Journalists’ Roundtable

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

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, we'll discuss Donald Trump coming to Phoenix and the impact it will have on the GOP race. And new polls show that education is the number one issue for Arizona voters. Those stories and more on "Arizona Horizon"

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Steve Goldstein in for Ted Simons. Joining us tonight: Alia Rau of "The Arizona Republic." Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal." And Hank Stephenson of "The Arizona Capitol Times." Donald Trump is coming to Phoenix Saturday to discuss his controversial political beliefs. Why is Donald Trump coming specifically to Phoenix?

ALIA RAU: I think it's kind of he's riding this wave of the immigration. He's made huge news, he's getting some attention in the polls. So if you're going to talk immigration, where else come but Arizona?

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: So city of Phoenix officials have expressed some displeasure at the fact that Trump has moved from the Biltmore to downtown Phoenix. Does that have any traction?

ALIA RAU: I think there's just some general concern about how many people are going to come, you're adding protesters to that and just sort of what kind of a chaos it's going to cause, what the impact is to Phoenix. You know, you've got the governor who's gone out of his way to sort of keep Arizona out of the national news and here's Trump bringing it right back to center stage.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Mike, Trump is a reality show star. This feels like a reality show in a sense. Is there going to be any depth to this conversation, this speech he might give?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: He's sucking all the oxygen out of the presidential race right now. He's getting more attention than Hillary, more than Jeb, more than anybody else. I mean he's drawn eyeballs and viewers and the cable news networks and newspapers are all over this because people are interested in what he has to say. There's a vacuum in the Republican side. There's not a lot -- Jeb Bush is out there, he's kind of not really sure how much his heart is in it, very crowded race and here's Trump that doesn't talk like a politician, talks like a tough guy and if you talk to the base out there, the Fox News viewers, conservatives, they want a Republican to run against Hillary that's on the offense and stuff. They've been on the defense for the last two cycles and so he talks to that and he's tapped into that kind of immigration foil that has been off the front burner for a while and now, it's back.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Do you buy him, though, as a legitimate candidate? As you said we're at least six months away from the first caucus, the first primary as it is. Do you expect him to be in the race by that point?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think if you talk to the political class and folks that cover this, you expect somebody like him to be gone by next year. But who knows? I mean, he's got his own money, he's good with the media, he's had the missteps with the comments but a lot of access out there, he's getting all kinds of earned media on this and, you know, we like celebrities in this country and he's a celebrity. And if you look at other aspects of society, celebrity does something for you.

HANK STEPHENSON: But even if he stays in this race, I think there's very, very little chance that he's going to win a nomination. I mean, I would be amazed if he won the presidential primary in Arizona, let alone, you know, nationally.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The immigration-related comments, do you think those will gain traction? Is he someone who has put that issue back on the front burner and will it force people to talk about it?

HANK STEPHENSON: Absolutely it already has. We had Jan Brewer coming out of her backyard garden yesterday to comment on it on CNN. She talked to our paper. It very much pushes that issue back into the forefront and forces everyone else to react to Donald Trump, no matter what it is he's talking about, then everybody else has to give some sort of comment to his comment, which is a bizarre phenomenon.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: You see a lot of people in the base, they're frustrated with the field. It's crowded. A lot of folks that are running, it looks like they're running for a Fox News show more than nominations or selling a book. The frontrunner Jeb Bush is another Bush. There's fatigue with that. Within the Republican party. They're tired of the dynasty and he's not exactly been the most forthright, aggressive candidate out there, even though he's raised a lot of money. Here comes Trump, who's a celebrity, attracts people to the race and to watching this that aren't interested in politics a little bit, and so he's kind of a fresh face and obviously says very controversial things that make for good coffee and make for good news telecasts so I think he's filling a void right now. Whether that lasts is certainly, the big question and his stances on some social issues in the past have not been very conservative. He's voiced support for abortion rights, same-sex marriage, universal healthcare in the past, he doesn't have that political record that's as pure as some conservatives would like, but certainly on immigration he's touching a chord.

ALIA RAU: And I think that does go back to this, we've been very quiet on immigration for the last three or four, six months, and it's something that really is important to a lot of people in Arizona, and I think there's some legitimate frustration that it isn't being talked about. So to throw it out there, to let Arizona get back in the middle, he may not be a legitimate candidate in a lot of places but I think in Arizona he potentially could be.

HANK STEPHENSON: But it's one thing to have a legitimate conversation about border security and immigration and it's another thing to throw out these really hateful comments against an entire country of people, which, you know, puts him on a stage with people like Apaio which the rest of the GOP is shunning at this point. There's been national stories that are super interesting about top GOP leaders calling up Donald Trump and saying hey, cool it, you're making the rest of us look bad.

ALIA RAU: But look how far the issue has taken Apaio and look how far the issue took Brewer, I mean, it does create legitimate candidates in Arizona.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: But could that help the candidates who are running against him in the primary? Could it help a Jeb Bush where he comes across as the moderate, as opposed to, he's going to run as a conservative then have to go to the middle if he wins the nomination.

ALIA RAU: I think in the primary, it makes it difficult because you want to be the moderate and in the general it definitely could but I don't know about the primary.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Mike, what about what some of Arizona's prominent Republicans are saying about Trump, John McCain, Jeff Flake, even Glenn Hammer from the Chamber of Commerce aren't excited about the comments you mentioned.
MIKE SUNNUCKS: No, reference Flake made some efforts to distance the Republican party here from Trump in the event and it's the Maricopa Republican party that's putting it on not the state party and you mentioned Glenn Hammer, kind of that business wing of the party the Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney GPO ring in Phoenix, they want immigration in the rearview mirror. They don't want 1070, they don't want Apaio or Russell Pearce or these types of images going out to the country and here comes Donald Trump, coming to downtown Phoenix with a lot of protesters, a lot of immigration hawks in his camp going to be there, and so I think there's a lot of hand wringing in the business wing over this, plus the tourism folks, they don't want the image of Arizona but this is an issue that the base cares about. They've cared about it for a long time. They look at the outreach, the middle of the GOP is doing towards Latinos as kind of misguided because they think they're going to vote mostly for Democrats anyways. And there's arguments on both sides of that but I think the conservatives see immigration as kind of an issue where they can be on the offense against the Democrats.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: It's interesting with Glenn Hammer, for example, in the business community, they were criticized for closing the barn door if the horse had gotten out with S.B.1070. So Hank, do you think this is a way of making a preemptive strike in a sense?

HANK STEPHENSON: I think they've been doing that on a lot of fronts. Ducey's big trip to Mexico city last month I think it was something that they put out three or four editorials on in the Republic. This is something they're really actively trying to change the debate on and then Ducey's not going to be at this event but he at the same time still hasn't put out any statement about Donald Trump and what he thinks of him coming here or what he thought about his statements specifically on Mexico and immigration, which is interesting to see him just being very quiet about it. He doesn't want to be involved in this.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Alia, let's move on to the GOP Senate primary. Next Tuesday a state lawmaker named Kelly Ward is going to announce her plans we think to run against John McCain for the U.S. Senate. What should we know about Kelli Ward? Where is she gaining some traction in the legislature?

ALIA RAU: She's related to this conversation among the Tea Party conservative Republicans in the legislature. She's in the Senate, she's a physician, she's come in on a lot of education stuff, I think she chaired the education committee this session and really got very involved in the common core issue, some of the kind of fundamental conservative issues and she's really started to make a name for herself in that arena.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Why is she running though?

HANK STEPHENSON: She thinks she can beat John McCain, which is a heck of a tall order. There were some polls that showed John McCain's favorability rating among likely Republican voters is very low but taking him out is darn near impossible. He's got as much money as he needs to run this campaign. Kelly ward has none. He's got name I.D., internationally, Kelly Ward has none. It's going to be an uphill battle that she will likely lose.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: She was one of the Republican conservatives that fought the Medicaid expansion favored by brewer, and I think this really fits into the Donald Trump thing because if there's a wave in the Republican party towards anti-immigration, anti-immigrant sentiments, towards border security, this right wing Tea Party wave, she could ride that and potentially have some legs that we don't expect in the race against McCain who's been an advocate of immigration reforms, a guest worker program, a legal path in the past and there's some folks on the Republican side that have had frustrations with McCain for a number of years and they haven't been able to find a good outlet. J.D. Hayward wasn't the guy to do it in 2010 so maybe she's the one, she's going to be at a big disadvantage.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: But are we going to see McCain pull out the build the dang fence thing? He's been criticized for going back and forth on the issue of immigration. He denies that, of course, but if you look at the ads and whatnot, is Kelly Ward potentially a strong enough candidate to make him do that or do you think he can sort of rest on his laurels to some extent?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think you'll see him get pushed on immigration. The way things look right now he'll get pushed on immigration. It's an issue that the conservative base doesn't see any action on out of the Republicans in Washington. On that or a lot of issues. That's why they're looking for a guy like Trump who says I'm a tough guy, I'm going to go in there and do things that politicians aren't doing. We've been talking about immigration reform since George W. Bush. We've tried immigration reform before and before, nobody seems to be happy with it. It could push McCain a little bit on that.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: I'm wondering as well any big name candidates? We kept hearing about Matt Salmon, David Schweikert, is anyone hearing news that those people might they run against McCain?

ALIA RAU: Nothing official. There's lots of conversations, all kinds of conversations about former lawmakers and who might jump in and might Sinema jump in on the other side and I think it's too early to get too serious about any of it at this point.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Congressional district one, Ann Kirkpatrick has left that seat. A poll came out this week, Hank, indicating that Paul Babeu, it was done by a supporter and someone who works for Paul Babeu, indicated that Babeu is a strong candidate to win the Republican primary in that district. Paul Babeu had some controversial issues that forced him out in the past from running for Congress. Do you think voters will forgive and forget?

HANK STEPHENSON: They may forgive but there's no way they're going to forget. I mean, the pictures of him taking selfies in the bathroom mirror in his underwear will be all over your TV screens come November next year or earlier than that, or August next year, when the primary is. You know, he's a good candidate in a lot of respects. He's a tough guy who's really liked down there in Pinal county, that's a huge part of the Republican vote for that district. He's well liked out there, he's got the law enforcement background but a couple of those negative ads running nonstop on your TV will drop him down very seriously and this poll, as you said, was paid for by his consultant and it showed him just running away with this race, which is interesting. I mean, the -- well, not even close second in this poll was Ken Bennett who is a former Secretary of State, who is looking more and more like he's going to get into this race, which would make it a little bit more interesting. He's got some roots up in the Prescott area. So he would kind of have the northern feel where Pinal county is in the southern part of the district. It could be an interesting two-way race but I just have a hard time believing that he can recover from something like that in a big district.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Well, it's such a spread out district. It's a rural district, the Navajo nation was key to Anne winning those races. There's not a big media market. They'll run ads in Phoenix but most of those people seeing those ads will not vote in that race and Babeu has name I.D. If there's Bennett in there, he will run a lot of negative stuff if it's kind of a head-to-head thing, but it could be very crowded and it will be interesting to see how demographic changes, a lot of growth in the past few decades down in Pinal county, more suburban, obviously more part of the valley. The rest of the areas, obviously rural. So we'll see what kind of hubs of voters and centers of voters kind of coalesce around him. It could be very interesting, much like when they created the district for Renzi in 2000, 2002, it was very crowded, Renzi didn't have a very big name I.D. and he came out of nowhere and won that seat.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: What stands out to me about Babeu is that unlike Andy Tobin or Gary Keeney, Babeu is a very good communicator and he likes media, and he likes talking. Can that really be a plus in a campaign for him, do you think?

ALIA RAU: I think so. It depends on the day he likes media and which day it might be. But yes, he knows how to kind of work the public circuit. He's active in the media. He's outspoken, he's very well spoken. Yeah, he knows what people want to hear. I think that helps him tremendously. I know Bennett got a lot of criticism when he ran for governor as kind of being the very somewhat quiet vanilla candidate, he doesn't make a lot of splashes. Babeu will be out there getting the attention.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Hank I'm wondering, you referenced the Babeu situation, taking the selfies and whatnot. Immigration has been in the past a strong issue for him but part of that controversy was the alleged relationship with an undocumented immigrant. Do you see that hurting him?

HANK STEPHENSON: It hasn't hurt him thus far. He hasn't backed off the issue, whenever that was, a couple of years back when the whole story broke about his relationship with an immigrant from Mexico. I don't think it will slow him down in the future as far as him talking about it. It maybe hurts his credibility a little bit on the issue. But it hasn't stopped him from talking about it and making it one of his major points.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think one dynamic you'll see come up is Bennett's run statewide for secretary of state, ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for governor. Babeu has been a Pinal county guy and he hasn't really run a larger campaign and this is almost a statewide type campaign, considering the geography and the diversity of the district.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Alia, considering four of the last 6 years that seat's been held by a democrat, are there any named Democrats we should know about who might run in that race?

ALIA RAU: That's a good question.

HANK STEPHENSON: Drawing a blank, right?

ALIA RAU: Drawing a blank.

HANK STEPHENSON: The Democrats don't have a bench. Not a real bench anyway in that race. As of now, we're a year and something away from it, there's been some names kind of talked about. I know that Catherine Miranda, a Phoenix democrat was kind of talking about running for the seat. She doesn't live in the district. There's been a handful of other people who have been talked about.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Liz Archuleta in Flagstaff and a couple of other folks in the Navajo nation and obviously state lawmakers and stuff. That's going to be the interesting thing is because there isn't big benches either side of this. Bennett and Babeu are household names but the democrats don't have that household name that can jump in there and get that but it's a diverse district and Ann Kirkpatrick won up there and if the Navajo nation can turn out a lot of votes, there's some more liberal areas. Coconino county, where they have a little more legs than the republicans.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: That's a seat in the past where Bruce Babbitt's brother tried to run, Fred Duval, the democratic nominee tried to run there and was not able to get it done there, either. Alia let's move on to a new poll that says education is the number one issue for Arizona voters. You could have knocked me over with a feather I guess I would have thought that would have been the case but apparently not, that's a change. Who did the poll and what can you tell us about it?

ALIA RAU: This is an education group. They have a little bit of a focus on more money for education and that issue. But yeah, you know, it's something that a lot of people are talking about. It's something that people have talked about in the past but in the past couple of years probably we've seen you know, the budget and the economy and jobs and even immigration kind of jump ahead of education, and now, we are very focused on the education issue. People are saying there's not enough money. People are saying the system is going to completely in the wrong direction. People are indicating some support for Governor Ducey's state land trust funding plan but just a real focus on education, what are we going to do about it? We need to talk about it, how are we going to fix it?

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Does it seem like at least based on the poll results that even if people aren't sure exactly how the money should be spent, does it seem pretty clear most people think the state should spend more money on education?

ALIA RAU: Yes, and there's even some talk in the polls about should lower-income schools get more money based on the students' needs? There's a lot of conversation about more money and what are some options and how do we spend it to the biggest benefit?

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Hank, is this the kind of thing that could generate activity at the legislature?

HANK STEPHENSON: I think so to some degree, maybe not the poll but the fact that it is much more on the minds of the average Arizonan. I think it's been a couple of really bad months as far as like media coverage goes for education. There was the survey not too long ago that showed Arizona in the bottom of the nation for per pupil funding, which I think really drove home a point that was maybe on the back burner a little bit before that. I think the conversation kind of changed more in regard to that, and now, we're seeing that in this poll.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It's interesting to see what happens from this, you know. You ask people if we should give more money to lower-income schools, poor neighborhoods and people say yes until it takes it from their school system and their district. Should we spend more money on education, I think everybody agrees we should but how do we do that? Do you raise taxes, what taxes do you raise, who gets taxed, and then it starts to erode a little bit, and it's a whole different dynamic down at the legislature which has their own agenda on education and spending, and taxes that kind of works against that but I do agree that the media coverage, the budget cuts from the universities especially, the report that showed us bottom in a lot of categories in terms of per capita spending and teacher pay and those type of things is driving this a little bit so education people, generally broadly they say yes. Specifically, you get in the weeds a little bit.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And Hank, the legislature still wants to fight the lawsuit that says the state underfunded districts. It does -- it always seems like, I don't want to say hypocrisy, I just did, but there's a contradictory aspect to this, isn't there?

HANK STEPHENSON: Well I think their position is we just don't have the money. They're not able or willing to raise taxes. They're still fighting or negotiating on how much to pay this over the suit. But, you know, it's going to take a lot more than even what this suit is offering. Even the maximum of this, it wouldn't move the needle all that much. We've got some serious, if you want to get into the national average of per pupil funding. It's a serious chunk of change and Ducey's land reform isn't going to fix that. This lawsuit isn't going to fix that. It's going to take a major overhaul, if we ever want to get there, which may not be the goal.

ALIA RAU: I think we are waiting to see what Ducey is going to do with his education plan. He said the land trust is just one tiny little piece, he's got a group together that are supposed to be developing a plan to completely overhaul the education funding system. We are very eagerly awaiting to see what that would look like, and I think that will drive the legislative conversation next session, whether it's a success or failure, it depends on the plan but it will be an interesting conversation.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Finally on this topic, any expectations for dueling ballot initiatives, has there been any buzz about that?

ALIA RAU: Ducey's made it very clear he's not interested in any other proposals. I think that's tamped things down a little bit. The education folks seem to be waiting to see on a few things. You add too many things, you start causing confusion, everybody votes no and nothing wins. I think there's a question of what do you do when and what does it look like?
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Mike, prison riots in Kingman. Let's move on to that topic. Governor Ducey actually visited the prison and looked into it. There's been interesting chatter at the capital on the private prison issue. A majority of state lawmakers have supported private prisons. Any thought that something like this could change the direction of that, the fact that people are seeing several days of riots. They're seeing all this damage, or would a skeptic say, these are convicted felons?
MIKE SUNNUCKS: This is the prison that had trouble before they had the escape. The folks in Kingman killed a couple in New Mexico, it was a big story a few years ago and there's always a lot of scrutiny of private prisons, about how they're operating, is there any cronyism going on, are they cheap in terms of staffing and guards and professionalism than state run prisons? There's always media scrutiny of that. This legislature, this state government and the Republicans have been pro-privatization every step of the way. I don't see a major shift in that. You might see a little more oversight. Obviously, doing an investigation into this thing but you may see some pushes but this is a very partisan issue. Republicans like private prisons, like privatization, Democrats don't. And so that divide seems to always pop up and you can't seem to get enough Republicans to leave the reservation on that to change the issue.

HANK STEPHENSON: But this year you did kind of see that dynamic change at the beginning of the legislative session. One of the things Ducey proposed and then shelved was adding 3,000 new private prison beds and you saw people like Arpaio and people like Babeu talking about we don't need new private prisons. You can send them to our jails. So I think you've started to see a little bit of change on the issue as far as, you know, just the standard, which it has been for years, Republicans support and Democrats oppose private prisons. I think that Ducey was to some degree kind of listening to those county sheriffs and it wasn't just Republican county sheriffs but people who said we've got other options. We don't need to build new private prisons. So maybe that's slowly changing. I wouldn't expect you know, a very different thing in the coming legislative session but it seems to be a little bit different than we've seen in the past.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Let's go to Twitter where attorney general and acting governor Mark Brnovich was taking suggestions. Did he get any good ones?

ALIA RAUE: He got a good conversation. Basically, what happened was the governor was on vacation, secretary of state was out of state for a convention I believe. And so he was for 48 hours I think in charge of the state. He got a letter from each one saying hey, and realized I'm in charge. He went to Twitter. He sent out a note give me some suggestions. A lot of people asking for more money for education. A lot of serious conversation on that. A lot of people asking for some immigration-related issues, bow out of the lawsuit challenging in-state tuition for students, get out of the driver's license issue. But then we also had some fun ones. We had a request for Grateful Dead Day because I believe he had recently been at the farewell concert in Chicago. So I think he did a fake Grateful Dead for that one. And a few other ones asking for ice cream for the day, a little nod to Ducey.

HANK STEPHENSONL And haters going to hate, I saw somebody ask him to resign. Did you guys see the ask bobby hash tag? Bobby Jindal. It was great. I lost my productivity for a whole afternoon just laughing at this. Bobby Jindal had tweeted out ask bobby and it was one of those things that failed spectacularly. I mean, all the questions were sarcastic and I was expecting the Brnovich thing to go a little bit more in that direction but it did stay more or less civil on Twitter.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Mike, just a few seconds left, are we at a point where we need an acting governor with all the high-tech situations? Couldn't Governor Ducey --

MIKE SUNNUCKS: We're not in stage coach days but Mark's got some good political instincts. He's very conservative on some issues but he does reach out to people, people in other camps and he does go against the mold a little bit.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Thanks for the discussion. Appreciate it. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll talk more about Donald Trump's visit to Phoenix and the pros and cons of his political strategy. And hear about governor Doug Ducey's plan to help fund education. Those stories and more Monday on "Arizona Horizon." I'm Steve Goldstein sitting in for Ted Simons. Have a great weekend.

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