Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon's Journalists' Roundtable, new polls show Doug Ducey and Christine Jones the front-runners in the GOP gubernatorial primary. And accusations fly early and often in the Republican Attorney General primary debate. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on Arizona Horizon.

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

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," Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Jeremy Duda of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

Ted Simons: Recent polls show that many Republican voters are still undecided in the GOP primary for Governor, but among those Republican voters who have made a decision, Doug Ducey and Christine Jones lead the way. I think, according to these polls. There's a poll to show you just about everything. What's going on there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah I mean as you say, there is a poll to sort of show almost everything you want, except I haven't seen one that says that Frank Riggs is leading. But it does appear that this race has become a horse race between Jones and Ducey, but with some of the developments that have happened this past week which we'll talk about in a little bit, it might open up an opportunity for a Scott Smith or a Ken Bennett to move up in the polls.

Howard Fischer: And the one who really can take advantage of this is the guy who's been the, A, the nice guy and B, hasn't been attacked by anybody who is Ken Bennett. One of the interesting things in the polls shows, that among independents, assuming they turn out, he's extremely popular because of the fact he's not leading a nasty campaign and he's perceived as a nice guy. Now, I know the old saying nice guys finished last, it may very well happen in this race, too, but at the rate that Ducey and Jones and Smith are attacking each other may be hard for some folks to vote for any of these people.

Ted Simons: Is Bennett not being attacked because so far, he's not seen as a threat?

Jeremy Duda: I think so. I mean if you want to know who's leading, look at who they're training their fire on. It's Ducey and Jones and their going after each other. We're starting to see a little more on Smith now so maybe he's creeping up. But you haven't seen it on Bennett yet. Of course he has stockpiled all of his money, he doesn't have that much cause he's a Clean Elections candidate, but he stockpiled it all on his first ad today, you know same day early ballots come out. You know so he's hoping that will be enough to make a splash, but if he starts to make a splash, maybe everybody starts training their fire on him instead of just Ducey and Jones and Smith.

Ted Simons: Do we have any indication? Undecided in the behavior research poll that half of the voters are undecided. Do we have any indication at all how they're leaning? Anything?

Mary Jo Pitzl: You mean how voters are leaning?

Ted Simons: The undecideds, yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I haven't seen anything that indicates that.

Ted Simons: Nothing?

Howard Fischer: Now there was a separate poll done by people who support Ducey that suggested a much smaller undecided, but it's still in the 20 some percent range and I think a lot of folks are waiting to be convinced. I think there's two things going on, what they've heard so far has been mainly a negative message. Don't vote for so and so because. And they want to vote for something. And I think that's really the key. And then the other part of it is, I think they would like to wait and see, you know they'll get their early ballots, they'll hang on to them. But it still comes back to the issue of what are you voting for? Are you running for something? I mean as a variation on the question you asked Mark Brnovich, are you running for Attorney General or are you just running against Tom Horne?

Ted Simons: Is that the reason you think there's so many undecided -- It's so negative that really you're just kind of waiting around for something to catch fire and if it's the other guy so be it?

Jeremy Duda: That might be, I mean you know voters have seen so much, at least from a couple of the candidates right now and they're the ones who are going to be sending in their ballots this weekend. The rest of them are going to hold on to them. And you know they might be waiting to see you know a nice guy Bennett or you know a nice guy Smith. We're also seeing an extraordinary number of independents which could potentially play an interesting role in this. You now more independents pulling Republican ballots and I think the total number of independents who voted in the primaries -- both primaries two years ago, and you know Smith indicated to me that he's kind of angling for some of those folks. I know there's a lot of people who feel like more independent turnout in that primary would benefit him because he's viewed as more of the moderate.

Mary Jo Pitzl: However, there was that behavior research poll that came out this week that did show independents are leaning more towards Bennett, sort of in line with what Howie said sort of this nice guy persona and he's not out there you know hammering after his opponents.

Howard Fischer: And then you've got the Andrew Thomas factor. You know, I'm not saying that our good friend Greg Patterson has got a crystal ball about how he's going to pull this out, but you've got a core group in there who see him as the guy who quote stood up to the gay lobby, I didn't remember them being registered, but that's okay, who see him with his little patented line along the border and say they're looking for a basic solution. And these could be high efficacy voters, and they could upset the whole --

Ted Simons: I was going to say if nothing else, a spanner in the works don't you think?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, and you know he could potentially be taking some votes away from someone else, probably, you know, most likely Christine Jones. She's the one who's been beating on this border security and equal immigration drum the longest. Everyone's started doing it now, but she started out with that as like the main pillar of her race. And that's Thomas' issue and always has always been for 12 years, so no one's taking that away from him.

Ted Simons: I want to get to that issue in a second, but we also got an endorsement from Joe Arpaio and he endorsed Doug Ducey. Surprised?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well a little bit if believed - if you saw how much Christine Jones was courting the sheriff for his endorsement to the point that she stood up at a fundraiser and sang a song, she serenaded him and made it very clear that she was looking for his backing. But Sheriff Joe said well, you know, Doug Ducey I think is the guy that can do the job on the border, this most of him endorsement was really focused on the border underscoring that immigration is apparently what's running this race. And mentioned that he's the son of a police officer.

Howard Fischer: Well, let me get into one other thing too, which is how many -- first of all, what are endorsements? But second of all, how many people make endorsements based on who they think will win so they appear to have some strength? You know, at the risk of picking on Mary Jo's boss, that lackluster endorsement of Doug Ducey in last Sunday's Republic was sort of a well, you know, let's see, he doesn't support Common Core which we support, he doesn't support Medicaid expansion which we support, he didn't support the Prop 100 temporary tax which we support, but we're going to back him, anyway.

Ted Simons: Because he's likely to win.

Howard Fischer: Because he's likely to win and I'm wondering a lot of times the endorsement is who's likely to win and that makes me more important.

Ted Simons: There's one more thing at play here with that Arpaio endorsement, isn't there?

Jeremy Duda: There is, a couple of sources told me today is that the Ducey endorsement came down to pretty much one thing. Paul Babeu endorsed Jones and Joe Arpaio is not going to follow and endorsement by Paul Babeu. He views him as a rival, and one of my sources told me that Arpaio actually preferred her, but because of the Babeu endorsement, he decided not to you know follow his suit. You put Joe right here and ask him, he's the number one sheriff in Arizona. You know he's not going to follow another sheriff's footsteps.

Mary Jo Pitzl: So the politics of endorsements, I mean there's politics behind the politics.

Ted Simons: Well let's talk about the endorsement itself, though. Is this the single most important endorsement a Republican running for governor in Arizona can get?

Jeremy Duda: Absolutely. I think polling showed -- you talk to Republican campaign operatives and polling shows, that's really the one endorsement that might move the needle. Even if just a little bit, that could matter in a tight race. Most endorsements you know we pay attention to them, the candidates pay attention to them. Most voters don't care if Ted Cruz or Mike Lee or Scott Walker endorsed Doug Ducey.

Howard Fischer: And let me go a step beyond that. You know everyone would normally think it would be the governor's endorsement. Well, the governor is not liked by certain elements of the party, some of them who will be turning out in force. You know again Medicaid, Common Core, and so that's what makes, if the immigration is the issue du jour, which would make Joe's endorsement much more important.

Ted Simons: How would she - how would the Governor endorse Doug Ducey, when he's - and actually all of them except for maybe Scott Smith and perhaps Ken Bennett, they've all gone on record, here's what I would do, here's what I would do, all things that the Governor, current Governor, hasn't done. Isn't that a de facto criticism?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well I think that's why she's not endorsing.

Ted Simons: Yeah, I mean exactly.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I mean voting has begun and Jan Brewer has endorsed in the Attorney General's race, in the Secretary of State race, in the Treasurer's race, hasn't said anything about school superintendent, but her silence on the Governor's race is telling.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, I think the conventional wisdom of the shoot is that she would back Smith, cause he's the only one who backs her on these controversial issues among Republicans like Medicaid, like Common Core and he'll really stand up for these things, but we haven't heard anything so far and I guess it was also conventional wisdom that the Republic wasn't endorsed Smith too so.

Howard Fischer: Well that comes back to my original point, maybe the Governor's feeling the same way. I want to back somebody who I think is going to win and if she backs Smith and he falls to third or fourth, then that takes wind out of her sails. Remember, this is a woman who wants to continue in power beyond January. She has a federal political action committee, she has a state political action committee, and she wants to remain relevant.

Ted Simons: Well she better make an endorsement soon if she wants to remain relevant.

Howard Fischer: Oh no, I think she can say we have many fine candidates and you should pick between them. See that way you don't back a loser if you don't back a winner.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And if also if you looked at -- if you wanted a sense of where Brewer might endorse, look at who she's endorsing in legislative races. You know you have the Medicaid Republicans. And she's out there for them. She's backing them, her Pac's sending them money and she's doing endorsements for them to sort of protect her legacy. In fact that's the name of her pac. So it would sort of line up for Smith, but it isn't going to happen.

Ted Simons: Doesn't seem like it. But border issues you wrote about this Jeremy, border issues, I thought it was the economy, I thought it was jobs. It's not. I mean border issues, paramount in that GOP primary.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, I thought the main issue of this race would probably be economic growth, jobs as well and when Christine Jones you know came out right out of the gate with the illegal immigration, and border stuff I thought, you know I wonder what she's thinking and then you see what she's thinking is that polling still shows that this is what the voters care about. Everyone else is kind of following suit now, talking about their border plans, who's going to be tougher.

Howard Fischer: But what happened in between has nothing to do with what Arizonans were thinking. Rio Grande valley got overwhelmed with 50,000 unaccompanied minors and several thousand of them wound up here, being flown in, being bussed in. That made it an Arizona issue. I mean, I love the folks who were going to say I will be on the border between Arizona and Mexico stopping the buses. Never mind they were flying over, but we will leave that aside, but that's what made it an issue. It's some type, look, same thing. What made Jan Brewer's second term? Senate bill 1070, immigration, she had an issue handed to her.

Ted Simons: High ground poll, immigration among Republican voters number one at 63%, the economy, number two at 21%.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think as Howie points out, I think a lot of that is driven, that big gap there, a lot of that's driven by current events. And people conflating these refugee kids who are seeking refuge with you know illegal border crossers coming across in the dark of night over the Arizona, Mexico border.

Ted Simons: Back to my original point though, when we were talking about here the de facto criticism of the Governor. It would seem like Smith, if these numbers are true, it hurts smith the most and yet it helps those who are you know basically saying they're going to do stuff they can't do.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, everyone has these plans. But the problem is a lot of these aren't really very realistic and Smith likes to point this out and say well if you were going to send the national guard and build fencing, you're basically saying Jan Brewer hasn't done her job. I spoke with the Governor's office the other day, and they'll tell you there's a good reason they haven't done these things. The national guard A, is expensive, B, they can't even operate on the border cause that's federal and tribal land, you need permission that you're not going to get, they can't actually enforce federal law, unless they're you know sent down by the feds or get federal permission, which they're also not going to get. You know people who are operating you know 100 miles back from the border who can't apprehend everyone, and if you do, you just turn them over to the feds who the Governor's office says ehh they turn them loose, anyway.

Howard Fischer: Yeah, and that doesn't stop this. Look the U.S. House is meeting tonight to talk about a border bill which will give states money to put their national guard on the border. It's one of those nice solutions, the boots on the ground. It's a feel-good solution.

Ted Simons: All right, so immigration is number one, but that still doesn't stop the negative attacks. We've got the Ducey business deal question when he sold his Cold Stone Creamery and offered a job to an Attorney that was involved in an -- what was that all about?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well I don't think it was a job offer per se. But after this televised debate between the GOP candidates came up, Christine Jones went after Ducey for the sale of Cold Stone Creamery to the successor company and some problems with that. And somewhere in the scrum of that out comes this e-mail from an attorney who represented the new -- who helped negotiate the deal for the new owner Kahala, and Ducey apparently called this attorney a couple of days after the televised debate and just you know said that he would look forward to certainly introducing himself and look forward to working with him in his administration.

Howard Fischer: Yeah, what's coincident, you know Ducey says I've been talking to a lot of business people. I just happened to call a lot of attorneys these days curiously enough and everything being linked to everyone else, the abuse is involved in fact with the whole Cardon blow up too so who knows what's real anymore?

Jeremy Duda: He's also involved with Jones. He's given Christine Jones money. Jones used to work for his law firm and he also was Andy Thomas' lawyer. So this kind of shows you what a small world Arizona politics can be sometimes.

Ted Simons: A small and confusing world, you lost me about three sentences ago. Christine Jones goes on a conference call to address some of the criticisms against her regarding whether she thinks Hillary Clinton are -- what.

Howard Fischer: Well one of the things that Ms. Jones is learning is something that every teenage, a lesson for every teenager. If it goes up on the worldwide web, it stays on the worldwide web. I mean this goes back to, you know, congratulating Barack Obama or even saying something nice about Hillary Clinton. You know what's really unfortunate is the atmosphere has become so toxic that saying something nice about a political foe is a death sentence among your own party, which is really sad. Look there are a lot of things to be said about Benghazi, what should have been done. Her point I think in talking about Hillary Clinton is it's a difficult job, and Hillary is doing what she can and yet now that's going to be used against her. And that's really unfortunate.

Jeremy Duda: But she says, you know she kind of backtracks from the statements, too, and, you know, I don't blame her considering how much flack she's taken. But she actually said oh I didn't mean she was a good secretary of state. I just meant good compared to those other clowns in the Obama administration. But it doesn't say that. When you run a 30-second ad with those quotes, which people have against Jones, there's going to be no mention of that. You know like they like to say in politics, if you're explaining you're losing.

Howard Fisher: Exactly, and it comes down again to the point that opposition research, the Internet has made it a lot easier. Anybody who watches the Daily Show finds them coming up with 20-year-old film clips. If you said it, it's going to be out there, and it's going to come back to bite you in the derriere.

Ted Simons: All right, speaking of getting bitten in the derriere, there was a lot of biting going on in the Attorney General's debate between Attorney General Horne and Mark Brnovich. Howie, this was go get 'em from the get-go and what did you make of this?

Howard Fischer: Well, it was interesting in the sense that Horne I think realized that his only defense is I've been a good Attorney General. But he was lackluster about it. He didn't push it. I mean, if I'm Tom Horne sitting in the seat and Mark Brnovich is attacking me, I say well exactly how many cases have you tried in front of the supreme court Mr.Brnovich? Or exactly how many times have you stood up for women in Colorado City? Instead it was this sort of bland I've done this, I've done that. And while Brnovich was going for the jugular, and so I don't know that Horne did himself any favors.

Jeremy Duda: Well Horne's trying to put this stuff out there, but it just shows you how bad his problems are. Everything keeps coming back. You know there's so many scandals at this point. And he tries to deflect one, here comes another one. He's trying -- It's always going to come back to that because, you know, people don't like the answers they're hearing to that. Oh so it's the liberal media, well maybe you can blame the conspiracy for one, but two, three, four, five, there's so many things flying around at this point.

Howard Fischer: I love the liberal media blame in the middle of all that. Although he specifically said Ted, I like you.

Ted Simons: Well that was very very impressive.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But you would think that, you know if your saying that his defense is that I'm a good Attorney General, and to cite you know accomplishments in that office, that should be enough, but he's lapped himself by you know having all of these scandals, the investigations and there does seem to be you know a story about every week, now that we're into this investigative phase, there's a new filing, a new prosecutor.

Ted Simons: But we have talked, I mean for months we have said he needs to get this stuff put to bed, quiet and move on. But he hasn't.

Howard Fischer: But he's not.

Mary Jo Pitzl: He keeps it going.

Ted Simons: Well that's my point, he hasn't and we said if he doesn't this is going to go up right to election time. It's gone up right to election time.

Howard Fischer: Look, there's a hearing on the 5th in Superior Court where he's trying to disqualify Bill Montgomery looking into the current allegations about using his office.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There's a hearing on August 11th.

Howard Fischer: August 11th, where he's challenging the authority of the Clean Elections commission. See he's thinking like a lawyer, which is the problem. He's saying I will beat them in court. Meanwhile, the court of public opinion is basically saying I'm sorry, we don't care.

Jeremy Duda: He can win all of these cases before August 26th, it's not really going to matter and there's a good number of them out there.

Ted Simons: But in the debate in general, is Brnovich proving to be a qualified candidate for Attorney General? I mean Horne sat here right there and said you're a minor leaguer.

Jeremy Duda: Well in terms of fundraising I mean certainly he's been a minor leaguer, and it's been stunning to me that of all of Horne's problems Brnovich couldn't -- he's only raised $120,000 or so, which you know Horne's isn't much better, but you know Brnovich's problem is that nobody has ever heard of him. He's got the name that's missing a vowel, you know he's not up on TV. No one's heard of the guy, but what he's got going for him is that everyone's heard of Tom Horne, but most of the things they heard are not good.

Howard Fischer: This comes back to the point that he was making earlier, are you running for Attorney General or are you running against Tom Horne and I think the answer is the latter. You know he does have a background. He has been a federal prosecutor. I got to know him a little bit then, I got to know him more heading into the department of gaming, but most people don't get in the middle of the department of gaming. He needed to be out there doing the things that Horne was trying to do saying here are the cases I've handled, not just I've prosecuted cases in federal and state court. Yeah, okay. And again, there's nothing affirmative. It's just I'm not Tom Horne and you should vote for me.

Ted Simons: Very quickly, last thing on the debate. You were here for this and you saw Brnovich and Horne, Brnovich came on pretty strong and Horne at one time said we don't want an Attorney General who can't keep his temper, quit bellowing at me I think he said at one point. Can you be a little too tough on Tom Horne?

Howard Fischer: No, I think that -- Horne has a very flat affect no matter what, whether he's you know pounding the table or not, it's the same sort of monotone voice. If you're in Brnovich's position and if your campaign is I'm not Tom Horne, then you've really got to go for the jugular.

Ted Simons: Okay, speaking of debates, last night we had the Republican primary debate for congressional district nine, Andrew Walter and Wendy Rogers. Your impressions?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not ready for primetime. It was very interesting because Wendy Rogers has been around the block before. She ran last time so she's had some exposure as a candidate, but she seemed unsure of how to present herself. Walter as a first time candidate, what did he bring to the table? Lots of football references, and he found that Wendy Rogers misspelled her name on a campaign form. You know, I don't know if that's going to light a fire under a lot of Republican voters in CD-9.

Howard Fischer: I mean it really is fascinating. You see if I'm Kyrsten Sinema, I take that 28 minutes and I save it and I put it in a little box and I trot that out during the general election campaign no matter who wins and say this is what these people are about, watching them attack each other because it was down to nitty-gritty. You didn't file your campaign disclosure on time. His response, well but I filed an extension, her response but I didn't see it, he said well that's why I filed an extension. I mean, this is what it came down to. I mean, I was surprised that you didn't pull out an AR-15 and shoot both of them last night.

Ted Simons: Thank you Howie, that's a pleasure to hear. But you know it is interesting to see -- it just -- it was an odd debate. It just felt like -- it was one of those where I did not necessarily feel in control as a moderator.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well as a viewer, I didn't get a sense that they were really well grounded in the federal issues. You know I mean immigration really is a federal issue, you know. Notwithstanding what all these Governor candidates were talking about and there seemed to be some uncertainty, well what's in Matt Salmon's bill? And Andrew Walter seemed to know the number of the bill, but maybe not a lot of provisions.

Jeremy Duda: Maybe it's probably going to be a pretty irrelevant debate in the end, cause I mean even a year ago, most Republicans I talked to were writing off CD-9 saying Sinema is too strong, that's why you don't see stronger candidates running against them, I don't know, or running against her. I don't think Republicans really even care who wins the primary, cause I mean it looks like you know Sinema is going to cruise, and you know obviously no one better is running. The top people that Republicans view in that area as top tier candidates, they stayed out of this. Vernon Parker, you know, started to run again and he dropped out to run for corporation commission.

Ted Simons: Right, speaking of which, I haven't got enough time for half of this, but what's going on with solo protesters outside of APS? APS money, what is going on out there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well what you have is this big divide on the GOP primary for corporation commission. You have two teams and one team, are being supported by the Free Enterprise Club and another group called Save our Future Now and Lucy Mason and Vernon Parker, the other Republican team, are being advocated for defeat by the Free Enterprise club and this other group. And this all leads, since these are dark money groups they're nonprofit corporations that don't have to disclose donors. It led to all kinds of speculation. About well, so where's the club? Where are these groups getting their money from? Hmm hmm you know the corporation commission, could it be the state's largest utility?

Howard Fischer: And what's fascinating is that sometimes in prior years, when APS has been asked have you given to something, they've denied. This has been sort of the non-denial non-denial, which makes you wonder because corporations cannot give directly to candidates, but they can give to other groups, think Citizens United, which can give to candidates, which you know suggests that perhaps do they want certain people elected who they think will be more friendly toward their idea of what solar power should be than perhaps Lucy Mason and Vernon Parker who have an idea, who are backed by this tusk, the you know -

Jeremy Duda: Solar utilities won't - Solar won't be killed.

Howard Fischer: I know, I loved when they come up with the acronyms first and the idea that perhaps if you know if Vernon Parker and Lucy Mason are in there, they may in fact tell APS you will buy back their power.

Ted Simons: But this is an elected position. Voters are going to vote on this. Do they -- Are people keeping up with it? It's hard enough to keep up with it when you're supposed to keep up with it.

Jeremy Duda: I don't know I mean this is such a low-profile race, and more high profile then it has been because of this, you know the dark money accusations, and then the allegations against APS in this race and other races, the Secretary of State's race as well where same group Free Enterprise Club is spending a lot of money to help the son of, to help Justin Pierce whose father who's on the Corporation Commission has done APS a few good turns in the last couple of years.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But on the Corporation Commission, I think the message you know because it's a down-ballot race and the message is coming out in favor, is that they're going to fight Obama. It's you know so its Anti-Obama is you know the flavor of the campaign season. If you're doing that, everybody you know everybody is running, any Republican is running on that. So you wonder if that's going to tip the balance.

Ted Simons: All right. We've got to stop it right there, good to have you here, thanks for joining us. Monday on Arizona Horizon, find out what you need to know before taking part in the early voting process, and we will look at how the latest genomics research is impacting the future of medicine. That's Monday evening right here on Arizona Horizon. 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.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services; Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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