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, Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Alia Rau of the "The Arizona Republic." Maricopa County Superior Court judge orders Arizona to immediately increase public school funding, first payment $317 million.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is no surprise. Judge Cooper when she ruled back in July on the payment, it was pretty clear that was the number. She just had to make her order final and make the clear, gotta put the money out now.

Ted Simons: And talk about this money, why it has to be put out and put out now.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Because -- Well, because she said so. And because the Supreme Court found they did not properly fund the schools for inflation during -- for four years running. So this is an agreement that has that number been agreed to by schools and state officials. Where the money comes from is for the legislature to decide.

Mike Sunnucks: Adjustments for inflation have come back to roost. The legislature has played a game of chicken on this, and they have done this on some other things, and they have lost some. This is a big loss, they will have to deal with this next year and years to come.

Alia Rau: $500 million over five years, and we still have to have the conversation about an additional $1.3 billion in retroactive payments that could be added on top of that. When she says immediately, our immediately and the legislature's immediately, there's some debate as to whether this would need to be done during a special session this year, much more likely they will probably just push it off to when the session starts next session.

Ted Simons: So it's immediate as far as when you get to it.

Ted Simons: Well, it's the school year.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's got to happen this budget year. Boy, won't that be a nice first task for the governor and new legislature to do.

Ted Simons: And what can they do? The rainy day fund there is for starters, what can they do?

Alia Rau: That can cover it for the first full year and probably a little bit more. That's probably the easiest thing to do. Democrats are talking about maybe we need to roll back some of those tax can touts businesses; maybe we need a tax hike to look at.

Ted Simons: But that's not going to happen.

Mike Sunnucks: No, that would have to go through the voters. The Republicans are such an ideological box on taxes and spending. Now they are kind of paying the price for that. Where are they going find it? Rainy day fund for the first year or so. After that they have to look at stuff. I think the voters would probably approve a sales tax hike if it was just for schools. When you start to muddy the waters it gets confusing to people and they vote no on things. That's not going to come from the Republicans most likely, it has to come from the voters or the interests behind it.

Ted Simons: Is that something that's being talked out? What's being talked about out there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There isn't a lot of talk because the options are very unpleasant. There's still hope maybe the economy would move along and produce more revenue. But we've seen pretty slow recovery from the recession, and that's not going to happen. So you've gotta think, we've asked the gubernatorial candidates what their plans are and mostly it was pretty much very broad statements, you know, Doug Ducey said the one thing he won't do is raise taxes. If he wins his primary and ultimately becomes governor you're not going get him to sign off on any kind of tax increase referred from the legislature to the people. Mike

Sunnucks: I think the first year they will use the rainy day fund and use the supply side economics, we're we're going grow our way out of these things. If that doesn't work, other things, social services will go. I can't see them increasing revenue unless it comes from the voters.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They just created this new Department of Child Safety and pledged they were going to fully fund it, recognizing that that heightened funding needs to happen for a number of year until they dig out of a hole they dug into with all these child welfare cases that did not get investigated. We're back into this horrible cycle.

Ted Simons: What kind of timetable are we looking at?

Alia Rau: An appeal is likely. So I mean, if they can convince a judge they need a stay, halt it, that could give them another year or so. But the courts have been consistent on how they have ruled and they need to pay this money back.

Ted Simons: You may get another year but the courts are saying you can take all the time -- you're going to have to pay this back. And again, you have to start at the new normal as opposed to where you froze it for four years.

Mike Sunnucks: This could be a blessing for the state. Historically low in education per-pupil funding. This increases that. The business community has pushed for these types of things before. There are a lot of people who support these types of things. The folks at the legislature haven't always been on board.

Ted Simons: The Governor's quote was this would be absolutely devastating to the state. We'll keep an eye on that one.

Alia Rau: It'll be front and center when they come back to work in January.

Ted Simons: Okay. Speaking of education, John Huppenthal wants $ million from the Feds to pay to educate refugee kids, a few days before the election.

Mike Sunnucks: It's part of his strategy, he needs Republican primary voters, conservatives. They have been up in arms over the open border. They are worried about the amnesty orders that could come from the President, the Dreamers coming in.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Mike, are you saying this is all to do with the election?

Mike Sunnucks: I think it may be just a little bit, just a smidge.

Alia Rau: He did bring this up several years ago in the legislature, it's not new for him, you have to say that.

Mike Sunnucks: And they are going to go register for school. How dare they do that!

Ted Simons: And so again, there's more -- where is that money going to be coming from, says John Huppenthal.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And that's training the spotlight back on the federal government. But the numbers are just pulled out of thin air. Where are these numbers coming from? And as for the children who perhaps came to this country illegally, they are already in our school system. We're already paying for them.

Alia Rau: The Supreme Court says we have to. Is no if, and/or but the about that.

Ted Simons: Basically when they get here we teach them and find a way to teach them. Huppenthal says give me more money, a week before the election. Does this impact the election?

Mike Sunnucks: He's having approval after the blog posts and previous common core stance. He's struggling and is now opposed to common core, major parts of it. He's brought up immigration and the border issues so he's trying to appeal that. He's trying to save maybe a leaky ship.

Ted Simons: Without getting really good solid polling -- we've had a lot of polling oh from folks who want to see their candidates do well, is it a way to figure out who's not doing very well? Can you do that kind of math?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's watch what I do, not what I say. So when you see -- we've heard that Ducey has been doing some targeted voter outreach in Tucson. Very specific, just to one part of the state. That tells you maybe he wants to shore up his base there. Why? Well, if he's strong every place else, why do you need to worry about that? Likewise, saying all these migrant kids are bringing ebola, which will animate a certain segment of voters, it'll tell you a certain something about that candidate, as well.

Ted Simons: And that was Tobin's suggestion. Tobin sounds like he still has some work to do.

Mike Sunnucks: I think people thought Tobin was the chosen one, the one taking on Kirkpatrick with a good chance of winning that race. It's close. So yeah, he's got to challenge there. And I think on Huppenthal, this race shouldn't have been in the spotlight at all. Now he's out there with pretty bold statements and maybe statements of desperation. When you start to talk ebola, you're getting out there a little bit.

Ted Simons: And again, talking about Republican candidates for the most part, Republican campaigning here. The idea of the Governor getting as involved as she is in these races, these primary races, how unusual is that?

Alia Rau: From what we've heard it's extremely unusual, and not just -- well, she had said she would support the folks who supported her Medicaid expansion. I think what people have seen as unusual is her coming in and supporting candidates of the incumbent whose opposed her Medicaid expansion. That's where people have really kind of taken offense.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'm trying to tip my brain as to the last time we saw the Governor and sort of picking and choosing. Her argument is look, we want to make sure we leave the state in common sense hands. These are her common sense candidates. It's not good enough to just defend the Republicans who voted for Medicaid expansion but she wants to broaden that coalition.

Ted Simons: And she wants to preserve her legacy, as well. Critics say she's more concerned about her legacy than the Republican Party.

Mike Sunnucks: The Medicaid debate was so contentious and nasty, it left a lot of hurt feelings on both sides. And there's kind of a civil war between the Republican Party, between the moderates and business community and Tea Party social conservative crowd. And Jan has ended up on that side. When she took office, I don't think we saw her being this kind of activist legacy-type governor. But she's really turn into that. Part of it is situational. She didn't see past governors, more care takers, quieter. She's taken on that role in the second part of her term.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What does that -- what kind of weight does her endorsement bring? We made a lot about the fact that she is taking this unusual step of endorsing within her own party's primary. But is that going sway voters? She's got money she's putting behind it, which is very convincing and perhaps could move some votes. I just don't know with those primary voters what that means.

Ted Simons: That's the key: It's the primary voters. And usually more often than not the primary voters are the truer believers and perhaps more conservative or liberal in the aisles. In this case conservative. Vindictive, unbecoming of the governor, these folks are not happy with her. How much is she helping those candidates?

Alia Rau: I think the question is how do the independents play in this. Typically in the primary we have seen either end. How are they going to vote, how many of them are going to vote. I could see them going her direction.

Ted Simons: I would imagine with Democrats shifting, they haven't got anything to vote for come primary day. But they can go in as independents or Democratic leaning independents and make a mess.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's all about turnout. Do independents and moderates and voters turn out? Even Brnovich is very kind of scurvtive but he's appealing to younger Republicans, moderate Republicans, because of Horne's baggage. And how much does Arpaio's endorsement of Ducey and Horne help in those races and help turnout? The Democratic party is weak, they don't have any chamber of the legislature, none of the statewide offices. All the debate is on the Republican side right now.

Ted Simons: If you're an independent, I should say, and you lean Democrat, I would imagine you're going to go Republican on the ballot, aren't you? The Governor wants to preserve her legacy and extend what she's done intact. Could the Governor's legacy be a further divided GOP?

Alia Rau: Definitely. Her own legacy is kind of divided. Who would have thought the author of SB 1070 would be the moderate in this whole election. People are saying she could completely further the divide between these two parts of party.

Ted Simons: That could be a legacy, couldn't it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think that could set the stage for a very interesting party election come January when the Republican Party picks leadership. Will Robert Graham run again. But there might be a big healing role there, somebody's going to have to emerge if these primaries wind up with mixed results. They have to at least attempt to be a healer.

Ted Simons: Is the current governor going to be that person? Who leads the Republican Party right now?

Mike Sunnucks: It's kind of a vacuum, kind of splintered. You point to the governor and her crowd and the establishment of business communities, it probably lines up behind them. They would line up behind Scott Smith a little more. The sheriff is still a pretty powerful guy, even show he's older and has stepped back a little bit. His endorsement would certainly help Ducey, especially compared to Christine Jones.

Ted Simons: Okay, before we get to this kind of a look-see at the probably coming up here, what's this Bob Robbson thing with the signs? What's going on here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Representative Bob Robbson from Chandler is one of the Medicaid Republicans. He's one of those lawmakers who did stand with brewer and voted for Medicaid expansion, and has therefore a target on his back from the right wing of his party. And they see an opening here. There's been -- it happens in a lot of the campaigns, there's some chicanery going on with campaign signs. A precinct committeeman provided video footage, very seeing may be rather choppy, that purports to show Robson being involved in sign theft. The problem is that the videos don't actually catch the actual act. Somehow, some way, they were able to convince two Maricopa County sheriff's deputies to take a look at this and write up a citation. He's been cited with two counts of tampering with campaign signs and that is a court date.

Mike Sunnucks: They said, you know, keep it coming if you've got it. There's not enough evidence here to charge.

Ted Simons: If state law says you can't take political candidate's sides, are they sides or just an arrow pointing at something?

Mike Sunnucks: I think Harry Mitchell had this, too, it'll be whether this counts as a campaign sign or something else. I think the P.R. is a bad thing to be accusationed of pulling out signs. This close to the election it's probably not good to be seen as doing that.

Ted Simons: But the sign said voted for Obamacare. That's not even accurate. He can't vote for Obamacare.

Mary Jo Pitzl: He took advantage of a provision of Obamacare which allowed states to expand Medicare.

Mike Sunnucks: I just shows you things with Harry Mitchell and Bob, kind of a nice guy, how fragile is -- the egos are. They put themselves out to run for office, but they are very sensitive at their score sometimes. I think a lot of them take those things very personally, each show it's a part of the game. And it shows the fragileness.

Ted Simons: Was this going on with Holman signs, too? What was involved with that one?

Alia Rau: This is a video and this is the treasurer's race that Jess DeWitt released that appears to look like Holman is putting his signs in front of the DeWitt sign Secretary of State nobody can see the DeWitt signs. Some are saying Homan was putting them up, and he said no, he was taking them down. He had gotten a phone call, there's a problem with one of your signs can you deal with on this corner. That happened to be the corner that was videotaped. Holman's lawyer sent a letter to DeWitt's lawyer saying take down the video, or maybe they will sue. Who knew signs could be so dramatic?

Ted Simons: They are a very effective part of the landscape. Can someone do a certified on that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I haven't researched that. But if you you get a name sort of ingrained in your brain, that's probably going to subliminally make an impact. But more importantly, creating the fracases over the signs, two charges against a sitting lawmaker in a court -- which by the way, his attorney went to the justice court to file his notice of appearance, and that citation of Robson had not yet been filed, so even though it had been four days.

Ted Simons: We'll get back to the primary. Not a moment too soon on Tuesday. What do you see out there, trends, let's start with the governor's races. Is it still Ducey's to lose?

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of questions have been done and Ducey has led polls, from anybody else disputing that. Smith has got some momentum. Everything shows Ducey ahead. I think unless we see this upsurge of new voters, younger voters, moderates that don't usually turn out in Republican primaries, that would really be significant.

Ted Simons: He's the odds-on favorite and you've got to think that the Thomases of the world, Jones, if you believe the polling, they all must be taking more from Ducey than from Smith.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think one you should be looking for is the Andrew Thomas vote. Not very. He's been using his campaign funds very wisely with some very targeted commercials.

Mike Sunnucks: I could see it being a real factor. He has these ads on Fox News running saying he's the only one who supported 1062, and he supports the particular family. That could hurt the suit. You look at the LDV votes, Smith and Bennett voters are in the top four. Do they go there because they think Smith has a chance?

Ted Simons: As far as the other races, we have two incumbents in Huppenthal and Tom Horne. They have races on their hands. This is close bits.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Better than issues going on what interests their owe feature, or don't have a lot of statewide name I.D. And Huppenthal, Horne, they have been out there for four years holding press conferences, et cetera. Some of those things for which they are being tarred aren't necessarily negative in some voters' minds.

Mike Sunnucks: The media -- Brnovich is going to be dependent on moderates who want somebody a little cleaner in there than Tom. There are independents and moderates who just want Huppenthal in there.

Ted Simons: And almost lost it all this week. Courts ruled the Clean Elections Commission can investigate Tom Horne, even though he was not a Clean Elections candidate. We're finding out how much do efforts for cases impact your campaign. Clean Elections can have some say.

Alia Rau: If you're running with your own money, they still have oversight, they can watch your behavior and people can still file complaints. Somebody considered a little more independent watching these guys.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It was last year there was a proposal in the legislature to turn over the whole handling of any elections complaints to the Clean Elections Commission. That whole equation is turned upside down now. The Clean Elections Commission, they are appointed and not accountable to anybody.

Ted Simons: We shall see. Next time we meet, general election stories will abound. Thank you all for being here.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Alia
Rau:Journalist, Arizona Republic;

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