Journalists’ Roundtable

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

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's Journalists' Roundtable," the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules against the town of Gilbert's sign ordinance. But no ruling from the high court, as yet, concerning Arizona's congressional redistricting process. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "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 Alia Rau of the "Arizona Republic." Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." And Bob Christie of the Associated Press. That's Jeremy Duda and Bob Christie was right over there, but we'll figure it out as we go on. A Gilbert Presbyterian church wins at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case regarding a town sign ordinance. This is a big deal because it deals with, I think, what every local business and every local town gets concerned about and that is signage.

ALIA RAU: Right. It's a question of, this is a very small church that was using space and basically put up a sign the night before posting directions, come here for our services and the city said, the town said can't do it, have to take it down. Basically the Supreme Court came back and said no you can't treat these signs differently than political signs or business signs or any other kinds of signs. Business signs or political signs you can leave up for a number of days before the primary and then after the general. So, if you treat them all the same, it looks like we potentially may have very big signs on very big corners most of the year.

TED SIMONS: Yeah, and this was, as I mentioned, this was a unanimous decision.

BOB CHRISTIE: It was a unanimous decision. When they had the arguments a couple of months ago, it was very clear, everybody who watched that the sign ordinance was in serious, serious trouble and the decision came out and it was unanimous, not only unanimous, but Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion that said that he used the highest level of constitutional scrutiny on this particular free speech issue. This is a free speech issue is what it is. It's a first amendment issue and what he said is that it has -- that sign ordinances are subject to what is called strict scrutiny, the government can only regulate them at what's called the least restrictive area. So, it's speech. And the government has to be very careful about the type of restrictions that it puts in place.

JEREMY DUDA: What's interesting is the decision was unanimous, but the reasoning wasn't. You had a six justice majority who sided with, five of them sided with Justice Thomas on the strict scrutiny, but you had three, I believe led by Justice Kagan, who felt like they may have been going too far, they did not need to do such a broad expansive ruling. You know, on this case. It would have been easy to simply strike down the one ordinance as overreaching. But in this case, it undermines ordinances all over the country. The majority of the cities in the country have to make some changes here and Kagan's concern was that they're basically turning the Supreme Court and the Federal Court to some in general, some kind of national sign commission at this point because there are so many different ordinances, so many different types of signs, if you have to treat them all the same or have very little difference between them that's going to lead to a lot of future legal disputes

TED SIMONS: And real quickly, again, Gilbert sign ordinance said that these announcement signs, as opposed to political signs, had to be smaller, couldn't stay up as long, can't put them in the same place as these political signs. And Gilbert says the churches were treated the same as other nonprofit groups. The church, a plucky church out there, I mean they just kept at it, didn't they?

ALIA RAU: They got a little bit of help from the big alliance defending freedom boys who kind of came in and represented them in that case, but yeah, it is a tiny little church and they kept at it and lost twice in lower courts and kept going to the Supreme Court

TED SIMONS: And that's a good point. They did lose twice at the 9th Circuit. And again, unanimous decision, but as Jeremy mentioned, the reasoning wasn't unanimous. They argued this thing on January 12th. It took a long time, and people were thinking, oh, there is big indecision here. There really wasn't.

BOB CHRISTIE: No there really wasn't. I think the indecision was on the writing of the opinion and how to craft it and how far to go. As you see from -- there were three concurring opinions that came out, along with the majority opinion, which they all signed on to as well. But then they came back and they said I would have done this and done that. The bottom line is, Gilbert had there different types of signs. They had political science, ideological signs like there's vote for Bob signs, they have -- the Grand Canyon is great signs, ideology, and then they have like come to our 5-K run sign. Or come to our pancake breakfast or church sign and they regulated them all differently. And the Supreme Court said no, no, no. You can't regulate them differently. They have to be all the same. And as Jeremy said, this is going to tip over the apple cart across the country because cities, all sorts of cities have different ordinances. They're going to have to start looking at them and say, are we treating everybody equally? Are there different time frames. Are businesses treated differently than churches or anyone else--

TED SIMONS: Not only, cause I know in Tempe, they have a very strict sign code. All sorts of ordinances in Tempe. Do they survive?

JEREMY DUDA: It's hard to say. Anyone could challenge any ordinance and at this point, anyone who has any dispute with any sort of ordinance is going to be able to come out. Even political candidates, whose signs are completely ubiquitous, like in Gilbert for example, they couldn't leave their, there was a time limit on how long they could leave their signs up. Whereas ideological signs, as Bob mentioned, they could stay up indefinitely, so we have all seen these candidates who months after the election they haven't gotten around to taking their signs, they get fined by the city. Maybe they're going to say why do I have to go take that down if this group can leave it up for years.

TED SIMONS: On the other hand, maybe we will see fewer signs, or for a fewer period, or maybe the City ordinance says I don't care who you're voting for what you're doing, I don't want it up here longer than 90 days.

Bob Christie: Yeah, except there is a state law that says you must allow political signs. So, in -- and during any election period. So as we know, cities have different election periods, different times than state elections, so probably eight, nine months a year, there's an election going on within that time frame and what the Supreme Court says is that you can't you can't make a content decision. You can't say that one -- one content is better than another or worse than another. And they also said that you can only regulate essentially for beautification purposes or -- it just gets really down in the weeds of what's good and what's bad here.

JEREMY DUDA: Plus the politicians who put up the signs are the same ones who make the ordinances, so I wouldn't expect them to regulate themselves too harshly here.

TED SIMONS: Yeah, but that means there will be signs all over the place. Puppies are cute - there's going to be signs all over. That was a Supreme Court Decision we are still waiting regarding congressional redistricting and whether or not that is going to pass Supreme Court muster. Talk to us about this case.

ALIA RAU: We are, or I think that is the big political question here in Arizona is what happens to redistricting. Basically the redistricting federal laws say the legislature should have some kind of a rule in redistricting. We have a redistricting commission, the legislature appoints the members to it, but has no control over the final maps. There is an argument over what does legislature mean. We like to argue over words. What does legislature mean? Should the legislature get a final say in those maps. That's what we are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide. Does the legislature get to decide Arizona's congressional maps which then throws all of our congressional districts into complete disarray.

TED SIMONS: It's interesting, it's who gets to draw the maps. The Constitution, Article One, section 4, says legislatures should do this. However, we've got, you know, the initiative process and the people have spoken and they said the commission gets to do this.

BOB CHRISTIE: That's right. The legislature in the west, you know, we have become evolved. The Western states, California, Arizona, several others, the legislature is a little "L" it's the people. We can pass laws ourselves. The people collectively can bring a measure to the voters and they can pass laws. They can pass constitutional amendments, they can strike down laws. The big L legislature, the house and Senate in Arizona, say no, no, no, that's us. And that's what the fight is all about. It's about big L, little L, who gets to make that law.

JEREMY DUDA: And the Courts have long said, and this is the independent redistricting commission's argument is that legislature means the broader law making powers of the state and in the past we have seen similar redistricting cases go before the Supreme Court where they said, you know, legislature means the broader law making powers in the state. If the governor has a veto, that means a veto. If they're subject to citizen referendum, that means a referendum. Now, the legislature's argument in this is that independent redistricting commission is not part of the broader law making powers. People aren't exercising power they're simply delegating that to a completely different third party and that is a much different situation, is their argument.

TED SIMONS: So what happens if the legislature wins?

ALIA RAU: That's the question. I think you've already got the house republicans hiring somebody to start drawing maps. I'm getting emails of maps all over the place. Everybody's got a favorite map they want, but there's also a question of how the ruling comes down has a huge impact on what this means. A lot of people think this could impact 2016; the Legislature gets to redraw the map. That may not be the case. They may say, okay, the legislature gets to decide this, but then the legislature then may have to take those maps back to court again, so we could be by 2020, you know, still with a question on what maps and whose maps and where and when?

TED SIMONS: We had Paul bender, ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, legal constitutional expert, and he's basically saying, you know, you can -- the legislature can win and draw the most ridiculous map they want to draw. The people then can turn right around and say we don't like that map.

BOB CHRISTIE: Yeah, that's absolutely true. I talked to them yesterday about the same subject. It's an intriguing argument. I remember a couple of years ago, legislature put together this giant omnibus election bill. All these things the Democrats hated, the Independents hated and the Libertarians hated. They called voter suppression, that's what their term for it was. Well, they went out and got 205,000 signatures, enough to put the law on hold and refer to voters. So, if the legislature, if the republican legislature goes off the reservation and makes eight out of nine Arizona districts republican, you can expect that that's going to happen again. And then that is just going to put it all on hold and we will go through 2016 with the existing districts which are right now 5-4, it was 4-5. Everyone expects if they do draw, it's probably will be seven republicans, two democrats.

TED SIMONS: That's true, I think, but this could be complicated. You've got a lot of competing interests, don't you?
JEREMY DUDA: The democrats are looking at this from the perspective what does the party lose, but in the legislature, we have a lot of individual republicans who think gee, maybe I could go to Congress one day if only I had the right district. Hey, I can draw that, including the house speaker Gowan who is very much rumored to want a district of his own, and that is going to conflict with taking Republican parts out of Martha McSally in southern Arizona whose margin of victory is razor thin -- I think, you know, state level and national republicans are going to want to strengthen that district rather than say, hey, speaker Gowan, why don't you take a stab at a different district.

TED SIMONS: Civil rights guidelines still apply here? Or has, what that was tossed out? What was tossed out?

BOB CHRISTIE: What was tossed out was pre clearance.

TED SIMONS: All right.

BOB CHRISTIE: Before you had to get the maps and go to the justice department and they would say those are fine with us. Now, you draw the maps, you put them into effect, and then the justice department can come in and sue.

TED SIMONS: But Civil Rights, the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act still has to be applied.

BOB CHRISTIE: It does, and there are probably in Arizona we'll need at least two. I mean the theory has been we need at least two voting rights districts that's -- Representative Gallego right now

JEREMY DUDA: I think there is no question the democrats will throw everything they can at these maps, voting rights act based lawsuits, citizen referendum. But the pre clearance is a big deal because you -- Under that you had some very stringent requirements the Department of Justice had to vet this and give it approval before it went into effect. Now, someone else has to bring suit and if they don't have a case, that's, you know, it's not going to go anywhere and I think Grijalva and Gallego, I mean, I think these are two of the safest districts in the State. Republican lawmakers, they know that's going to be the quickest way to get these maps tossed out is to screw around with those districts. If it they don't then there's really no Voting Rights Act basis.

BOB CHRISTIE: In fact, they could pack them with even more democrats. Because like I said right now there's five republican districts. Well there's four solidly republican districts, two solidly democratic districts and three that could go either way. They're going to want to take some republicans out of Gosar's district and Schweikert's district and probably put them in Sinema's district, so that maybe she's vulnerable and they want to beef up McSally down south. I mean --

JEREMY DUDA: I think there's one -- you know we were talking about the referendum, I think there is one kind of interesting legal issue here. If they collect those signatures to put those maps on the ballot in 2016. They are on hold. They can't be used. But there's an open question there of what maps do you use then? You have the Supreme Court saying the ones that we have now were drawn unconstitutionally. The ones that get drawn by the legislature can't go into effect--do you use the old-that's going to be another court fight- do you use the preexisting maps, does a panel of judges draw them like they did in 1992?

TED SIMONS: I was going to say, the judge would have to do it, wouldn't they?

ALIA RAU: I think it gets back to the question of how will a Supreme Court ruling look? Does it say the legislature has to do this but leaves the maps themselves alone so that that would require another lawsuit or does it throw out the maps as part of that opinion? I think it just depends on how the Supreme Court works.

BOB CHRISTIE: And there has been a bill introduced in Congress that would put any Supreme Court decision on hold until the next census. It probably won't go anywhere, but it was introduced by California republicans who are going to lose a lot of republican seats because they also have a similar redistricting commission.

TED SIMONS: This decision could very likely happen Monday. We're certainly expecting it seems to be the general consensus. We're also awaiting the decision on King Burwell, that's the Obama care case. This affects Arizona, as well, does it not?

ALIA RAU: It does. We have about 165,000 people currently getting assistance. Basically federal assistance, federal tax assistance from, to have insurance to pay for insurance, so this would say that states have to have their own exchanges. Arizona doesn't have an exchange. We use the federal exchange. In Arizona, the legislature has passed legislation saying we will not do a state exchange. So basically this 155,000 people who use the federal exchange are kind of out of luck. They don't get anymore help from the Federal Government. They will either have to buy their own insurance or we would add them to the uninsured population.

TED SIMONS: And again, because Arizona uses the federal exchange, doesn't have a state exchange, if you knock out the federal -- we're not going to get a state exchange because the law says we're not going to have a state exchange.

BOB CHRISTIE: Unless the governor changes his mind, remember he would have to call -- I mean, there are ways potentially around this. First off Congress, republicans of Congress may go that we can't have 28 states where the people, 5.5 million people suddenly drop into the rolls again. It is unlikely, but there may be a fix there. There may be -- maybe the Governor Ducey hears from the hospital community who is going to have all of this uncompensated care dumped on them and comes up with a way to twist the arms of the legislature. Not likely, but I think if the subsidies get overturned we're going to lose a lot of folks off the federal health insurance.

JEREMY DUDA: I think there's going to be a lot of proposals starting to float around in Congress, one the national level, starting to hear concern from republicans who staunchly opposed Obama care, concern about what happens if they win. As much as they hate Obama care, who wants to be pegged with dumping -- costing millions of people their health insurance going into a presidential election year. Now, I think one thing you might see and a lot of republicans are advocating for, keep subsidies in some form, but with a lot of changes. Currently they only be use for the Affordable Care Act approved plans, can only be used during open enrollment periods. I think you're going to see some proposals to change that so people have a lot more flexibility, they can do whatever they want with them and maybe they would be available to people in states that don't have state run exchanges.

BOB CHRISTIE: But would Obama sign that and give the republicans a win? If he vetoes it, he could say look, they are the ones that threw all of the people out on the street without insurance. I mean, there's a lot of political ramifications that go into those decisions.

TED SIMONS: Okay, we will keep an eye on that one as well. What, who is Aruna Murthy? Well actually I know who Aruna is. We had her on the show before, she used to parch the numbers for us every once in awhile. She was fired after a series of sobering jobs reports. Were those -- chief economist for the state, were those jobs reports, I mean, what are you supposed to say? I don't know what you are supposed to say to put a rosy picture on this, was that the reason she was fired?

ALIA RAU: I think we're all still trying to figure that out. There seems to be a lot of conversation going on about what happened and why. There were some negative job reports. She would do monthly media events and kind of answer questions, provide some analysis with the numbers that they are required by federal law to give to the public every month. But then there is also conversation she has said that she was asked to do state work. She is paid with federal funds. She has been asked to do some state work. We've got some documents saying there was some pretty serious conflicts between her and another employee. It's hard to tell exactly where that's coming from.

TED SIMONS: It doesn't look good, though, when the administration fires the messenger, does it?

BOB CHRISTIE: No, it sure doesn't. Politically it's horrible. She at the last couple of events where she did her monthly jobs report, couple of months ago she pointed out that well, you know yeah, we have the jobless rate is going down, but the jobs that we're creating are $10, $12 an hour jobs, they're not the ones that will lift the economy up. And then the next time around, she said, well I'm really worried, because although the bottom line number has gone down, look, there was only 300, 400 private jobs created in the whole state last month and those are bad headlines. Those are just bad headlines. So when she is suddenly gone, one immediately thinks, something's up here.

JEREMY DUDA: Sure, and I think what probably looked worse at least initially, was it looked like these briefings were going to be gone along with Ms. Murphy. Those are the -- They have to put out this report every month. They're paid by federal funds, they're required by federal laws to put that out if they're taking that money, but they don't necessarily have to give these briefings and that, as Bob mentioned, gives you the why and maybe some details on hey the numbers look like this but it is not that good for this reason or that reason. And very quickly, within a day or so, the department of administration, under the Ducey administration, said, hey we're going to keep doing this - Governor Ducey's office said, hey, you know, this is important, and we're not canceling anything, you know, false alarm here.

TED SIMONS: It wasn't so much a question of cancelling the meetings, it was the idea that the person who was holding the meetings was let go because she was telling the truth?

BOB CHRISTIE: Well, that's of course that's the bottom line that we'll never be able to dig down and find out about. That's your gut feeling when you see something like that. This woman's been talking about bad things that reflect poorly on the governor and suddenly she's fired? The governor's office says, absolutely not, first off, the governor's office says absolutely we had nothing to do with it. We were completely surprised by her firing as anyone else, so it was the ADOA and why did they do it over there? Now the director of the ADOA is a former Ducey employee back as -- Treasury - as Treasurer and Cold Stone's day, so they have a long history. Was he trying to protect his old boss? Who knows? We will probably never find out, but reporters are suspicious.

TED SIMONS: And you guys -- you have been following this closely, getting more and more information on the fact that she wasn't necessarily -- people don't get along in state agencies all the time. I don't know whether that means a fireable offense.

ALIA RAU: It's hard to say and this was I mean it didn't seem like they based on the documents that we got that there was anything that she did as opposed this other employee whose name we don't have, but it was - it almost seemed that she was treated very badly by this other employee as much as anything else. So you know, I - It's hard to say. I will say that we did have a briefing this week with the new guy who is not an economist, and from what he read the numbers but he provided very little context, very little analysis. He promised to do better next month. I don't know if it is because he had two days' notice, but I think that's something we're going to be watching very closely.

TED SIMONS: That's going to be something he's going to be watching. He's gotta watch what he says apparently.

JEREMY DUDA: Apparently, and after you watch what happened to the last person, maybe you want to paint a slightly rosier picture, along with the governor who is very much trying to paint a rosy picture, of Arizona open for business and moving at the speed of business.

TED SIMONS: Arizona's abortion law, the state has agreed to delay enforcement on this business of medical providers having to tell patients that reverse abortions, medical abortions can be possible. Agreed to delay? That's kind of odd, isn't it?
BOB CHRISTIE: The law goes into effect July 3rd. Last -- a couple of weeks ago, planned parenthood and abortion providers sued in federal court and said this is a first amendment violation. Judge have a hearing before the thing goes into effect. And put a temporary injunction in place. The state and the planned parenthood folks have been going back and forth to providers and they said listen this is -- this is going to take us three days of testimony. It is a complex issue. We will agree to put this provision on hold until we can prepare for this three-day hearing which is now set for October.

TED SIMONS: And this again, the suit that they filed said it basically violates the first amendment rights to these doctors because they're having to tell patients something that they don't think is accurate.

ALIA RAU: Correct. The law requires them to tell them that the procedure may be reversible. It is a two-drug procedure, this is the medication abortion. If you take the first one, and don't take the second one but instead get megadoses of progesterone, they say that can potentially allow for the pregnancy to continue successfully. The doctors say this is bunk science, there is no evidence of this. You are forcing us to say something that we believe is a lie; therefore, that violates our first amendment rights.

TED SIMONS: Now other provisions of this law not affected, correct?

JEREMY DUDA: No, the main provision of this is not being able to purchase plans on the exchanges that were set up by the Affordable Care Act by Obama care, using these subsidies on these exchanges that provide abortion. That was the main bill. This was, you know, as it first got introduced and it was first going through, as we started following this that was the main thrust of this bill. This other provision on the medication abortions that got tacked on a little bit later and that of course because of all this controversy around the science of this that's what's kind of grabbed everyone's attention, but the other provision on the exchanges, there's no challenge to that. The Affordable Care Act is very explicit that states do have the right to do this. I'm kind of surprised that we didn't do this already.

BOB CHRISTIE: It affects a lot more people. You know, everyone who buys an Affordable Care Act health insurance policy, women right now can pay an extra dollar a month to cover women's health issues, to cover abortions as an option. The legislature and the governor wanted that banned. And that, as the bill went through the legislature, it was getting a lot of pressure and all of a sudden this provision got tacked on and it took all of the news away from that, so it really minimizes a much more broader issue, which is, we're going to have half of the people on the federal health exchange unable to provide, unable to buy optional health care.

TED SIMONS: Is that constitutional? Is someone going to fight that or --

ALIA RAU: I don't think so, that's been pretty clearly established. About half of the states already have passed legislation doing that with no problem. I'm kind surprised that Arizona hadn't done it already. Basically it just says that no insurance provider in Arizona can provide abortion services. I think there is about half of those, almost 200 that currently operate in Arizona that do provide, allow for abortion services.

TED SIMONS: Alright, well we'll see where that one goes as well. Good to have you all here. Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," the state's wildfire season is here. We'll get an update of conditions and expectations. And we'll hear from the federal trade commission on internet advertising and marketing guidelines. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, state department of child safety director Greg McKay will join us. Wednesday we'll look at educational programs that help kids stay on track over summer break. Thursday we'll learn about the history of American Indians and sports. 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 eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Alia Rau "Arizona Republic"; Jeremy Duda "Arizona Capitol Times"; Bob Christie "Associated Press"

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