Journalists’ Roundtable

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Steve Goldstein: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Steve Goldstein in for Ted Simons. Joining us tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal," and Jim Small of "The Arizona Capitol Times." "Arizona Horizon" played host to two debates for state office this week. We'll start with a look at the attorney general debate between Mark Brnovich and Felicia Rotellini. It got pretty nasty. Did you expect that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I did expect it to be pretty tough. It reminds me of the Felicia Rotellini who ran four years ago. She is out of the blocks. She's in your face. She's got her points that she's going to make. It might play into the narrative of being a tough prosecutor and she went after Brnovich on his credentials for the office, and he responded in kind.

Steve Goldstein: Jim, critics said it was too much about what the other person lacks than what the candidate brings.

Jim Small: Each one really took pains to point out where the other was deficient and why they shouldn't be elected to the office. They didn't talk up their own credentials, but that's been the tone of the race I think since the end of the primary and I think for Felicia Rotellini it was the tone of the race regardless of whether she was facing mark Brnovich or tom Horne and, you know, that was the race she ran four years ago. It was a similar kind of tactic in the primary and the general for her last year so it's not really too surprising I don't think that both of them were on the offensive and really throwing some punches.

Mike Sunnucks: Four years getting ready to run against tom Horne and all his troubles and everything was set up for her. I think before the primary, before Brnovich got in, people thought Rotellini was the most likely democrat to win and it's a whole new playbook. Brnovich beat Horne, but she has to transfer that into her attacks on Brnovich.

Steve Goldstein: Over the years we've all talked about negative campaigning and whether it works or not. When both candidates are going negative, what should voters, what can they take hold of? What are the credentials these two bring that voters should focus on?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I guess they could try to read independent media reports. They could read the candidates' websites which tend to talk a little bit more about issues. If you want to get into that level of research, which, you know, voters should, but other than that, how credible is the attack? Does it ring true? How does the target of it respond to that and what kind of response do they give back?

Mike Sunnucks: I thought it was interesting when Brnovich kept playing up his background as a criminal prosecutor. Rotellini pointed out that the attorney general's office doesn't handle those cases but voters think of prosecutors as law and order and television, what we see in movies and going after gangsters and drug cartels and she said you're running for county attorney, but maybe voters will look at that as he's the prosecutor, he has that experience and when Republicans are cast in a law and order light, they do better with voters, especially in this state.

Jim Small: I think he's definitely right. They both got ample experience as prosecutors, but Brnovich's side is on the criminal side and Felicia Rotellini was on the civil side and both of them have experience with the A.G.'s office, but, you know, Felicia Rotellini worked there for a number of years in the financial crimes area and that part of the civil world.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But to mike's point about voters probably don't know that criminal cases tend to be the domain of the county attorneys. If you look at this as a teachable moment, another one of the big points of argument of these two candidates was trial experience. The attorney general him or herself, doesn't do many trials. They'll trot them out before the big ones, if you want a chance to go before the Supreme Court, but most of the trial work is done by the assistant attorneys-general that staff that office.

Jim Small: This is like several other offices that are elected. Your job is to run an office in a lot of ways. You're managing the state's law firm. The managing partner of a law firm. So, you know, Mary Jo's right. The actual courtroom experience, it's not really high on the list, maybe it shouldn't be high on the list of priorities for voters.

Steve Goldstein: It strikes me, though, if we think about big names who really made bigger names for themselves, Janet Napolitano, they all did slightly different things with this office. Regardless what if voters think this office is, it can be shaped.

Mike Sunnucks: Goddard went after the mortgage crimes and stuff. Tom Horne spent a lot of time with his campaign staff there, but you can make your name and you can take this in different directions and I think voters look you're a criminal prosecutor and you do that and they view it that way. And I think Rotellini has a lot of similar experience. That might be a little bit harder to explain to voters on this type of race when they're not looking at it as the governor's race.

Steve Goldstein: What can you tell us about this anti-Brnovich ad becoming very controversial?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is an ad that Rotellini's campaign has paid for and it alleges that he lobbied against a bill that would have prevented the private prisons from bringing in prisoners from out of state and look what happens, that bill passes and we have a prison breakout in Kingman and these guys get out and they murder a couple and this is what happens when you go down that path of private prisons. The problem is, as Brnovich is alleging in a threatened lawsuit today, is that the time frame is all messed up and the couple, the escapees committed their crime in Arizona, they weren't from out of state so it undercuts that part of the argument.

Mike Sunnucks: The reason this don't like that ad because this is a very effective ad. Democrats bring up the private prison thing all the time. Voters don't care about private prisons. They care about when private prisons have corruption or mismanagement. This was a huge case that people can relate to and understand. These people escaped from Kingman, killed somebody, you're linking Brnovich somehow to this and directly. That can resonate with voters much more than whether a contract should go to C.C.A. This is a really effective ad and that's why you're seeing the reaction from the Brnovich campaign.

Steve Goldstein: Another "Arizona Horizon" debate this week had to do with the gubernatorial campaigns, but we're focused on Ducey and Duval. Did we learning anything special that we hadn't learned before?

Jim Small: They have settled into a pattern. They both have their talking points and they generally stay, you know, I think pretty well confined to them both on the talking about their own attributes and talking about the shortcomings of their opponent. The one thing that was interesting to me that came out of that debate was Doug Ducey conceded basically when it comes to Medicaid expansion, there's been a lot of push to repeal this and talk about what would happen after governor brewer's gone and whether the next executive office will get rid of that, and he said well probably not for the first couple of years because it doesn't make financial sense, too, because the feds are paying for all of that right now and maybe it's something to take a look at down the road, he indicated that he would reject any attempts to repeal it until that federal match goes away or becomes a lot less.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And that seems to not quite fit with what he was saying during the primary, the primary was a lot about Medicaid expansion and immigration, which we haven't heard a lot about in the general on immigration. I'm wondering how those Tea Party types like Al Melvin who folded his tent and endorsed Mr. Ducey how they feel with him saying we're going to live with this for a couple of years?

Steve Goldstein: Mike, does this steal some of DuVal's -- thunder.

Mike Sunnucks: Doug's had nuanced answers, as a candidate you can say he's disciplined, he's been able to maneuver around these things to keep the folks in the middle and the folks on the right happy. What the debate showed was the race is still about Ducey, about somebody being able to beat Ducey. That's what the primary was about. That's Fred's challenge here, to chip away as Ducey, this frontrunner; even though the polls have shown that the race is pretty close.

Steve Goldstein: I'm coming back to strengths and weaknesses like I discussed with the attorney general candidates. What does Fred Duval have to do considering the registration disadvantage he has to stand out? Many people would say, a solid person, an Arizonian, but he's never won an elected office. What does he have to do to get people started in the next couple of weeks? Can he do it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's up for others to decide. I think there's a lot of people who are trying to figure out who's Fred Duval, introducing yourself to voters, although it's a little late to do that and he's been defined by being the anti-Ducey. And the thing that struck me about the debate on Monday is that Ducey's taken a page straight out of Ronald Reagan. He's selling optimism and sunshine, I'm not going to speak ill, I'm not part of this tear down Arizona crowd and Duval, as a challenger pretty much, has to sort of be in that position of attacking, which makes him seem a little more negative. I don't know if he can become Mr. Sunshine himself, as well.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's more of an undercurrent that can propel Fred in this race. The undercurrent that the Republicans have been in charge, with 1062, the economy hasn't turned around with these tax cuts and the commerce authority and everything that brewer and the business folks pushed, but I think the image of the state, on the daily show all the time, there is that undercurrent of folks out there, you talk to more moderate folks in the business community that are tired of that and you can see a democratic governor Fred as a stop gap against the legislature for that. Scott smith touch upon that in the primary, but you don't see politician candidates willing to go that far when the state's a laughingstock and I'm going to turn it around. I think that undercurrent might be there with some voters. You need younger voters, Hispanics to turn out in an off-year election; all the national trends are for the Republicans. The world events aren't really helping bring attention to the statewide races. Everybody's focused on Ebola and the NFL and ISI. It's making it hard for Fred to define himself and to introduce himself to the voters.

Steve Goldstein: And the greater business community likes Doug Ducey very well. What about the primary? There was so much speculation about Duval not having a primary opponent, good or bad? Ultimately, has it made it snow people don't know him as well?

Jim Small: It's been a negative for him. We had this very protracted Republican primary, six, seven people. And people were paying attention to it and it was constant stories. I'm sure Mike and Mary Jo got the same thing. The Duval campaign was like we put out an announcement, can you write about this? Can we get some attention? And it's tough to find a reason to in July when there's a heated Republican primary to write about the guy on the democratic side who's running by himself. In just any coverage, it's always an afterthought, the bottom of the story and, by the way, whoever wins faces Fred Duval. It's tough to get that attention. Even if there had been a token opposition in that race, there would have been an opportunity for him and his campaign to get some visibility and at least get in front of some voters and get the name out there, instead of being the third wheel or the eighth wheel as it were in a lot of these Republican gubernatorial forums.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That makes a lot of sense and also, when you look at the really relatively short time span between the beginning of the general election cycle and when people start to vote, which is next week. That really gives you a very short period of time within which to have two major candidates, you know, clash, you know, give people a chance to compare and contrast.

Jim Small: I mean, realistically, Doug Ducey went on TV in like April or May. So you go from April or May down to November, that's six months of him being on TV solid. By the time people are casting their early ballots, Fred Duval went on the air in early September, and it's tough to make up that ground and that name I.D. When you have such a short turn-around, it's hard to overcome that gap.

Mike Sunnucks: Fred has talked about no more cuts to education and Ducey says well, I like schools and education, too. There's not this big dividing space between them. Again, we've had people go after Ducey on Coldstone, but there's never been like a smoking gun there. This is the third contest where we've had people bring up the franchisees and some of the issues with Coldstone, but it's so much in the weeds and complicated that there's nothing where Ducey was accused of malfeasance or anything like that. Coldstone still has a good image among folks. There's contrasts, but there's nothing that's defined the race in terms of issues.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I disagree a little bit. I think education they have very different positions on it. Duval wrapped himself around education and we will fund this court mandate right away. Whereas Ducey's been more vague. He talks about wanting to get more money into the classroom and redoing the school finance formula, things like that, which will take -- that will take time. And he doesn't often, he doesn't necessarily suggest that there has to be money to fund that court mandate, which I can't get my head around because the court said you have to pay and Duval has a concrete plan for one year. Ducey has yet to give us one. I think that's a point of distinction and also, there's some confusion in the public mind or funding waiting lists and what that means.

Mike Sunnucks: I think there's distinctions, but most of those issues are in the weeds for most people. I don't think your average voters are paying that much attention to the lawsuit. Duval has leverage on where the state ranks 49th or 50th in education and dropout rates. I'm going to boost it, that's where he has it. The lawsuit thing is a little inside politics.

Mary Jo Pitzl: People who have got kids in school, they pay attention to what's happening with their schools. We've got a whole bunch of school districts that have boned override elections on November 4th. Scott is trying to get a budget override. There's an awareness among at least that school-age population or parents of school-aged kids that there's -- something's lacking.

Mike Sunnucks: And a lot of those bond overrides have lost because people don't want to spend more on education.

Steve Goldstein: You had quite a piece in the republic about Doug Ducey and the Koch brothers. Give us some background.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This was an audio that was pulled up from a meeting, a summit that the Koch brothers held in June where they sort of parade in front of deep pocketed donors a lot of potential candidates for Senate and governorships and Ducey was there, and he smoke very flatteringly of the crowd and said you're known by the company you keep and talked about his bio and talked up his campaign, and it's a pitch to get some funding. For people that are suspicious of how are the Kochs funneling money to candidates and they do that, there's a lot of money there, and it's dark money because the donors are not named. That raises some suspicion. Will this be an issue? I don't know.

Steve Goldstein: Jim?

Jim Small: I don't know. I don't know if it's surprising that we went before a group of conservative people with a lot of money and spoke well of the group and what they're trying to do, get conservatives elected to office.

Steve Goldstein: What about Chris Christie's experience? He's a big deal in many ways, but his impact here?

Jim Small: I don't think Chris Christie's impact here is felt through the Republican governors association and they've spent very heavily in favor of Doug Ducey and I think he came out here, which he's doing across the country, appearing with these Republican candidates. I don't know if it's going to hurt or help. I think really what helps Doug Ducey with regard to that is the money that's coming in to help him run ads attacking Duval. They defined Duval before he got a chance to tell voters who he was.

Steve Goldstein: Mike, I want to ask one quick question. General polling sets, we talked about the gubernatorial race, have you seen any polls, give us an idea of what you're seeing in terms of who's leaning which way? The secretary of state's race. Are we seeing things that seem solid and consistent as far as polling?

Mike Sunnucks: There's little polling if none, little independent polling. The polls that have been out there, people have questioned. They show the governor's race tight. A lot of people think Ducey has the advantage there, but it's pretty close. A lot of people think Goddard is kind of favored right now over Reagan and the other races, people are looking at the tea leaves of voter association, who turns out in mid-term elections, older voters, the national trend that favors the GOP. But a lot of people think we could see a split ticket in terms of who wins in all these statewide races.

Steve Goldstein: Jim, Arizona is back to I guess starting to date the Supreme Court again? We've had a little bit of a slow time, but taking up the independent redistricting case.

Jim Small: This is a case that was brought by the legislature a couple of years ago after the IRC finished drawing its maps in the beginning of 2011. They decided to file a lawsuit which basically said that state legislators are tasked with setting the manner in which congressional elections are held, that includes drawing the districts. Their argument is that means legislature means legislature. It's bicameral body, the house and the Senate and that's who gets to do this. Arizona's Constitution gives legislative authority to the voters. Voters in 2000 approved the independent redistricting commission and the argument so far and one that was held up by the first court panel that heard this issue was that no, no the legislature doesn't just mean the body of elected officials. It also means in states where it's allowed, the authority of the people and so that's really what's going to go before the court. It's an interesting case. There is very little case law in this area. There's two or three cases that are kind of sort of dealing with this area. All of them seem to point towards allowing the IRC this authority, but there's nothing on point and, you know, certainly, you know, this Supreme Court has shown a willingness, even if there is some case law that points you in one direction, of interpreting things differently and looking at, you know, maybe a more originalistic view of the U.S. Constitution.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And the reason there's not a lot of case law, in most states, it is the legislature with the capital "L" that draws the political boundary lines. California does, there might be another state or two out there, but this challenge could resonate all throughout, and it's a fight over what gets to draw the lines, regardless of what happens. It has no effect on this next month's elections, those lines are drawn and candidates are running, but we could possibly see a new map in 2016.

Steve Goldstein: Repercussions there?

Mike Sunnucks: For a Republican legislator that seems to hate trial lawyers so much, they sue people a lot. This is sour grapes, there was three Democrats on there and they're still upset about that. But it does have kind of big picture impacts on other states. The initiative process, what rights go to voters, what rights go to lawmakers. And again, they are very consistent at the state capitol. They hate voter mandates so they try to fight that.

Jim Small: It's worth pointing out one of the things the Supreme Court said, it would hear the case, but it wants to consider the issue whether the legislature has standing to sue. We're now 14 years past when voters approved this. The Republican legislature didn't have a problem. They didn't like the IRC the first time around, but they politically controlled that process and ended up with maps that were favorable to them so there wasn't really a whole lot of complaining about it. And they didn't sue and they didn't raise this argument back then, but they did now, they lost the IRC process and so now, they brought this lawsuit and one of the arguments from the IRC is you should have made this argument a decade ago.

Mike Sunnucks: There's nothing stopping them from changing the process if they would like to do that and take it to the voters if they lose this case.

Steve Goldstein: Because I love the politics, I'm going to stress political repercussions, let's say good reporters here we don't like to speculate, but let's say things change and this power is taken away from the independent commission. How much does that send 2016 into chaos?

Jim Small: It would be fun to cover. You would have totally new maps, this 5-4 split with Democrats controlling the house delegation I think would be a thing of the past. The question will be how do they democratic voters? How many state districts do they give the democrats? Do they try to make any competitive districts? Right now, we've got three ostensible swing districts out of nine. I don't know you would see if there was a map drawn by Republican legislators.

Mike Sunnucks: I think those maps are ready to go.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Word has it that the house speaker said he had a map drawn, which has been really handy because he doesn't live in the district.

Jim Small: The other thing, there's a bunch of restrictions on how the IRC has to draw its maps. The legislature would have no reason to follow those rules. They could draw them to help out themselves, draw themselves into favorable districts.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This whole argument affects only the congressional lines. Not the legislative lines. The authority of the independent committee commission to draw those lines has not been challenged.

Mike Sunnucks: But they like those.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They don't like them, but they don't doubt the authority. They don't like the manner in which they did that. That's another lawsuit.

Mike Sunnucks: Even if the Republicans of the legislature win this, we'll see a whole bunch of lawsuits challenging this.

Steve Goldstein: Let's wrap up with the newly named Arizona coyotes. People thought they might be settling it for a while. Now, we're hearing they might be up for sale?

Mike Sunnucks: There was a story in the New York post, about a hedge fund manager from Philadelphia who wanted to buy the islanders and the New Jersey devils, now, he might buy a 51% stake in the hockey team and Glendale, a nice subsidy to make the deal go through with this current ownership group, they're not sure if this changes the deal at all. So we're still seeing what happens. It is a good thing, more money coming in. It's a bad thing because they're struggling still. Remains to be seen.

Steve Goldstein: Any thoughts on this?

Jim Small: I think on the whole it's the team and folks in the league spinning this as a good thing. This is an infusion of cash into a team that has struggled to have money for the past ever really since 35 here. They've never been on firm financial ground. This would basically double the value of the team and they're not buying it from the owners, it's basically just adding money into the club.

Steve Goldstein: Thanks for the conversation.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Jim Small:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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