Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us as local journalists give us their insight into the week’s big stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal."

Ted Simons: A controversial bill that extends religious protection to private transactions and allows religious belief as a defense against lawsuits passes the legislature and awaits a decision by the governor. And Mary, not since S.B. 1070 have we had this much attention. This is big time stuff here.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Very much. That vote in the Senate lit the match on this fuse and this thing has taken off. It's a national topic now. What will Governor Brewer do, will Arizona become the first state to enact as far as we know the first a law such as this.

Howard Fischer: There already is a law similar to this governing state action that says if your business, you want to use your religious rights, you can do that, and then you have to show, you know, you have a sincere belief and then the state can show well, we have a compelling government interest. But you can't kill your first born. This extends it to civil suits. In other words, if Mary Jo wants to deny service to me, and that's where we've gone over the edge. Now, Cathy Harris says this is just a minor tweak in the law. Well, as Mary Jo points out, no other state has gone this far and there are enough folks, who see it, even if it is a minor tweak, as a message to the gay community we don't want you here.

Mike Sunnucks: Well, the business folks have come out against this, much stronger than they did with 1070. The greater Phoenix economic council, the technology councilor, they worry about the image it's going to send about the state to the talented people, to companies, high tech companies, and, you know, pretty strong opposition to it. Some of the main line lobbying business groups down there are still staying away from this. It's where you start out with this issue. The people that are against this see 1070 and what they think that did to the state. They see the national coverage, the daily show, the stories about Arizona being intolerant. The people on the right, Cathy Harris, folks, see Hobby Lobby. They see these government mandates from the Obama administration telling people of faith how they have to conduct their business and so it's kind of everybody sees it through a different lens.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The timing on this is very interesting, too, because right after google announces that the valley is a site they're considering for expansion and everybody's very excited about this economic opportunity, I think the day that story was out, it was the day that the Senate voted to pass the bill.

Howard Fischer: And what's interesting is that talk about Hobby Lobby. Again, nothing in this law existing law or the expansion precludes a person from claiming that, you know, you still got that balancing test there. But it becomes the message. It becomes as Mike said, the business community, when -- within hours of Thursday night's vote, I got calls from businesses saying we're no longer interested. We've got folks saying that are here saying I've got customers canceling and that makes a difference.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I suspect, though, that hindsight being what it is, businesses are like why weren't we speaking up before? Really where were they? If this bill is offensive today, it was offensive last week. And what I'm toll is they opted to try to work quietly behind the scenes, they thought they could convince state lawmakers to do this. It passed along party lines.

Howard Fischer: Three Republicans in the house, three Republicans who broke ranks, the same who voted for Medicaid expansion for the governor. She comes back Monday, going to have the bill on her desk, Friday or Saturday to sign it. The pressure's on her from the business community, and now we have Republicans like Ken Bennett running for governor, like Christine Jones running for governor, like Scott Smith running for governor, two of the three people are LDS, and saying as much as we believe in religious rights, we think this is a bad idea, that this is an unnecessary move that only serves to create problems.

Ted Simons: Back to the current governor, she gets it on her desk Monday. If she's going to veto this, if she were to veto this, would it be wise to veto it immediately because every day that passes, you wind up vetoing on Friday, that's four extra days of bad publicity.

Mike Sunnucks: That's four daily show segments that they can run about us and our reputation precedes us as part of this issue. I think nationally people look at Arizona for these types of things on immigrants, on some of the political climate here and yeah, I think the business folks that are concerned about this and opposed to this would want this taken care of before. I think some of the chambers down there that haven't taken a stance on this; they didn't want to see this happen. They're tight with the Republican caucus down there so they want these tax breaks for Apple and for their other companies, and they try to stay away from these social things. You saw this with 1070. They were kind of slow, much slower. They were a little bit faster this time but they don't want to step on Republican toes.

Howard Fischer: You've got another factor at work. This is a woman of deep religious faith. I watched her several years ago address a group of Lutheran ministers. And she talked about that you don't govern from religion but you don't leave your religion at the door and I know that the idea of somebody being forced to do something against their beliefs is an issue for her so I don't think this is a slam dunk for her one way or the other.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I was just going to say that in terms of the businesses that maybe have kept quiet, and now these threats of boycotts or leaving the state, not considering expansion, it sort of underscores the point that many make that it's not just tax breaks that bring business here. It's the quality of life, it's the environment that we create in Arizona and this is seen as a potential black mark. Gary Broom from the greater Phoenix economic council said we've got four companies that we're working with through the commerce authority that said they're not coming if this thing becomes law and we have that Super Bowl, you know, where all the eyes of the world are going to be on us.

Ted Simons: We've got a lot of thing going on in Arizona right now. A lot of high-profile things that can be targeted if this were -- real quickly, mentioned Bennett, mentioned Scott Smith, and Christine Jones and Doug Ducey.

Howard Fischer: He's in the closet on this one. Look the fact is we've got a non-statement statement saying I'm a business man, I'm a man of faith and I'm going to consider this and weigh my options. Look, he has -- it's hard for him to take positions on anything. Look at some of the stuff that's occurred on some of the bills that we've asked him about over the years.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It sounds like him on Medicaid. It's -- it took him a year to make clear his position on Medicaid.

Mike Sunnucks: The backer of Ducey is Cathy Harris, they're the main group pushing that so it would be interesting if he's going to break ranks on that and people of faith, social conservatives, have this feeling that they're under duress in the political realm, they see same-sex marriage at the national level and other states, they see these mandates from the affordable care act and they have this perception that their religious liberties are being threatened. Every time you talk to cap or somebody, they say people shouldn't have to check their religion at the door when they come in.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But in this case what is the problem that we're trying to fix? What's broken? We have not seen any evidence -- [ Overlapping Speakers ]

Ted Simons: Real quickly, real quickly, this photography incident in New Mexico, it seems to have driven this entire thing. Do we know if the contract was made and the photographer pulled out at the last second, do we know anything?

Howard Fischer: The issue has to do with New Mexico law, which does grant protected status based on sexual orientation. That's the point. You can discriminate now and that comes back to Mike's point. There is no problem here. It's not like suddenly, you know, religious businesses are being told you now have to serve gays. If you don't want to go to Chick-fil-A, you don't have to. Who is a guy who does wear his religion on his shoulder. If he wants to say no gays allowed, he's free to do that under existing law.

Mike Sunnucks: Their perception is, the Obamacare mandates for contraception, abortion, they see those things as part and parcel of the Chick-fil-A stuff and they see themselves under attack, whether it's true or not, they see this and you're correct, they see this as a concern for them. They see themselves as people of faith that they're not allowed to show their faith in their business or in the public life.

Howard Fischer: The fact is, the Hobby Lobby and all that will be decided by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will look at the federal law that some of this is modeled after and say do they have a sincerely held religious belief, does the government have a compelling interest, and is this the least restricting way of getting that interest?

Ted Simons: Some of the critics will be saying that if you're a Muslim taxi cab driver, you can refuse to pick up a Jew, if you're a conservative Christian taxi cab driver, you can refuse to pick up somebody who's wearing a Burka. How far does this go?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I talked to a guy this morning and he says well, I would get a double wham away, I'm Buddhist and I'm gay but really, how much would this come up? And he goes well if I'm sitting in the café and we're talking about religion and somebody over here tells to owner and they object, he fears that he could get kicked out.

Ted Simons: Not only that --

Mike Sunnucks: Everyone as victim in this thing. You talk to people that are against it from the gay rights folks, single moms, they could all be victimized by this but you talk to the folks for it, the Christian folks, they feel like they're being victimized.

Ted Simons: Because they can't go ahead and say I don't want to serve you because I don't like the fact that you and your boyfriend are holding hands in my restaurant.

Mike Sunnucks: Everybody's starting similar points but on complete polar opposites.

Howard Fischer: But you can kick the couple that's gay out right now under existing law. There's one small caveat to that. We have Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff--

Ted Simons: Explain that.

Howard Fischer: Now, they have laws which do extend protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I talked to the city attorney in Tucson, he said, first of all, we're already subject to the government regulations, extends this to person to person but you would have that same test. You want to deny service, you have to prove a sense -- a religious belief and they have to say it's a compelling interest. For all the talk of the broad, far reaching implications, in a lot of ways, this is a very small move. It's the message it sends that I think is a big key.

Ted Simons: In your opinion, this is an opinion question so we won't go too far. But did they see this coming? Did they not understand that this kind of backlash would occur?

Mike Sunnucks: It's the lens they start with. They look at where they're coming from, the social conservatives have a lot of influence down there, and I think they see this as thumbing their nose at federal mandates which they love to do. I think they have a tin ear in terms of the national perception of Arizona in the media coverage.

Howard Fischer: They now have a tin ear to the business community. I'll give you a perfect example. The business community came in, the lobbyist for the Phoenix chamber said, if you get rid of these standards and go back to 1999 standards, we will not hire Arizona grads. Guess what? The Republicans on the Senate education committee voted to get rid of common core. The business community is here and the legislature is there.

Ted Simons: That's that particular common core, the government would never sign that.

Howard Fischer: The governor will never sign it but the fact you have the Republicans in the legislature so out of step with supposedly their allies in the business community on this, on common core, on Medicaid expansion, suggests a disconnect there.

Mike Sunnucks: Who's even in opposition to it? You see Barry Broom, the tech council, you see all kinds of different groups come out, gubernatorial candidates but there's no lawmakers own there really leading the charge.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But you do wonder if the business community had spoken up in a more vocal way, this thing might not have gotten -- it probably would have been stopped in the Senate.

Ted Simons: Did they not think it was going to happen?

Mary Jo Pitzl: They thought they could work it and stop it quietly. They don't want to make a big stink because they have other items that they want to accomplish.

Mike Sunnucks: There's some folks that wanted to take on the social conservatives on some issues over Medicaid and stuff and now, they've got something and I don't know if they really wanted this type of national civil war.

This will be interesting, who knows what the governor will do when it gets to her desk but we have a different playing field for campaigns and, as you said, the natural constituency for the Republicans is the business community, not for a lot of them. They haven't been dependent on business contributions to get elected. Well, with our higher campaign limits, that changes the playing field and we'll see who gets that chamber of commerce deep pocketed business backing and I don't think they're going to look real favorably on a lot of folks who are really very hard right on these social issues.

Although that gets to one more footnote to the whole thing, which is clean elections money. Part of the reasons that some folks don't like clean elections money is that you've got a few folks from the whack-a-doodle-contingent, excuse me, the alleged whack-a-doodle-contingent, who get elected with clean elections money because they get a certain number of $5 donations and all of a sudden, they've got a war chest.

Ted Simons: With that in mind let's move on to this big piece on dark money, the Koch brothers, we had Randy Kendrick mentioned in the story, wife of Ken Kendrick, owner of the Diamondbacks, everyone, Sean Noble, we had Kirk Adams, former speaker was mentioned. You might have been mentioned. This was a long story.

Mike Sunnucks: A very long story. [ Overlapping Speakers ]

Mike Sunnucks: I'm not on the Koch brothers payroll. I would probably have a better-looking suit. This is a long story about Sean Noble, and how they kind of used him to funnel money essentially to all these various conservative groups in various states, kind of his rise and the Koch brothers behind the scenes funneling of cash to various campaigns and a little bit of us fall in that. He's not a favorite son of the Koch brothers machine any more, but it's kind of an indictment on our political situation in general after citizens united and just how secret money is flowing around to different states like Wisconsin, California. All in different races and how these groups on the conservative side are moving this money around in really secretive ways.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What's fascinating is not just the funneling of the money, but where the money moves from one nonprofit to another nonprofit to another nonprofit, which is part of the reason, a large reason that senator Michelle Reagan has introduced her bill and got a hearing this week on a dark money bill which aims, the intent is to try to at least disclose who is the original.

Ted Simons: The original source.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The original source of this money. Some people say you're never going to get to that but her bill passed out of committee on a unanimous vote, although it has reach tepid reception.

Howard Fischer: You've got other assignments, where does it go, does it even die in rules? But there's another problem that the bill is going to have and that has to do with some court cases. Clearly, if you have expressed advocacy, vote for Mike, vote against Mary Jo, you have to report. Now, if you can chase back the Russian nesting dolls, great. So much of what is being run now is called educational campaigns, informational things. So, for example, the campaign against Tom Horne in 2012 by the democratic attorney general didn't say vote against Horne. It said when he was state school superintendent he allowed a teacher in a classroom who might have had some child pornography and that when he was a state lawmaker he voted against increased penalties for statutory rape. Again, we're only educating the public. And these are exempt in general from law and that our law which said -- it was overturned by a trial judge.

Ted Simons: And everybody understands or at least is aware of this. Was there a response when the piece ran and you had these names and you had all of this information? It doesn't look good. I mean, it doesn't look good. My question is what was the response down there? Was it just hey, that's the way it is?

Howard Fischer: I didn't see any shock there, other than some feigned shots by a few democrats but it was like yeah, we knew that. Any of us who followed Kirk Adams' money in the California initiatives and in the Arizona measures, already knew that. We already knew it could be traced back to Sean, which could be traced back perhaps to the Koch brothers.

Ted Simons: Is Sean noble, Kirk Adams, are they still big players at the capitol? Big enough players?

Howard Fischer: If they have the money. You don't see them down there.

Ted Simons: You don't know, in other words.

Howard Fischer: You don't know, in other words, and they get involve sometimes in ways on ballot measures where it has nothing to do with -- I don't need to affect legislation. I can pass something, I can kill something.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I would agree. I didn't detect any great reaction out of the state capitol. But one thing that was I thought new from this report because we did know how the Koch money seemed to be playing in some of the 2012 elections, was there's also some of that money went into the fight against the redistricting commission about $150,000 went to the group called fair trust, which has been involved in litigation that's still before the courts on whether lines were properly drawn.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think the Republicans cared at all. You mention the Koch, all they think about is George Soros. It creates a lot of cynicism, you've got all these names, Americans for economic prosperity, you don't even know what side of the issue they're on, you don't know where they're from or what they're doing and they run negative ads against one camp or the other.

Ted Simons: We mentioned Doug Ducey before. He is running for governor, no one really surprised.

Howard Fischer: I'm shocked.

Ted Simons: And he's already raised more money than any of the other candidates.

Howard Fischer: It's good to have a few contacts, you know, some of them perhaps introduced him to Cathy. He had announced early in the filings thinking he was going to scare off perhaps Mayor Smith, or scare off Ken Bennett. That clearly wasn't going to happen. He may need all that money because at this point, he's still an unknown. People may have heard the name, may or may not know he used to run cold stone creamery but people are going to say Doug who?

Ted Simons: Very early but who's moving fast here and who's kind of standing still?

Mike Sunnucks: I think you talk about the consultants and don't fall asleep on Christine Jones. She's the only woman in the race, she's with Go Daddy. She's got business background. She has the DUI and appeared in the commercials and she's not known to people but if she's in a crowded field with a bunch of male names and she comes out as a fairly main stream conservative Republican --

Ted Simons: Even in the primary.

Mike Sunnucks: I think that benefits her if it's a really crowded field. I think one thing you talked about Ducey's name I.D., same thing with Scott Smith. They've been in elected office for a while. Everyone around them knows them but the regular folks, they don't know them. Nobody knew anybody with her and Andy Thomas.

Howard Fischer: Part of the issue in terms of some of these folks is going to be in terms of Christine, she's got a lot of money. She's also spent it and we don't know who she is, which is one of the issues. Yeah, being the only female in the race could have some impact. She's also cozied up very nicely to Joe Arpaio and that could open up some doors for her and find her some votes. But it is really too early to handicap. And that's what makes it interesting in terms of what we started with today to see who's jumping out on 1062, to see who is staking out different decisions.

Mary Jo Pitzl: We're up to eight or nine candidates on the Republican side for governor. I mean, it wouldn't take a lot of votes to win in a field like that. So people I talked with said do not count out Andy Thomas. Maybe don't even count out Senator Al Melvin.

Howard Fischer: They're both running with public money. If they get , $5,005 donations, they get a check for $700,000. They're in it to stay.

Ted Simons: You've got to get out of the primary. And you can't get out of that Republican primary by being too far towards the center.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Who is, though?

Ted Simons: Two of you three people today said they didn't like his religion.

Mike Sunnucks: If it continues to blow up like 1070. And you have Ducey, if he backs this thing, he may have a certain percentage of the vote of the religious right with him while you've got the other three with the business community and last time I checked there are more social conservatives voting than business people.

Ted Simons: Before we go, the panel okays its bill on initiative re-votes the idea of going back and looking at voter approve measures every eight years to make sure the voters knew what they were doing eight years ago.

Howard Fischer: Over and over. It says anything with money attached, they have to revote. Well, that means clearly, you know, first things first, that means ending gaming.

Ted Simons: Clean elections?

Howard Fischer: Clean elections, all of that stuff. The minimum wage is a little trickier because it doesn't involve state money.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The industrial commission has to spend some manpower.

Howard Fischer: That's part of the problem with the wording of it. You're going to have a problem in there in the sense that all of a sudden folks are going to say we're going to put how many of these on the ballot in 2016 if the 2014 measure passes?

Mary Jo Pitzl: What's the answer?

Howard Fischer: The answer depends on who you talk to. Maybe two dozen because we can't tell. But here's the one thing going for it in terms of or going against it perhaps. This in itself has to be approved by voters and so if the voters want to say we would like it every eight years but I think you're going to find a coalition of so many groups, you put the Indians in there with their money because they don't want to revisit tribal gaming, you get the sierra club, folks, the folks, the Arizona lottery and gets re-upped every few years.

Ted Simons: And those are a lot of folks that will be driven to the polls by something like this.

Mike Sunnucks: You could have unintended consequences. The Republicans that hate voter mandated things, they want to have voters come out for things they like, minimum wage, Indian casinos, those types of things, lottery, first things first, that could help Democrats. You've seen races like Janet beating Matt Salmon. She was helped by the tribes turning out for that vote.

Howard Fischer: Which is exactly why our last subject, the legislature finally repealed the election law bills because they didn't want the damn thing on the ballot because heaven forbid it will bring out democrats.

Ted Simons: Any piecemeal things introduced yet?

Howard Fischer: You'll be seeing a lot of strikers, a lot of last-minute things. But I think you'll see the preliminary voting list is the biggest one.

Ted Simons: Good discussion, good to have you here.

Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services; Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, The Arizona Republic;

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