Some of this. Some were. The ability for the elections officials to clean up the permanent early voting list which would make it basically not permanent and the ability, limitations on who can return someone's ballot to the polls, those came out of the 2012 long election, long wait for results and Reagan sponsored those bills. They basically died. They were dying on the vine at the last minute they got smacked into another bill with the signature requirements and the strict compliance on the citizen initiatives. It made it into a package that there is something for almost everybody to hate.

Mike Sunnucks: There are a lot of political motivations that benefit Republicans. Keep libertarians off the ballot, shorten the voting role, get people off because they tend to want a narrower electorate. You see tons of politics. Happens in other states too where you see the parties going after each other. Republicans want something narrow, Democrats want a broader system.

Ted Simons: Which aspect do you think brought out the most people to sign these petitions? The "voter suppression," was it the idea that minor party candidates had to raise more in the way of signatures?

Howard Fischer: I don't think most people cared about the minor party. Libertarians got jacked up about it. Some of it had to do with the early ballot, folks like the early ballot. That they like being able to give them to a community organizer who has come but I think the initiative stuff is what got some of the grass roots groups involved. The fact that we take the Sierra club, the reason we have trapping laws in this state and laws against cockfighting and things is because citizens groups have gone out there and gathered signatures. If you create new procedural hurdles in there you basically made it almost impossible for citizen groups to propose their own laws.

Mike Sunnucks: You had groups that have memberships so they can mobilize to sign these things, Sierra club, teachers' unions, labor unions. The Green party libertarians. What do they get, .5% in an election? They weren't the ones that ran this. It was more of a democratic coalition.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It was sold as a voter suppression thing, this is going to make it harder to vote. The committee that brought this to the voters called the protect your right to vote committee. The other side their campaign will revolve around this is to protect against voter fraud. This is why we need to reject it at the ballot. But I think that's what set the appeal of it was sell it, say, this is to protect your right to vote.

Mike Sunnucks: The Republican legislature's reputation reseeded them. Folks on the other side said, look at them, they are doing it again.

Howard Fischer: Here's the thing. It's the same issue being fought in Kansas about the dual voter registration system and the federal form. All this talk of voter fraud, the number of people prosecuted in Arizona for voter fraud is somewhere in the single digits.

Ted Simons: I bring that up when Tom Horne comes on the program. He says samples have been done if you extrapolate from the samples you'll find many cases. He moves forward from there his supporters, they move- I have heard from them. They move forward from there. You're talking about- by the way, why didn't you prosecute them, Mr. Attorney General? There are more important things to do.

Howard Fischer: That's the problem. It's like saying, I don't want to necessarily call it McCarthyist tactics but I have a list of people known Communists. I'm not going to release it but take my word for it. That's the problem. You have to take his word.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Another problem, A.G. Horne brought this up when he and Secretary of State Ken Bennett brought their lawsuit against the Election Assistants Commission, this is horrible and terrible says Horne but then Bennett is like, you know, some of those folks may say they are not citizens to get out of jury duty. Then you have to truth check that one. You don't know.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Michelle Reagan being part of the process. She will be very much a part of the process as far as statewide races. Secretary of State, is she officially in?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. She officially announced her candidacy. She's had an exploratory committee since the beginning of the year. She joins a Republican field that includes will Carden and state representative Justin pierce. So we have a three-way race, big name race going on.

Ted Simons: What does this mean to her campaign when this many folks are out there saying, some of your ideas, we're not crazy about them.

Howard Fischer: Well, for the primary I don't think it's a problem. I think she crows about it. She says, look, we have put in some reforms here and those Democrats, libertarians, went ahead and forced the law on us. The Republicans, they are probably all gunning ho for it. She can say I'm a champion and since one of the duties is to be the state's chief election officer that gives a certain amount of street credit.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah I think it's good in the primary because most conservatives like most of these things. If she's in a general election that's hard to say, she pushed this complicated legislation, how do you say that in a television commercial?

Howard Fischer: Not only that now we're down to who's running in the general, which segues us in terms of..

Ted Simons: Thank you very much.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Before we get to Howie's nicely orchestrated segue, Reagan is chairwoman Senate elections committee, probably will remain so when the legislature resumes in January. That gives her a nice podium depending on which bill she picks to champion to advance her name, her name recognition through the subtext I'm running for Secretary of State.

Howard Fischer: Let me go one step beyond that, something that can kick somebody in the you know what, because the way the referendum law is worded if they were to readopt with a few changes the change in the early ballot law, the change in the registration law, they could nullify the referendum and force them to go get signatures again. I think there's a voter kickback from that but it remains to be seen.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask that as the last question, what if the legislature just says we're going to redo this one, go at it again if you choose? Would they do something like that? [laughter]

Howard Fischer: Have you seen what goes on?

Mary Jo Pitzl: They might because they want these changes. Various- the elections officials, County recorders really most of them really want this. Some of the businesses signature requirements for getting on the ballot they are not so nuts about. Some of the portions they might. They really do- [speaking simultaneously]

Ted Simons: If you repeal and replace, though, that's --

Howard Fischer: Well but they would say again I think they would leave some of it out. Say the libertarian stuff. They would say let's deal with early ballots. Effectively I don't know whether that even- can you refer what they haven't repealed or since you changed the law that statute no longer exists.

Mike Sunnucks: There's no guarantee it's going to pass. Those things voters kind of default to no sometimes. Even though it got signatures, people may still look at it and say, I don't understand it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: A no vote would be really good for the people that..

Ted Simons: [Laughter] You're already messing things up. Let's move on here. What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on with the democratic caucus in the Senate. What is happening over there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's a family. Families just all have their little issues. They all came bubbling out in the democratic caucus room earlier this week when the Democrats on an 8-5 vote ousted Landrum Taylor. She has been the leader of the Democrats since technically last November. I understand a lot of it was a communication problem or lack thereof with her and Linda Lopez who was the assistant, they just didn't talk a lot to the other 11 Democrats about what they were doing. The kind of agreements that they were making.

Howard Fischer: There's another piece of it that has to do with what the minority party always faces, are you better off making nice to the majority and Linda prided herself in her relationship with Senate president Andy Biggs, you get your ideas out, more bills heard, or you better off figuring they are going to screw you in the end anyway so be the loyal opposition, go out through and through the Steve Gallardo school of in your face, and that becomes the question. It's a philosophical thing.

Ted Simons: Sounds like the in your face faction won.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. I think you will have a more assertive democratic leadership coming out of the senate.

Ted Simons: More assertive, but more effective?

Mike Sunnucks: What do they get out of playing nice? What do they get out of playing hardball? Not much, they don't have enough votes down there. When you're in the minority party and you see this in Congress it's easier to be functional because you don't have to pass a budget or get anything done. You can decide to be the loyal opposition or not so loyal opposition. It allows these debates to come up. You see it with the house Republicans in Congress and how they act. It's a chance to say we're the minority, let's forward our agenda and be strong about it instead of playing ball with majority folks that aren't going to give us anything in the end.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know, perhaps the best chance for that was this past year because the Republican caucus has change add little bit. Notably with the departure of Senator Richard Crandall, more of a moderate Republican. He's replaced by more a hard-liner in David Farnsworth. That faction of the Republicans has sort of strengthened a bit. The Democrats could have had more of a wedge with Crandall in there.

Ted Simons: What about Tovar and how will she do things different?

Howard Fischer: She's from the west valley. How will she -- it's hard to say because until you're in that seat, but I think you'll see more challenges some of what the majority does. You may see more calls for roll call to put Republicans on the record on some of their votes so they can be used in the election. Less cooperation perhaps in terms of even suspending some of the rules just because, hey, look, we're part of this process too. I think she's answering to a more energized caucus so a lot of what she does depends on her caucus.

Mary Jo Pitzl: One thing she has to do since communications seem to be at the heart of this, there were five Democrats who walked out of that caucus not happy. She is going to have to reach out and bring them in. If indeed the complaint about the now old leadership was that they didn't communicate well, here's the new guard. They better bring these folks together.

Ted Simons: The quote from Landrum Taylor, obviously she was upset, to say the most blatant racist move in my life. I'll never set foot in that caucus room again. Hyperbole but still to go public with those statements, they tend to have an afterlife, don't they?

Howard Fischer: They do but she walked them back. In fact there was supposed to be a protest this afternoon in front of the state democratic headquarters by people like Jarrett Malpin and others. They walked them back and Leah has decided I'm going to concentrate on my bid for Secretary of State and they know they have to work together. In terms of is it racist? Well, then you have to assume a couple of things. A, how did she get elected in the first place, but B; there is a changing demographic in Arizona. You know, the black community is maybe 3% of the population. It's not like it was 20 years ago when the large black community was all in a particular legislative district. It's very spread out. The entire black legislative caucus is Leah.

Ted Simons: Are we talking a divide between african-americans and Latino? Are we see ago north-south divide, divide between house members who have moved over to the Senate and maybe see things differently?

Mike Sunnucks: I think with Latinos are a big democratic constituency here, this untapped voting block that Democrats always want to tap into for the big races. Richard Carmona, Fred Duval. Then Latinos look around at statewide candidates, at leadership sometimes and it's not people that look like them. Not Latinos, Latinas. It's a natural inclination saying if we're going to energize our base we need to have folks that are Hispanic in leadership positions. I don't think it's a racial thing, just kind of a common sense thing to energize and grow your party.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Anna Tovar was in leadership to begin with, the number 3 person, now number one. I think this is more of an issue of the new guard. A lot of folks that supported Tovar's ascension to the leadership, are people who came over from the house just a few years ago. Energized, more collaborative, they wanted to get more things done. Landrum Taylor and her allies are Senate veterans, they had a different style. To me that's the clear divide.

Howard Fischer: I'm more in agreement with you. It's style in the sense that Senate has always considered itself the upper deliberative chamber. Leah fell into that, Linda Lopez fell into that. Well, no, sometimes you need to plant a few bombs.

Mike Sunnucks: You see this in the Phoenix City Council race. Michael Johnson's seat has been held by african-americans for a number of years. That's probably going to switch over. You see undercurrents of a changing Democratic Party. Do we need to have African-american representation in that seat?

Ted Simons: Last question on this, the incident, the response to the incident, impact on a Secretary of State run by Leah Landrum Taylor?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, it depends if she's running alone for the democratic nomination or if other people might get in.

Howard Fischer: A certain former Attorney General who has been sitting around who's panting.

Ted Simons: Thank you, Howie. That was discomforting to see. Who is Rick Murphy, why does he want to be governor and he could he be the proverbial fly in the ointment?

Howard Fischer: Last time we talked about Rick Murphy was a different Rick Murphy. This is not the lawmaker who has gotten into the public eye. Rick Murphy owns a bunch of radio stations in North West Arizona. He lost to Trent Franks in 2004 in the Republican Primary. He tried to put a measure on ballot saying we should have voting all by mail. Very few actual polling places. Spent a half million of his own money and lost the race. 2012, ran against Paul Gosar, a race that involved Ron Gould, and lost. Rick has spent a lot of money, building up his name I.D. He said, you know, I want to be governor but I want to be governor as an independent. His contention is that he will draw people who are disaffected with both parties. The problem is-

Ted Simons: He was a registered Republican before he decided to run. Literally changed the day before.

Mike Sunnucks: We're talking about 1%, 2%. Really tight race where it's really close. I think that's the only impact he has. His name I.D., he's up in Kingman, Lake Havasu city. He does not have name I.D. to have a big impact.

Howard Fischer: But you have the issue of if he runs with public money, if he gets signatures, 1.3 million handed to him. We also know he has plenty of private money. We don't know which way he's running. He hasn't decided yet. You may remember Bill Schultz, apartment complex owner. He was going to run in 1986 as a Democrat for governor, then he wasn't, then he was. Finally Carolyn Warner gets in the race, a certain small Pontiac dealer - Bill says, I'm going to run as an independent. You have a very publicized, very expensive three-way race. Bill put in 2.2 million of his own money and became a spoiler. That's the kind of role a lot of folks are concerned he could play, particularly for the Republicans because he's much more of a Republican in philosophy than a Democrat.

Ted Simons: Again, the correlation would be I think closer if Rick Murphy were more of a Ken Bennett or Doug Ducey, a major player before losing out or deciding I want to jump to an independent. Bill Schultz was a big name.

Howard Fischer: He had run in 1980.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Half the valley voted from him.

Mike Sunnucks: He ran against Barry Goldwater in 1980. It's a common name. Look, how does a guy named Dean Martin get elected? Nice name.

Ted Simons: The Republicans are probably going to the Supreme Court on this campaign.

Howard Fischer: On the campaign finance. The Court of Appeals said we think that the changes, the limits up to $4,000 is illegal because it conflicts with the clean elections act. We know the Republicans who want the law, the higher limits, are going to appeal. In the meantime they are trying to dissolve the injunction. Their argument is that somehow there's irreparable harm to Republicans if they can't take those $4,000.

Mike Sunnucks: They want more money. Take it for a while.

Ted Simons: We want more.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There is a sense of time is of the essence because we are in fund-raising season. Once the legislation starts, Lawmakers can't fundraise once the session starts at least when it involves lobbyists.

Ted Simons: They haven't gone to the Supreme Court yet.

Howard Fischer: It will be Monday or Tuesday.

Ted Simons: I know there's another medical marijuana story out there. Goodness knows you're on that beat.

Howard Fischer: Yes. Well, this is sort of an odd piece. Obviously the 2010 law says that you can obtain marijuana for yourself or for a child in fact, and that's never been challenged. There's a five-year-old who has some congenital brain conditions. His mother used to feed him a sort of extract which had the nonpsychoactive chemicals that seemed to help with his seizures and everything else. All of a sudden the state health chief and County attorney say no, the way the law is worded you can only have the plant. You have to have pieces of plant to make it legal. They can't get the extract. They are trying to shovel the straw-like material in the kid's applesauce, he's filtering it through his teeth being a five-year-old. The ACLU sued saying the law says food products are permitted. They are going to go to court and a judge will decide what the voter intent is.

Ted Simons: Usable marijuana including any mixture or preparation thereof. The ACLU says that should be relatively clear. The intent would seem to be relatively clear but we don't know.

Mike Sunnucks: We don't know and the folks on the medical marijuana side have been effective nationally in bringing out cases like a young, sick child to put in front of the court say, look at this situation and decide a broader case. It's going to be hard for any judge to sit there and rule against this kid's interests. If there's a legitimate argument with medical marijuana for folks that are very sick and as we develop case law on this when you have a defendant or plaintiff in this it really is to their advantage.

Howard Fischer: Very clearly, the kid can have marijuana but you going to have the kid smoke it? Eat it? Without arguing it can he have in in the form that makes sense.

Ted Simons: Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us. Monday, we will discuss the FAA's recent approval of electronic device usage during flights and hear about soldier's best friend, an organization that provides service dogs to veterans. Those stories Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday a look at the technical issues slowing the affordable care website. Wednesday representative Schweikert will join us. Thursday, encore career leader. And Friday it's 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.

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