Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon's Journalists' Roundtable, a hearing to repeal controversial new election laws is delayed, a look at the fair budget forecast, and the joint legislative budget committee, and a bill to expand religious protection in Arizona.

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

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon's Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight is Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Jim Small from the Arizona Capitol Times, and Mark Brodie of KJZZ Radio. A move to repeal new election laws as a way to keep those laws safe from a citizen's referendum appears to be on hold. And we will get to that in a second. I want to start with the redistricting commission because you were there this morning. What's going on with that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is one of three lawsuits that are still running against the commission, and the work that it completed in early 2012. And today, in Federal Court, the legislature showed up to, to make its argument that only the legislature has the authority under the U.S. Constitution's election clause, to draw congressional boundaries. They are asking this panel of three Federal judges to toss out the maps that have been used to elect our current cadre of congressmen and let the legislature redraw them, and they will get that done in time for the election.

Ted Simons: So what happened to the idea of, of the legislature not having that responsibility?

Jim Small: Well, you know, this is one of those areas of law that hasn't been heavily litigated. There is only like three cases, actually, that, that deal with even this concept of, of the people's authority when it comes to, to map-making, and all have cited against the legislature's position, but they are not all -- they are not on point so, the legislature is making an argument that this is a different situation, this is not where, where the people are not trying to act as a check or a balance on the what the legislature or the Governor does. They are, actually, taking the, taking the power away completely and giving it to, to, basically, an independent body, a non-legislative body. We'll see what happens. The court seemed skeptical and critical of the arguments today, and they were critical of both sides, but, the questioning seemed to be more pointed towards the legislature's argument.

Ted Simons: Is that what you saw?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Judge Murray still, one of the three judges looked at the state's attorney, Peter Gentala, and said show me where in the elections clause it says that, that the legislatures has a role because the elections clause gives the state legislatures the authority to set the time, place, and manner of elections, which the judge said, that sounds like all the business about holding an election, but, where does it say that they have got the right to draw lines? And he said well, the way that they construe the manner in which elections are conducted, extends to where you draw congressional boundaries.

Mark Brodie: And it wouldn't really be -- it would not be the IRC if there were not lawsuits associated with it. And, and there might be some ongoing litigation from the last time that they did this, that's still out there somewhere, but, this is, as Mary Jo said one of three suits out there, you know, this one dealing specifically with the congressional districts, but, you know, it will be interesting, I think, to see a, if the, if the judges say okay, go ahead and draw it. What that does then to all the races and all the candidates that are in there already running and raising money and, and trying to meet their constituents.

Ted Simons: And indeed, we're talking about, about the Federal lines. There is still all sorts of stuff held up as far as the legislative lines.

Jim Small: Yeah. One of the lawsuits, one that we've been waiting for a ruling on since August is in Federal Court, as well, before another panel and, and they have done all the arguments, done all the briefings and the pleadings and everything is ready, literally, just waiting for a ruling, and the fate of that will determine, you know, like mark said, the last time was a decades' worth of litigation, and I am sure it will be the same.

Mary Jo Pitzl: what's interesting about the case heard today, if the legislature, we asked Gentala afterward, it's late January, is there really time because the petitions, they can file the petitions in late April. He said well, the legislature is in session, and this is what they do and, and you know, so they could act quickly to create a congressional boundary, and which, of course, would raise all kinds of interesting questions down at the state house like, where is my speaker, Andy Tobin, running for Congress, where, if he's controlling the process, where might he put representative Adam Quazman, who is running against him for the GOP nomination in District One, and --

Ted Simons: Which is not exactly the kind of thing that, that putting the hands in the voters, or an independent commission, was designed to, to protect. I mean, protect to get rid of and protect -- I don't know, the sanctity of the lines.

Mark Brodie: I think what you will hear from a lot of, a lot of IRC supporters or people who are supportive of that kind of process, if not the particular body, itself, is that, you know, this is exactly what we were worried about. The people who are running in these races, drawing the lines for themselves, and probably having a fairly heated partisan battle along the way to get the lines drawn. So, I think that you will, you will hear those arguments.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And one of the arguments that was touched on by the attorneys for the redistricting commission is one of timing. It's like wait a minute, we had an independent redistricting commission that, that a decade ago, also, drew congressional boundaries, and nobody had a problem with that. And you can sort of see, well, those lines were fine with the majority of the legislature at the time, which was Republican. They were rather happy with those lines, and this, this cycle, this time around, not so happy.

Ted Simons: What kind of timetable are we looking at for this decision?

Jim Small: One of the judges said that they, they understood the, the need to get a ruling out quickly because of the fact that we're looking at late April for these signatures to be, you know, to, to start coming in. And, and I think that they will move quickly, but in a Federal Court is maybe not the same thing, same definition that you or I would have.

Ted Simons: Same thing?

Mary Jo Pitzl: As Jim referenced, the other lawsuit regarding legislative boundaries, that court wanted work on that done quickly, and they have been sitting on the arguments wrapped up in March, the last filing was in August, so fast is a relative term.

Ted Simons: All right repeal is a relative term. Let's talk about this election law, and the plan that seems to be a foot to kill the beast so the beast might live.

Mark Brodie: Yeah. Well, so, this is, this is creating controversy by trying to do away with something that created controversy. Last year the legislature at the last, towards the end of the session, cobbled together the elements of various bills that got put onto one bill, and it ticked off a lot of people. You had a bunch of groups going out to collect signatures to refer to the ballot, which they were able to do with more signatures than they needed. So, ok, so, this law is on hold, on the ballot for November. And so, the legislature says ok, we'll just repeal it. And that way we can head off the election, we can, if we decide that we want to, we can try to pass individual elements of that, of last year's law, and those probably won't get put on the ballot to be referred. One of the issues that, that repeal proponents are afraid of is the Voter Protection Act, if this law is on the ballot, and voters say we don't like it, and it goes away, that the legislature, without, the legislature is a, has a difficult time enacting any of the provisions, even those that, that might be ok, there is a lot of questions about whether that applies, though.

Ted Simons: And that's a legitimate concern. Once you get the VPA protection there, you have got a pretty uphill climb.

Jim Small: Well, it is, and it seems certain that if voters approve that law, if, if this referendum goes forward and voters vote yes on house bill 2305 in the fall, voter protection would apply.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And that would get rid of the election law changes.

Jim Small: No, that would leave the law there if they vote yes, but if they vote no, and reject it, there is an argument to be made and, and I think that a incredible one that, that voter protection still attaches to, to those statutes and, and to what was done, so, you know, as mark said, the legislature, if they cannot go back in there or if they are afraid that they cannot go back in there, that's why you see them moving to repeal everything.

Ted Simons: Isn't this just a big sign saying, we goofed?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, I think some people would see it as the legislature, people seeing the legislature overstepped, and did something that, that a lot of folks got angry, this coalition of, of groups, which, which their backers say a lot of them were Republicans. I have not seen the registration numbers. They cobbled together thousands of signatures in days, which is a mean feat given it was summer. So this is the will of the people being expressed through an initiative. So, if you try to undo it, actually, and they would be fine if they just -- if the legislature just undid it and walked away and didn't touch anything, we would, we would not have to go through a campaign, and all the nastiness and the expense of that, but, there is, there is no, no faith that the legislature would leave well enough alone.

Ted Simons: Is it legal for them to not leave well enough alone?

Mark Brodie: To go ahead and try to pass something else? It's a really good question. I don't know. And I don't know that, that anyone in the legislature knows for sure, and one of the other concerns that, that repeal opponents, people who want to have the bill, the law on the ballot in November are concerned about, is, is ok, so maybe the legislature doesn't pass anything this year. But, next year, they could come back and do it or the year after they could come back and do it, and their concern is the more time passes, the less people will remember oh, yeah, we signed a petition to refer that to the ballot because we thought it was a bad idea, three, four, five years ago.

Ted Simons: And this was an omnibus bill, correct? It became an omnibus. You could go back and, and pick and choose certain aspects of it that you want to go, and then, the fact that this was a crazy thing towards the end.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But to recap, some of the elements in the bill that, that, you know, and there was something in there for everyone to hate or love. It would have limited who can, can, who can return somebody's ballot, and it would have allowed the county recorders to clean up the permanent early voting list which would make it not a permanent list, it would be a temporary list. And it raises the signature requirements for candidates to get on the ballot, mostly, that, that higher limit applies, almost exclusively to, to the Democrats, Republicans, and maybe a couple of Republicans, and a few legislative districts. So, it looks like it favors Republicans, and it also limits the ability of, of -- creates a higher hurdle for citizen initiatives, which is a check on the legislative power, so those are the key elements that got everybody agitated, but to your point, I don't know why the -- what would possibly legally block the legislature from passing a law?

Ted Simons: From a distance --

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's their job.

Ted Simons: It does seem as though you can't -- the intent might be in question, a huge question mark, but, I don't see -- I'm not understanding where that could be illegal.

Jim Small: Well, and especially, because I think that, that the talk has been to not do it this year, to pass this law or pass the repeal, and then come back next year and pass these things. So, I think that it would be a different situation if they got rid of the law now, and, and halted the referendum, and went out and passed all the pieces. I think that there would be -- potentially, a legal, a legal sticky wicket there because the court could say wait a second, people didn't want this and you cannot do an end round in this fashion. If they do it a year or two years down the line --

Ted Simons: It is a reconsideration.

Jim Small: Right.

Ted Simons: We looked at this again.

Jim Small: I would imagine so.

Ted Simons: And speaking of looking at things, the Governor's office came out with, of course, the budget proposal, and its budget proposal, and now, they are saying hey, things don't quite add up. What --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, they have different starting points. So, you always have to take a look at how much money do we have to spend, and the Governor's estimate of how much tax collections the state will take in over the coming -- for the coming fiscal year, and is higher than with the legislature, and she also has a lower estimate on how much it would cost to, to sort of continue funding for, for K-12, which is a big, big part, a big chunk of the budget, and the legislature, so, they make different assumptions, and it adds up to, to, you know, what, a half billion dollars difference between the two sides.

Ted Simons: The Governor says we can, we can be structurally balanced by 2015, and JLBC says no structure in the foreseeable future. That's a signature difference.

Mark Brodie: And one of the things that people who don't spend a lot of time in the capitol realize, is that before you can start talking about where you are going to spend money, you have to figure out how much money you have to spend. So, before like the real heavy duty allocation of money debates and discussions and negotiations happen, the Governor's office and the legislature have to figure out and come to some kind of compromise of how much they are allocating and, and I think that, that -- it's an important thing because you can't say we're going to fund this program until you know how much money you have, and you don't know how much money you have until you can agree as Mary Jo said on a starting point.

Ted Simons: The differences between the Governor's office and JLBC, it's always there. Is it always there to this extent?

Jim Small: Yeah. In recent years it has been. It was far worse when Napolitano was Governor, frankly. The numbers would climb and they would be million or a billion dollars apart. And you know, so, it's always going to be an issue, and the other thing, the other wrinkle that gets added to this, too, is a couple of years ago in the legislature, required three-year forecasting to be included in a budget. And so, when you do the three-year forecasts, it's tough enough to get them to agree and find some consensus on one year's worth of revenue and spending. But, you start -- you take the assumptions off by just a bit now, and you go three years down the line, and you are looking at, at oh, my gosh, they are $2 billion apart, and in FY-17 but, they are kind of scribbles on a napkin.

Ted Simons: To your point the Governor's office sees a surplus of $421 million in fiscal year 17, and JLBC says a shortfall of $600 million in 2017. Again, you are projecting a long distance there in the future.

Mark Brodie: And I think if you talk to economists, they will tell you, you know, predicting what's going to happen a month from now in many cases in the best of times is a challenge, and you are probably going to be wrong. So, you know, a year or two or three years down the road, it's trying to predict the future.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And the three-year thing is, basically, used -- it's a cautionary thing, and, you know, it's probably not such a bad idea to, to have, to try to have a glimpse ahead, and, and I guess, if you err on the conservative side and the revenues come pouring in, you will have a big old fight over how to spend that extra money.

Ted Simons: We would like to fight. Jim, there is a bill to expand religious protection in ways that a lot of people find either unconstitutional or at the very least, curious. Talk to us about this.

Jim Small: This is, actually, a proposal that got vetoed as part of the fight over the Medicaid expansion, but, essentially, it would allow businesses to, to, to exercise the, the businesses themselves could exercise their religious beliefs. And, and could, could, could, you know, act in ways, and maybe deny services to people if they felt that, that, that providing those services would go against their, their religious foundations. A lot of people have pointed to what happened in New Mexico last year, where there was a wedding, a photographer who, who turned away a gay couple. And, and the gay couple ended up suing him, and the state told, ruled that company had to take the, the -- broke the law by saying no, we're not going to take your pictures because you are gay, and so this is an attempt to head off something like that, circumstances are a bit different in Arizona, versus New Mexico. But, it's, nonetheless, you know, I think a preemptive strike at those things.

Ted Simons: Critics say this allows for discrimination.

Mark Brodie: One person's protection is another person's discrimination. I think, you know, if you sort of follow out where some opponents say that this could go, is, you know, if two men walk into a store and are holding hands, can the shop owner say you have to leave. And I think that that's, that's a concern that opponents have that, that in some cases, where somebody might just have a belief, but you are still sort in the marketplace that, you know, you have got to take care of your customers.

Ted Simons: And introduced by the representative from chandler who says prohibitive discrimination would stay that way under this bill, does that make sense?

Jim Small: Well, yeah. It kind of does because, you know, right now, state law doesn't let you discriminate for people based on their religion or gender or race. And Arizona law doesn't allow, doesn't prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity or gender identity like a lot of other states. New Mexico, for example, has that law. The Human Rights' Act, which is what allowed that lawsuit to move forward and is what made, what that business did there illegal. We don't have that, so, this does not, you know, kind of ads this layer, you know, maybe -- one of the arguments that this, it may give businesses, may embolden businesses to act in that way where maybe they can't legally now but wouldn't otherwise do that.

Ted Simons: How likely is this to pass the legislature? Made it through last time.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, oh, yeah, I think it will pass the legislature. It's the same group of 90 people, a couple of changes in the Senate, and we'll talk about that in a bit. But, the bigger question is what will happen when it gets to the Governor's desk because the Governor vetoed it last session.

Ted Simons: Was that just -- as Jim mentioned, a lost in the cloud of war there or is that something that -- was there any, any explanation given by the Governor?

Jim Small: The explanation was, was that I told you to my priorities, and you did not do that.

Ted Simons: Right.

Jim Small: There is not a priority. So, we'll see, and the Governor, the Governor's office can, you know, the Governor can always act however she wishes on a bill.

Ted Simons: All right. The changes that Arizona wants to make to the, the post-card voting registration form. Asked the Feds to consider it, and the Feds said, no.

Mary Jo Pitzl: No. And Arizona and Kansas went to the elections assistance commission and said we want to, we want to be able to modify the Federal voter registration form to require people to put down proof of citizenship on there. And, and the commission came back and said no, you can't do that. That would be a barrier to voting, and the thought was to have that registration form mirror what Arizona requires on its registration form because we have had the proof of citizenship since Prop 200.

Ted Simons: And, and again, they were kind of pushing this direction by the Supreme Court ruling which said, you know, as it stands, no, but, if you go ahead and petition this commission, and see what they say, it sounds like they said, again, no.

Mark Brodie: Well, I might be mistaken but isn't this a commission with no members on it right now?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Mark Brodie: There is no actual members on this commission.

Ted Simons: Right. Like an interim someone --

Mark Brodie: Right, the executive director, who, in fact, the Federal Court without argument was made, we don't have -- we have no one to do this. And, and the court says, no, you can go ahead and do it. She can just act unilaterally.

Ted Simons: So the affidavit of citizenship with the penalty for perjury, if you are lying on the card, they are saying that, that that's enough.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. Yes. So, for the Federal forum, so this will play into the lawsuit that the Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Chris Cobach have before a Federal judge in Kansas. And there is going to be arguments on it in mid-February in Wichita to talk about, about, what they are arguing for, is basically, the creation of a two track system. So, if you register using the Federal form, you can vote in Federal races but not in the state races such as for Governor, you know, legislature, on down.

Ted Simons: That's still alive?

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's still alive, and the, the opponents of the idea of a two-track voting system point to the election's assistance commission decision from last weekend and say, this strengthens our hand because, their ruling shows that this is just another barrier to voting and that's not what vote is supposed to be about, we're not supposed to put roadblocks out there. And, you know, Horn and Bennett say that, well, they think that they can overcome the arguments and, and that's why we have a court date in mid-February.

Ted Simons: Speaking of Tom Horn, it sounds like there may be an attempt to settle this campaign finance case?

Jim Small: Yeah, his, his -- his attorney filed a motion for a settlement conference, and we have kind of heard some talk that, that they have been having some talk, serious talks about that, and they are trying to find a way, I think, to, to head off this case and, you know, kind of get it done with. It's been going on for a while now. And it would certainly involve him and, and potentially his, his co-conspirator in this scheme, Kathleen Wind to pay back that money.

Ted Simons: Which means for the attorney that Wind has to agree as well.

Jim Small: Right, and I don't know that he -- that they are on the same page on that. It doesn't seem like they are. I think what they said was, no, we want to fight this. We don't want to go to settlement.

Ted Simons: And again, what horn is looking for here, I think, is a settlement without admitting guilt. As far as the public is concerned. As far as the election prospects are concerned, does that make a difference?

Mark Brodie: I would think Tom Horn wants this to go away, I mean, clearly, he does not want to admit guilt, nobody does, a couple months before they run for an office. Especially attorney general. I mean, that's, that's a campaign ad that Mark Burnovich, he could write the script right now if he wanted to, so, I mean, how this plays out and when it plays out will be interesting to see, especially in that, in that primary.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I suppose, if, if Tom Horn, it would be better to come back because this issue will come up regardless of what happens, whether there is the settlement or not but if he gets one, it comes up, he can say look, it was settled and no guilt was assessed. If he gets his way. And that's better than saying well, I was found guilty.

Ted Simons: I guess. $400,000 lighter in the wall, though.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah.

Ted Simons: And before we go who is Frank Rigs and why does he want to be Governor of Arizona?

Mark Brodie: A former congressman from California. He's a former attempted gubernatorial candidate, and he is now the eighth GOP candidate in the running for the nomination for Governor.

Ted Simons: Moved to Scottsdale, apparently, 10 some odd years ago and runs a nonprofit out there and plans to run privately. The Rigs name is relatively familiar in Arizona -- I'm not sure if he's connected to that particular family. But, I mean, any chance?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, you know, the old thought is that the more names on the ballot, the more you chop up the vote and you need fewer -- any one person needs a smaller percentage to win. But, he's, he's got a lot of introducing to do.

Jim Small: And he'll be making the introductions this weekend, tomorrow is, is the state Republican party's annual meeting, and I know he'll be there gathering signatures, and I am sure shaking hands and meeting a lot of people.

Ted Simons: I found it interesting he's already taking shots at Doug Ducey and Scott Smith.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And they are over the issue of Medicaid restoration because during the debate in the legislature, Ducey as state treasurer, remains silent, the treasurer does not have a lot to say on that, but when asked he would not take a position during that period and Smith has also been quiet on it.

Ted Simons: All right. Before we go, who is Andrea Dellasandro --

Jim Small: The new Senator from District 2, democrat, appointed this week. She was, actually, a state representative, so she got to cart all her belongings across the lawn into a much larger office in the Senate. And she started, got sworn in on Wednesday, and now she replaces Linda Lopez, who resigned effective on the first day of session. So now we need to go through the replacement process in the House.

Ted Simons: Does it register on the seismic meter at the capitol?

Mark Brodie: I would think probably not. I don't know a lot about now the Senator Delasandro but I am going to guess that her views and former Senator Lopez's views are fairly similar on policy issues.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think when it does show is that, is that this is the third Senator to be replaced, you know, in the past year, so, people who think that folks get in with the legislature and stay there for life, there is one-tenth of the Senate has turned over in a year.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," Greg Stanton joins us for his monthly appearance to discuss the latest Phoenix city issues. And we'll have a panel discussion on SB-1070, and its lasting influence on Arizona. That's Monday evening 5:30 and 10 on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Jim Small:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, The Arizona Republic; Mark Brodie:Journalist, KJZZ;

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