Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," journalists' roundtable. The budget is officially a done deal. We'll discuss a bill allowing health inspectors to perform surprise inspections of abortion clinics. Secretary of State Ken Bennett makes it official. He's running for governor. The journalists' roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."
Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon" journalism I was roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Jeremy Duda of the Arizona capitol times and Hank Stephenson, also of the Arizona Capitol Times. The golfer sew signs a $9.2 billion budget calling the spending plan balanced principles and fiscally prudent.

Mary Jo Pitzl: She pulled out about $4 million of spending, pointing out these individual programs she felt were not useful or well spelled out such as a landing strip in northern Arizona, an airstrip which had no stated purpose and they weren't sure where exactly it was supposed to go.

Ted Simons: That makes sense. But there were some education things, for alternative teaching, for JTed, a different way of education. Surprised?

Jeremy Duda: A little bit. There's $ million for these joint technical educations -- it went to the small, rural ones. That was the governor's rationale for defeating that, there was half million dollars per teacher development program, little money for technology software program. The biggest one was $1.3 million for -- to backfill money the counties are losing under the sales tax cut plan for manufacturers. The governor also signed that today. I would imagine that at the County level a lot of folks are unhappy about that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I talked to some County officials. They say it hits especially hard in Gila County, home to two smelters. The tax cut bill exempts sale of electricity from sales tax for smelting and manufacturing operations, so that's a big hit to that County's budget.

Ted Simons: A little bit of a thought behind line item vetoes, this money could be used if we need to look at the post CPS agency?

Hank Stephenson: That was something she mentioned in her press release about T. one of the real interesting things is a lot of people were looking to the CPS thing where if she didn't get enough money, is she going to cut this out, make them come back, these were more obscure. These weren't the things fought over at the legislature that they were trying to get up to high enough numbers to appease the governor.

Ted Simons: as far as the debate was concerned regarding the budget, it seems from a distance, I asked president Biggs about this, he said this is not necessarily the case, seemed like the house and governor were on one page, president Biggs and the Senate on another. Is that relatively accurate?

Jeremy Duda: Kind of. The pingpong ball went back and forth between the two chambers. Finally the house and the governor hashed out a deal where they found a happy medium between the two. Then it was up to the Senate approving this and Senator Biggs letting this go through. He had sensor about some of the spending.

Ted Simons: Is that the way you saw it, the house and the governor got on the same track and had to pull the Senate in?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. The Senate got the ball started, and it was a little more coordination between the governor's office and the house. In the end it came down to pretty small differences at least when it came to numbers. Really big, severe policy differences, the biggest was the charter school issue for district schools that convert to charters and how long to keep that funding going.

Ted Simons: not only that but the funding, what, ends next year. Biggs wanted it to end retroactively a year earlier. Basically what the districts had been doing, they can't do that any more.

Hank Stephenson: even this year they aren't gel getting full funding, about 75% of what they need to -- % of what they need. Come next year they won't be around any more.

Ted Simons: winners, losers in all this?

Jeremy Duda: Well, hard to say. They were fighting over such a small amount of money in the end. You had six holdout Republicans who were kind of winners because they kind of got a little bit watch they were looking for including the charter money, but not totally, Ethan ORR was holding out for JTed money and we saw that get line itemed today.

Ted Simons: six moderates held out for things, didn't get a heck of a lot but a little bit.

Mary Jo Pitzl: they got some on schools. I think they used their heft to keep this intent language on, okay, we intend to come back and look at more money for CPS because the Senate president didn't like -- he didn't think that language was even needed but it remained in with some insistence from the house. It's hard to pick big winners and losers. People who are supporters of the University of Arizona felt that was a loser. As they bring the other two universities up to parity, U of A didn't get all they were looking for.

Hank Stephenson: I would say probably the governor was the biggest winner in that she got most of what she asked for, and then she's bringing them back to a special session in a couple of months to finish it up. She still got the chance to go for more.

Jeremy Duda: How big a win the governor is remains to be seen. She wanted about I believe $80 million for the new CPS agency. They approved about $59 million with the understanding they are coming back pretty soon, once there's more plans firmly laid out to provide more funding. We may have to deal with a couple other issues in that special session too. One interesting line item veto was all of the funding for the ombudsman's office. The reason for this was the legislature increased the spending by about $200,000. A lot of that was to deal with CPS stuff. The governor felt it was premature to start allocating that money, but it's all lumped together. You can't line item $200,000 so she scrapped the whole thing which Senate president Biggs is pretty irate about.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It set off some alarm bells. The argument from the governor's office is, the governor intends to keep the ombudsman. The new CPS has to be extracted from the department of economics treaty by July 1. The thinking is they will have this new agency at least set up on paper by then which means a special session between now and July at which time they will put in funding fort ombudsman's office for the next year.

Ted Simons: Everyone wants to see what comes next after CPS to be something that works. We stop with these headlines. When we get to special session, who has the upper hand? Are we going to see some fighting and fussing there too?

Hank Stephenson: There's been a work group working through the details of what do we want to do, how much is this going to cost, what authority should we give these guys. Going back to like February. They have been working together and there's representatives from the house, from the Senate, there are Democrats in the room. I think that by the time they get there they should be pretty much on the same page. I think the governor has the upper hand in that she can go in and veto things if she decides it's not enough money, for example.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think you make a good point. This work group consists mostly of lawmakers and staffers, County attorney bill Montgomery is on it. Their goal is to come out with a unanimous recommendation. You have people across the ideological spectrum. We haven't seen their final product yet but they are committed to trying to have something with unanimous support. If that's the case that makes it easier to sell in the legislature.

Ted Simons: do you agree governor, A, has the upper hand, B, how much leverage does she have?

Jeremy Duda: The leverage is running out, but she's still the governor. She can keep this in special session as long as she want. Everyone has campaigns to get to. There's probably going to be widespread support in the legislature. This is a very narrow issue, Democrats, Republicans, everyone can get behind saving the children. There may be holdouts, a few people grumbling about not wanting to spend a lot more money.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The question will be where to find money. The work group says they will come out with budget recommendations as well. With her line item vetoes today and freeing up about $4 million the governor suggested maybe this is money you could put away, be better to spend on child welfare than airport landing strips or beefing up the ombudsman's office when you Don't know what CPS is going to look like.

Ted Simons: before we go, Senate president Biggs had a couple of quotes that I want to get your response to from what you've heard from others, business that government is not compassionate and merciful and government is raw power and doesn't show empathy or mercy. Did that raise eyebrows or is that standard issue conversation?

Hank Stephenson: I think a little bit of both. The way he phrased it was just so strong. He laid it out on budget night. Some people were saying, wow. The media started scribbling down the quote. Oh, that's going in the paper in the morning, but that's kind of par for the course from Senate president Biggs. He really does feel that way.

Ted Simons: Was that a surprise to hear something like that during this debate?

Jeremy Duda: The passion and phrasing as Hank put it is surprising, but Senator Biggs is a very conservative lawmaker. He believes that smaller the government the better. Larger government is a threat to liberty and freedom. That's pretty consistent with the way he's carried himself through a decade or so at the legislature.

Ted Simons: We have -- this bill has passed the legislature, surprise inspection of abortion clinics.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is the abortion legislation seems to be at least one or two bills every session. This would allow warrantless inspections of abortion clinics. That was outlawed I think back 1999 in by the courts. Since Arizona changed its laws that supporters believe will accommodate this. The argument is you need to be able to pop into these places unannounced to make sure they are safe because you have very delicate operations happening inside.

Ted Simons: supporters say it's for the health of the woman. I guess other medical facilities you could have surprise inspections.

Jeremy Duda: Supporters say there's no reason why abortion clinics shouldn't be the only medical facilities not subject to this. When you get down to it this is the anti-Kermit Gosnell bill, the doctor convicted last year his clinic was a house of horrors. A lot of people are invoking that as a reason why we need this.

Ted Simons: Critics are basically saying abortion clinics are not regular medical clinics. People are not outside marching and threatening people going into an ophthalmologist's office.

Hank Stephenson: that's a big part of it. The other part is we could see politically motivated inspections of abortion clinics. It just empowers that ability to do that.

Ted Simons: I notice during the debate here we had some interesting dialogue in that God was mentioned. Abortion was a slap in the face of going according to Senator David Farnsworth. Surprising?

Hank Stephenson: That one did surprise me. I saw that in the paper. I said, wow, I didn't hear him say it in person. I pointed to it and said, that's a good one.

Ted Simons: governor likely to sign this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I would expect that to be the next thing she signs.

Ted Simons: Court action?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Inevitable.

Ted Simons: All right, Ken Bennett. What a surprise?

Jeremy Duda:Yeah, yeah. Ken Bennett, who has been running for governor for a few years now and officially for six months or so. He is one of the only candidates in the race, the only one of the leaning contenders running for clean elections. So he can turn in his signatures earlier than most, so yesterday he made the long walk from his disconnect at the back of the Secretary of State's office to the front desk to not only turn in his nominating signatures but his $5 that gets him the clean elections money. The problem is he will only get about $800,000 and he's running against some welcome funded candidates. Christine Jonesn has already spent more on TV ads in the next month or so that he will get for the entire campaign. Doug Ducey had outraised they by the end of 2014. It's going to be a serious challenge but it will help get that money.

Ted Simons: as far as running against folks with a lot of money, you got the clean elections, $800,000 for the primary, a little over million for the general election. Can he get that far?

Hank Stephenson: There's always the influence of outside groups. You can raise private funds, but that's a tough hill to climb when you've only got a limited amount of money and there's no ability to go beyond that.

Ted Simons: Do we know where Ken Bennett stacks up in terms of conservative, moderate, where he sits?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think he's running far to the right. He's calling for an end to the income tax. He would roll back the access expansion Governor Brewer fought for last year. They are strong, conservative rallying points.

Ted Simons: I think he also had some birther situations in the past.

Jeremy Duda: he had a little dalliance with that. Seemed like he back tracked, doubled down and back tracked again. It doesn't seem like the Ken Bennett we all know but I'm sure it will get a lot of attention.

Hank Stephenson: That did surprise people. Before that in a nonelection year Ken Bennett was known as a very level-headed guy.

Ted Simons: Okay. You mentioned outside money by groups. The dark money groups. Republic had a story Rebekah Sanders did, we had her on, tremendous amount of money already being spent. Apparently someone is going after Scott Smith, a conservative group going after Scott Smith saying he's a friend of the president's and Obamacare, something like that.

Jeremy Duda: this group the legacy foundation action fund is an out of state group based in Iowa. They are running a little more than a quarter million of TV ads calling Scott Smith's Obama's favorite mayor because he's currently president of the U.S. conference of mayors, which is a national organization that has a number of liberal positions, pro Obamacare, pro gun control measures the president has been talking about, in favor of curbing carbon emissions, worried about climate change. Obviously these are all nonstarters at a Republican primary. These are not necessarily positions Scott Smith has espoused but because of his association with this group they are going after him with both barrels.

Hank Stephenson: he's one of the most moderate Republicans in the race this. Is something people are to some degree willing to believe, that he has these positions that the conference of mayors has put out there.

This campaign immediately came out refuting all of this then saying we think Doug Ducey's campaign is behind it all.

Ted Simons: Mary Jo Pitzel: thus we begin. A lot of finger pointing. Ducey was quick to say he had nothing to do with the ad. There you see the import of independent expenditure groups early in the campaign.

Ted Simons: because this is issue advocacy not necessarily mentioning a candidate or campaign by name even though you're saying Scott Smith -- seeing Scott Smith's face all over the place, you can run these and we don't know who is behind them.

Jeremy Duda: this is, quote, not electioneering. His policies are wrong for Mesa. Call Scott Smith and tell him you don't like gun control and Obamacare. The most thinly veiled of electioneering, of course. They are running radio ads against Smith and two other members of the U.S. conference of mayors leadership, but the other two are not running for governor.

Ted Simons: Tom Horne has raised eyebrows regarding recent hire. Can you give us a little bit of background?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's more like a rehire. His former communications director left last year, went into the private sector, and sort of reappeared back in the Horne administration in a different capacity, in charge of the part of the office that collects debts. Fines that are owed to the Attorney General's office because of legal action taken by that office. Which immediately raises questions of her qualifications for this position, was it posted, was it advertised. It looks like the record shows the job description was written specifically for her. That job previously did not -- she would not have met the qualifications under the previous job posting.

Ted Simons: You're going from a communications director to someone leading the collections enforcement unit. That's quite a promotion.

Jeremy Duda: that is. Amy does not have any background in debt election enforcement but has a long-standing relationship with Tom Horne. They worked together for years at the Department of Education, then over at the A.G.'s office.

Ted Simons: was it anything to do with his court case?

Jeremy Duda: Interestingly enough, couple months ago when his campaign finance case went to an administrative law judge her husband, a real estate agent, testified for the defense. That testimony was pretty key. A lot of it undermined some of the prosecution's case. That certainly raised eyebrows with the connection there.

Hank Stephenson: You wonder who is advising him. Is will nobody in the office who said, this is going to look really bad? The newspapers are going to jump on this.

Ted Simons: it's going to look bad. Your husband testifies in support of a guy and the guy rehires you in a position some say you're not qualified for that apparently wasn't advised and the get around all that much. Does it affect his campaign? I'm asking rhetorically but seriously. I don't think he thinks it does.

Hank Stephenson: It's just one more thing. It's almost hard to keep track of the ongoing scandals around Tom Horne. Is this the biggest one? Probably not. But it's another.

Ted Simons: Certainly he has to see this could be a factor.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, I would think so. I haven't talked to Attorney General Horne about this, but yes, on one level he has to acknowledge that, but what's the point of acknowledging it after it happened? Apparently it's not affecting his behavior. He keeps doing this, and of course it will affect the campaign.

Jeremy Duda: maybe. One more thing for Mark to smack him around, and they certainly are. He just doesn't really seem to have given any thought to the public perception of this. I was talking to some Republican sources keeping close tabs on the rate. They said I don't think this has anything to do with her husband's testimony, it has to do with their close relationship, but it shows he has such a tin ear towards public reaction and public perception, which is just one more thing on top of one more thing on top of one more thing in this race dragging him down.

Hank Stephenson: it's the basis for Brnovich's campaign. That's all he's running on, I'm not Tom Horne. [laughter]

Ted Simons: Any campaign in a storm.Speaking of controversy and tin ears and again and again and again, you wrote about Arizona lawmakers not disclosing gifts, travel gifts in particular. This never seems to end either.
Mary Jo Pitzl: no, it doesn't. Part of the reason to write about it was to put sunshine on it. I think it helps to perhaps explain why there's this larger reticence to doing anything else that would require further disclosure of the legislators by themselves. Any gift that a lawmaker or elected official receives that's more than $500 you have to report as of January 31. Sometimes it's hard to know what you don't know but you can piece things together, you heard about the trip to Israel, the trip to Azerbaijan, who was on that? Most of the members on these trips reported but a couple didn't. So you start to go through the records and you wonder why. The standard answer is just that I just forgot. I just forgot. They amend the report and all is well.

Ted Simons: this is four years after the Fiesta Bowl scandal, which was supposed change everything down there.

Hank Stephenson: The financial disclosure statements that they are required to fill out, there's no teeth to that. You look through them, some are just had N.A., or slashes through everything they ask, these people don't have any debts or any property. I imagine there's a few like that, but there's no consequence for not filling these out properly.

Ted Simons: Michelle Reagan's bill that was supposed address a portion of this activity, does it live or --

Jeremy Duda: No. It's gone nowhere just like every other proposal to tamp down on this. No one eager to take care of it, especially the further we get away from the Fiesta Bowl scandal.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It comes out that bill came out of the committee with unanimous vote. Who is going to vote against? In this case it would ban lawmakers from taking sports tickets and tickets to special events. They raised concerns, they vote for it and the thing disappears into the president's desk drawer to never be seen again.

Ted Simons: lawmakers say these freebees help them to get out and socialize among themselves was part of the Diamondbacks' reason for giving them tickets. Anyone buying that in.

Hank Stephenson: I think that's true. I think that there are certain trips that they go on, they actually come away smarter, knowing more about whatever topic it is.

Ted Simons: why wouldn't you just say I went on the trip?

Hank Stephenson: That's the issue. I have no idea.

Mary Jo Pitzl: it makes you wonder if perhaps more frequent disclosure might help. This is an annual report. I sort of liken it to doing your income taxes. You do them once a year. You keep records. You pull the records so you can fill the thing out a year later.

Jeremy Duda: makes you wonder what else isn't getting reported when two dozen lawmakers go on a junket to Azerbaijan, everyone knows about it, you know ever on the trip, it's easy to pin that down. If one or two people go on a trip, how do you know that's not getting disclosed?

Ted Simons: You don't. Yeah. It would seem to me if you took a trip across town you would go ahead and report it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The point of disclosure is so the public can understand and be on the lookout for potential conflict of interest. There's nothing wrong with going to Azerbaijan. This was a trade mission. I think there was a resolution passed this year saying trade with Azerbaijan would be good, but you may want to look -- it helps connect the dots perhaps motivation for some votes.

Ted Simons: good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Monday, we will learn about new interactive demographic maps of the Phoenix area and get the latest pro bowl and Indian casino information. Tuesday we will hear what minority leadership at the capitol think of the new budget. Wednesday we'll discuss a documentary on improving Native American education. Thursday learn about identity theft during the tax filing season. Friday another edition of the journalists' roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Hank Stephenson:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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