Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us as reporters bring us up to date on the latest news in the Journalists’ Roundtable.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Alia Rau of "The Arizona Republic," Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times," and Bob Christie of the Associated Press. The state is set to appeal a court ruling that requires increased funding for Arizona's K-12 education system. Alia, let's start with the court ruling; we talked about this a little bit last week. But again, what the ruling says and what the state is wanting to do about that.

Alia Rau: The ruling basically deals with the money going forward and says that the state needs to add $1.6 billion over the next five years to the per student funding amount. Now, the school's thought she [Governor Jan Brewer] was going to sign it immediately, and it could go into effect. There was a hearing this morning, and she agreed to let the two sides go back and forth a little bit more. So everyone is still waiting to see when she'll sign the judgment. And then she's still got to deal with the stuff going backwards, the $1.3 million going backwards.

Ted Simons: We got what, $317 million averaging out for the next five years, looking ahead, $1.3 billion in back payments looking behind, and the governor basically says, can't do it.

Jim Small: Yeah, they are going to appeal. I think a big part of the argument is how much the legislature should owe. The legislature made this argument prior to this ruling. They basically said, look, yes we're required to do 2% at a minimum or inflation. But there was some news where inflation was 2.5%, and we gave 5%, so we should get extra credit for that extra money that we gave. That should basically defray what the per-pupil base should be set at. If you go with there math, I think it comes to about $80 million or so in new funding for the current year, and use that for the new base going forward, which significantly cuts down the cost.

Bob Christie: That's a big difference from the $320 million this year that the judge said they owed. This goes back to, of course, the Supreme Court decided last September is that no, you have to pay this. It seems that the more this drags out, the bigger the check might end up being for the next governor maybe, if we go into an appeal.

Ted Simons: But how do you appeal for not honoring the voters' wishes in a ballot measure?

Alia Rau: It's a very legal debate over the words ‘and' and ‘or' essentially. Did they have to do transportation funding and boost per student funding or could they do one or the other? It literally is a legal issue over the words ‘and' and ‘or.'

Ted Simons: Again, the judge has given a couple weeks now for folks to figure out there arguments. Nothing's official, so you can't appeal something that's not official. But you were mentioning maybe something can be defrayed and lower that down, but what about those back payments?

Jim Small: And that's going to be discussed in October. There's going to be an evidentiary hearing. The judge today set aside a week to let both sides present their evidence as to what the state can and should do at that time. And legislators that we've talked to and the governor's folks have all said, we don't have room in our budget. We can't just go find $1.3 billion and pay that money back. So I think the argument there is going to be that: (a) the state doesn't have the resources, and (b) we were wrong, but you can't really force to us come back and pay this money.

Bob Christie: Well, the Supreme Court may differ. They are the ones who ordered them to -- who said what the legislature did was unconstitutional and went against the voters' will, which once a voter initiative is passed it's set in stone, you can't just ignore it. I think we're going to have a reckoning day fairly soon. And it could blow a big hole in the state budget. We have a $9.3 billion state budget. This is $3 billion all together over five years. So that's 5%, 10% a year, big deal.

Jim Small: You know, the thing is earlier this year the schools offered to settle this. They wanted to settle this. They went to the legislature and said you're looking at $2.5, $3 billion if you lose. We'll settle for less than half that amount, and we can just wrap this whole thing up and figure out sign and order of consent decree -- figure out how to make the payments and what the new base level is going to be, and the legislature rejected that out of hand.

Ted Simons: Rejected it out of hand then. What kind of negotiations are going on now? How is the education division taking all this?

Alia Rau: They are very excited obviously. That's an enormous amount of money going directly to the schools potentially. So they're thrilled, but they still say, they have given indications that they are willing to have conversations, particularly about the money going backwards. I mean everybody understands the state's financial situation. Is there a way to give more money to the schools, help the kids and literally not blow up the state's budget?

Ted Simons: Yeah, and blowing up the state's budget. Some would say, find a way to pay it for. I mean really, can you find a way to pay for this?

Bob Christie: There are a lot of conversations behind the scenes about how you could pay for this. Right off the bat you could almost get two years of the going forward out of the rainy day fund. There are some tax cuts that are being phased in, which you could possibly put the brakes on. The governor said yesterday, this will decimate our public safety budget and other budgets. There's a nasty old word called a tax increase that the legislature could potentially do. There's some trust fund money, state land trust money. One of the governor's candidates said in a forum the other day, let's talk about that money. So who knows what's out there?

Jim Small: This may be -- For a long time, I'd say the last decade, you've really had a lot of conversations about the need to reform the state's finance system and figure out a better way to pay for schools. The current finance system was put in place in 1980. Over time, like any finance code, it gets holes poked in it. And now, there are all sorts of inequities in something that was initially designed to be equitable across the board. So, this may be actually the impetus to get people to seriously look at this issue and talk about it. Maybe it doesn't happen right away. But when you're talking about a potential $3 billion hit, is there a better way to fund schools? Maybe be a way that absolves a lot of this problem and keeps this problem at bay going forward.

Bob Christie: But we're still stuck with the voter initiative that put this in place. So any major change to that funding format, you'd have to go back to the voters and you'd have to have the governor pushing it and the legislature and the Democrats on board to really be assured that deal would be put in place.

Ted Simon: You were going to say.

Alia Rau: Both Democrats and Republicans for at least the past year or two have agreed the education funding system doesn't work, doesn't work, doesn't work, but nobody's been willing to sit down at the table and start having conversations about it. It's possible this will force them to. But yeah, can you get both parties and a new governor at the table at the same time to agree on anything. I don't know.

Jim Small: And the education establishment.

Bob Christie: And the voters because this funding formula was protected by the voters.

Ted Simons: Maybe I'm missing something here, but is there some irony in that this was supposed to be protected by the voters, but the legislature has kind of ignored that. But a tax increase is supposed to be protected by two thirds majority; no one's ignoring that.

Bob Christie: No, no one is. That's a reference to the Medicaid expansion, of course. It is ironic that the legislature knew that what they were doing went against the will of the voters four years ago when they cut this funding. They knew it and looked at the and/or that Alia pointed to with a wink and a nod and said, don't worry, our lawyers can get us out of this. And the Supreme Court said, in no uncertain terms, no; don't play those games with the voters.

Ted Simons: So all this is likely to fall on the next lucky governor?

Jim Small: Yeah, how about that? I think all six of them ever still running and the seventh Fred DuVal is still running. So it looks like they're all still in it.

Ted Simons: We'll ask our Republican primary candidates about it on Monday, but that's a heavy piece of machinery there falling into your lap.

Alia Rau: You're literally having to look at redoing the entire budget.

Ted Simons: Alright Bob, what in the world was Adam Kwasman doing down in Oracle? And what does it mean for his campaign?

Bob Christie: Well, Adam Kwasman, as we know, went down after Sheriff Babeu of Pinal Country said the Feds are sending these illegal immigrant minors to this boys' camp, so we've got stop them. So there was a big rally. A lot of Tea Party people down there. A lot of armed militia types to try to stop this. And a busload of kids came up the road. And everybody rushed out to stop them. Well, apparently right at that point Adam Kwasman left and came back to Phoenix, where he was interviewed and put on TV by one of the stations and said I saw the fear in the eyes of those kids. Well, they were YMCA kids. And they weren't the immigrants, and he was caught with a size 14 boot in his throat, and it's going to kill him.

Ted Simons: We should mention, I think William Pitts was down there and Brahm Resnik was here and in the lobby over there at channel 12. And you do you back off something like that? I mean, what in the world can he do about this?

Alia Rau: His answer was, well, those kids were sad, too. Then he apologized for causing some --

Ted Simons: And there were reports that the kids were just having a gay old time with their cameras and cheering and laughing and looking at all the angry people out there.

Bob Christie: Exactly. This is a classic case of a politician who was making political hay on an assumption, and was caught in almost a straight out-and-out lie. I hate to say it, but the facts are there. How does this help or hurt his campaign? Well, it just kills him, I think.

Ted Simons: Do you think it kills him in the Republican primary, though? I mean, he's down there with a bunch of folks who are anti-immigration.

Bob Christie: Well, the fact that he's down there. That helps his campaign. But with other whose aren't decided yet, who haven't decided whether it's Andy Tobin or Gary Kiehne or Adam Kwasman, which is a large population. And you look at the facts and get a guy who makes stuff up? That just kills you.

Ted Simons: And what was Sheriff Babeu doing announcing that a busload of unauthorized kids were headed in this direction, anyway? Why did he make that announcement?

Jim Small: He didn't really make the announcement. He just tipped off a political ally, and that political ally then went out and started organizing this protest to try to do in Oracle what happened a few weeks ago in Murrieta, California, where protesters blocked these buses and these transports and they turned around and took the kids back to the holding facility. They were trying to do the same thing. It quickly became evident that Paul Babeu was involved and leaked the information out. I don't know, craven politics, I guess it's a way to get attention, build or continue a reputation and raise money, which we saw him doing the next day. His political committee sent out a fund-raising email off of that event and said, look, what happened in Oracle didn't actually happen, but it could have happened. And this is what we should raise money for, and this is what we're trying to fight to stop.

Ted Simons: That is something that helps or hurts, do you think, Paul Babeu's once resurrected career?

Alia Rau: You know, he's like Lazarus. He just keeps coming back. But with him, the immigration issue has paid off and paid off and paid off. So with him, I can see it being a little bit of a benefit.

Ted Simons: Same question we had with Kwasman. Again, you're talking about folks that are fighting immigration down there, that's a big deal.

Bob Christie: That's a big deal, and it doesn't hurt the sheriff as much because, a) he's not running for election this year. But it raises his national profile, gets him on CNN again. It gets him a lot of folks who will write him checks when he decides to run for Congress again, which most of us probably think is likely in his future. It helps him, but also, for those skeptics who say they are just playing politics, yeah Paul Babeu hurts himself a little bit with this.

Ted Simons: Once again Arizona is on everything from CNN to the Colbert Report.

Jim Small: Yes. A nice mention I guess of this whole event on the Colbert Report. I think the last time we were on was Cesar Chavez.

Ted Simons: Yes, I think it was. It never ends. We should be getting some sort of royalty checks from the Colbert Report. CD-7 debate, we just had this last night here in studio. Seems like a two-person race here, Mary Rose Wilcox, Ruben Gallego. These camps do not like each other.

Bob Christie: They don't like each other. Mary Rose Wilcox is endorsed by Ed Pastor, the longtime incumbent in that race who's retiring. She has had her eye on that seat for 10 years, and Ruben Gallego, who has made a name for himself in the House of Representatives, is one of the top leaders of the House. He really -- He is trying to make -- The fight is over the old establishment versus the young folks in that district. At the debate, you could see, first off, Ruben looked a little nervous. He wasn't quite as animated as he normally is. He's usually very animated and free-speaking. He was a little nervous. Mary Rose did well for herself in the debate, but they were throwing bombs at each other as you might expect in a debate.

Ted Simons: Yes, although not the kind of bombs I think you would expect, because they seem to agree on a lot of the actual issues. With that in mind, a Randy Camacho, high school teacher, Jarrett Maupin, a neighborhood, community activist and School Board member, can those play spoiler in something like this? Can they take enough away from one side or the other?

Alia Rau: They each probably got a little bit of a core group. But in that district, probably not, probably not enough to pull enough away to really hurt somebody.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Jim Small: I think it depends on turnout. This is a historically low turnout district. You're talking a margin of a couple thousand votes that could swing it one way or the other. I think the challenge for both Mary Rose Wilcox and Ruben Gallego is to change that electorate, to go out and drive their own people to the polls to make sure that instead of 20,000 votes being cast, 24,000 votes get cast. And if your Ruben Gallego or Mary Rose Wilcox and you capture two-thirds of those, you really helped yourself.

Bob Christie: Absolutely. This is a ground game issue. This is not going to be a TV ad campaign. This is a community organizing, get out the vote, motivate your people type of campaign. And Mary Rose has been doing this in this district for a couple decades, and she's got Ed Pastor's machine behind her, so one would think that would benefit her. Ruben Gallego also is really good at his organizing. It's going to be a hard one.

Ted Simons: We also had a debate between John Huppenthal and Diane Douglas -- Republicans. We had Republican and Democratic debates for the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Diane Douglas is there for one reason and one reason only, and that is anti-Common Core. How do you think that's turning out here?

Alia Rau: There is a huge group of people in Arizona who, that is their issue when it comes to education. I think she made the argument that it's not a single issue; it covers everything. You got a decent number of people in Arizona who may agree with her. I don't know if it's enough to win an election.

Ted Simons: How about on the Republican side though? This is first of all a Republican primary.

Alia Rau: It could be, but then obviously you've got Huppenthal running against himself. She's running on Common Core and he's running against himself. So yeah, she probably has a chance.

Bob Christie: He tried to defend himself. He's been a big Common Core supporter. He's gone around the state for the last couple years to Tea Party groups and other groups who are opposed to Common Core and trying to win them over to the Common Core, which is the new school standards. What he did at the debate was kind of interesting, he said, I'm trying craft the Common Core standards to Arizona's conservatism. He's trying to chip away at that for folks who really hate Common Core by saying, listen, these are here. We're going try to make it more Arizonan.

Ted Simon: He also mentioned that he killed off ethnic studies in Tucson and fought off changes to the English Learner Language Program. He obviously was trying to say, I'm just as conservative, if not more so than anyone else around. How that is working out there, especially with those anonymous blogs still hanging out?

Jim Small: Well, I think he made the point on the program with you that the only people who seem to bring it up are those of us at this table, not voters out there. I haven't been following him. I don't know if that's in fact the case. I think Common Core is really the issue that separates these two at the end of the day. When it comes to other education policy stuff, the other big education things are going to be funding and school choice. Certainly, John Huppenthal acknowledged earlier in the year he is a big proponent of school choice. And I'm sure Diane Douglas is, as well. When you talk about Common Core, I think that's where this flashpoint is going to be. It's been an issue building steam amongst Republican voters for the last year.

Ted Simons: On the Democratic side, the David Garcia - Sharon Thomas debate maybe a little more lively then some had anticipated. Sharon Thomas certainly is forceful in her beliefs.

Bob Christie: She is. She was quite forceful. She did a good job I thought in calling out David Garcia on a couple issues he maybe was not prepared for. David Garcia said, I send my kids to traditional school and support traditional schools. And then she said, well wait a minute, you send your kid to a Montessori school. And he said, well yeah, it's a charter school in the Phoenix School District. So she got him on that one. And he -- I don't think he was able to defend himself very well on that one, he tried. But she does like to -- she was very forceful.

Ted Simons: Is that the kind of thing that Democrats are looking for, that kind of -- It becomes a battle of personality. It looked like Garcia was saying I'm a leader and statesman like and all that sort of thing. And she is a hard charger.

Bob Christie: She is a hard charger. And she made the point that, listen, we've had professional educators in this office for a long time. I'm a teacher. I know what the schools need. That's what I do better than Garcia, who's primarily an educator and a college professor type.

Ted Simons: What do Democrats think about Common Core? Are they mostly aligned with it? Because you hear teachers, some are for it -- you don't even know where they are coming from when these teachers say this is hard stuff and in five years they're going to make us do something else again.

Alia Rau: Yeah, I think you still got a lot of teachers who are still trying to figure it out. As a mom of a first grader myself, I think there's a lot of teachers still trying to figure out what it means and is it good, is it bad, which piece works and which doesn't. I think coming in as a Democrat and as a teacher, there could be a lot of value in that for voters. She talked about I've done the Common Core, I've done the testing. I understand it. Whereas, Garcia, you know, I don't know. I think there's some question from voters with that. So I can see that helping her in the election a little bit.

Bob Christie: And she made the point that the person who is going to be in the Superintendent of Public Instruction office is going to be charged with implementing that. And the way you implement those standards is by getting the teachers not only on board, but giving the teachers the training to change curriculum because it's a change in the way they've been teaching things.

Ted Simons: And it was interesting to hear David Garcia basically talk about his leadership skills and his ability to work with others and these sorts of things, and again, she was more nose to the grindstone kind of thing. What's going on as far as these television ads? Doug Ducey now is filing a complaint over a TV ad? What's happening? What's going on here?

Jim Small: There's a TV ad attacking him by an independent group called Better Leadership for Arizona. It's a pro Christine Jones independent expenditure group, appears to have some ties to GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. They're spending, I want to say, about $900,000, or $800,000 on a TV ad right now going after Doug Ducey. There was a letter filed last week that the Ducey campaign sent to the news stations that are airing it, and said, this ad contains errors in it and you should pull it down. And he got no response to that, so they filed a complaint with the elections office. And it's not actually about the content of the ad. It's all about did this independent expenditure committee follow the law. The law says essentially that within 24 hours of paying for an independent expenditure you have to send a copy of it to the person you're attacking. The Ducey campaign says, we didn't get that. We have several mailing addresses; we didn't get it at any of them. Therefore, they are violating the law, and the penalty is triple the amount they are paying for the independent expenditure, which looks out to about two and a half million dollars.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And not only that, but it's considered an in-kind contribution, and so you got -- that's a 700-someodd-thousand, that's way above limits there. Are we watching dark money battle it out in the dark here? What's going on with all this?

Alia Rau: It's getting complicated this election cycle. Everyone's throwing around the phrase ‘dark money' with every independent expenditure. There's a lot of independent expenditures that you can go ahead and look at who their contributions are coming from. With that one, when the next filings come due, we'll probably see who the money is. The idea is it's probably GoDaddy. It's interesting. I think the media is trying to figure it out. The voters are trying to figure it out. I think there's a lot of allegations going around. I think we just have to see it play out this election.

Bob Christie: To some extent, the complaint like that is inside baseball. Maybe they're doing it to just kind of scare off the next guy. But you know, as we all know, lawyers take a long time to get things done. We'll be well past the primary before any of this happens. So, the voters will have been impacted by the ad and maybe we'll deal with this in March of next year maybe.

Jim Small: Just ask Tom Horne. We're four years out from that thing and we're still dealing with that.

Tom Horne: Indeed. Speaking of Tom Horne, very quickly. Tires? What's going on with the tires though? What's that?

Bob Christie: Tom Horne sold his Jaguar, his famous Jaguar that the FBI was following him around in during a lunchtime meeting with one of his friends. Apparently, the person who he sold it to took it to his or her mechanic and had it inspected to make sure everything's working right. And they found two of the front tires had been partially slashed to where potentially maybe if you're on highway speed for a long time, they could have blown out. Maybe the person could have crashed. Now, that's of course what Tom Horne's folks tell us. We have no reason to doubt that. We're now going to have a little bit of sympathy for Tom Horne maybe because somebody might be out to get him.

Alia Rau: Or they hope we do, right.

Ted Simons: And we're certainly having an investigation from the Attorney General's office on this.

Alia Rau: And added security from his staff too, yes.

Ted Simons: Which he hasn't had before. Back to the governor's race real quickly. Andrew Thomas has unleashed his first TV ad. A crossed out Mexican flag coming up at the bottom toward the very end. Says that he took on the gay lobby and all sorts of things. Can he play spoiler in this race?

Bob Christie: He could get some votes. Andy Thomas is well-known -- his positions are known. I don't think anybody who knows Mr. Thomas was surprised by this ad. I've watched him at a bunch of forums, and you ask him a question on any subject and it turns to illegal immigration. Everything. So that ad really didn't surprise me. The gay lobby thing that surprised the heck out of me. Just because where did that come from?

Ted Simons: And really quickly before we go, would you like to comment on one of the gubernatorial candidates doing pull-ups.

Jim Small: There's a new ad from Frank Riggs, a Republican, also running on the anti-Common Core mantle as well. It's a commercial unlike any we've ever seen before, where he's doing barbell presses and pull-ups shirtless in a garage, definitely something I think that got a lot of attention this week. He got some earned media out of it through social media, if nothing else.

Bob Christie: The best ad of the week though was the Smith ad. Don't be a sheep A-Z. It's only running online. They haven't bought an ad yet, but it's worth watching.

Ted Simons: We will keep an eye out for all of them. Thank you so much. Monday on "Arizona Horizon" we will have a debate between the six Republican candidates running to be Arizona's next governor, a special hour-long Clean Elections debate Monday evening at 5 o'clock and again at 10, right here on "Arizona Horizon." That's it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us, you have a great weekend.

Alia Rau:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Jim Small:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Bob Christie:Journalist, Associated Press;

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