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 governor's office announces plans to revamp the state's medicaid system.

TED SIMONS: And treasurer Jeff Dewit's criticism of Governor Ducey earns an attack by a dark money group. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

"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: Mike Sunnucks of "The Phoenix Business Journal." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Hank Stephenson of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

TED SIMONS: The governor's office this week announced proposed changes to AHCCCS, the state's medicaid system. What exactly is the governor proposing?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It impacts childless adults, there's 1.7 on ahcccs and creates health savings accounts for them, they pay copays when they go to the doctor or get services. It's modeled after what some other conservative states are doing. We'll see what happens. Pretty good reception overall, probably at the legislature. And among the business community, we'll see -- critics point out that boy you're putting a little burden on folks that are already at the bottom of the economic ladder.

HOWARD FISCHER: Really it isn't going to matter what folks think. The legislature mandated the governor do at least some of this but it's going to merit what the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services says because they're the ones who say what's consistent with what Medicaid is supposed to be about? It's supposed to be about helping the poor. Tell me how you're helping the poor by saying five-year limits, you can't find a job, 2% of your income goes into a health savings account, if you can't save 2% in the first place, the state telling you to save 2%, how is that going to help? There's some other issues.

TED SIMONS: And copays as well, how do the feds look at copays?

HANK STEPHENSON: Copays are one of the things that the feds will consider, the lifetime limits, they've shot that down. That's more than likely not going to happen. Depending on the way these copays are structured, that's something that could actually become, you know, part of the program and it's something that lawmakers have been talking about at the capitol for a long time.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It's also something that conservative groups, the American legislative exchange council, conservative group tied to the Koch brothers, floats a lot of conservative proposals and the idea is to take people that are on Medicaid, indigent people and encourage them to save towards their own health savings, and it's something conservatives kind of push for across the board. So this is kind of getting the foot in the door in at least one program.

HOWARD FISCHER: But let's talk about it. I mean, if you've got somebody who's making $10,000 a year, and you're going to tell them you're going to put aside 2% of your income into a health savings account, exactly what's that going to pay for? And have you been to the dentist lately? Do you know how much --

I'm telling what the program is designed to do.

That doesn't mean it's going to happen that way.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: This is very similar to the welfare type reform arguments in the past, back in the '90s and you see them popping up now with Obamacare, a number of people going on Medicaid, which is a lot more than the growth, and the number of folks out of the workforce. Folks kind of on the right kind of pushing for some of these things to at least get people kind of engaged and not just being on social programs.

HANK STEPHENSON: One of the more interesting things that I've noted in there is the wellness evaluations, which would kind of make you do a handful of different things, it's kind of individualized but one of the things is stop smoking if you want to be on ahcccs, which is kind of a bold thing for the government to say. They've done that in Pima county for a while. I don't know if they've reversed that but they weren't hiring smokers. So it's kind of an interesting thing to be in this proposal.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: That makes the private sector, you've seen a number of companies, a few companies. A lot of companies have wellness programs and they kind of dangle a carrot there for folks to do this.

HOWARD FISCHER: The carrot and ticking someone off and that's where it's going to get interesting. If you say we want you to participate in the nonsmoking programs, that's one thing. If we say sorry you didn't quit smoking, you lose your healthcare that's quite something else.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The difference is that these are childless adults, this is a very tailored thing so it's not the usual, we're throwing the orphans out on the street type of budget cuts. They've kind of picked a group of people that I think if you talk to people on the street, you wouldn't see as much sympathy for those folks as if you would for folks that are disabled, people with children, those types of things.

TED SIMONS: But again, the bottom line is the feds have to say okay or this is all just whistling in the dark. The idea of the increasing the work requirements. How are the federal people going to look at something like that?

HANK STEPHENSON: I think there's a handful of things in here, the governor and his people really think that this is possible, the way we've structured this, it's kind of innovative, it goes along the lines of what some other states have done but there's some other things in here that they have to know just aren't going to be approved so this package as a whole, you know, probably -- won't happen but bits and pieces of it probably will.

TED SIMONS: Could it be one of those things where some of it is okayed by the feds and others are like don't come in with us.

HOWARD FISCHER: I will buy your dinner if the feds approve the whole thing. This is not going to happen. It's very clear some of this is going to be flushed down the toilet. The work requirement as you say, be looking for work, be actively engaged, if you've already unemployed, you should be registered with the department of economic security, anyway. What about job training? How much is that going to be offered. It's one thing to say look for work but do you have the skills?

TED SIMONS: And who checks all of this? Are people in place already to be able to check this? Added personnel?

HOWARD FISCHER: To a certain extent, the work requirement is going to be DES. In terms of the copays and everything else if you've registered with ahcccs, they've got some of this built in. The lifetime limit, at some point you just fall off the end.

TED SIMONS: All right, Jeff Dewit is the state treasurer. We've all talked to him regarding his ideas, the governor's plan to help fund education through trust land money is not fiscally responsible, it's not a good way to take care of a trust. All of a sudden, Hank, talk to us about this. He earned the wrath.

HANK STEPHENSON: He did. There's a woman who wrote a blog post essentially for right wing blog that just went to town on Dewit. Really boosting Ducey as this conservative hero, the Walker of the west. And came to the conclusion that basically, there's no other reason Dewit is doing this than he's thin skinned or he's turned his back on Republican principles, which, you know, the guy had a pretty good pitch for why he's opposing this. He laid it out pretty clearly. I mean, reading the post, it became pretty obvious that the woman didn't know what she was talking about for the most part, just kind of spouting off.

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, I think she was doing the bidding of her boss, who is a certain Sean noble who you may, if you've talked about the Koch brothers has done some work for them. I can't necessarily say that Charles Koch has called up and said why don't you go ahead and come down on Jeff Dewit. But it's very clear that if you tick off the governor and tick off his friends, there is a price to be paid. It happened to a Mesa school superintendent. It's happened to other folks. And this gets to the whole issue of dark money and how much of this do we allow and not know really where the funding is coming from?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I love that term dark money. That already has clouds over top of things. Definitely it does come across as if you take on the governor, you have some price to pay for it. And that's part of politics now. You see this in other states and other campaigns and stuff. Right now, they're playing within the rules, it's valid to point it out, they were writing on right bar and her employer was listed as one of Sean noble's firms.

TED SIMONS: It's one thing to see -- he said I don't think -- he never really attacked the governor personally. These folks, they're saying he prefers to pout because he didn't get the credit. He's a thin-skinned Republican, he turned on conservative principles once elected and by the way Scott, Governor Ducey lauded as the Scott Walker of the west.

HOWARD FISCHER: And again, with certain groups, it becomes personal. He's siding with the Democrats! Well, first of all, all the Democrats haven't criticized the governor's proposal. They said maybe there is some merit to taking some of the trust land money. So it's factually inaccurate. But this becomes the kind of Tea Party going for the jugular philosophy that rather than argue the merits of well let's see, if we take this much from the trust, here's where we'll be and maybe we could adjust that and does it reduce the corpus and how does that affect folks 12 years down the road? It's much easier to go for the jugular, to do personalities, what's fascinating is the fact that here's Doug Ducey who made a name for himself by going ahead and coming out against a tax increase in 2012, and, all of a sudden, now that he's governor, here's the next treasurer saying hey, I know how to get some publicity and Doug just reacting very badly.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: That's politics these days. It's not just the Tea Party. It's kind of across the board. Is anybody going to read a white paper on trust land? But they will read stuff and they will respond and it's been proven that they'll respond to these kind of negative attack ads, certainly not healthy but that's what people respond to so they will look at something like that. If she had wrote a white paper, we wouldn't have noticed it.

TED SIMONS: Real quickly, Dewit is quick to note that previous treasurers agree with him on this, except obviously, for Ducey.

HOWARD FISCHER: That's the thing. If you believe that your job as treasurer is to protect the corpus of this trust, state was given 10 million acres of federal land when it became the state, the idea being to benefit the beneficiaries, the beneficiaries mainly being the public schools. We're down to 9.2 million acres, we've sold off some, we're getting money for gravel. And it comes down to at what point do you dip into that or be living off the interest? Again, we can have a good philosophical discussion but as mike pointed we would rather call names.

TED SIMONS: Pouting and thin skinned.

HANK STEPHENSON: The other opponents of this in the legislature are very conservative lawmakers. Senator Farnsworth has come out against this. It's not a Democrat versus Republican fight here, at least not yet, maybe that will be what it turns into in the legislative session but I really liked you know, Dewit came back swinging. He called it what was it like amateurish, childish bizarrely dumb. So good for him for standing up for himself. This isn't the only thing, also. I'll throw it out there that Ducey's office put up a bunch of signs right in front of Dewit's office this week you know, talking about how awesome his state trust land plan is. Just you know, a bunch of signs right in front of his office.

HOWARD FISCHER: It's good to be the governor and control the building.

TED SIMONS: Okay.

Appeals court rejects Diane Douglas's -- what is her lawsuit? This is the board of education, I get to hire, I get to fire?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It's a turf war between her and the board of education and the governor and she wanted to get rid of some of evil common core people on there and there is some gray area on who has control, how much control but the lower court ruled against her. And the precedent is against her, kind of history is against her and she wanted to fast track it and the appeals court doesn't want to do that. She's got a tough one in this one because everything was run that way before. Never had this fight before. And the lower courts ruled against her and I don't see the judiciary kind of going against her on that one.

HOWARD FISCHER: Part of what she has going on in her favor is the way that the trial judge side stepped the issue. Patricia starr said, you know, this is a political fight that courts shouldn't get involved in. She said look there's reason to believe the board of education should control its employees but I'm not going to step in the middle of this mud pie here. So now, you've got the former lawmaker who came back with some arguments, the Court of Appeals saying look, if you let this continue, the consciously elected school superintendent can't do her job, and it's being done by quote rogue administration, meaning Christine Thompson, the executive director of the board.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: A constitutional crisis for an office that has essentially no power.

TED SIMONS: Is anyone supporting -- big names or any notable supporters of Diane Douglas?

HANK STEPHENSON: I mean, she's got a few supporters in the legislature who are really going to bat for her at the end of last legislative session but I think a lot of people, most people in power, just want to see this fight go away. It's been going on for so long and the stakes are relatively low here. It seems like a side issue that most people would just defer to Ducey's opinion on this.

TED SIMONS: All right, it seems like she's kind of out there swinging and fighting and there's not a whole lot of folks standing behind her.

HOWARD FISCHER: How do you feel about common core? That will tell you where you stand. If you want to get rid of common core, you're going to side with her power to fire the board members standing in her way.

TED SIMONS: Who is Tom O'Halloran and why is he running for congressional district one?

HOWARD FISCHER: He's a moderate Republican. I know that's a dirty word in the GOP who lives in Sedona, spent a couple of terms in the legislature, worked very well across the aisle. Got out and looked around and said, you know, there's a good opening here, now that Ann Kirkpatrick is going to Washington is a senator, and I think that rather than fight within my own Republican party, where everyone is pushing to the right, the Paul Babeus of the world, the ken Bennetts of the world, I'll run as a Democrat, even though I was a registered Republican and with my name I.D., I think if I win the primary, and at the moment he could be considered the frontrunner, he thinks that he can actually keep that seat in democratic hands.

TED SIMONS: He was a Republican, then he was an independent when he ran for state Senate. Now, he's a Democrat. Is all this flopping around going to hurt him?

HANK STEPHENSON: I don't think so. Probably hurts him with the GOP but what does that matter at this point? Democrats have really shown that they're willing to support him. They kept a Democrat out of that race where he was an independent last year for the state Senate. Kind of clearing the path for him to be, you know -- essentially the democratic nominee or the challenger to the GOP nominee. He came out and announced this campaign with D.J. quinlin as his spokesman. High-profile Democrats are saying we found our guy and he's a former Republican so what?

TED SIMONS: Can he beat ken Bennett?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: He's got a lot of challenges in that district. He's got lots of questions to answer. How he feels about the Affordable Care Act which I think he says he supports, how he feels about immigration and amnesty and deferred action, how the national trends are going and I don't know how well the Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket will help Democrats in the state, long ways to go. How he's anointed Kirkpatrick over there, but -- I think he's got a lot of challenges in that district. Anne did a good job. She was moderate enough and got the Navajos out a number of times and that really helped her. He's got good name I.D. 48% against Sylvia Allen as an independent. He's got good name I.D., we'll see who comes out of the Republican side, it could be ken Bennett, somebody with lesser name I.D. and you could see the dems have a real chance there.

HANK STEPHENSON: A lot will depend on the GOP nominee but still he's the best Democrat have and they're genuinely excited about this candidate because before that, you know, they've talked to a few people who said no I'm not interested. And they really didn't have anyone else willing to run for the state.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think it says something about the Democratic Party that the best person they have is a former Republican.

TED SIMONS: And former independent who says I'll try being a Democrat.

We have an extension on the real I.D.'s which means what?

HOWARD FISCHER: Not until October of 2020. Back after the 9/11 attacks, Congress told homeland security we want to make people who get on airplanes have been properly vetted and homeland security has been working on the idea of a real I.D., a secure identification where not only the document is physically secure, it can't be tampered with but also that you've done the proper background checks and everything else. A couple of years ago, the legislature said oh, my god we're going to have a national I.D. card and they prohibited the state of Arizona from even, considering it. All of a sudden, we were facing what would have been a deadline of this spring that if you didn't have a Passport which was the only real other acceptable alternative, you wouldn't be able to get on commercial aircraft so they passed a bill that said we're going to allow ADOT to do a real I.D. and then ask homeland security for more time to be allowed to prepare it and homeland security the past month said okay, we'll give you the time, you'll have the real I.D. ready next April, and then we'll give you until October 2020 to get everyone there. Which means if you don't have the real I.D., no problem until October 2020. After that, if they decide to enforce it, either get your Passport or take the bus.

TED SIMONS: What do residents need to do to get these new I.D.'s?

HANK STEPHENSON: You have to get set up first. The state has to make these I.D.'s, and it's $15?

HOWARD FISCHER: There are going to be some additional documentation. Right now, you already need to prove you're a U.S. citizen or here legally to get an Arizona license. I think that's what's going to happen is they're going to check you through certain federal databases so that's going to be a different change. They're going to do other kinds of background checks. I don't think there will be fingerprints or anything like that. The other thing that's going to happen is the folks working at ADOT is going to have to be screened to make sure they're not creating fake licenses so it's not a big additional hurdle. It also means you're going to need to get your picture retain every six years versus the fact that you can be 65 before they say come in again.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: We're one of the last states, maybe Louisiana is out there, too, it's always fun when our libertarian rand Paul type strain pops up and Howie mentions these databases and I think of the NSA and running all our numbers and we don't want that here.

HANK STEPHENSON: That was a weird episode at the legislature where you had people like Russell pierce and Kyrsten Sinema teaming up to say no real I.D. which was a strange dynamic.

HOWARD FISCHER: Just to show you the paranoia of this thing, they had to put a provision in the bill to say ADOT can do this but only if they don't put an RFID chip in this, they were concerned that you're going to be walking around and, all of a sudden, the scanners are going to be saying oh, Howie is going here, wait he just went over here. And that had to be part of the law.

TED SIMONS: All right, we've got like one minute left. Which is probably just as well. Thoughts on the debate last night.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Donald Trump got nailed by Fox News on that. They went after him pretty hard. Immigration came up a little bit but not as much. It was interesting that Jeb Bush talked about immigration at length kind of babbling and he did mention support for a legal path there and that could come back and hurt him in the primary.

HOWARD FISCHER: I think Jeb was a loser. He didn't come across looking very presidential. He came across looking very week. Marco Rubio did very well, he says I'm young but that's a good thing. As far as Donald goes, you know, he's just the comic relief in the thing. I don't think -- he'll stay around because he's got his own money but, you know, he's just comic relief.

HANK STEPHENSON: I think the picture to remember was Donald being the only one holding up his hand about are you willing to go a third-party route if you're not the nominee? Which if anything hurt him last night, maybe that was it.

TED SIMONS: And real quickly, I know that we've already discussed how Governor Ducey is considered the Walker of the west, Scott Walker of the west by whoever wrote the blog. Where was Scott? He's the invisible man last night.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: He's kind of mellow, chill when he talks. He doesn't really impact like Trump or Rubio and a lot of conservatives, the conservative base, a lot of the thinkers like him.

TED SIMONS: Okay. We've got to stop it right here. Good to have you. Thanks for joining us.

Monday on "Arizona Horizon," after hearing this week from critics of the planned South Mountain Freeway, we'll talk with those who support the project. That's Monday at 5:30, right here on "Arizona Horizon."

Tuesday, physicist Lawrence Krauss joins us for another edition of science matters.

Wednesday, we'll look at a skateboarder turned photographer.

Thursday, check out how Phoenix crime has changed after the violence impact project.

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.

Mike Sunnucks: Phoenix Business Journal; Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services; Hank Stephenson: Arizona Capitol Times

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