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 The Arizona Capitol Times, Mike Sunnucks of The Phoenix Business Journal, and Ben Giles also from The Arizona Capitol Times. Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal admits to an active and, until now, anonymous life on the information super-highway. Boy, is this a story. What is going on here?

Jeremy Duda: Well turns out John Huppenthal has had quite the double life online for a while. For a few years at least, he's been posting on a couple of local blogs, Blog for Arizona, which is a liberal blog, a conservative blog under a couple of pseudonyms Falcon9, Thucydides, largely commenting in defense of himself and making some pretty wild and inflammatory comments, some of which actually are completely inaccurate too by the way which is funny. He said that Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for the rise of Adolf Hitler, even though Hitler became chancellor more than a month before he was sworn in. He said Roosevelt was responsible for the Great Depression, even though that started three years before he was elected. Some pretty questionable comments in a lot of this.

Ted Simons: Not just responsible, FDR was completely responsible for the depression. And that no aspect of CPS protects children. I mean these are obviously the kind of things that you see a lot on anonymous postings. You just don't expect to find out later it's the state's school chief.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah there's a certain standard I think you have as an elected official and then also as the head of public schools in the state. You can say whatever you want on these things, freedom of speech, but you don't have the right in that position to do that, and you don't have the right -- voters can vote you out because of that. This could really hurt him. He seemed to be kind of a lot of posts about Hitler related to Hitler, comparing him to Hitler, Planned Parenthood, Hitler and Darwin, Hitler and Roosevelt, I don't know maybe he was watching the military channel a lot at night. But really a standard it's kind of just weird. I was at lunch today at a restaurant downtown, a lot of people were actually talking about this and we're not the most politically engaged town. People were actually talking about this.

Ted Simons: Well what were they saying?

Mike Sunnucks: Head shaking type stuff, like a couple of people said you know they weren't going to vote for him because of this. This just seemed weird.

Ted Simons: What do we make of all of this? Is it just plain strange or is there more here? What's going on?

Ben Giles: It's odd. The strangest thing was how seemingly unapologetic he was. The fact that he said I'm sorry if I happened to offend anyone. And reasserted this is a way for him to have free speech, to be a part of the discussion. And that's fine but you are held to a higher standard as an elected official and free speech doesn't sound as great when you're trying to hide behind the name Falcon9 posting online.

Jeremy Duda: I think a lot of people feel like this really is unbecoming of an elected official, especially somebody of that level. You're a statewide official, you oversee public education throughout the state, and besides from the fact that some of these comments were really inflammatory like calling you know Medicare and welfare recipients lazy pigs, like Mike said it's just weird and just doesn't seem like something an elected official should probably be doing.

Ben Giles: And a lot of lawmakers in Arizona will defend even if somebody says something kind of seemingly insane the Bundy Ranch, for example, some of the comments that the rancher was making, lawmakers defended at least his right to say it but I don't think you get the same defense if you're trying to hide behind a fake identity online.

Ted Simons: But some would argue that the federals papers there's a lot of pamphleteering that happened throughout the history of the country -- those were anonymous. Anyone buying that?

Mike Sunnucks: Well I think you see you mentioned the comments that people put on stories, most of them are pretty nasty on both sides. He gets tagged with that, too. Why is he doing this? I think that's what everybody's -- you're an elected official. If you want a hobby, take up yoga, try boxing, go jogging or something. Why are you doing this? This kind of fits, he's said some things in the past the old woman that hhe got in the so-called scuffle with over the sign, the robo calls on the charter schools. And I think it just fits in the whole narrative about Arizona politics, about Republican politics here that we're kind of kooky, we're on the Daily Show all the time and here you have the school superintendent doing this on these websites with these strange names.

Jeremy Duda: And the voters are really turned off by this, you know this is a couple of problems for Huppenthal, because he's got only a general but a primary too. He's gotten you know attacked from both sides on the left wing and the right wing. And you now the Dems hate him for being a conservative on a lot of school choice issues and Mexican American studies, stuff like that. Conservatives don't like him because he's a supporter of Common Core, which is kind of one of the rallying cries for the conservatives and the Tea Party this year. You could have some problems if voters really remember this.

Mike Sunnucks: Well he also got caught doing this. You can go online with all kinds of anonymous names and not get caught but he put enough clues in there that multiple people kind of figured out this out. And then he admitted to it. So we're going to talk about Tom Horne, you can have a story and stick to it, I didn't do this, I didn't do this, I didn't do this. You can go online pretty easily and have names and no one would ever know who you were and he was able to get caught on this and had to admit to it.

Jeremy Duda: Well he started naming off his childhood friends. It didn't seem like he was really trying to hide his identity that well. Maybe you know it's almost like he wanted to get caught.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a cry for help.

Ted Simons: Okay, well hold that thought. Or let it go of it, whatever. The idea that again, this is the state schools chief, the Superintendent of Public Education and we have some historical curiosities within these posts, I mean primary, general, does that -- granted we all agree, kind of strange here, but the inaccuracies of the posts themselves for an education chief, is that a factor?

Ben Giles: I think it adds to the strangeness. So yes, and this is, you know, and maybe as Mike said not the most politically aware Phoenix. This is the kind of story that does stick, that does get out there, that's going to probably have some legs for a while because this is what people will be talking about three months from now, Huppenthal, who's Huppenthal? Oh, he's Falcon9, and he's the one who thinks you know Roosevelt started the Great Depression. That doesn't sound right.

Ted Simons: What do you think, primary, general? I mean could this be a factor?

Jeremy Duda: I think so I think both opponents are going to go after him for this. We've seen them both put out statements, I think Diane Douglas' primary opponent is trying to draw attention to this for a while because the liberal and conservative blogs both noticed this a while ago and have been trying to get that story out there.

Mike Sunnucks: I think in both. You saw the Eric Cantor race, things came together as far as the Tea Part opponent at the end. Conservatives hate Common Core. They're really starting to coalesce in their dislike of this, his primary opponent could take this on. Democrats see a lot of opportunities here, especially in the Attorney General's race and maybe this race, you may see some money come in. If you have enough adds with these quotes right and this Falcon9 stuff, that will stick with voters.

Ted Simons: And remember the barbarians at the gate quote, we forgot about that one as well, so that's out there. Okay, very interesting stuff. Let's get to Tom Horne. He is under investigation yet again this time by the Clean Elections Commission.

Jeremy Duda: This is official now. You know Sarah Beattie, this former employee slash volunteer campaign staffer alleging he's running his campaign basically out of the A.G.'s office, using state time and resources. She submitted a complaint to the Secretary of State's office and Clean Elections and some law enforcement agencies. Now, the Clean Elections Commission voted unanimously to start this investigation, which is kind of unprecedented because he's not even a clean elections candidate. But if they found that he violated campaign finance laws and this is really going to stick mainly to you know, are these in kind contributions, are these reported; did they violate contribution limits? Did they find violations, and enough of them, he could theoretically be kicked out of office.

Ted Simons: Yeah that's obviously the one extreme end of the spectrum. His attorneys are saying clean elections have no business even getting involved in something like this.

Mike Sunnucks: Well he's, you know, unlike Huppenthal, Tom has denied wrongdoing and doing things all along and he's stuck to these stories and his side of things and they'll make that argument. I think it will be far-fetched to get him kicked out of office but it's a cumulative effect on him all these investigations and these charges and allegations. I think it really helps Rotellini in the end, the general election opponent. You talk to Democrats around town, they're raising money for her. They think she's got a good chance against him or Brnovich in the general. They think she's kind of got this stepping stone, got a political future here, and I think they feel a lot of momentum there and so all this kind of works against him. Conversely, he was on Fox news this week talking about the border, how he's been sending letters to Obama. And so that's been good news for him because he's able to talk to the base, talk to Republican primary voters about the border, about border security, while all this inside baseball stuff works against him.

Ted Simons: And the inside baseball stuff is that he basically ran his campaign out of the Attorney General's office, claims again by Sarah Beattie. But the idea that Clean Elections shouldn't have a part of this I think is interesting because I think people don't realize just how far a reach Clean Elections, the commission has.

Ben Giles: And this was something that came up a little bit during the regular session this year, Senator Steve Pierce was challenging whether or not Clean Elections had the ability to enforce contribution limits of traditionally funded candidates and you saw them, clean elections kind of got feedback by the legislature and again, I wonder how far along this investigation of Tom Horne is going to get before his attorneys sue and challenge and say we don't think you have a right to investigate here. You can deal with your clean elections funded candidates but we should be on our own here.

Jeremy Duda: I think part of the point of that legislation was to kind of set up the legal challenge. The commission back in September or October passed a resolution saying you know affirming what they believe was their authority and jurisdiction to regulate candidates who don't actually participate in Clean Elections, you know opponents of that spraying into action past this law that said they don't have the authority. The commission said well that doesn't matter. It's irrelevant, it's moot, doesn't affect us. It's a voter-approved statute and it says what it says therefore, we still have the authority. Now Horne's lawyer told me they are considering a lawsuit. This might be the test case for that.

Ted Simons: But a lawsuit again keeps you in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, that's Horne's biggest problem and we talked about Huppenthal's issue, the hit-and-run is the thing that I think, if you cumulate everything all the charges of malpractice and miss conduct, but the little hit-and-run thing at the apartment with the friend from work is the thing that will stick with voters but you can accumulate all of these things. Here is all these things that voters, all these charges against him. Eventually voters will get fatigued.

Jeremy Duda: Well it's a steady drumbeat of coverage over and over and over again. And you know some of these issues voters may not understand the intricacies of campaign finance law that you know you are coordinating and that's not aloud, or the limit is this or you're not allowed to do this from the office. But when you see headlines that say investigated complaint, allegations, broke campaign finance law, hit-and-run, mistress, over and over and over again for you know almost two years now, that's really going to take its toll.

Mike Sunnucks: We also talked about standards with Huppenthal. There's also a standard with Tom Horne. He's the state's top prosecutor, so he's not some lawmaker some state senator saying something kooky, it's the top prosecutors, top legal officer in the state accused of misconduct and breaking the law.

Ted Simons: All right, there is also a complaint filed with the Secretary of State's office. We haven't heard much about that, I guess we're waiting on that one too, huh?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah my understanding is they'll probably make a decision on that next week whether to start that investigation. This week they're really tied up with a lot of these ballot challenges.

Ted Simons: All right Jeremy you wrote about this. It sounds like Andrew Thomas as yet not qualified for clean elections funding. What's this all about and does this mean, what -- is he still running for governor? What's going on?

Jeremy Duda: He's still running for governor, he turned in his $5 qualifying contributions about a month ago and as a gubernatorial candidate, you have to have 4,500 valid ones. He was barely over the line when he turned them in, they validated some, and they found he was 113 short of that 4,500. They sent him an official notice today that he was denied for clean elections funding but he has one chance, once you have that denial, you have one chance to turn in one supplemental batch of more fives. He said, he put out a statement today, saying he's out collecting; he's probably been doing it for a while. That's not a lot of -- not much of a gap to bridge there. So he'll probably get on there.

Mike Sunnucks: He's had very little impact on the race. I think when he first got in people thought he might be some kind of a spoiler, might at least have an impact on how the conservative votes go with his immigration stances. He's been pretty invisible on the campaign trail. I think if we had bet on who might have anonymous blog posts, Andy Thomas might be up there, said it was Falcon9. But you know he may make a little bit of a run here at the end, but it doesn't look like he's having much luck.

Ted Simons: We don't know for sure. It's all anonymous. We don't know.

Mike Sunnucks: All those avatars on AZ Central, not sure.

Ted Simons: Don't jump to conclusions, we don't know. Al Melvin is having some troubles as well? What's going on with him?

Jeremy Duda: Also another gubernatorial candidate having trouble with clean elections. We don't know how many fives he has. He hasn't said. But he put out kind of an interesting statement last night saying that he's still not there imploring supporters give him some fives, and says within a week by next Thursday June the 26th he will see if he's got his fives or on pace to get them quickly, and if he's not, he said he'll drop out of the race because his campaign won't be viable.

Ted Simons: If Melvin is out, if Thomas is somehow compromised to the point of not being a fact, who does that help, who does that hurt? How much of an impact does that make on the race?

Ben Giles: I wonder how many -- what percentage of the vote both of those candidates would have gotten anyway, particularly Melvin who maybe doesn't have as big of a statewide profile as Thomas. Though Thomas' profile is for all the wrong reasons. But probably minimal impact. I can't see which candidate would specifically benefit from that small percentage of the gubernatorial vote.

Mike Sunnucks: Well Captain Al's campaign kind of began and ended with Anderson Cooper with his ill-faded interview. I agree, I think at the beginning of the race you thought well maybe they get a few percentage each, if it's really tight then you start to talk about it, maybe it helps a couple of the more conservative folks in the race, Christine Jones or Doug Ducey. But I think everything's wide open right now, and I think it's minimal. I think that most voters are still figuring out who these people are and why they're voting.

Ted Simons: And, yeah please.

Jeremy Duda: They could combine for you know 10% or something like that. These aren't the most conservative voters in the primary. Of course, most of the candidates, most of them are pretty conservative, they're all vying for those conservative votes, you know leave some supporters for them to try and pick up. Could hurt Scott Smith who's definitely running more towards the center as the moderate if there's more conservative votes to go out there for you know Ducey or Bennett or Jones.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and another candidate Tim Bennett, Secretary of State, now, he wanted to appear in an ad, a voter education ad because he says if something goes wrong like it did last time with the people walking into the polling places with their early ballots and everything gets stagnated, he's the one who's got to explain it all to Capitol Hill and elsewhere, so why can't he --

Mike Sunnucks: There's no one else that could appear in that ad, except for the Secretary of State.

Ted Simons: The Board of Education

Mike Sunnucks: And as we joked about before, he would show people how to vote for Governor and vote for certain candidates named Bennett on there and they ruled against him. But I think Brewer had done that when she was Secretary of State but she wasn't running for Governor at the time so there's a voter education thing. Ken's running clean so his TV strategy was this ad campaign. So he got denied that but he's still a formidable gubernatorial candidate. Everybody's got him in the top tier. He certainly has a chance but it was iffy to let him be in his own voter education ad.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, voter education ad, you don't necessarily need to see Ken Bennett for that do you?

Ben Giles: No, you could have any voter, any person really show on TV here's the buttons you need to press or here's the I's you need to cross. But really the reason that Brewer was allowed to do it last time was because she wasn't in a position where she was running for higher office. She was running for re-election, so that was a little more unique but Bennett running for governor, it just added up to maybe a shady television ad for his campaign.

Ted Simons: Now, can he still go ahead with the ad? I mean this is clean elections with their recommendation correct, I mean they're denying him but what if he says to heck with that I want to be on TV?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah he could do it. This isn't him asking for permission to be in the ad. This is them asking for them to basically inoculate him against any future complaints cause let's face it that ad runs, the first complaint from you know Ducey or Jones is coming in about 15 seconds later. He wants them to give, one of them to give, a no-action determination, saying they would not take action if a complaint is filed. They're not going to do it and they know very well that he doesn't have to be in that ad because the clean elections commission is running very similar ads about the exact same topic and there's no elected officials or famous people.

Mike Sunnucks: Well yeah, the Clean Elections runs these ads all the time when you have various ethnicities and genders and ages and all walks of life in there just like any other public service announcement. You don't have the head of clean elections in there. People don't really know who Ken Bennett is out there in the wilderness so why does he need to be in the ad? It doesn't have any more impact.

Ted Simons: He says it's part of the job of being Secretary of State.

Mike Sunnucks: Sure he's the Chief -- Katherine Harris could have been in the ads in Florida too when she was doing that so.

Ted Simons: Katherine Harris, boy you're bringing them up, way out of the distant past here.

Mike Sunnucks: We've got to blame Bush at some point.

Ted Simons: Well speaking way out of the distant past, Cesar Chavez is no longer on the ballot. Please, talk to us about this situation, cause this you know we've had a lot of strange stories tonight and we've had some strange stories here of late. This one tops them. This is an amazing story.

Ben Giles: This takes the cake. Cesar Chavez was in court on Tuesday because there was a challenge from Alejandro Chavez, relative of the real Hispanic labor icon Cesar Chaves, saying first off that I think you just took my father's name to dupe voters in CD-7 and try and win the Hispanic vote in a heavily Democratic Hispanic district. This new Cesar Chavez of course changed his name from Scott Fistler after running as a Republican. But ultimately what the judge found is that no, he's maybe not involved in some grand conspiracy and trying to confuse voters with the name change. The name change was done legally. He legally became a Democrat on time to start collecting votes to run for Congress where he tripped up is that half of the signatures that he collected in order to qualify for the ballot were deemed invalid by the county recorder's office, that's about of 700 of 1400 signatures. So he falls well short.

Ted Simons: Talk about the hearing because as you described it, this was, there was quite a lot of theater there.

Ben Giles: Well it started off with the fact that Cesar was representing himself. We're not sure how much, if any, money he has for his campaign. He hasn't filed any campaign finance reports yet and the last time I spoke with him he said he's not sure how much money he has so he was in court trying to navigate the legal process and I think god bless the judge was very lenient with him and trying to help guide him through it and explaining you know here's where the evidence presented against you is on your desk and here's your chance to call witnesses, testify, you know maybe not ask questions of yourself but at least testify. And it was some theater. He at some points grandstanded to the audience in the crowd, he started crying when he spoke about his great-grandfather serving in World War I while he was testifying and the fact that he thinks some Americans don't get their due. And ultimately none of that mattered, he didn't have the signatures. He says he's going to appeal, although again I don't think he's got money to hire an attorney. And how successful would he be appealing to the Supreme Court by himself?

Ted Simons: And the money situation is interesting because again, as reported, he's selling his autograph, he's selling personal appearances for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I mean, he's selling a variety of things. This is an unusual story.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah he's a very unusual person. And you know there's questions about how balanced he is and whether he has some issues there. But yeah this was very strange and the aftermath was strange. His attire, his behavior, also just like we would -- just strange.

Jeremy Duda: Personally my favorite part of this entire circus from the other day was afterwards when he told reporters that no, I did not change my name to take the name of the famous Cesar Chavez, the labor icon. It's because my favorite athletes are Julio Cesar Chavez and Eric Chavez and my dog's favorite dog food is Cesar's brand dog food, so you know in that spirit I could go ahead and change my name to Friskys Fitzgerald or something like that.

Ted Simons: Well in that spirit, are we going to start seeing Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead and you George Washington and a --

Mike Sunnucks: We have a history of this with people's real names, Paul Newman and Dean Martin and Barry Lewis and we've had various Bob Stumps on there but this took it to a new and very bizarre and a lot of people a very cynical level.

Ben Giles: And my favorite part of this service is that Cesar is offering to try and raise funds for his campaign, is that if you would like that you could give him $2,000 and he would help you change your name, provide you some of the legal documents you need to do it, so.

Mike Sunnucks: Falcon9 in the future.

Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah. Is this the last we see of Mr. Fistler/Chavez?

Jeremy Duda: I kind of hope not. Based on what we've seen so far, he said he's going to appeal to the Supreme Court and after the district court here, and I would love to see him there but I don't know if this guy, clearly he doesn't really have any money and I don't know if the things he tried to pull in the district court, I don't know if that's going to fly before the Arizona Supreme Court, you can appeal, but I don't know what that's going to do for him especially if half of his signatures are invalid in the first place.

Mike Sunnucks: The legitimate folks in the race, Mary Rose Wilcox and Ruben Gallego, were concerned about this, because this could be a really tight race and you had this guy in there with this name, if he gets a couple of percent and it's really close, it could swing the balance so I think they're both happy that he's off there.

Ted Simons: All right, before we get out of here, it sounds like the Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach from 1070 fame and election controversial fame, he is endorsing what every single person in the secretary of state's race out here?

Jeremy Duda: Almost every single person. On Tuesday he announced that, Senator Michelle Reagan from Scottsdale announced that Kobach had endorsed her, which is kind of a head scratcher for a lot of people cause Kobach is known as very conservative, he's known as the author of S.B. 1070, he's pushing a lot of election integrity issues that democrats really oppose as you know quote on quote voter suppression. Reagan is known as a more moderate Republican, he came out and endorsed her, didn't sit so well with some conservatives, especially those who are a part of Will Carden's campaign, one of whom called Kobach and his people and said hey what are you doing? Two days later, they put out a statement saying first Kobach also endorses Will Carden.

Ted Simons: Can you endorse two people in the same race?

Mike Sunnucks: Sure, you can post blogs anonymously, you can change your name, you can certainly endorse more people. It kind of waters it down a little bit. You know conservatives should like Michelle Reagan for her campaign-- election law bill that looked to really limit democratic votes but she's not quite conservative enough for some of them. It could have an impact on some of the immigration activists. It's a big issue in the campaign.

Jeremy Duda: Kobach also, yesterday this was actually the third endorsement he's made in that race, cause he endorsed Steve Montenegro last year when he still had an exploratory committee open for the Secretary of States. Now, he dropped out of that race so then you know months later, he endorsed Reagan, then he endorsed Carden, I'm kind of wondering what Justin Pierce who's the last candidate of the race, I wonder how he feels about this. What he has to do to be the only guy in the race to not get endorsed by Kris Kobach?

Mike Sunnucks: Go to the horse track and betting on all the horses. You'll have a winner no matter what.

Ted Simons: Yeah the concept of an endorsement though sounds like you are for that person. If you're for two people, who cares? Does anyone care about this?

Jeremy Duda: It doesn't carry quite as much weight, I don't know how many voters really know who Kris Kobach is in the first place, though. How much impact it has, who knows.

Ben Giles: Well and if it did have any impact, I think it's clearly been diminished now that he's endorsed two -- three candidates in the last two years.

Ted Simons: It's hard to have a signed Kris Kobach endorsement and a sign right next to it that says me too. All right, thank you guys good stuff. Monday on Arizona Horizon, we will take a closer look at Maricopa County's new budget. And we'll learn about an attempt to estimate the monetary value of Arizona's natural resources. That's Monday evening on Arizona Horizon. Tuesday, a look at new innovations to help meet Common Core education standards. Wednesday, an Arizona Horizon debate with GOP candidates running for the corporation commission. Thursday, the aftermath of the Yarnell hill fire. And Friday, it's another edition of the journalists' roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

>> Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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