Vote 2014: Republican Secretary of State Debate

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Join us as the Republican candidates running for Secretary of State debate the issues relevant to the office.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to this special "Vote 2014" edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a Clean Elections debate. We'll hear from candidates competing in the Republican primary for Secretary of State. As with all of" "Arizona Horizon's" debates, this is not a formal exercise, it's an open exchange of ideas, an opportunity for give and take between candidates for one of the state's most important offices. As such, interjections and even interruptions are allowed, provided all sides get a fair shake. We will do our best to see that happens. The Secretary of State is Arizona's chief elections officer, and the first in line to succeed a sitting governor, in the event a governor cannot complete a term, something that seems to happen with some regularity in Arizona. Three candidates are competing to be our next Secretary of State. They are, in alphabetical order, Mesa businessman Wil Cardon, State Representative Justin Pierce, and state Senator Michele Reagan. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier we drew numbers to see who goes first, and that honor goes to Michele Reagan.

Michele Reagan: Well, thank you. Hi, I'm Senator Michele Reagan. The last 12 years I've had the honor and privilege of serving at the state capitol. Prior to my service in the Capitol I worked with my family, and we owned a small sign manufacturing company in Phoenix. We were able to grow our business to be one of the largest of its kind in the country, and ended up selling it. That was where I got my passion for politics and public service, because I was able to see what government can do when it comes into a business and tries to regulate and over mandate things. I ran for office and won, and was able to serve in the House of Representatives for eight years. I served as the commerce chair for six years, and now I'm in the Senate where I serve as the elections chairwoman. I'm very excited about the Secretary of State race and the role of Secretary of State.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. For our next opening statement we turn to Wil Cardon.

Wil Cardon: Hi, I'm Wil Cardon, and I've been in Arizona for most of my life. I've run a successful family business. I'm the father of five. And when the people who approached me to run for this office talked to me about it, and they said they wanted someone who is a conservative, someone who could get the job done, and most importantly someone who could, if the governor were to leave office as Ted mentioned, step in and run the government. I feel my background and my experience most qualifies me for this. I have run a successful billion-dollar business for the last while. I'm the only executive out of this group. I also believe my conservative beliefs and full-spectrum conservatism would serve me well. I believe that no one should vote without I.D., that people should be citizens in order to vote, that in this state, in our state of Arizona, we can lead the way and show the rest of the country how you make that really work. That's why I'm running for Secretary of State. I hope to earn your vote.

Ted Simons: Very good. And Justin Pierce now with our final opening statement.

Justin Pierce: Thank you, Ted. I'm Justin Pierce and I would like to earn your support to be your next Secretary of State. I have been working diligently for the past several years in the Arizona Legislature, where I have been the chairman of the public safety, military, and regulatory affairs committee. Most recently our committee was instrumental in making sure the CPS reform legislation made it through and moved forward. And with that, I've worked on other important legislative measures to support a strong economic environment in Arizona, excellent educational opportunities and strong public safety. I urge you to look very carefully at my background, education and experience. I have a business degree in accounting from Arizona State University and a law degree from one of the top law schools in the country, the Georgetown University Law Center. I began my career as a legal advisor to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and I've been a shareholder and partner of one of the largest law firms in the country. I hope to earn your support to be your next Secretary of State.

Ted Simons: Alright, thanks so much. Let's get it started here. Michele, why you for this, and not them?

Michele Reagan: Experience. Experience involves the private sector and the public sector. I have experience building and growing a family-owned business with my family, did that for over a decade. And most important, experience walking the halls of the Capitol and working with the legislators, working with different government agencies. Working with election officials from around the state. I'm the one who ran the bills to try to stop the mass ballot bundling that we've seen. I'm the one who has worked with all 15 county recorders and all election officials around the state. This is experience that I could walk into the Secretary of State's office and know a lot about how that office already runs. And I think that is one thing that sets me apart.

Ted Simons: Wil, again, knowing the Secretary of State's duties, what the Secretary of State is responsible for, why you?

Wil Cardon: The Secretary of State's office, as you pointed out, mainly supervises elections and gets results back. I think now more than ever we need accountability, transparency and efficiency in that office. We need to update what has gone on. We are in a new era with everyone having mobile phones where we can get more accountability and transparency. I'm tired of seeing the dark money come into the state, hide in the shadows and then come out and basically buy candidates. I think we as voters of Arizona and citizens of Arizona deserve to have a better system than that right now and that's why I'm running.

Ted Simons: Hold that thought on dark money. Again, you, why you and not them?

Justin Pierce: Yes, thank you, Ted. I think Michele's point is well-taken. I think that this office is best served by having somebody with experience both in the private sector and experience in elected office. Understanding how the Capitol works is critical. Five years ago if you would have told me that I could go serve in this office as Secretary of State, I might not have understood how important it was to have spent time at the Capitol, learning and making -- developing relationships with people down there, to understand how to get things done. So I have experience in the real world, over a decade, working with large, small organizations, from mom and pop shops to Fortune 500 companies and executives on major employment related matters within their organization as well as government service. And I think that when you put it all together, Ted, I'm the most well-rounded candidate.

Ted Simons: Alright, let's get to dark money here. The topic has been broached. The idea of dark money, is it impacting Arizona politics? Specifically the concept, money equals free speech. Do you agree with that statement?

Michele Reagan: Dark money is affecting Arizona politics, absolutely. We're seeing it more than ever before. It's not beholden to just one party, by the way, it's both parties and it's from out-of-state and from in-state. It's not something that we can just stop, run a magic bill and say, it's not allowed because it's upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. So every state is struggling with what to do with dark money, how do you disclose the donors. The question you just asked is a very important one. Is it upheld by the First Amendment? That's a question that I asked the legislature when I ran the bill last year on dark money. Yes. Unlimited amounts of money are allowed in campaigns, the Supreme Court said that. But is it free speech if it's anonymous? That is the question every state is grappling with.

Ted Simons: You can't just stop dark money, do you agree with that?

Wil Cardon: Based on the current law right now, that's what's being said. I believe in free speech, Ted. But I also believe you need to be accountable and transparent. We've had a recent experience here in this state with a large -- with APS once saying, we didn't spend this money, and then getting caught and coming back and saying, well, we actually did spend this money, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's not appropriate. The voters of Arizona deserve better. They deserve to know who's spending the money. Money is never free, it comes with ties and it comes with problems and all kinds of different things. I'd like to see our group be the first one to show leadership in this state and say, we are not going to accept any dark money. And if any dark money is spent on our behalf then we'll give it out of our campaigns to Treasury, which may cause an impediment that either they come clean and show who they are and actually make it "clean elections" and show who they are or that they don't do it at all and we can effect that, we can be leaders. And that's what we need in this state. We need leadership -- new leadership.

Ted Simons: Do you agree with the idea you should all sit around and say, we're not going to accept any more dark money? You in on it?

Justin Pierce: Here's the issue. When we talk about dark money, that's a nice term that's been used to describe something that the U.S. Supreme Court has said is protected speech. I think we need to start from the proposition that we all agree that transparency in elections is important. I think we all agree on that point. The issue is dark money is called dark because it's -- it's from an anonymous source. There's a balancing here, Ted, I think we can't ignore. It's very politically popular to say we want to get rid of this, and I believe we need to make sure these things are fair. But at the same time, this is not a new issue. This goes back to the Civil Rights era, this is the 1950s when the state of Alabama wanted to compel the list of members of the NAACP. We want to know who your members are. Why would government want to know that? Here we've seen in even more recent examples with the IRS when they have targeted groups. As I've travelled the state, Ted, I have heard from more and more voters and people who want to be involved in the process but are afraid of painting a target on their back if they engage in the process.

Michele Reagan: The Supreme Court did not okay dark money. The Supreme Court okayed unlimited amounts of money being spent on campaigns. The Citizens United decision specifically said unlimited amounts in campaigns will be okay and acceptable because there will be disclosure. And the because there will be disclosure part is very important. It left it up to the states to provide disclosure. Arizona does not have disclosure. And there is where you see the dark money. So I disagree respectfully that the Supreme Court said it's okay to have dark money. What they did say was it's okay to have unlimited amounts of money.

Justin Pierce: Now, I did not say that's what the Supreme Court said. If you read the 1950s decision, it's very clear that the Supreme Court says that it is -- that the right of association and to support a common cause is -- is can be done anonymously.

Michele Reagan: We're not in the 1950s anymore. This is a whole new era.

Wil Cardon: There's a big difference between a corporation coming in and financing a candidate's whole campaign, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of members of NAACP or the founding fathers who were doing things that their life was threatened. There's a huge difference and to equate those two is not apples and oranges. We deserve transparency. And we can do this in this state. In Arizona, we can set up the laws, set up the procedures, to where people or large corporations can't come in and buy candidates.

Ted Simons: Last question, should we set up -- should there be an independent organization or entity that looks out over these kinds of things, public financing?

Justin Pierce: Ted, I think that we go down a wrong path when government starts to play referee on the messages that are being conveyed by these groups. You say it's not the 1950s.

Wil Cardon: But you're not talking about government, you're talking about independent -- we all agree the government shouldn't regulate more.

(Talking over one another)

Justin Pierce: Say somebody wants to support a cause or a candidate or something that is contrary, so let's say, the Obama administration. I've talked to so many people who are scared to death to engage in something like that for fear they will be targeted. They are looking at the IRS situation and they are afraid to engage in the process, and I think we have to protect First Amendment rights.

Ted Simons: Last point on this. You were saying.

Michele Reagan: Just today, I was reading something about the Sunlight Foundation, and it was on their website, how TV stations are now being compelled to disclose many things about ads, and where the donors are coming from. Whether we like it or don't like it, we can disagree or agree on it all day long. The point is that disclosure is coming in other states. It's something Arizona's going to have to look at if people are going to spend money. The public does have the right to know who's paying for it.

Wil Cardon: They deserve to know, we already have to turn in individual donors in our candidacy. There needs to be transparency and accountability. That needs to take place.

Ted Simons: Wil, dual-track voting, is that necessary for Arizona?

Wil Cardon: Unfortunately, it is because the federal government is saying you don't have to produce I.D. and you don't necessarily have to show that you're a U.S. citizen in order to vote. So in Arizona, we're taking the lead, as we often do. You know, it's funny. Everyone complains about Arizona getting bashed all the time, but that's what happens when you're out in front. If you're out in front of a motor cycle, you catch a few bugs in the face.

Ted Simons: Two classes of voters in Arizona. We're taking the lead. It's a good thing, or necessary thing. Do you agree with that?

Justin Pierce: I think it's necessary now, but I don't think it's a good thing. Fortunately, we're only talking about a couple thousand voters. It's easy to play armchair quarterback and say, here are some things that could have been done, should have been done.

Ted Simons: Do it.

Justin Pierce: Well, I think it probably could have been easy to reach out to those 2,000 people and say you've only registered on the federal form. Here's the state form. Will you please register on the state form? The reason it's probably necessary, I will agree with Wil, is that we have are we going to obey the state law or are we going to obey the Supreme Court decision? What I think has to happen is we need critical leadership on this, this is where my legal background, I believe, is critical. This is a legal minefield. And we're going to have to set up a system where we can have the citizenship requirement that is in the state law while not disenfranchising voters, which concerns me. We have a Voting Rights Act problem down the road.

Ted Simons: Is there any proof of fraud coming from impersonation, coming from folks registering with the federal form -- is there any proof of fraudulent voting practices because of it? I'm trying to figure out why a dual-track voting system is necessary for Arizona.

Michele Reagan: Well, fist of all, Arizona is in a very unenviable position, having to comply with two laws that conflict. So we're basically stuck having to come up how do we comply with federal government says we have to do this and a state law that the people voted on and have mandated us, it says we have to do this. We have no choice but to come up with, how do we satisfy both those requirements. Let's be clear on that. I don't see it as two different classes of voters. If one -- those 2,000 people -- and Justin's right -- it is only talking about a very narrow group of people. If those 2,000 people want to have access to the full ballot, all they have to do is show proof of citizenship and they get --

Ted Simons: But they have already registered with the federal form.

Michele Reagan: And what they are doing in other states like Kansas is they have set up a mechanism where at the polls that day, if somebody comes in -- if a poll worker sees they are only eligible to vote on a federal ballot, they could show proof of citizenship and get the other ballot. There's no reason that couldn't be duplicated in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Again, is voter impersonation, is voter fraud such a problem that we need this dual-track?

Wil Cardon: The problem is no one ever knows, do they? Because you can forge a signature, you can do all kinds of things. The potential exists that it is a very large problem. And why not solve it, so you make sure you don't have the problem? The time to build the Ark is before it rains, not after.

Ted Simons: Justin, the idea of political groups, organizations not being able to collect ballots and drop them off at polling places, again, is that necessary? And if so, why? Is there proof of voter fraud and voter impersonation?

Justin Pierce: Actually yes, there is there proof of that. In fact, Michele talked about the bill that ran last year, and that went through. I vice chaired the judiciary committee in the House, and we heard testimony of an individual who showed up at a door wearing a Maricopa County shirt, and said I'm here to collect your ballot. Well, the person's door who he went to actually worked for Maricopa County and said, wait a minute, no, you don't work for Maricopa County. We have testimony that in fact these things are going on. As far as I can tell, we are the only state that allows for this sort of ballot bundling. Now, I believe there is a compromise, and I say compromise in the sense that we want people to have access to the ballot. So it's not that we're saying you can only carry your own ballot and nobody else's. I think there are some limited circumstances where you can carry somebody else's ballot, but it should not be widespread, broad ballot bundling.

Ted Simons: Broad bundling, the idea if you're on the permanent early voting list and if you don't vote early, you're off the permanent voting list. You're very familiar with these concepts.

Michele Reagan: Very familiar.

Ted Simons: Does this encourage more people to vote? And again, is there such fraud going on that these laws are necessary?

Michele Reagan: These kinds of laws are absolutely necessary. As chair of the elections committee, I studied the voting laws of all different states. And our laws are really lacking. And when somebody's -- look, when we go and try to update our laws in Arizona and groups get upset and say, oh, you're trying to suppress the vote, and I point to other states, let's say for instance California, that has these laws and then some, and it's perfectly fine there or it's perfectly fine in Minnesota or 49 other states, why is it so egregious that we would consider having it in Arizona? Collecting thousands of ballots, going door to door is not allowed in any other state in the country. There's a reason for that, because it's creating a system ripe for fraud. Does fraud exist? Just as Wil said, who knows? But why would we have a system where we would invite the potential for fraud? We're talking about ballots, we're talking about voting, and it's unacceptable.

Ted Simons: Okay, we've got to keep moving here. I initially asked you why you and not the others for Secretary of State. Michele, why you, and not these others, qualified to possibly be governor?

Michele Reagan: Again, I go to experience. I go to when I look at people who have been thrust into that position without running for it. You look at someone, for instance, like Jane D. Hall, and she's endorsed my candidacy. She kind of woke up one day and became governor. In talking to her, what got her through it and what made her be able to be a successful governor was her experience in the legislature. It was that she knew how government worked. She knew how a budget worked. She had done several budgets. She knew the various agencies. She knew what kind of people to put around her. That is invaluable experience.

Ted Simons: He's been in the legislature.

Michele Reagan: Well, he's been in the legislature a couple years, yes, that's true. I've been in the legislature 12 years. I also have experience before that of a decade of growing a small business, of working and knowing what -- how it is to grow it and it's something in this environment and this economy and what government can do to hurt that and to help that.

Ted Simons: Alright. It sounds like she has more experience than you, according to her.

Justin Pierce: Of course, according to her, she has more experience. But I don't think you can measure it just purely in years. I'm in my second term, a little more than a couple years, Michele. I think that has been critical experience. But I've also got significant experience in the private sector, as well. This is very similar to my first answer. You put those things together, and I think that's what you need in the office of governor. And somebody frankly who understands, has been on the right side of the issues that are important to Arizonans, and I believe I'm the one that's been on the right side of the issues.

Ted Simons: Two candidates here say that because they have legislative experience they have more experience and are possibly better qualified to be governor than you.

Wil Cardon: That might be more of a disqualifier than a qualifier these days. I like Michele and Justin, they are good people. They go and they try to serve our state very well. But I think right now we need people who are executives, who will step into an office, who understand, who've been signing the front of paychecks, not the back of paychecks. Who haven't built a business 12 years ago, who haven't been in a law firm. But instead being out there in the real world, doing what you do in the real world running as a CEO and as an executive a business, a large business. And that qualifies you I think very much. You can't understand what it's like until you're in the position. Until you're the one having to make hard decisions as an executive, you don't get it. That's why I think my experience is more relevant than anyone with dozens of years in the state legislature. Although, they are fine, quality people. And at the end of this election, I really believe that as Republicans we are going to have to come together. And I think these two will feel the same way against a candidate like Terry Goddard, who's going to be a formidable candidate.

Justin Pierce: I agree with that. I just wanted to insert, because you said real world, being a shareholder and a partner in one of the largest law firms in the country is real world. I've been in the real world, working in the private sector with all of these types of organizations that you're talking about.

Wil Cardon: I think it's great, it's not the same, Justin, I hire lots of attorneys. And it's not the same being the attorney advising someone to do something as the one where the buck stops and you have to make the hard decisions. That's my point.

Ted Simons: Do you agree with that?

Michele Reagan: I think we have very different qualifications and they are all different and they are all equal value in different ways.

Ted Simons: Alright, before we get to closing statements --

Michele Reagan: Is that a nice way to put it?

Ted Simons: Yeah, I'll sort that one out later here. Before we get to closing statements here, very quickly, should a Secretary of State be the state campaign chair for other candidates? Should endorse other candidates?

Justin Pierce: I think we did something recently in a bill where we limited that authority. I think that the Secretary of State needs to maintain a profile in elections that does not create any sort of I would say perception of favoritism toward any particular candidate that's going to be on the ballot there.

Ted Simons: Okay, got to make it quickly here.

Michele Reagan: It was actually one of my bills and passed in the Senate and failed in the house unfortunately. But no, I don't believe they should, and I think it should be a choice that the Secretary of State makes themselves.

Ted Simons: So you don't think they should, but it still should be their choice.

Michele Reagan: I don't think it needs to actually be a law. I think it should be something that the Secretary of State, you know, that's just common sense, That they shouldn't be involved in campaigns.

Ted Simons: Common sense.

Wil Cardon: The Secretary of State should not get involved in something that would compromise there integrity. It's like dark money. It's like anything else. We are tired of elected politicians who get in and have compromises they've made before they are even elected. That should be the same policy there.

Ted Simons: Alright. Each candidate will now give a 1-minute closing statement and going in reverse order of the opening remarks, we start with Justin Pierce.

Justin Pierce: Thank you, Ted, for moderating this debate. Thank you Michele and Wil for being willing to serve. When I considered running for this office, I knew that the most important endorsement that I would have to receive would be that of my wife Courtney. And we spent several weeks discussing and talking about whether I should run for this office. As has been discussed here, one of the constitutional duties of the office is to assume the role of governor if the governor is unable to serve. That is a life-changing proposition. That is a 24-hour-a-day, seven day-a-week, 365-day-a-year situation, making life or death, life and death decisions, making decisions on whether to veto bills and making decisions on policy for the State as a whole. I'm proud to tell you that I have received my wife Courtney's endorsement. And I ask you to make the same decision. If one of us was required to assume the role of governor, who's the most qualified and ready to represent you as the governor? I'm Justin Pierce and I ask you for your vote to be your next Secretary of State. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. For our next closing statement, we turn to Wil Cardon.

Wil Cardon: Ted, thank you for having us tonight, it's nice to be with you. I'm running for Secretary of State, not because I want to be governor, but because I want to be Secretary of State. I believe there are many things we can do to add transparency and accountability to the office. The second thing is the Secretary of State does a lot of business filings that haven't been discussed here tonight. I believe there is a lot of efficiency that could happen in that office, saving the taxpayers' dollars, which is, at the end of the day, what it's all about, serving the citizens of this state. I believe in servant governments, who go out, serve, and then come back home and live under the laws that they've passed. The last thing and final thing is I believe the Secretary of State's office has been underutilized. And we need a Secretary of State that can speak to other businesses and bring businesses back here to this state, that can help be -- because we don't have a lieutenant governor, the lieutenant governor de facto and bring businesses and create a better economy and a better life for those around Arizona. I'm Wil Cardon. I hope I can earn your vote. I appreciate your time and the opportunity to be here.

Michele Reagan: Thank you very much. And our final closing statement, we turn to Michele Reagan.

Michele Reagan: Thank you very much. First of all, I think we're really lucky on the Republican Party ticket to be able to have three really great candidates to choose from. That's not something we can say in all the races. We are very lucky, so thank you very much, to our opponents. And I would like to end by saying that I've had the opportunity when I was in the House of Representatives to serve as the chair of the Commerce Committee, the youngest woman to ever serve as the Commerce Chair in the House. And then I moved over to the Senate and transitioned over there, I was now the chair of the Elections Committee. When you look at the day in, day out job of the Secretary of State, it's a very administrative job. And it mainly focuses on business filings and monitoring the state's election system. If you look at what I did in the House and Senate, it's business and elections, and that's the role of the Secretary of State. Business and elections. So, I'd like to think everything I've done has perfectly tailored me to do a great job as Secretary of State. I humbly ask for your support August 26th.

Ted Simons: Thank you, candidates, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us for this Clean Elections "Vote 2014" debate. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

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