Journalists’ Roundtable

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

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon Journalists' Roundtable," an effort to kill the state's new education standards is defeated. Also tonight, we'll have the latest on attempts to extend the use of public money for private education. And a state lawmaker and candidate for Congress goes public about his sexuality in the wake of the SB 106210621062. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made 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, Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Hank Stevenson with the "Arizona Capitol Times." Arizona's recently implemented college and career ready standards, better known as Common Core, survives an attack by republican lawmakers who see the program as a federal attempt to usurp states' rights. This was -- this was killed with the help of what, five republicans?

Jim Small: Yeah, five republicans who sided with the 13 democrats in the chamber to vote against the bill. The bill would have said that Arizona can no longer use the standards adopted in 2010, and are quickly, fastly being implemented and getting ready to have -- one of the big discussions this year is getting a test to test for the standards. Legislation trying to get us out of the standards all together. It was a big Victory for the business community which has been making a strong push this year in support of these higher standards, standards that they say will make Arizona's high school graduates better prepared for both college and the work force.

Howard Fischer: That was really the key. The business community a little late coming to the table on 1062 and definitely a little late on 1070 several years ago. Figured out if we are going to stop this stuff -- the lobbyist of the Phoenix chamber literally told the education committee, if you adopt this and go back what would be 1999 standards, Arizona graduates will not be employable. We will go to other states to look for the graduates.

Ted Simons: What was the reason for getting rid of something already passed, implemented by virtue of a group of folks, including Arizona educators. I mean, it is already in place, already costing money, why get rid of it?

Hank Stephenson: And pulling out of it would throw the whole system into chaos. Getting rid of it is going back to the tea party wing of the republican party, does not like Common Core, anything thing as --

Howard Fischer: It is better than that. Al Melvin sponsoring the bill. David Bradley says to him, senator, what is it exactly that you don't like in the bill? Al says well lots of people don't like it. Well, Senator, what don't you like? Well, you go in and find it. When pressed for what the problems are, the prime sponsor can't even say. It's more this sort of paranoia that these are national standards. They were adopted by the national governors association, including this governor, by state school chiefs, supported by Huppenthal, but somehow this is seen as Obama, I guess.

Ted Simons: Indeed, Arizona had input in developing the standards. Huppenthal has strong support here, strong support from the business community, even if this thing had passed, the governor was not likely to sign it anyway, was she?

Jim Small: She officially doesn't comment on legislation until it reaches her desk, however, I think it was pretty well assumed that she would have vetoed it. She has been an ardent supporter of the higher education standards for several years now. People who are close to her say, you know, don't worry about it, even if it gets through, we have a pretty good backstop back there who can stop this.

Ted Simons: That likely would not have gone through anyway, however, what's going on with -- and they don't like to call them vouchers, but let's call them that --

Howard Fischer: It is a voucher-like program.

Ted Simons: Easier to say, too. What is going on with this bill to expand public money into private education?

Howard Fischer: Several bills. Some of them make minor changes such as children of the military, or more disabled kids, the big bill says we are going to have everyone be eligible. Right now it started off as a bill for disabled. And then it became any child in a school rated D or F, which probably takes in theoretically up to 200,000 students. There is a year-to-year cap. This bill would say if you qualified for free or reduced priced lunch, you would qualify. That brings us up to 600,000. And then because of the way you can't do it on a student-by-student basis, we will do it in a school that has a lot of kids that qualify which brings it up to 800,000 of 1.3 million kids.

Ted Simons: There is supposed to be a cap at 5,000 too, how do you work those numbers?

Hank Stephenson: Right now even, the potential number of students that could be enrolling in the ESA student -- in the ESA program is nowhere near what is actually enrolled. There -- there is a cap in place currently. And we're nowhere near hitting it.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, is this -- is this effort a response to the low participation?

Hank Stephenson: I mean, it could be. I think they have been chipping away with this year after year, one thing after another, little by little trying to expand the program.

Jim Small: I think this is -- a reaction to the low participation, and the goal is to make this available to every student. That was one of the arguments and fears I think from the education establishment when the program was created and it was upheld in court as being a valid program, was that this was going to be the camel's nose under the tent for voucher like programs. It could be expanded because any legal challenge could rest on the shoulders of the previous one that said this was legal.

Howard Fischer: The real key is choice. From the perspective of the education community, taking money that would otherwise go to public schools and take it and give it in these scholarships, quote unquote, for parents to use for private parochial schools, tutoring books, home schooling, whatever else, moving money out of public schools that still have to be there. If a charter school loses students, it closes down. Public schools, Roosevelt district, Madison district needs to be there. They have buildings, bonds, things to pay off and yet we're going to take away the base, and the questions of which students are still stuck there as opposed to which students say I have a voucher, my parents are going to pay something extra, --

Ted Simons: Those schools are still going to be there and accountability will be there for the schools. What kind of accountability for the private schools?

Hank Stephenson: Much less accountability. This bill was scheduled to go up before the house twice now, once this week and once last week. It has been kicked down the road a little bit each time. The sponsor says, you know, we have had a couple of republicans absent. I don't want to put it up unless my numbers are sure. From what I hear, the vote is going to be extremely close, and there has been a couple of changes in the last couple of days where the votes might not even be there to get this out of the house.

Howard Fischer: The issue on accountability to be fair, the argument that the parents are the ultimate accountability. If mom and dad are happy with the education that junior is getting, that's fine. But that ignores the fact that sometimes mom and dad just want junior going to a school where they don't teach about communism, homosexuality, that we have only been here for 6,000 years, and the question of are they getting a good education in terms of mom and dad's view may not be exactly accurate.

Ted Simons: Always in these situations, yes, you can find out a year later that it wasn't what you thought it was, it wasn't up to snuff, you have lost a year of your child's education.

Howard Fischer: That's true. We have that with open enrollment now. You can enroll your kid in any public or charter school now --

Ted Simons: Accountability issue -- okay, what happens with this? What happens Monday? What do you see?

Jim Small: This thing has been scheduled twice to go to the floor and it has been pulled back both times. Ostensively because the votes really aren't there. We will find out Monday afternoon whether those votes materialize. Whatever changes are in the work for this bill, enough to assuage some of the concerns of the republicans wavering on this bill.

Howard Fischer: A much narrower version of expansion failed in committee. That indicates perhaps the tide is turning. The ultimate backstop, the governor, look, she is a proponent of choice. She got into the legislature because of education. But it's one thing to say we're going to help students with special needs, disabled, D and F schools, and I think it may be for her to say you mean eventually this could mean 800,000, 900,000, a million kids? Even she may have a hard time with that. We saw a fiscal note today that shows it could actually cost the state more than they're paying now because of the way that -- that the state aid is based.

Ted Simons: With that information, and just the general tenor now of the legislature and everything going on down there with 1062, does that -- last year -- I hate to use last year, because there was another crisis last year. But, I mean, has the mood changed down there to where something like this which may have been more easily passed isn't quite so easy anymore?

Hank Stephenson: I think it has to some degree. I think there are a handful of lawmakers kind of in the middle who are saying let's focus on what we need to do and not go out there and create too many headlines. Let's buckle down on the budget, which they haven't done yet, but I think that there are a handful of lawmakers, votes in the middle, that really matter, that are reassessing what they want to do this year.

Howard Fischer: One other thought on this. Defeat of Senate Bill 1062 at the hand of the governor, a couple of republicans deciding before the vote, some deciding afterwards, all of the sudden I think there may be a feeling you know it is okay not to vote with Kathy Harrod and the world will not end. It may be that this has caused a few of them to develop a spine and say, no, Kathy, we're not going with you on this one.

Ted Simons: We will watch out for that one and keep tabs on that one.

Ted Simons: We have a poll coming out with a couple of interesting questions. First of all, regarding the governor's race, I know it's early. Undecided, governor undecided is going to win in a landslide. Is no one connecting -- what is happening here?

Jim Small: At this point, I think everyone is out there trying to raise money or qualifying for clean elections money. We really haven't seen any meaningful activity out of any of the gubernatorial candidates outside of -- they're making the rounds amongst the party activists and the different republican groups and business groups. They haven't started doing that communication that you are going to see eventually with the general electorate. And that is why you see with this poll, 34, 35 percent. Previous polls had it north of 50 percent. Just a function of it being relatively early and there not being anyone with a high stature.

Howard Fischer: And the other part of it -- we're not paying attention to them. We seek them out on comments on 1062, and a few bills like that, but other than that, I don't care what Doug Ducey is doing. You know. It's early. We're all concentrating on what is going on at the capitol. Ken Bennett's plans to get rid of somehow the income tax, yeah, okay. We'll talk about it later.

Ted Simons: Christine Jones, seems like she jumped quite a bit from the December poll, and Scott Smith double from the December poll. Doug Ducey down from when they did a poll in December. Again very early, polling this time of the year, take it for what it is worth. But I would imagine that the Ducey camp has to be a little concerned about this.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah even in the capitol crowd, people put Ducey up very close to the top if not the top this early in the game. It could go either way. But for him to show like six percent, just says nobody besides the people at this table are listening.

Jim Small: I think if you look at the race -- with the kind of -- through the lens of right now they're trying to get money and then they're going to be spending money in the next phase, certainly Doug Ducey has been at the front leading the pack when it comes to raising money. He reported raising more than $1 million in 2013, $800,000 of that is geared for the primary. That's the kind of money that, you know, a guy like Ken Bennett, running under clean elections, he will get $800,000 total. I think in that sense when it comes time to start to spend the money, open up the faucet, he is going to be in a good position to get his message out to voters and these numbers are just going to start whipsawing around.

Howard Fischer: We -- same reason back to where I started, we're not paying attention. There is nothing to make it rise to the top.

Ted Simons: What does this do for Fred DUVALL? Is it good for him to see these numbers? Is it bad that nobody knows who Fred Duvall is?

Howard Fischer: We're talking now about why is nobody paying attention to an August primary. Now we're saying why is nobody paying attention to November general election. No need to focus on them. We did get some -- entering the gubernatorial race for the democrats, Woolsey or something, who I have never heard of. Maybe that is what Fred needs is somebody to fight against. Right now, hey, look at me. I'm here. Hello.

Ted Simons: We will keep tabs on these particular numbers. You would have to say that Ken Bennett is the front-runner right now, isn't he?

Jim Small: I think if you look at every poll that has come out in the past year, when it comes to those numbers, he starts the race in the poll position in terms of share of the electorate. You know, if someone remarked to me -- look at this like a baseball game, entering the bottom of the third. A lot of baseball left to play.

Hank Stephenson: And that is a function of the fact that he has been around for a long time. He is probably one the average Arizonan has heard of.

Ted Simons: Kyrsten Sinema is apparently not changing districts, CD-9, not going to CD-7 -- how serious was she about this? Do we know?

Hank Stephenson: Tight lipped about this. Even the thing she put out there saying I'm sticking around in my district was a paragraph on Facebook. We have heard some things that maybe she was angling for a better position in Congress. Maybe she was going for appropriations appointment and wanted to have something to say to leadership that, hey, look, I'm staying out of this. You're welcome. You know. What do I get out of this?

Ted Simons: You're welcome. I would imagine national democrats would have been furious with her --

Howard Fischer: There is a whole bunch of things. I think by letting it bleed this long it did not look good for her. It made her look opportunistic. I grew up there, but I'm living here, considering running on this district, largely a Latino district, and I'm not. It made her look very opportunistic. The other thing, quite frankly, while -- general elections in CD-9 always going to be an issue given the nature of the district. She might not get nominated. If you found a couple of folks who would line up against her, she could suddenly wind up her sure thing suddenly becomes a problem.

Ted Simons: That was always my question. Could she win a democratic primary? A lot of folks say yes, the Latino vote might have been split if you had more than one Latino candidate there. If you had one, it's a 66 percent Latino district.

Jim Small: Sure. It is. And, you know, then it gets down to turnout and what is the Latino turnout in the district, tends to be lower than, you know, other demographics. But the fact that she had $1 million to take into that race would have given her a clear, demonstrable advantage. If you believe they looked at the race seriously, you would have to include that they thought they couldn't win in the district, otherwise why wouldn't they be running in the district.

Ted Simons: Please.

Hank Stephenson: I wanted to see campaign signs with an accent mark on them or something.

Ted Simons: You never know. Very busy week, Howie. Steve Gallardo says I'm gay.

Howard Fischer: I'm gay --

Ted Simons: Actually says he's gay.

Howard Fischer: You know, either way. Not that there is anything wrong with that, to use the old Seinfeld line. It was one of those things -- look, I was talking to Jim before the show. A lot of insiders knew it. I -- he is a -some-year-old single man. Okay, that's fine. I think he found two things. Number one, 1062 provided a good timing, a great excuse to say, wait, this would affect me if people can discriminate. And, number two, if he is running for Congress, somehow -- the issue would come out. And you have it come out on your own timing. Now he looks like a hero. He looks brave. He decided to make that announcement on his own time. That always makes sense.

Ted Simons: And he is also the gay candidate in the race.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah, I mean, it can't hurt really. It is a Latino district. They have somewhat different views than the traditional progressive democrat on homosexuality but in a district like that it doesn't really hurt him.

Jim Small: And the district has a significant gay community in the eastern part of that district.

Ted Simons: Impact on his political future. Does this help or hurt the particular campaign race?

Jim Small: I don't know. I guess it helps as much as anything. He got headlines out of it. And like Harry said for doing it in a way that makes -- comes off as being brave.

Howard Fischer: The other polls we hadn't talked about, the issue among Latinos, gay marriage, civil unions -- I don't know if it hurts him at all. And the people who it would hurt by being gay would not vote for him in the first place.

Ted Simons: That poll, 45 percent okay with the state - 32 percent, who were against the idea of gay marriage, still being for civil unions.

Howard Fischer: That is the key. The 45 percent is pretty consistent with polls over the last three, four, five years. The civil union part is what surprised me. If you look in there, a majority of republicans who voted for Mitt Romney two years ago said yeah, I may not like gay marriage, but I'm in favor of civil unions. This is a change for the state that passed the constitutional ban in 2008.

Ted Simons: What does that mean for the future as far as a referendum, initiative?

Hank Stephenson: There is one planned for 2016. Some of the LGBT groups working for an education campaign. Trying to get that number closer to 5051, before they put this on the ballot. That was the hang up with the ballot initiative that started and fizzled out this year. The gay groups wouldn't lend their support. They say we need two more years and we have a lock on this and any motion now will set us back. We don't want to lose.

Ted Simons: Does that make sense? I think Kathy Harrod who said once the media frenzy goes away, then things will change.

Howard Fischer: She blames every loss on the media frenzy.

Ted Simons: I understand that. Get past who said it, what was said, validity there?

Howard Fischer: No. Every year everybody knows another person who's gay. Every year that another state does this, all of the sudden you realize that the parade of parables does not happen. Kathy likes to trot out the fact that the ideal situation for a child is to be raised in an intact family with a mother and father. I said, that's fine. You haven't answered the other half of the question. Is a child better off being raised by a single parent as opposed to two mommies? Well, I don't know about that. We have more families like that. People are seeing it every day Professional sports people who are gay and somehow people are still watching basketball. People are still watching football.

Ted Simons: I was watching basketball last night. That was quite a game? Did you watch the game Howie?

Howard Fischer: No, I didn't. I was covering the legislature --

Ted Simons: What's the matter with you. Please.

Jim Small: The referendum in 2016 may not be necessary. We've got -- how many states, four, five states in the past six months have -- judges have struck down their gay marriage bans. Arizona there is a lawsuit filed. If you follow the trajectory, this is going to happen. It is going to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. That case may well come before 2016.

Ted Simons: We will stop it right there. Good stuff, guys. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services; Jim Small:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Hank Stephenson:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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