Journalists’ Roundtable

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Three local journalists will discuss the week’s big stories.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" Journalists' Roundtable action fallout from Governor Ducey's budget proposal and the legislature considers ways to make it easier to remove judges from the bench. Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol times and Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal. Governor Ducey's budget proposal is now one week old. What's the reaction down there? What's going on?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think generally it's been welcomed by the Republican majority. The joint appropriations committee hearing that was held on this early in the week not many questions, didn't last very long. I think this was because this was preceded by the speaker of the House and Senate president standing up with Ducey prior to this, saying we're on board with this. We really like this idea.

Ted Simons: The fact that inflation funding wasn't included, Medicaid situation kind of hover over the Horizon, those things not causing too much consternation?

Jeremy Duda: Not with people whose votes matter. Legislative democrats don't like education stuff, Medicaid. There's a lot of stuff they don't like. University cuts. The Republican majority is really so far very cohesive on this. They like the way Ducey is working with them on it. They all have a common goal. They feel like he's pretty receptive, willing to if they come up with other ways to reach that goal he's willing to listen. There's a couple of things that will probably pop up as sticking points. Homeowners rebate on property taxes that Ducey wants to partially get rid of. A lot of Republicans don't like that. He wants to increase the vehicle licensing fee which is just another tax to a lot of Republicans, it still costs people money, they don't like. That I don't see much else that's going to be a big sticking point.

Ted Simons: Is that an assessment or is it a task?

Jeremy Duda: I don't know. We'll have to let the courts figure it out.

Mike Sunnucks: For republicans it's an assessment. For democrats it's a tax.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I should note there's some inflation funding in the governor's proposal, $74 million. More than that. To inflate the base funding level. $74 million to take care of that lawsuit where the schools were shorted. That figure is far short of the current number is now $331 million. Far short of that from what the court has ordered but about the same that the legislature has proposed should settle this thing.

Ted Simons: But still it's not what the courts are saying and I wouldn't call it whistling past the graveyard but wishful thinking.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a split. Republicans like this thing. The vested business interests like this thing because it keeps the Brewer tax cuts in place. They don't roll those backs. But if you look at the media coverage, folks outside of political influence they see the cuts to universities, some of the K-12 cuts, cuts to commerce authority, tourism spending and there's concern. But there's a split in Republican circles they like this. In business circles they tend to like it just because the tax cuts are still there.

Jeremy Duda: Some folks are still looking at it saying, it could be worse. We have to do something with the deficit. Some of the chamber folks, folks in the business commute about the commerce authority cuts which were substantial.

Mike Sunnucks: That's because Ducey is their guy.

Jeremy Duda: He doesn't like the deal closing -- no subsidies for waffle cones or sprinkles. The hospital association took a big hit with Medicaid provider cuts but they said, you know, it could be worse. One thing they do like this is budget signals that he's going to stick with the Medicaid expansion. He's going to keep fighting that lawsuit.

Jeremy Duda: Ducey was their guy. He was their guy in the campaign. He talks like they do. If this was Governor Rahul Grijalva making these cuts to economic development you would see a much bigger cry and HUE from the business community.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The budget hit a speed bump this week in the hearing when it was -- the issue of cutting the family military family fund by almost $1 million came up. The governor's office walked that back right away. You sort of have to chuckle. In his state of the state address Governor Ducey said special interests are not going to like stuff in my budget. If they did I would be nervous. We have now identified the first special interest ruffled by his budget and it's the vets and they are going to undo that.

Mike Sunnucks: Really shows the dynamic of not having moderate or liberal Republicans with the democratic majority and kind of a one party monolithic rule. These conservatives that are down there, that run the show, don't see any problems with it even though folks maybe do on the outside.

Ted Simons: As far as the military relief fund this was to help pay for cemeteries, a couple of them being built on existing cemetaries. $900,000 or something like this. The idea was to take it -- that idea gone.

Jeremy Duda: Real quick. People screamed bloody murder. You can cut funding from a lot of things and people say the money has to come from somewhere, but you start messing with veterans and everyone is going to complain about that. Ducey reversed course quickly. I talked to his spokesman, the outrage got to him quick. Well, we appreciate the input from the veterans community. Polite way of saying, yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The reason for that budget move was to pay for some cemeteries because it helps pull down I think about $15 million in federal dollars. They are not going to let that opportunity go by. They have to go find that other 900 plus million someplace else.

Mike Sunnucks: They said we'll find it.

Ted Simons: That's lot of cemetery.

Mike Sunnucks: Veterans are a favored Republican constituency. You don't see the same consternation over cuts to the school for deaf and blind. It's interesting to see what they care about, what they don't.

Ted Simons: As far as prison beds, the idea of moving juveniles under 14 to counties which the counties will have to pay for, reaction? Anything?

Jeremy Duda: There's a little backlash from some of the local governments. A few counties that are losing a few hundred thousand dollars in lottery funds. Kelly ward in the Senate is one of the only things she really told me she disliked is that Mojave County will lose government funds. The counties aren't going to like the juvie stuff. Governor Brewer pitched that before a years ago and rolled that idea back.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What's interesting, some people have looked at this proposal to, first we're not going to house anybody under age 14 and there are some offenders who are under 14, and we'll return these kids to their home County, as maybe a baby step toward that that they don't like to talk about the sentencing reform. People might be reading too much into that but since we do have the governor's budget calls for construction of three more prisons over the next couple of years over three years for $100 million. Sentencing reform is going to come up again.

Ted Simons: If it does come up again, if you don't call it sentencing reform, if you change the name, is it possible?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Call it common core?

Ted Simons: It did with common core, not that it worked all that well. Can something like that get some legs?

Mike Sunnucks: Not with this legislature. Anything that smacks of sentencing reform sounds like you're getting soft, den criminalizing certain things such as drug offenses. There's a little support but libertarian wings and republican party. This is more of law and order crowd. I can't see it going anywhere.

Jeremy Duda: Tough to see at least for a while. This is starting to gain a little bit of traction on the edges in some Republican circles. But hard to see it happening any time soon.

Mike Sunnucks: What crimes would you see the Republicans in the legislature softening things on or reforming? I struggle to find those unless they are white collar.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Perhaps giving judges more discretion. Rolling back some of those mandatory sentences.

Ted Simons: Speaking of judges there's an idea we all know in terms of retaining judges, yes, no, keep, go. They constantly are retained. There's a move now to make instead of just a simple majority, 60% would have to say retain in order for a judge to be retained. What's going on?

Jeremy Duda: This is a proposal by representative Phil Lovett in 2016. It would go from 50 plus one to 60%. You pretty much never lose retention elections. We had one last year, that was the first ever. Most of them still clear 60% because most of the people who vote, the ballot is 20 feet long, you leave it blank or vote yes on every one. I think four judges last year would have lost their retention election if they hadn't gotten - the 60% benchmark had been in place then, but it would make it easier if these judges ticked off the legislature -- activist groups it would make it easier to launch a campaign to keep them from --

Mike Sunnucks: If they ticked off conservative activist groups on something they would able maybe try to launch something and take a couple people out. If you annoyed the Senator for Arizona policy or one of the socially conservative groups, for immigration there, then they could go after somebody. I think the legislature - A lot of conservatives look at the judiciary and see the 9th circuit, they see the gay marriage rulings at the federal level and impose those types views on the judges here which are mostly conservative, at least down the middle - we've only had one that go out. I can see them trying to cherry pick a couple that they see as liberal.

Ted Simons: 60% needed to retain a judge as a mandated by lawmakers who only need 50% and voted on by the public which again it would only need 51%.

Jeremy Duda: There's a little bit of irony there. I don't think anyone would want to have to get 60% to get reelected. That's a bit too far for them.

Mike Sunnucks: This is -- there's a lot of voter confusion on these things. It's down the ballot. Sometimes they are hard to figure out what a yes is and what a no is. It would mean no guarantee to pass.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think it's just another way to come into this whole issue that we have seen folks every year try to find a way to reign in judiciary. Can we make these, get rid of the merit selection system we have in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties. That's not working. So maybe they'd go another way.

Jeremy Duda: One point I believe this would only apply to the judges in three counties where you have these who selects these nominees that the governor chooses. The other 12 counties, smaller counties, they are elected in more traditional elections. It's not a retention election. They actually have an election with an opponent and campaign and lal that.

Ted Simons: There's also word of a two-thirds vote by the legislature would be enough to remove a sitting superior court judge, Court of Appeals, superior court.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Can you imagine this? We have the legislature right now in the superior court fighting the schools inflation funding ruling. We have the legislature in court right now making their case on Medicaid expansion. They lost in the first round. This is allowing some of the plaintiffs in the case to then effectively have a vote in removing the judge in their case.

Ted Simons: They wouldn't need a reason to vote them out.

Jeremy Duda: The legislature already can impeach a judge for high crimes or misdemeanors or gross malfeasance. You feel like there are judicial activists, you really don't like the way they rule, you can take them out. You don't need the same good reason. When proponents talk about you need to reign in activist judges, I think Warren Peterson, you can tell pretty easily what some of the judges and rulings they are talking about going back to the K-12 case where the Court of Appeals ruled that or really means and and you have to fund both k-12 funding measures and the Supreme Court upheld that. That's where you get into are people going to use this to try to get rid of a judge who made a ruling they don't like.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the motivation is more around social issues. Yes, they could use it in some of these budget cases and it's very concerting but you look at school boards, how conservatives would try to get folks to run for those. They see judiciary nationally more liberal on social issues, on abortion, gay marriage rights, and those types of things, hey, if we can pick off a few judges, take some out that are extra to the left we can make the courts a little more conservative.

Ted Simons: Again, they can -- the voters have to agree to this and change the constitution.

Mike Sunnucks: That's again a tough go to get that. They would need 50%. [laughter]

Ted Simons: Don't confuse me now.

Mary Jo Pitzl: We could have a really, really long ballot in 2016. With that last go we had three ballot propositions. If all these were to come to pass, frankly often a lot of these proposals for sending to the ballot the legislature doesn't put them on in odd number years they hold them back and wait for next year for strategic reasons to see what else develops. We're looking at a pretty big ballot.

Mike Sunnucks: The key to these things, if they're on the ballot, are they going to pass? There's a lot of confusion. If they had a sugar daddy come in, spend a lot of money, Koch brother money, that really pushed this thing, talked about liberal judges and what they do, horror stories about judges they would like out of there, you could see a Republican oriented electorate maybe passing something like this.

Ted Simons: Think so?

Jeremy Duda: Maybe. Hard to say. You have to convince people of the real need for it, presuming no money is coming in on the other side. You saw at least a little bit of money come in against the last ballot measure trying to over all merit selection to reign in the judiciary.

Ted Simons: The idea of body cameras for police, couple of ideas. One would require police to wear body cameras, the other, fatal shootings would be investigated by outside agencies. This is being introduced by a Democrat. Well, let's go a little further with it.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you're going to see local police departments do this anyway. After Ferguson, I think a lot of local police are looking at this, are already doing this. Some already have them. Taser, in Scottsdale, is one of the companies that do this. It protects them. Take all the doubt out of things, keeps them from getting sued a lot of times, keeps them from getting to the truth which a lot of good NATURED folks at police agencies want to get to. I think where they have laws in Arizona and other states you'll see major city police departments, County sheriff's offices do this. I think there's a lot of pressure on them because it's the logical common sense thing to do.

Ted Simons: Isn't there a concern involving privacy, not only for police or the victims or suspects or whomever is involved?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It does raise questions as to any kind of new technology or any application of technology. Would that body camera footage be -- is that a public record? Wouldn't we -- television stations like to run some of that. So it does raise a host of questions.

Jeremy Duda: That's legislation you're likely to see, far likelier to pass because it's not from a legislative Democrat. Senator Kavanagh wants to run a bill kind of streamlining or making uniform standards for body cameras for the agencies that choose to use them, not forcing anyone to do it. He's very concerned about are these public records? Can people get them whenever they want? He wants to severely limit when that can be release. These people aren't going to be free cameramen for reality shows and bloggers and internet. That's probably a lot likelier to go anywhere than representative bolding's plan.

Mike Sunnucks: That's more likely to be challenged in the courts, because of the First Amendment. 911 calls are disclosed. You see these camera stuff shown in other states. It's a public record. If they pass that they would probably face a lot of challenges, especially from media companies. Maybe the Republicans will get on board with this democratic bill because it makes sense. You think about Ferguson, how much easier things might have been if we had seen the footage of this. For the grand jury, the prosecutors, for everybody involved.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Then you get into a state mandate on local governments. A lot of local governments are likely going down this path anyway at their own expense.

Jeremy Duda: How do law enforcement agencies feel about it? If they don't want it, it's not going to pass. John Kavanagh already vowed that this thing is going to go down.

Ted Simons: I'm guessing the outside agency requirement would be not well thought of too highly. Explain to our viewers, what is a caucus? How open is it, why don't open meeting laws apply and why do house Republicans want to close their caucus meetings?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We could start with a couple of definitions. A caucus is a gathering of people with a like minded agenda. So if the legislature -- at the legislature there have been many cauci. Whatever the plural would be. There's a Republican and democratic caucus. Over the years we have had special interest caucus, the mining caucus, Veteran caucus, the Latino caucus,the Native American caucus. Separate stories but President Biggs and house speaker Gowan are interested in limiting the word caucus only to the two parties that are operative at the legislature. They would like the other guys to call themselves working groups, et cetera. Those are informal meetings among members of a body and the house is looking to close it. House Republicans. So they can have better, more frank, deliberative discussions.

Jeremy Duda: I feel like if these things are open we're all there, the press, there's lobbyists, members of the public. Maybe some of the members will be more inhibited in what they say or they may be less so. You see the press, you see a camera, notebook, start grandstanding. That's what the floor is for.

Mike Sunnucks: It reminds me I think the previous president, President Bush, had meetings and the vice president had meetings with oil company folks and working groups and there was questions about how public that should be. It's basically to squeeze out the press and other people from coming in. You can go to these caucus meetings, you can see disagreements within the caucus. You can see who is backing these, who is writing these bills, which lobbyist, which groups. The staff members will talk about it. Sometimes they will give hints about the motivations for bills and who is for it. So why would you want that public? That would only help serve the press and the media.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Except that it has been. It's been public for forever. At least in the house the caucus rooms for both the republicans and democrats have cameras. It's televised on the legislature's own website. Somebody can sit in Greer and watch the Republican caucus on Tuesday mornings if they want. It's a service. It's transparency.

Ted Simons: And again, I think Steve Montenegro was saying they are going to limit exposure but in a transparent way. What does that mean?

Jeremy Duda: Your guess is as good as mine. I'm not sure how you would limit something in a transparent. That these caucus, they can already close whenever they want and they sometimes do. Generally, only though, for personnel stuff, leadership votes, if they are thinking about expelling someone. Stuff like that. Very limited circumstances.

Mike Sunnucks: They see the local level where the city of Glendale goes into executive session every meeting to talk about the coyotes and they see local city council go into executive sessions where they are closed and they envy that. That politicians don't always like things to be open. The budget process isn't open any more. It's all hashed out on the 9th floor with leadership. We don't see a lot of hearings any more. So that's kind of closed off. It's a natural evolution. It's think whatever party was in charge wants things closed off.

Ted Simons: House Republicans, what's the Senate reaction?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I haven't tested the Waters on. That I don't know.

Jeremy Duda: Separate chambers, they can do whatever they want. I haven't heard any proposals.

Mary Jo Pitzl: If you close it you're going to have a much longer line of media outside that door jumping on people as they come out because the more you keep something away from people the more you want it.

Jeremy Duda: A line of lobbyists out there too. I don't think they want those meetings closed any more than we would. You go to any one of those caucus meetings, a bunch of lobbyists waiting in there, see what they think of their bills, waiting to talk to some folks. They can certainly exert some influence in terms of whether or not this proposal goes.

Mike Sunnucks: Lobbyists who they need to give fiesta and super bowl tickets to, to get their bills passed.

Ted Simons: Before we get out of here. there's yet another proposal talk about deja vu all over again, to create a lieutenant governor position. Why?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think we should just take the mine inspector position and make that the lieutenant governor. Why? Because you need a lieutenant governor. Secretary of State does not say second in command for the governor. These proposals that come around every -- every four years, maybe every two years, is to increase jobs in state government.

Mike Sunnucks: Creates another job for politicians, for campaign managers, consultants, for dark money to be funneled to. For us to cover. A short list-

Ted Simons: To take part in secret caucuses.

Mike Sunnucks: To take part in secret caucuses. Attend state funerals, meet with the girls' basketball state champions.

Jeremy Duda: The sponsor doesn't want the lieutenant to be like the vice president of the United States where you just go to funerals and official events. She wants it to be the head of the department of administration, which is interesting because it's a very technical job that whoever you pick for this might not necessarily be qualified but would give them the thinking is kind of a learning position so you can learn in case you have to take over as governor.
Mary Jo Pitzl: The other idea is voters would know what they are getting. If you elect a governor and he or she has a lieutenant governor that comes with them, you're elected a ticket as opposed to our current situation with Janet Napolitano up and leaves and we switch from a democratic to a Republican governor, Jan Brewer. Those two didn't run together. [speaking simultaneously]

Ted Simons: Another switching party.

Mike Sunnucks: You can see an argument against it on that front. If you have a corrupt governor, we have had a couple of those in our state history, they get booted. You're bringing somebody that's not with them. Not on their ticket. You figure you got a crook in office, you get another crook taking over for him.

Jeremy Duda: There's an argument from advocates when they vote for Secretary of State most have no idea that when they vote for Secretary of state, they are voting for someone who might become the next governor and frequently does.

Ted Simons: I'm getting the Symingtons and Meachams confused only because how many times has this happened?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Five times in the state history.

Ted Simons: That's a lot.

Jeremy Duda: Most of those in the last 30, 40 years. Last four decades, happens a lot here.

Ted Simons: Voters twice, somewhat recently, said we don't like this idea so obviously we're going to get it again. Voters going to change their minds on this?

Mike Sunnucks: Zero chance.

Ted Simons: Zero chance?

Jeremy Duda: Probably not. They voted against this overwhelmingly in '94 when Jan Brewer was spearheading the push for it of all people. They rejected it overwhelmingly in 2010 I believe. Some people had issues with the way that was structured where the 2010 proposal was the lieutenant governor and governor ran separately were forced to run together in the general. This one from this new proposal would -- more like the presidential system. You win your nomination then choose your running mate. Those voters know what they are getting.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff, guys. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it. Monday on "Arizona Horizon" Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton will be here to discuss air traffic noise complaints, super bowl events and other issues. We'll look at specialty schools that give students real world skills. That's Monday an "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday ASU and the Santa Fe institute open a new center on urbanization. Wednesday the impact of major sporting events on the local economy. Thursday former ambassador Kurt Volker stops by and Friday it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. 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 8, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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

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