Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, we'll talk about several debates held this week for state and national offices, and we'll look ahead at the governor's debate, which will be held Monday here on "Arizona Horizon." The journalists' roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: "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: Jeremy Duda of "The Arizona Capitol Times," Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Bob Christie of The Associated Press. This week "Arizona Horizon" hosted several spirited and at times heated debates for a variety of state and national offices. We'll start with the matchup for Arizona's first congressional district. And Jeremy, this was both spirited and heated at times.

Jeremy Duda: That it was. Both candidates were really on the attack. Tobin is using the traditional playbook, trying to tie his opponent to Obamacare, this is a mid-term election where the president's party isn't expected to do well and Kirkpatrick tried to present herself as a real centrist, moderate. She did stick with her guns on some of the liberal core issues like Obamacare.

Howard Fischer: What's important, of course, is that both of them have records. Now from Andy Tobin's record, she voted to close Gitmo, which is going to mean terrorists are coming here to Arizona. She responded you nearly lost us the Super Bowl. Both of them found themselves on the defensive of having to justify much more nuanced votes than they really were.

Bob Christie: She used the 1062 thing two different times during the debate, that's an effective attack against Andy Tobin. He brought that bill, it came over from the Senate and in 24 hours it was on the way to the governor's office. And she's going to try to hold him accountable for that. He's going to try to hold her accountable for the Affordable Care Act.

Ted Simons: That's interesting because she didn't back down at all, she said yes, it helps people in my district.

Jeremy Duda: She said it's not perfect, it needs some changes, but she stuck with her guns on that, and it's surprising. If you remember her first term and her first re-election when she got defeated, she got a lot of flak from the left for really running away from the democratic base on a lot of things and you would figure much like Sinema or barber, you would try to stick to the center, but she's seemed to have decided to embrace the left.

Howard Fischer: Let's also talk about the fact that Obamacare doesn't have the sting it once did. I think a lot of people are saying well yeah, the world has not come to an end. In fact, the hospitals are reporting we're getting less uncompensated care. And so all the talk about how the whole place was going to collapse, it hasn't.

Ted Simons: Yet in the debate, Tobin said it's making finding a doctor harder and healthcare costs are rising.

Bob Christie: That's right, and she pushed back and said they're not rising as much and more importantly she pointed to a really critical part of this district, which is the Native American population. She said one of the things Obamacare did was make the Indian health service permanent which is a huge deal.

Jeremy Duda: That's going to be a huge source of votes for Kirkpatrick. Tobin had a poll that showed him up by eight points and the first thing the Democrats pointed to this vastly under samples American Indians.

Howard Fischer: Look, the fact is it is marginally now a democratic district. We know the pinto democrats tend to skew conservative. But Kirkpatrick has come back and she's justified her votes. She's had some good advertising. These are my boots I bought with my college savings. It's an odd moment particularly since you couldn't see the boots within the frame, but in her commercial, the same sort of thing that she's come across as common sense, I've lived here, and then, of course, the zinger on the end, which is if you want to talk about representative government, here's a guy who doesn't even live in the district and can't even vote for himself.

Bob Christie: This district, I talked to the house majority leader Kevin McCarthy, and they're pumping a lot of money into this race, National Republicans. They have committed $3 million to this race. Democrats committed a couple million. You know it's competitive. Andy Tobin has had a hard time fundraising and Kirkpatrick has 1.3 in the bank. What you might tonight look at in this race is last time, Kirkpatrick won by 3.5% points and there's no libertarian this time around.

Ted Simons: Yeah, so as far as what you're seeing with this race, is it pretty much a tossup right now? What are you thinking?

Jeremy Duda: It looks like it. Six months ago, I would have said Kirkpatrick's dead in the water along with most vulnerable democrats nationwide, but after that primary where you had Tobin and his two opponents, none of whom impressed anyone and Tobin got dragged across the finish line at $300,000 in outside spending. He limped into that general election. Both national parties will spend a lot. National Republicans are running joint ads with Tobin, which I think a lot of people are viewing as a sign of his fundraising troubles.

Howard Fischer: I think she comes across very well. She presented herself very well in this debate. One-on-one she does okay looking at the camera in her commercials, she comes across, and I think that a lot of folks in the district say she's one of ours.

Bob Christie: And of all the three competitive districts tonight, this one relies less on TV than the rest because of its vast nature and it's all rural. The rest of the district sure is.

Ted Simons: We had the corporation commission debate; we had basically a team of Republicans against Democrats. Got a little lively once APS was mentioned and got quite lively.

Howard Fischer: What was interesting, they all agreed well solar is good, although how much subsidy should be and for a while watching the debate I was saying oh, my god I don't have a story here until the question came up about the save our state now and the other outside funding. And the Democrats said look, you know, our opponents here are basically being bought by aps and that's who you want which led to them saying I'm insulted that anyone would say we can't get support without APS. They've issued the non-denial statement, we've been attacked by the tusk group, so we feel the need if we have to, to defend ourselves.

Ted Simons: And the Democrats, obviously, this is a major point. How much does it hurt the Republicans for APS to say nothing?

Bob Christie: It could have hurt them a lot. The problem for Doug little is that and tom was asked this and I asked him this the other day when I ran into him, why don't you stand and up say don't spend this money for me? He said that would be coordination, I can't do it. I don't know if he would be sued for that. And for the voters, it puts out a pretty clear choice between that's the way the democrats are framing it, framing themselves as the consumer party, the people who will actually stand up for the consumers versus the big bad APS people.

Jeremy Duda: He proclaimed I can't be bought, but if the democrat can hammer that message a lot? Even if you can't tie aps to this because of the non-denial denial, if everyone keeps staying, you don't have to prove anything. But the problem for the Democrats is it's so far down ballot, so little money they have on their side. Even with all the news coverage of the APS and dark money, is the going to be enough?

Howard Fischer: And, of course, talk about, you know, you've got a problem with your race when the Arizona republic listed him as Gary Little instead of Doug, which suggests that perhaps you're not exactly catching fire in terms of folks who know who you are.

Ted Simons: And you had the republic splitting the party there as far as their endorsement.

Bob Christie: When I got done, when the debate was over, I sat back and I said if I was just judging, I would say actually little and Jim Hall were the democrat. The republic, just the interaction, that's what I would have walked away from if I had a dog in the race.

Ted Simons: Do you see this as Little's to see lose?

Jeremy Duda: Pretty much. Once again, down ballot race, Republican states, they've got the right letter next to their name and the Democrats aren't going to have their clean elections candidate. They don't have the money to get that message out and their message has gone out a lot. Probably not enough to sway the race.

Howard Fischer: We've already seen that save our states that come back with another message in favor of Doug Little, but your point is right, but I think with a very little bit of money you can send a very simple message. If you love what aps is doing for you, vote for the Republicans and if you can keep hammering that home as a democrat that will make a big difference, there's going to be at least one more utility bills coming in.

Ted Simons: So as far as the debate is concerned, do you think the Democrats did enough?

Jeremy Duda: Probably not. The main group doing -- [ Indiscernible ] It's a Republican group. And I haven't spoken to them about this race. Asking them about the governor's race, Ducey won't take a position, well, we're a Republican group. We're not going to support a democrat.

Howard Fischer: Back to your question, did they do enough? I would have -- I know you like people you're interviewing to actually answer the questions you're asking them. I would have said that's interesting, but let me tell you about aps and I would have made every question, every answer about aps, about the utilities and who's buying them. They didn't hammer that home enough.

Ted Simons: We'll see if they start hammering it home even more. Another debate, we had this one last night. Was it last night? The debates are starting to roll together. Superintendent of public instruction. Kind of a curious debate here between Garcia and Douglas. Talk to us about it.

Jeremy Duda: Speaking of referring every question back to one particular issue, you know, obviously Diane Douglas is the anti-common core candidate. It's how she won the Republican primary with an assist from the incumbent's own problems, but she says that's a referendum on common core, trying to make the general election the same thing. What's interesting about this is Diane Douglas is pretty much not seen in public since that primary. She's pretty much disappeared from view, unless you go to a lot of Tea Party rallies.

Ted Simons: Do we know why?

Jeremy Duda: It feels like the general consensus that people feel like, you know, if she talks, she could only hurt herself. The Democrats are trying to paint her as an extremist. Not a lot of faith in her abilities and I don't see why not. She handled herself fairly well.

Howard Fischer: But you get down to the details. For example, she talked last night about state trust lines as a solution. I caught up with her afterwards, you didn't get time in the 24 minutes here to do that and I said wait a second, we've got 9 million acres, but you don't put a for-sale on it, and the other half of it is that assuming you sell the trust land, that doesn't go to the schools, it goes to the trust and the schools get the interest. And it's those details and she disagreed with me and she walked away.

Ted Simons: Do you think she takes complicated things like state land trusts and tries to simplify them or sees them in a simple way?

Bob Christie: I think she sees everything back to we need local control, we don't need the federal government telling us how to teach our kids. We've got to get rid of common core and that's what she's based -- what her thinking is about. When we asked about school funding, when you asked about school funding, she, you know -- everybody has been bringing up this trust land, especially --

Howard Fischer: Her answer to you as I recall that's up to the legislature and the governor. You want to be the schools' chief, your chief job is advocating on behalf of public education so where do you stand in this?

Ted Simons: And we've talked about this debate for a few minutes, we haven't mentioned Garcia yet. I mean, interesting.

Jeremy Duda: The democrats have placed a lot of hope in this guy and came off fairly well. He was dodging some questions, too. And, you know, he was very vigorously defending the common core standards. Who doesn't like higher standards? But Douglas presented that, you know, very accessible way, you know, you want the ivory tower or parents making the decisions?

Howard Fischer: That's the key and he didn't answer that. When you asked him, you said if parents don't want this, is common core a failure? He said well I'm a parent, but then goes on to list educators and business people who are for it which proves her point that there is a divide in this state between parents and educators about these standards.

Bob Christie: I think he did make a good point. The point he kept coming back to was listen if we just drop these standards, everybody else is going to pass us by and, you know, everyone knows how fast technology is changing and everyone knows how fast the world is changing. If we stop our standards, if we pull them back, we're going to be left behind.

Howard Fischer: But she had interesting answers to all of that. That somehow, we've made schools with the whole stem science technology engineering and math into job training and she said the message there is turning children into worker bees. She wants civics and everything else.

Ted Simons: That to me is traditionally more of a liberal opinion, get the well-rounded education, don't go to school for a job, go to school to become a smarter person who can read, write and think and I don't think anyone's going to confuse Diane Douglas with a liberal.

Howard Fischer: No, but this comes down to a back to basics movement, but also what we saw with the press conference a couple of weeks ago by people like Steve Montenegro with civics test and everything else and there's a feeling among the conservatives that kids don't understand Arizona history, which is why she's emphasizing that.

Jeremy Duda: When we talk about training kids for the future jobs, parents care about education and they want their kids to get a good education so they can get into a good college and get a good job. So it was kind of a bizarre exchange I thought.

Ted Simons: So how's the race shaping up? What are we seeing in this one?

Bob Christie: I think Garcia should have some slight advantage because of the backing he has. He's got the chamber behind him, he's got -- he's lined up a bunch of Republican former superintendent of schools and he's got the moderates behind him. But, Diane Douglas, again it's a Republican-democrat race, it's a town ticket. She's got a good chance.

Howard Fischer: I'll tell you the other thing that he doesn't have so far and we may be seeing is will the chamber, come out with their own independent expenditures? He needs the money, he needs the I.D. She came across very well and so you're looking at the schoolmarm, former board member, versus the ivory tower, you know, who teaches education at the Fulton school. He needs the business community out there to give the message they did during the whole common core debate, which is we're not hiring Arizona grads because they're not qualified.

Ted Simons: That brings us back to this in a second regarding the governor's race. The business community wants Garcia in there because of common core.

Jeremy Duda: The governor's race there's so many issues they care about and in the superintendent's race, it's pretty much one. But in the end, this is going to come back to are they actually willing to pony up the money? If they're not, Garcia's in some real trouble. We've heard all year about from democrats what a great candidate he is, what a great ground game he's got, field program. And he spent $200,000 for a relatively small win against a candidate who had four grand to his name. That doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

Ted Simons: We've had a couple of polls this week. Oddly enough, the conservative leaning poll shows Ducey ahead and the liberal leaning poll shows it's a tossup.

Bob Christie: That's one of the reasons I don't write about polls. We had some polling that came out after the primary three weeks ago that said it's basically tied and the polls that came out this week from the free club said Ducey is up by 6.

Howard Fischer: You know, we're going to hear a lot more from them on Monday. Who knows? You may find each of those up two or 3% and that's a game changer.

Ted Simons: You did profiles of Ducey and DuVal. But as far as you're seeing this shaping up again, I keep using the phrase shaping up because we're trying to get a narrative here. This one's a tough one.

Jeremy Duda: It is. I think both the profiles have highlighted things that the candidates and the parties will try to point out. DuVal, he's been around public service, government service his entire life. He talked to me about how his first memories of political issues when he was nine, 10 years old listening to debates about his father trying to get the college of medicine started at the University of Arizona, he worked for Babbitt. He worked for Clinton. Ducey's whole story is private sector; he got out of college, went to business school for Procter & Gamble and left because he was looking for his opportunity. He looked around for the perfect opportunity and found it, and I think at least for the Republican side, that very much highlights their narrative. This is a private sector guy and he'll kick start the economy.

Bob Christie: As far as the race shaping up, one of the things I've been noticing over the last couple of weeks as they've done a couple of debates and as they've put out their press packets is that they're moving towards the center, but, you know, DuVal has taken a no new taxes pledge. He put out a jobs plan this week that included more business tax cuts for small businesses and a little thing called the angel investor tax credit which the ACA really loves so he's trying to get there and Ducey has been talking about education. He's been trying to steal DuVal's big push. They're both running head long to the center as fast as they can.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, what do they have to do?

Howard Fischer: DuVal has to convince folks that why he wants to fund the $317 million which he can do first year with the rainy day fund, he's not there to raise their taxes, that he's not some pointy headed liberal. Ducey has to convince them that there's more to him than ice cream. You know, it's nice to talk about the business background. Obviously, DuVal is going to be attacking him on all the franchise operators who went belly up. Ducey needs to do more than -- he's been described by a lot of people as, you know, these canned answers, press one for my response on the economy, press two for my response on education.

Bob Christie: The signature I've built a company, now, I want to shrink a government. When you ask him I'm going to go through the budget line by line. He's been treasurer for four years. He should know that budget pretty well.

Ted Simons: Do we consider those evasive answers?

Howard Fischer: I think they're non-answers! It's not even an evasive answer. It is I have -- you should hire me because I'm a businessman and use me as your CEO.

Bob Christie: He stays on script. He stays on script and I've been to a lot of his events. And it's -- even one-on-ones where he's got 10 people standing around him, that's the script.

Jeremy Duda: Most of the answers that both of these people are given are pretty much non-answers. What you start to notice is there are very few specifics in terms of their plans. It's more about philosophy and general direction. Fred DuVal is going to invest in education. Doug Ducey is going to kick start the economy, but in terms of concrete plans. Ducey talks about he'll fully fund the wait list for charter schools.

Bob Christie: When he was asked that question, he goes well we have this education scholarship account; it's called an empowerment scholarship account, which are vouchers. So you know it seems like that's the only way you can do it. You're not going to go and build five brand-new high schools.

Ted Simons: We want concrete answers. We desperately try to get them at times. Does the voter want more of that philosophical viewpoint? Maybe more than don't bother me with the details right now?

Howard Fischer: God help us, the voters are going to vote on how they feel about the candidates. And to a certain extent a lot of the ads we're seeing, all the races, is how you feel about the candidates. And the candidate that makes voters comfortable, so that they'll be happy for the next four years, that's who's going to win. We like the details because we say we're providing something, but I think a lot of it is going to be based on all those commercials.

Ted Simons: We'll see what happens Monday evening. Good to have you all here.

Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services; Bob Christie:Journalist, Associated Press;

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