Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight Jeremy Duda of "Arizona Capitol Times," Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal," and Bob Christie: of The Associated Press.

Ted Simons: New accusations regarding attorney general Tom Horne's alleged use of staff and state resources for his re-election campaign. Jeremy we had you on earlier in the week because of the latest round. Sarah Beattie seems to be in the middle of this. What is she in the middle of?

Jeremy Duda: Sarah Beattie, up until a couple weeks ago, worked in the constituent services division at the attorney general's office. She was also doing double duty as a campaign volunteer for Tom Horne's campaign. She alleges that it wasn't so much double duty as a volunteer but that it was her actual job at the A.G.'s office to be there to do campaign work. She alleges she was hired specifically to do campaign work. She got raises for campaign work. And that she's not the only one. That pretty much the entire Horne campaign is being run out of the attorney general's office, taxpayer funded employees that are volunteering their time on the campaign. Most of the executive staff - he doesn't actually have any paid campaign staff, he's got some consultants and vendors and other outside people but the day-to-day campaign staff, those are all attorney general's office employees.

Ted Simons: And she says that when she was hired, this was made clear to her? If so, how?

Jeremy Duda: She says she found out about this job, her original job was in the community outreach, she found out about this from a friend of hers, Bret Mecham who was also an employ of the A.G.'s office, she sat down with him and with Kathleen Winn. And they said we need you come on board, we want help with the campaign, she's the fundraising consultant by trade, she said they thought she would be a good fit so she got the job.

Ted Simons: Last question on this before we get to open things up here, they said this to her. Did they also, did they wink? Did they nod? Did they understand that what they were saying was completely not kosher?

Jeremy Duda: Beattie says basically understood it and became more aware as time went on of kind of the severity of things. Kathleen Winn denies that was said. She's denied that. We haven't had too much comment from the AG;s office, but Kathleen Winn certainly denied that.

Mike Sunnucks: This is more trouble for Horne. He's in a tough primary race. And if he gets through that, he's going to suffer a general election. It piles upon everything else he's been going through. The folks Jeremy mentioned are all political folks; they have nothing to do with the General Attorney's office. Wynn has been an aide to him. Mecham was a Republican Party director. And so it's always a line when you have elected officials and you have people working for them, former political hacks, some of them are consultants but there is a line about using resources and state resources and computers and those types of things and paying somebody based on that. There's always you have to walk across the street to run your campaign and she's saying they aren't doing that.

Ted Simons: According to Ms. Beattie and what they told the capitol times, why walk across the street? You might as well just crawl and stroll and have a parade across the street.

Bob Christie: The problem for Sarah Beattie and if a formal complaint is filed with the Secretary of State, how do you prove that? These are executive level folks. They don't punch the clock so you can't say between 8 and noon, they were doing other work when they were supposed to be doing their state work. There's really no way to account for that. So as we saw with the campaign finance administrative law hearing, that we just got a favorable ruling for the A.G. on, how do you prove these allegations?

Ted Simons: What is the response so far?

Jeremy Duda: A.G.'s office has said all these people have been openly volunteering on the campaign. They say, you know, you are not prohibited from engaging in political activity as long as they put in an eight-hour day, they can do what they want. Bret Mecham and Stephanie Grisham, the official spokesperson, they've both served as official campaign spokespeople. When you call them about campaign questions they said, "Well I'm on a break right now" or "let me call you back during my lunch break." So the claim is that when people do campaigns, it's not on the clock or they're putting in their eight hours elsewhere. Beattie is going to file this complaint on Monday they say now, dragged it on for a week or so. But what her attorney Tom Ryan says is going to be in this is a lot of e-mails between Beattie and other people in the executive office who are volunteering on the campaign that will show this was going on during the work day, during office hours and that it was pretty rampant. She says they were instructed to use private e-mail, private laptop but she's got all these e-mails that are private accounts.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is if those emails are going to be from Tom Horne. Probably not, probably staff. And like you saw with Christie in New Jersey, you can blame staff for a lot of things and hope the voters don't blame you, also.

Bob Christie: But politically this is going to turn into a long-running issue for Tom Horne, as he's hoping to get over the last bit of long setting issues, the FBI following him around, the hit-and-run crash, the alleged mistress, the campaign finance allegations, which the judge cleared him of and Sheila pope is supposed to say I will accept that ruling or, no, I believe he's guilty and I'm going to reinstate it.

Ted Simons: And I realize as well that the complaints to the secretary of state, have they been filed? Are they going to be filed?

Jeremy Duda: No. I'm told they're going to be filed on Monday. I guess they initially planned to file them today but one of the agencies requested that it be pushed off. The complaint's going to be an inch thick. They're going to file this on Monday, they say, with secretary of state, with Clean Elections, with the Department of Administration, and with the Maricopa county Attorney's office.

Ted Simons: All as you're running for re-election.

Mike Sunnucks: His opponent, both primary and general elections are waiting for voters to see a tipping point, when is enough? Is this the straw? But Tom has been able to skirt a lot of these things and he's had some things that have gone his way but a number of whistle blowers since he's had attorney general come out and accuse him of various things. And I think it's more of a -- because of the general election where we had Democrats, they will put money into this race to back Rotellini, you'll see a lot of ads if he gets through the primary.

Bob Christie: I talked to mark Griffith today, the Republican opponent to Tom Horne, he said listen, you know, this is enough is enough. And if he has the money to run the ads, there's going to be attack ads big time against Tom Horne.

Jeremy Duda: We've seen earlier in the week when tom Ryan delivered an initial letter threatening litigation to the A.G.'s office and folks over there trying to undermine Beattie's credibility. They say she's had issues with previous employers, such as the McCain campaign. The McCain campaign told me they had some issues with her, said she accused them of not paying her overtime, they decided they disagreed but paid her just to make sure it didn't end up in the papers during his reelection.

Ted Simons: Let the fussing and fighting begin on that one. Now, we move over to congressional races and folks in Congress. Kyrsten Sinema accused of using the V.A. crisis, which we'll talk about in a second, as an opportunity for fundraising. Which I guess she immediately apologized for this because it was someone else, some other element within the campaign, they weren't aware of. What's going on here?

Mike Sunnucks: You get e-mails from all the congressional members, their campaigns talking about various issues. And often they'll have some kind of fundraising pitch at the bottom or a link to a website and ask you for money, on all types of issues, stand with me and etc. on this various issue and, of course, this V.A. issue with the waiting list and the people that have passed away while they were on the waiting list up on the hospital on Indian School, Cinema's campaign sent out one on that and it was through a consulting firm that generates these things and, of course, you know, there's a tipping point, too. What do you cross the line and what's not sensitive enough? Are you going across this in doing that? They sent out something kind of related to that also. So you see this a lot out of campaigns on all kinds of issues, a lot of times it's supporting the president, opposing the president, calling the voters' attention to something and they'll throw a little fundraising pitch in there, people think this was in poor taste.

Bob Christie: And Sinema's camp, they backed away from this as quick as possible. They put out a big apology. As soon as they saw the tweet today, that I was going to appear on Horizon, I got an e-mail from them saying just in case you forgot, this was a mistake, this is a campaign consultant, we didn't mean to do it.

Ted Simons: And the campaign vendor immediately took responsibility and the Sinema camp immediately apologized and those sorts of things. Did allow for Republicans on the other side, Wendy Rogers called it absolutely disgusting and Andrew Walters said it reveals the selfish mindset. Does it also reveal that sometimes, when you're running a campaign, you don't know what's going on, what's getting set out of your own office?

Jeremy Duda: Especially if you're using an outside vendor. In this case they actually had the vendor write an e-mail,that was released to the press, saying we messed up, it's our bad. We used the wrong template and shouldn't have put this on the bottom.

Mike Sunnucks: I think what the republican said was a little strong but it has your name on it, it's your name on it. You're raising money off of it. -- this was an issue you shouldn't try to raise money off of.

Bob Christie: This is a sign of the current instancy of the political arena. We get -- the NRCC, The National Republicans, have a rapid response team. Literally an hour after news stories happens, they will send out an attack e-mail, primarily targeting reporters so that we jump on it and maybe they get a point once every two weeks but we're inundated with the stuff all the time.

Ted Simons: We should mention that the Democrats sent out an e-mail quickly today noting that David Schweiker calls for the leadership to resign,"I ask for your support as I take this stand and there's an opportunity to go ahead and donate to his campaign.

Mike Sunnucks: There's all these links in there, too, at the bottom and people on their campaign list get these fundraising requests all the time. They try to pick an issue that people are paying attention to so if it's in the news people might look at it, click on it or read it and I can click on this and a lot of it's innocuous, once in a while something like this crosses the line.

Ted Simons: Any response from the Schweiker campaign?

Jeremy Duda: I think it's similar, there was a template or something got used, or they have a contribute now button at the bottom and that got used for the e-mail that went out on the V.A.

Similar for the Sinema explanation.

Mike Sunnucks: I think voters get tired of this kind of gotcha stuff. They sent this thing out, it's a fundraising thing, consultant does it, it's not like she typed this up on her own and we need to raise money off of this and voters get cynical of both parties with these immediate gotcha how dare you type things.

The Republicans do the same thing. Andy tobin is campaigning on Benghazi.

Ted Simons: Give us more on that. What is that all about?

Bob Christie: There's a new investigation, special committee that the house is setting up based on some new e-mails that came from the Obama Administration, that sets this whole thing off again in Congress and Andy Tobin is saying see we need to hold the president accountable and you need to contribute to me. But again, four people died here, just like the V.A.

Jeremy Duda: In this case it wasn't the other party going after him as one of his opponents in the Republican Primary. They said look Andy Tobin will do anything to raise a buck, vote for me.

Bob Christie: And the national Republicans say don't campaign on Benghazi.

Ted Simons: That did come out.

Mike Sunnucks: This is an issue that the Republican base watch fox news really care about. They're into this story, they think there's a smoking gun there, the Susan rice stuff when they came out -- they're really thinking this is a hardcore kind of issue for them and so glomming onto that tries to energize the base because people on the far right want Republicans to focus on that.

Ted Simons: When Republicans nationwide say certain things should be above politics, are you going a little far by doing this?

Bob Christie: Nothing's above politics.

Ted Simons: Wow I've got to write that down. That's brand-new news. So we have Sinema, Schweiker and we have Tobin all using interesting things. First with the Phoenix V.A. hospital investigation, where are we on this story?

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of pressure on the secretary for him to step down. They're doing kind of a full audit of everything, of a lot of hospitals and of a national thing. There's still a lot of focus on Phoenix after what went on there and the leadership. The senator, senator McCain is still really focused on it and this has been going on for a while. This is multiple administrations, this agency's had trouble keeping up with cases and there's a lot of horror stories that you see on CNN and national media about this and there's a big focus on Phoenix. There's a lot of pressure on the administration on this going into the election.

Ted Simons: Okay. So basically, are we still having calls for the resignation of the Phoenix V.A. folks?

There are calls for those. The head of the Phoenix V.A. is on administrative leave, the inspector general from the V.A. is in town and they're now in a couple of other states, looking at their V.A. issues. This story started in Phoenix, kind of slowly gained momentum and then boom -- it blew up.

Ted Simons: Colorado now, Texas, Los Angeles might be the big smoking gun here.

Bob Christie: This is not really new. The Phoenix thing erupted a couple of months ago but over the last year there have been hospitals in North Carolina and Florida with similar issues, similar news stories.

Jeremy Duda: We have the doctor, the whistle blower claiming he's been trying to shine light on this for a long time and this has dragged on for a while and finally exploding, now that we're hearing a little bit more from the people being put on leave.

Bob Christie: Sharon Helman who is the director of the V.A. hospital here adamantly denies that any of this secret waiting list went on. There are concerns that perhaps some of the staff that are whistle blowers may be disgruntled employees and, you know, there may be a little smoke there but she's adamant that we did not have a secret waiting list. We were trying to improve things. They misunderstood the implementation of a new process.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is there's so many horror stories throughout the country. And here about this agency and the treatment that they give veterans, that people don't believe them and then they stonewall everything. It took a long time for the secretary to come out. She sped away from the CNN investigative reporter in a little sports car. When you do that, people watching that, it doesn't pass the smell test and there's enough horror stories that when you say people misunderstood things, it's hard for people to buy that.

Ted Simons: We have names that come from a variety of administrations, this has been going on for a while. Right now, the focus seems to be on certain areas of the country. Politically speaking, where is the fallout on this? You've got to be careful when you're running for or against something like the V.A. especially in light of this information.

Bob Christie: I think if we saw the delegation both the Republican and democratic congressional delegation in the last two weeks come together and in unison calling for investigations of the V.A., everybody wants to have an investigation of the V.A. So, you know, where is the political fallout? I'm not sure it ends up on the Democrats; it could easily fall on the Republicans because they haven't funded it well enough. Everybody hasn't given enough money to the V.A. I think that's clear that they're overwhelmed; they have massive amounts of casualties and vets that are going through the system.

Mike Sunnucks: One thing you could see is somebody like Wendy Rogers who served in the military where they're a veteran and they could play this up as a challenger to an incumbent in a very unpopular Congress. Not really a partisan issue and maybe voters in a tight race might see them as kind of symbolic. But I can't see somebody losing a race, some voters picking somebody out and saying I'm not going to vote for them, I blame them for this. If there's a veteran running it might help them.

Jeremy Duda: And we've already seen kind of the dangers of trying to hinge your campaign on this issue between Sinema and Schweiker and suppose a veteran could run some of these candidates could run saying I'm going to clean these things up but you have to tread carefully.

Ted Simons: Let's keep it moving here. City of Phoenix. Phoenix City Council votes for pay cuts to Phoenix police as far as that contract is concerned. That was quite an exhibition there the other night.

Mike Sunnucks: That was Machiavellian, a lot of political infighting, they voted 5-4 to cut police pay. Police wanted to be exempted from the across-the-board cuts that the city is doing and 37, 34, 38 million short fall -- and you have the fiscal conservatives, four of them siding with the police, not to cut pay and you had the mayor Stanton and some of the more I guess more liberal folks voting for the pay cuts. The police union is a very powerful force down there. Police are very frustrated because their overtime has been cut, they're going to face pay cuts and they claim they don't have the boots on the ground that you see in other cities, there's a lot of frustrations there. They're angry at a lot of people right now.

Bob Christie: The Phoenix police came out today and said we're going to collect 17,000 signatures and get this on the ballot. They've got 30 days to do it. Who knows? Maybe, police officers and their families can collect 16 or 20, 25,000 you'd need to you know--

Mike Sunnucks: If that goes on the ballot probably win. People would side with public safety in a campaign. They would have a pretty easy argument to make to voters in sound bites and mailers.

Bob Christie: Phoenix is in kind of a tough position. They've got $1.3 billion general fund give or take. They were $37 million short. They wanted to take half of that out of employee salaries, which is as many businesses are government especially, it's a huge chunk of the expenditures and so but they had to split it up among all the unions. You can't just give under the contract, if one person gets a raise, everybody gets a raise.

Jeremy Duda: It transcended some political lines, especially with sal, known as very combative with the unions and on a crusade, supporting requests for the police that would include the pension spike.

Ted Simons: That was an interesting play, basically making sure that those who were voting against this particular idea and for the other contract were voting for pension spiking.

Mike Sunnucks: She submitted what the police wanted and included the pension policies but didn't have the pay cut in there. The police liked it. So DiCiccio Warring, Bill Gates - and then Gallego who put this forward, didn't vote for it. It can cut both ways because in the pension spiking it does put Sal in a compromised position but he sided with police and police are pretty popular - it does And they didn't vote for it and kind of cut both ways. It does put Sal DiCiccio in kind of a compromised position but he sided with police. Police are pretty popular. Gallego is a freshman. Does that come back and hurt him? Her husband is running for the congressional seat. Is there any impact there? There's not a lot of big political constituencies in locally -- [Indiscernible] Firefighters and police are two of them.

Bob Christie: And lost in this argument I went through a bunch of the city of Phoenix budget documents because I like doing that, and they have -- one of the reasons the city has a $30 million deficit is because they've had to put two or three times that amount into extra police pensions in the last few years. So, you know, on the one hand, the reason we have the deficit is because of this pension spiking and because of their pension plan.

Mike Sunnucks: If you look at Phoenix city council politics, it's not Greg Stanton that's the center point. He was pretty well key during the -- This was the city manager's proposal, his budget. It's Sal DiCiccio, everybody -- the unions don't like him. People are up there wagging their fingers.

Ted Simons: He's the lightning rod.

Mike Sunnucks: He's kind of the center of everything.

Ted Simons: But does this move by Gallego? Does he got one more union vote or voice of support because he now technically supports pension spiking or does Gallego lose one more union vote or police support because he kind of did the old charlie brown with the football thing?

Mike Sunnucks: Sal's constituents are not the union. He's more with the fiscal conservatives, folks in Ahwatukee Republican folks. If he wants to run for mayor, that's a challenge for him. If he just wants to be a back bencher and the voice of reason and a lightning rod, which I think if that's his role there he's fine. The question is for her, does she face some kind of challenge next time if the police hold this against her?

Ted Simons: All right, before we go we had the Arizona republic looking at internal polls. You've got Bennett, this is for governor on the Republican side, you've got Bennett, you've got smith, you've got Jones, you've got Ducey but the focus of the story seemed to be you don't got Ducey as much as you thought you would.

Bob Christie: That's true. Polling at this part of the game is relatively unreliable. These are internal polls that they're assigning. But Doug Ducey said himself he was the first candidate to do a formal kickoff this was back in 1062, the big issue earlier this legislative session. He went out on a multi-city tour of the state. He was around the state, hoping that he would get traction. Well, his name I.D. is no better than anyone else at this point in the race. No one has broken out and Ducey surely hasn't.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of people had kind of pegged Ducey is the frontrunner for a long time and even though nobody most of the pollings, they show half to two thirds undecided but it might be kind of alarming for Ducey. He's raised a lot, he's spent a lot, hes up on TV now and he hasn't moved the needle at all but Jones looks like she has gotten a bit attraction.

Mike Sunnucks: Ducey has a lot of money, coldstone CEO, he ran for treasurer, a lot of endorsements, Cathy Harris, Jon Kyl, the right to life, and again, the needle hasn't moved yet for him. Jones is getting a look at people because she's new, she's the only woman in the race, she's been reaching out to a lot of the churches around trying to get that kind of segment of the primary vote. I think people are giving her a look. There's no Sal DiCiccio in this race. There's no lightning rod, there's no personality. We're talking about what's the issue, Medicaid and does that really engage people?

Ted Simons: And we should mention on the democratic side there is no race. Does that help or hurt a Fred DuVal? We're talking more about the Republicans than we are the Democrats.

I don't think it hurts them. We're sitting here on May 9th and we are the people in the political people around us who care about the August primary right now. In the coming weeks we'll start get momentum for that. The Republicans will be out in force trying to pull that support but Fred DuVal is going to be on the ballot, he's going to get his democratic people when we move into October, that's when you start watching that to see if it's hurt him.

Jeremy Duda: There's some upsides and downsides to not having a primary challenger for DuVal. He's not getting the press, he's not getting the attention, but I don't think he likes that's far outweighed by the upside is you don't have to spend any money. You don't really have to do anything. He can just stockpile this war chest and sitting on a million dollars or more by the time a Republican challenger who is probably tapped out at that point emerges.

Ted Simons: Very good. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us.

Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Bob Christie:Journalist, Associated Press; Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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