Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" journalists' roundtable, GOP candidates separate themselves from controversial statements made by Russell Pearce.

And should high school students have to pass a citizenship test to graduate? One state lawmaker thinks so.

The journalists' roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" journalist's round table. 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 Arizona Republic." Russell Pearce may not be running for office, but he's still making election-year headlines. Let's get the background on this and where we stand.


Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, Russell Pearce has a microphone. He has a program in a local radio station and in a recent broadcast, he talked about if he was in charge of Medicaid that he would require women to basically be sterilized, or have a tubal ligation to stop reproducing, unless they're willing to go out and get a job. It took a while for that to catch up with him, but it set off another Russell Pearce chain reaction as we've seen before.


Ted Simons: And Mr. Pearce said he was actually reading someone else's statement?


Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, we've heard this before from him on some of his storm front neo-Nazi stuff that he got in trouble for before when he was in the legislature. A lot of pressure on Republicans to distance themselves from him on this.

Ted Simons: And I was going to say, how long did it take for Republicans, especially those running for office, to back off from this?

Alia Rau: Once the Democrats made an issue of it and brought it to light, within 24 hours, everyone was jumping on board to back away from it, from Doug Ducey all the way down to the candidates have said something at this point.

Ted Simons: It was the democratic party that came out with the information, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think it first came out in the Phoenix times and then the democratic party executive director sort of took it up as a challenge and said hey, you know, where are you guys, this guy's in your party. Do you agree with him or do you repudiate him? He threw it out there as a challenge and got pretty quick responses from the statewide, most of the statewide GOP candidates. I don't think we've heard from Diane Douglas on that.



Ted Simons: The quote is put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I do is get birth control implants or tubal ligations, and then we'll test recipients for drugs and alcohol and if you want to reproduce or use drugs or alcohol, get a job. Now, question. There are some folks who were saying what's wrong with what he said? There are folks who believe that this is -- that the letter writer had a point.

Mike Sunnucks: There are a portion of that that have more support, probably the drug testing, you've seen that pushed here, other states for welfare, Medicaid recipients. The sterilization, you start to lose people. But it fits into a bigger narrative that Democrats are playing up is that the Republicans are extreme, we keep having these embarrassing instances of legislators and Republican leaders doing this, so vote for us because of that. So it is kind of a bigger narrative in the campaign but you're right, there's a lot of people, especially in the Republican side that agree with some of these kind of tests for people living public money.


Mary Jo Pitzl: But it only -- if you agree with that, they're only going after the women. There's a whole other part of the population that, you know, would be responsible for producing children as well and we're not talking about mandatory vasectomies for men on Medicaid.

Alia Rau: And I think that's one of the big concerns out of the Republican party. They're working really hard to draw and keep those women and this is not an issue that would help them.

Mike Sunnucks: Particularly when you talk about drug testing are like there are some people for that. When you start talking about sterilization, then I think you're starting to jump the shark a little bit.

Ted Simons: Jumping the shark a little bit but are we surprised? Were candidates surprised? People know who Russell Pearce is. I mean people know who Russell Pierce is and what he believes in.

Alia Rau: He says stuff all the time. He has a radio show for a reason. He gets listeners, he gets attention. He's been out of public office for how many years now? But he's back there behind the scenes and kind of running things for that certain part of the party and, you know, I think the problem is we've hit the general election. I think if this had happened in the primary, maybe it wouldn't have been as much of an issue but this is the general, you need those independents, you need those moderates and this is not the direction they want to go.



Ted Simons: Republicans also need that certain part of the party as well, though, in the general election. This another fracture point within the party?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, perhaps. I don't know. I don't know how many people are going to really openly siding with Mr. Pearce, anyone that's running for office that is. And, you know, I think alia hit it, it alienates voters at a time when you're trying to be extra sensitive to them.

Ted Simons: And real quickly, he is still employed by Maricopa County.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, he's with the treasurer's office, and there's been posts -- protests down there. Again, it's a big story if it fits into this bigger narrative that Republicans are so far to the right that they're out of touch with your mainstream voters.

Ted Simons: So how much of an impact does it have?

Mike Sunnucks: It has real potential in this race for this whole issue about we're too extreme, we look bad, we're on the daily show all the time. We look kooky, you see a lot of individual moderates, women voters that are concerned about that. They're tired of the brush that we get painted with.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I will point out that a lot of the Republican statewide candidates who repudiated comments, they haven't been endorsed by him anyway. These were not his picks so it was sort of an easy call for them to make. But this will resonate, it fits into that national narrative that there's something kooky going on in Arizona.

Ted Simons: And he still has a microphone correct, he has his radio show. Stay tuned.

Dark money impacting elections. I know you worked on this and reported on this and the paper reporting on this, as well. How much is being spent right now. Do we know how much is being spent and what kind of impact is it having?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We don't know how much is being spent, but there's been millions spent already. We saw a lot of spending throughout the primary. There's another set of reports that we should be able to see on Monday, but you don't have to report until you hit a certain threshold of spending. I think we're going to be hitting that really, really soon and dark money, this is money that comes from independent expenditure committees who are not required under federal tax law to disclose their donors. Therefore, it's hard to know what's the source of the money.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it can be a big issue. I think the media and opponents that are being targeted need to call out the candidates that are being supported. You need to stand behind your message, stand behind your commercial and not have some group called Americans for economic progress run your campaign for you and throw dirt at somebody else. So I think
that's on the media a little bit to bring this out more.

Ted Simons: As much as the media can bring it out. I mean, there's a limit to what you know and when you can know it.

Alia Rau: There is but we can at least bring out who's gotten money on their behalf, who might be behind it and kind of hold the candidates a little bit accountable. So far, in the general, I think there's been one group that has given to Doug Ducey about $500,000 and he's the only one so far that's shown up in the reports. There's more reports coming out next week. There's more groups spending closer to the election, but, you know, it's going to be big money again and I think the candidates need to kind of talk about it.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is what happens after you govern. If you've gotten secret money and you get into office and we don't know who's backing this, do you push certain things, do you oppose certain bills or legislations, proposals, because of the secret money that came from some source that we don't know about? That's the thing about laws when they have disclosure, you can track, follow the money and see how it impacts people's proposals and how they act once they win.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is a big topic in the secretary of state's race. I mean, the election's office. So, you know, the democratic candidate is saying he will push for legislation that would force disclosure of donors and if he can't get that through the legislature, he'll lead a statewide referendum. Michelle Reagan who ran a bill this year that would have required the top three donors to such groups to disclose their identities, that bill went nowhere. It got a unanimous vote and then disappeared. She says it's not as easy as you might think. So they're going to go back and forth about that. Goddard points out there are other states that have required heavier levels of disclosure, and now in the middle of it we have ken Bennett, the secretary of state's office that has sent out letters to a lot of independent expenditure committees that are 501c4s saying show us, we think that you are a political committee and not a social welfare nonprofit. Show us where you're spending your money.

Ted Simons: How do they get away with saying we're here to inform and educate, we're socially conscious and not political?


Mike Sunnucks: Obviously, these groups are political action groups and they're running ads and they're opposing certain candidates and pushing others, but they've used some Supreme Court regulation.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Two words, citizens united.



Mike Sunnucks: But this has gone on forever. There's been political money laundering going on, to be able to support and oppose candidates. And the problem is once we pass one set of rules; the wise guys always find a new set of rules to get around us.

Alia Rau: Well and the educational components are really vague. That's why we're seeing all of these polls, these unbiased polls that we're seeing, that's considered a public outreach. We're seeing mailers to are you an independent? Hey, vote. That's why we're seeing so many of those right now. They're spending money on that kind of a thing and throwing it towards the candidate.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Did you see the TV ad of the horses running free over the rugged terrain promoting the Arizona free enterprise club? That's part of their social welfare component. They are a dark money group.

Ted Simons: So a dark money group is throwing dark money at itself.

Alia Rau: They have to.

Mike Sunnucks: But you see some of these ads now; they're straight campaign ads for candidates. They're straight campaign ads promoting people and it's not by anybody's committee, it's by some outside group which doesn't smell right.

Ted Simons: How far do we go before the voter, maybe not the average voter, but we'll stick with the average voter looks at these ads and I know negative ads work, every year we ask this question, every two years, four years, do people just say that's malarkey, I know what you're trying to pull here?

Alia Rau: I think they already are but I think it's the multi. People get tired of seeing five ads in a row at a time while they're trying to watch the news at night. It's all these different groups. The candidates don't have that kind of money. So it's quadruple the number of ads and I think that's what's going to cause fatigue probably.

Ted Simons: That's an interesting point. I mean, people have their fill of commercials as it is. But when you see the same one in the same cutsy kind of think going on, it's like ‘Alright I think I got the message.'

Mary Jo Pitzl: Terry Goddard had an interesting idea that you can't get legislation to outlaw then make these groups to state on their ads we do not disclose our donors and state. We keep our donors secret. He believes that would turn -- it's designed to turn public opinion against such things.

Ted Simons: Interesting idea.

Jlvc comes out with numbers regarding the budget, and we're not even talking education are we?

Mike Sunnucks: Not good so far this year and we have the education lawsuit to deal with and the economy and the job market aren't improving very well. Unemployment ticked up, income's down, poverty's up. The jobs we are creating aren't high-paying jobs. A lot of call center jobs that we've gotten so apple coming to mesa is the big exception to that. Our job creation isn't there, our revenues aren't there. We've got more tax cuts coming. And we have this education shortfall because of the lawsuit.

Ted Simons: So what's going on here? Again, regarding this education lawsuit, we've got to figure it out here but man, the next governor, the next legislative session, that's big stuff.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It will be a very dramatic session I think no matter who wins the governor's race. There are very, very tough choices and there's not a lot of room to maneuver. We're almost on a year, it's what Monday is the anniversary of when the state's Supreme Court said schools have been shorted money, you've got to pay up and this is rattling through the lower courts in terms of figuring how the payment comes out. That's got to happen. That's a court mandate. You've got anemic economic recovery, things aren't moving along very quickly. We've just recommitted ourselves to child welfare, increased fare. Do you drop that ball after six months? It might be a long session.

Ted Simons: As far as the Arizona comeback. We keep hearing about the Arizona comeback. When is it going to come back?

Alia Rau: That's the question everybody wants to know. The economists, they're as confused as everybody else is. Everyone knew when we went down hard it would take us and other states who went down a little bit longer to come back and that's happened except now, we're seeing Nevada come back, we're seeing California come back, we're seeing Utah come back and we're not coming back and they're not sure why.

Ted Simons: The business community, what's the business community saying?

Mike Sunnucks: You've seen a couple of reports out there from Brookings, the census bureau that young people aren't moving here, aren't staying here. They're going to the northwest. They're going to San Francisco. They're going to the D.C. area where there are jobs, but also the politics there are more liberal than here and our politics, our image, the types of jobs that we're creating are not grabbing young professionals and millennials so that's an impact on us. Our population growth which has been a big driver in the past has not bounced back. And so that's been a slow thing. So we're kind of stuck with going back to our old set of jobs, call center services, tourism.

Ted Simons: Can it be argued that the tax cuts, the incentive plans that were put in place take time to develop and maybe it hasn't quite happened yet?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Very much so. That's an argument from a lot of the proponents of these tax cuts that it does take a while. But up front, what those cuts mean is it's a reduction in state tax collections and everybody recognizes that, and I think that's part of what we're seeing right now. You know, will they bear fruit with more time? We've got to give it more time.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is we're competing with states like Texas and Nevada, even Florida that don't have any income tax because their economies are based on gaming and tourism and oil and gas and so they have that luxury and so we might cut our taxes but we're not the lowest out there. There's a lot of states without any income tax at all. Even though we cut these things, it's not helping and there's a lot of reports that we overtax the poor because we're a big sales tax state so not only are we not bringing in any revenue but we overtax, folks.

Ted Simons: When you talk to the ASU economists, we're going to talk to them here as the months go on, everyone's waiting for this comeback but this latest round of numbers, what are they saying about it? I know they're confused, but are they saying just hold down and wait for this to happen or are they saying we're going in the wrong direction?

Alia Rau: They don't seem to know. I think these numbers particularly are causing some confusion. I think a year ago they would have said hold on, let's keep going. We expected this, but it's going to go back and up with these numbers, I think everybody's a little bit surprised. And I don't know. I mean, they're saying, you know, you've got Ducey talking about lowering income taxes. Ours are pretty low. They're not zero with Texas, but cutting them down a little bit more, I don't know how much of a difference that's going to make. but you've got DuVal suggesting tax credits. We've got a lot of tools in the toolbox and I'm not sure that little tweak is going to make the difference, either.

Ted Simons: Obviously, we talked about how big this is going to be next session, but are they -- how are they going to look at this? Are they going to say let's cut taxes more because that's the only thing that will get us out of it? Are you going to say let's raise taxes when things aren't going very well?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well I think at the end of the day they'll listen to Andy biggs who as I understand it has tried to caution candidates that tax cuts are a bit unrealistic in this climate so sort of steady as you go in terms of the tax front. Plus, we have because of the tax cut jobs package from a couple of years ago, we still have tax cuts that are yet to phase in and those are going to happen, apparently. So the legislature I think their initial strategy is just to seek a delay on that school funding mandate because that will put off the day of reckoning on $317 million if they can, you know, drag that out through the courts and maybe work some kind of negotiated payout through the school. So that's my -- that's all I'm seeing from the legislature at this point in time.



Mike Sunnucks: The quandary is the types of tax policy that's going to attract the jobs, the venture capital, we're way behind the venture capital compared to California and Massachusetts, but also Utah and Colorado. To get that, they have to be specialized tax cuts and the legislature's so adverse to those because you're picking winners and losers, they always prefer the flat supply-side type answers. And that's just not the reality of what's going to attract jobs here. It's a tough ideological pill for them to swallow.

Ted Simons: We talk about education, graduates being ready for these high-tech and big deal jobs. There's a move now, talk about citizenship test requirements for high school graduates. What's going on here?

Alia Rau: This is something that's getting pushed, I think it's coming out of Arizona group that's a national push, Utah is looking at it, Missouri's talking about it now. It's an idea that as we have focused so much on math and science and kind of social studies, some of those kinds of other things, we need to get back to understanding the United States government and politics and if we don't know our history, how can we move forward? It's an interesting conversation. I'm not sure they've tried similar things in the past and they haven't gone anywhere.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's also a sense that a lot of this is drawn from the test that immigrants take, the citizenship test they take to become a U.S. citizen. If we're graduating all these classes of immigrants into the ranks of the U.S. citizenship based on this test, shouldn't the people who are born here have that same basic level of knowledge? So let's incorporate that into the schools, but let's not give the schools any money to make that happen.

Mike Sunnucks: There was a poll that came out, national poll that said two thirds of Americans can't name the three branches of government and a number of them can't name any. I took the test; I actually passed all of them.

Ted Simons: Congratulations.

Mike Sunnucks: but it's stuff like pick a branch of the legislators, stuff about which ocean is on the east coast. Stuff that most people should know and there is a lack of civic engagement I think overall, especially in a state like Arizona where you have a lot of transplants that don't have a lot of community ties here and it's hard to get them engaged in politics so you look at this as a way to have them knowledgeable about government, the country they live in, basic stuff that if people take the test, most people should be able to pass it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Shouldn't you be getting that anyway? In your curriculum?

Alia Rau: When I was in high school we took it.

Ted Simons: Yeah, that was like one of the basic things of high school civics.



Mike Sunnucks: I think civics education has been cut over the years. They've tried to focus on math and science. You don't see a lot of requirements in some districts like you used to so it has been cut, the history requirements, and, you know, you're doomed to repeat it if you don't know it.

Ted Simons: I think the argument against needing more money to teach this test would be it should be taught already, there should be no extra funds needed.


Alia Rau: You can take the actual citizenship test; literally you can copy it, download it and use the test that the government's already created.

Ted Simons: You can memorize who can make a treaty and who can't, right?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think we might see people circulating with copies of this test on the opening day of the legislative session and asking the new elected some of those questions.

Ted Simons: The worries about ISIS at the Arizona border. Should we be worried about that?

Mike Sunnucks: Ted franks has talked about ISIS being in juarez ready to come across and attack us. They brought this up, conservatives, right after 9/11, al-Qaeda was going to come over, the reports of finding prayer mats. Most of the people are folks that are here already and been given residency or even status by the U.S. government. We haven't had a case where someone came across the borderers. The 9/11 guys were here on student visas, the Boston marathon guys came via asylum. But conservatives have used this as part of their secure the border argument is all these dangers are going to come across and this is one of them.

Ted Simons: His quote on this radio show, there's no question that they have designs on trying to come into Arizona. This kind of talk, just getting it out there in conversation, does it impact the election? Does it rally the base or does it make other folks say back to the extremism argument, that some parts of the Republican party are too far?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It does some of both. I think it does speak to the piece, people who are very concerned about border security and, you know, this is just more of an argument for securing that border because you just don't know who's coming across and, you know, others will say this just adds more to that reputation that keeps Arizona on the daily show.

Ted Simons: Do Democrats use this as political fodder, the party of extremists or let it move on?

Alia Rau: I don't know. John McCain weighed in a little bit which gave it a little bit more weight I think with the general public, particularly on the immigration issue. He weighed in along with franks on this and the democrats have stayed away from it at this point.

Ted Simons: Okay. Here we've got about a minute and a half left here. A couple of referendums against the casino deal, nixed by the city because they were political?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, it's a loophole thing. Glendale has no say whether the casino comes in there. That's a federal issue, federal land. It's a federal land issue related to the tribes. This challenge, a deal that the city finally cut with the tribe to get some money, $26 million over a number of years. So I think it's a way just to keep the opponents trying to derail this thing on the financing side, but it doesn't really impact whether the casino is going to come in there or not.

Ted Simons: You've got the city council basically working out this deal with the tribes, $20 million over a certain amount of time and the mayor of Glendale in Washington saying take this away, stop us before we what, before we gamble again?

Mike Sunnucks: Wires was there supporting this McCain-flake bill to undo the federal law that's enabled this thing all along.

Ted Simons: Keep the promise, that's every act in Washington.

Mike Sunnucks: But the Glendale's divided on this. There's a lot of opposition to it out there but then there's a lot of reality that this thing's going to come in. We might as well get some money out of it.

Ted Simons: Alright, We'll stop it right there and good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us.

Monday on "Arizona Horizon," a clean elections debate: we'll hear from the candidates running for Arizona corporation commission. A clean elections debate, Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, we'll learn what was discussed at this year's Arizona leadership forum. Wednesday, a debate. We hear from candidates running for congressional district one. Thursday, another debate, this time between candidates for the highest education position in the state. And Friday, it's another edition of the journalists' roundtable. A reminder for all our debates and all of our political discussion, all of our political news, you can check us out on the web at azpbs.org/horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Video: "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; Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Alia Rau:Journalist, Arizona Republic;

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