Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," the legislative session is drawing to a close with a flurry of last-minute bills. The waning days of Arizona's session includes a curious interest in what's happening in Nevada. And a judge's decision may have revived Attorney General Tom Horne's political career. 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, Ben Giles of "Arizona Capitol Times," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Bob Christie of Associated Press. A rush to have bills heard, Ben, how much of a rush was there?

Ben Giles: They got through over 100 bills this week, there are about 160 left to go. The budget is over and at least leadership would like to see us out of here next week, the aim is maybe Wednesday or Thursday. That depends on who wants their pet project to get through the session and how much time they have to spend pushing paper back and forth between the two chambers.

Howard Fischer: And you know with that many bills going through, each of them has been thoroughly researched and read.

Ted Simons: That was my next question, how many of these things have really been vetted?

Howard Fischer: By a few lobbyists perhaps. They do have a caucus where it's explained to them by staff, but I don't think they fully understand the implications of things, they say, well this bill does this. They don't have enough history to know, how does that affect something here. Every year we have a legislative correction bill, shocking, I know.

Ted Simons: Dead bills revived these last days?

Bob Christie: There were some that were revived this week that we thought were alive for a while. The ESA bill, the voucher bill or empowerment scholarships account. We thought that was going to move quickly this week but it was killed in the House and never got a vote in the Senate.

Howard Fischer: Was it a surprise it got killed in the House?

Ted Simons: Debbie Lesko thought it would go well in the House. Some of it was Heather Carter is still annoyed because she lost funding for her charter schools eventually, the publicly run charter schools down the road. People like Ethan Orr who said let's properly fund the public schools first. Then folks said, wait a second, for all this talk of parental choice, we have open enrollment. You can enroll at any public school in the state if they have space. We have a charter school system more extensive than any other state including for-profit charter schools. And if you want to go to a for-profit or parochial school but can't afford to, we have these scholarship organizations that use state tax credits. There were a lot of folks saying we don't need this on top of that.

Bob Christie: Right. And this is a bill that's been around since the beginning of the session, it's started with 850,000 students, 80 percent of the 1.1 million public school students potentially eligible for these vouchers. Then it ratcheted down to 600,000, and now she's brought it down to 100,000. All the Democrats are against it and enough Republicans are against it that it looks like it's not going to move.

Ben Giles: For republicans, it reminded me of the district sponsored charter school where you had Andy Biggs arguing, this is going cost too much money down the line. Some Republicans started to look and say, even if we expand it in a miniscule way this session, it's going to encourage future expansions. This is going to be costly education-wise for the State.

Howard Fischer: And that gets down to the it's the old lies and damn lies and statistics. The argument is these vouchers, scholarships, whatever you want to call them, are supposed to be 90 percent of what the state would otherwise pay in state aid. Oh, look, the more kids that go, the more money we save except for a small problem. It's 90 percent of what they pay of charter school state aid. Charter school kids get about $1,000 more because they don't have access to bonding or local tax revenues. The joint legislative budget committee, the staffers said just these programs, these small programs they want to do of adding siblings or anything else will cost the state money. Now, Debbie Lesko is saying there's a cap, we can only add 5,400 kids a year. The cap goes away and then it's Katy bar the door.

Ted Simons: We've gone through so many variations of this particular thing, it still could come back, couldn't it?

Bob Christie: Absolutely it could come back. There are two smaller voucher bills and powerment scholarship account bills poised to pass the House next week. They are very small, one allows siblings of current students to go, and one affects military families, children of military people. They could easily tack on again, the failed bill onto that.

Ted Simons: That one apparently still has life even though it's died and come back, died and come back. Let's talk about the election law passed last year, very controversial, we had votes getting enough signatures to get them on the ballot, legislature decides it's not going to go. Is this going to come back?

Howard Fischer: Like everything at the legislature, everything is linked. They passed some election law changes that ended up, nobody noticed it forces candidates to create a separate campaign for their primary and their general. They needed it fixed and they needed a super majority to do that. If I don't get my super majority to fix that, maybe I'll bring back those election law changes that we passed and repealed and were a part of the referendum. So there's a lot of brinksmanship going on here.

Ted Simons: How far is that brinksmanship going, do we know?

Ben Giles: Hard to say at this point. Right now that threat to bring back some of the repealed election law has been kind of hanging over the legislature this entire time. There was concern, even when they were voting on whether or not to repeal it, that there would be efforts this session to bring some of those measures piecemeal back. There was at least some promise by some maybe, that we're not going to do it this year, it might happen in 2015. But some of those issues are very concerning, especially to Democrats trying to get Latino voters out. That's a very real threat to them.

Howard Fischer: But the other side of it from the perspective, most of the county recorders want some of the fixes in there having to do with early ballots, so we're not 10 days from election because you came to the polling place and didn't turn it in. Whether it needs this fix is a whole 'nother story.

Bob Christie: This late in the session, these things will pop up again. As we all know -- but I think it's relatively in line.

Ted Simons: -- famous last words. The tax breaks of Grand Canyon University, that kind of came and went and then came and went again. Is it gone for good, or what?

Howard Fischer: We think, based on statements that the school made, that their plans to get a tax break are gone. Essentially commercial property is assessed for tax purposes at 19 and a half percent. There are lower classifications available for certain businesses and enterprise zones, residential is lower and they were trying to be reclassified. The original bill was, if you have so many kids and happen to have a campus and it's in Glendale and it starts with a G, that clearly became a problem. The attorneys in the house said, no, you can't do that. They brought back a version that was a little broader that might have opened it up to some of the other schools, not so much the University of Phoenix which doesn't own the buildings, that seems to be not going anywhere. The Grand Canyon folks said, we respect the legislature.

Bob Christie: Right, they weren't going push it anymore this year. But as they're saying, it's possible it could come back.

Ted Simons: It's possible to come back, I notice, the CEO of Grand Canyon University will be speaking at a Republican fund-raiser, is that right?

Bob Christie: He sure will. The Senate President's election fund, and so Andy Biggs will be there and the majority leader in the House will be there.

Howard Fischer: It doesn't hurt --

Bob Christie: And those from Grand Canyon University will be there.

Howard Fischer: It doesn't hurt to have friends in high places.

Ted Simons: We've talked about this, again, these things keep coming back and they go. This five-year Medicaid limit, this is something Speaker Tobin has been pushing for a while. Some say this is an exercise in frustration because you're asking the government to provide waivers on certain situations that they're not going to do. You've got to do it every single year. What's going on with that?

Howard Fischer: Let's understand the politics behind this. This goes back to Jan Brewer expanding Medicaid over the objections of the House Speaker. Andy Tobin is running for Congress, he's running against Adam Causeman who is more anti- than you are. We're going put some caps on this thing, a five-year lifetime limit. He concluded that was bad, you're not earning enough. You have to be working, looking for work or job training. Certain exceptions if you're pregnant or the sole care provider. The idea is to say we're going to try to save some money. We looked at some numbers this week. Somehow that five-year limit went in right now, 140,000 people would immediately lose their care because they don't fit under the exemptions. First of all, you're assuming the Governor is going to sign it.

Ted Simons: That's another exercise in frustration, is it not?

Bob Christie: One of the main reasons we did expansion was to get this covered, to save the state hospital system in a lot of ways. The hospital system was swimming and is slowly digging out of all of this uncompensated care. If we suddenly kick off 200, 300, or however many get kicked off, they will be back in almost the same position.

Howard Fischer: And the other fact, every governor, every governor of every party has vetoed bills that infringe on their authority. When Jan Brewer was in the legislature, we want them to have federal funds. Guess what she's vetoed.

Ted Simons: The politics are they go on the campaign trail and said, I tried, the Governor vetoed this. We also have an attempt to pass this oversight bill for navigators of the Affordable Care Act. These folks need licenses and to pass criminal background checks. Critics are saying this oversight is already there.

Bob Christie: We are seeing this in a lot of states where there is a Republican controlled legislature. Earlier this year there were at least 14 states that passed similar kinds of things. It'll require the state insurance organization to provide health care for these people. Opponents say this is just another way to clog up the works and stop the Affordable Care Act from being fully implemented.

Howard Fischer: I'm shocked to hear you say that, Bob. How could that possibly be?

Bob Christie: The Republicans in the Goldwater Institute are very much behind this. These people get great volumes of information about individuals who sign up, Social Security numbers, financial information. If they don't have background checks they could be criminals and stealing the people blind.

Ted Simons: Governor likely to sign something like this?

Howard Fischer: She may understand there are issues of privacy there if anybody can become a "navigator." If she's going to deep-six Andy Tobin's bill, that's a little something.

Ted Simons: Who is Cliven Bundy, and why do representatives care so much?

Ben Giles: Because he's a rancher in Nevada trying to fight the federal government, Ted.

Ted Simons: Is he fighting the federal government or getting out of paying grazing fees?

Ben Giles: He is a rancher in Nevada who for decades has been letting his cattle graze illegally on federal land, because he hasn't been paying the fees to save what is I think a desert tortoise. He's been told, you need to remove your cattle, pay the fines. He's refused to follow their orders and every step of the way. So they went to go take his cattle off the land, sell the cattle to help pay his fines. That really outrages folks in Nevada, but also some of our Arizona lawmakers here who are quite fond of protecting these lands they are so upset the federal government controls and they don't have control of.

Howard Fischer: 1970s. Sagebrush Rebellion. Have we seen this fight before? It's our land. He said, my LDS forebears were farming this before Nevada was a state. I am a sovereign citizen, the whole thing. The fact is the federal government owns most of the land in the western states. That's a fact. Unless you can find some court to say they don't --

Ted Simons: Not only that, have you found courts who say this guy needs to pay this. He's basically freeloading here and we have state lawmakers running up there showing -- and what was David Livingston doing making speeches about this?

Bob Christie: They all went up there last weekend, there was a big confrontation, armed militia there, armed federal agents. Judy Burgess, a senator saying we were very close to a civil war.

Ted Simons: Was she upset about that?

Bob Christie: Hard to tell. So when Livingston came back, you're allowed to speak for five minutes on every bill. They had a calendar of 30 or 40 bills. Repeatedly, every bill he would stand up and say, this is just a travesty, the federal government is taking over, I've had my eyes opened about how horrible this is, I've got to tell you about it. It went on and on and on until even other Republicans got a little frustrated with it.

Ben Giles: And right or wrong, this is an issue that does resonate with folks. Senator Chester Crandall is a rancher in his own right, and he has been for years trying to get control of some of these federal lands back under Arizona's purview. They just think it's wrong.

Howard Fischer: The really fun piece of this is Albert Hales is a Navajo, got up on the floor of the House for giving back our lands. Remember who was here first.

Bob Christie: With all due respect, these people sincerely believe this issue. They believe the federal government has overstepped its authority, that these lands -- that it truly overstepped its authority in trying to take this man's cattle from this land.

Ted Simons: By doing what they are doing and agreeing in principle with what's happening up there, are they not saying, forget the courts, forget rule of law, grab a sidearm and go up there and hang out.

Bob Christie: The bill says forget all the laws about Mexican gray wolves being an endangered species, you can shoot them.

Howard Fischer: There was another bill that went up the Governor just vetoed. Tombstone has a problem because it is getting it water from the Huachuca Mountains and the federal forest. The state can give Tombstone permission to go up into federal lands. This is the fight of are we 50 sovereign states who have formed a cooperative confederation? Or is it the United States? The courts have consistently ruled there is a supremacy here. Unless you can get the U.S. Supreme Court to say all those supremacy rulings don't matter, this is an academic exercise.

Ben Giles: We sit in the rules committee all the time with an attorney to tell lawmakers if this is unconstitutional legislation, if it runs afoul of the supremacy clause. At least once a week we come up with a bill that would violate the supremacy clause and would be unconstitutional in court. They think it's worth it to pass the legislation, knowing full well as if it doesn't get vetoed they are headed to court to defend it because they want to go to court and eventually get a decision in their favor.

Howard Fischer: And this fits in with the quote, unquote, Article V convention. There is a provision that allows the states to call the constitutional convention, go to Washington and form the new convention. Can you really limit it to balancing the budget?

Ted Simons: These are debates, go ahead and discuss them. That's one thing. When you're talking about arming a bench of human folks trying to do their job -- debate is one thing. Violence and action is another.

Howard Fischer: Kelly Ward had a bill earlier in the session that said if an ATF agent comes to town, they have to check in with the sheriff. If they don't the sheriff can take away the ATF agent's gun. The belief is the sheriff is a prime law enforcement officer and that's a philosophical belief. You will never convince them that the local folks and the armed militia are not primary.

Ted Simons: I don't think anyone is trying to convince anyone of anything. What we're trying to figure out is why Arizona lawmakers are celebrating what one lawmaker thought apparently without too much concern could have been a civil war.

Bob Christie: Bob Thorpe is the senator from Flagstaff and I talked to him last week before he went up. He said, listen, we don't want to argue about whether he's legally on the land or not, whether he should pay or not. We really want the federal government to understand they are being heavy-handed. They are not following the rules that they should. They are blocking peoples' First Amendment rights and that's the way they see it.

Ted Simons: We've got to get to Attorney General Tom Horne who got a bit of a win, but not a big W, but a little W and certainly not a loss.

Howard Fischer: We've talked about this. The evidence against him was circumstantial. There were phone calls between Tom Horne and Cathy Lynn supposedly running the campaign committee. There were emails, the timing of which county attorney Sheila Polk said were suspicious. The content suggested that when Cathy Lynn said we need changes, she meant her and Tom, which suggests coordination. The problem it was that Tammy who is the hearing officer said it's equally possible they could be in talks of a real estate over on 7th Avenue and McDowell. You didn't make your case, remember, this isn't the end of it. The Yavapai County is free to ignore this, and I don't think Tammy decided it right and I'm going to pursue it. Obviously Horne says I was vindicated, they just. Other things I think are more important to voters, they care about hit-and-run and the fact that if a an FBI agent said the reason he did not stop was he was trying to hide an affair.

Bob Christie: I don't know about the affair or the hit-and-run, but I do know Bill Montgomery in Maricopa County looked at all the FBI evidence. After it was taken from him and sent to Sheila Polk, she thought there was plenty of evidence to order him to repay that money. They had a three-day hearing in February and the judge heard the evidence. She said, yeah, maybe, but you don't have the evidence to prove it and it was thrown out. It goes back to Sheila Polk and the county attorney up in Yavapai County can reinstate this kind of thing.

Ted Simons: Reaction from the capitol on this kind of thing?

Bob Christie: From Tom Horne there was plenty of reaction, he says I'm the winner. Political operatives say this clears the way for Tom to win his primary at least.

Howard Fischer: I'm not sure I'm buying it. Look, the fact is Mark Burnvich is a former state gaming director going back to Goldwater, he has been lining up a lot of endorsements. As we've said around this table, we know who votes in this. The conservatives never particularly liked Tom, he used to be a Democrat. They consider his antiabortion stance not quite strong enough. So I think money may save him if he can get a lot of money, that may be the key. But I think he's got a fight ahead of him and I don't think this helps him.

Bob Christie: No. And regardless, as we all know come campaign season, TV ads they don't necessarily have a 15-minute conversation on whether he's guilty or not, they'll just throw it out there.

Ted Simons: Before we go, we have a couple of minutes left. I think everyone was keeping an eye on and one I think shook the Capitol to its foundation and core was the chicken bill.

Howard Fischer: The chicken bill. I want you to know most cities have regulations about chickens. For example, in Tucson you can have chickens on single-family houses, but they have to be a certain number of feet from the fence or you can only have so many. This would have overruled virtually every city's regulations. Chickens, turkeys, geese, guinea hens. It got out of the Senate pushed by David Farnsworth from Mesa, went over to the House. At what point do we really want to get into local zoning? One of the most fascinating pieces was we had a legislator stand up who wanted the bill and said, if you know me, I'm dating a woman who wants this bill, please vote for the bill. I've got news for you, they didn't care about his dating life.

Ben Giles: It reminds me of the whole Bundy ranch discussion we just had. David Farnsworth, most of the reason he sponsored the legislation, it's from an LDS mentality of self-sufficiency, preparedness. He also sponsored legislation to make sure they are ready for an electromagnetic pulse knocking out the state's grid. It also goes back to what is the role of government and why should local cities and towns be able to tell me I can or can't raise a chicken in my backyard?

Bob Christie: It's a private property right. But if you pardon the pun, he ran afoul of what I call the City Council problem.

Ted Simons: He laid an egg, too, I'm sure. Monday on "Arizona Horizon" Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton talks about a plan to close the city's $38 million budget deficit. And we'll hear about the problem of child abuse in Arizona and what's being done to address the issue, Monday evening 5:30 and 10 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services; Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Bob Christie:Journalist, AP;

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