Journalists’ Roundtable 09/25/15

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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. Contempt of court hearings against Sheriff Joe Arpaio resume. And you-know-who is still the favorite for president among Arizona Republicans. 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. Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times. Bob Christie of the associated press. And Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business journal. Contempt of court hearings against Sheriff Joe Arpaio resumed this week. And actually, they really got going yesterday and today with the chief deputy Jerry Sheridan on the stand. What are we learning here?

JEREMY DUDA: We're learning a lot about the so-called Seattle investigation from Dennis Montgomery, potentially hired for a couple of kind of bizarre investigations. We've learned that Jerry Sheridan said he was unaware of this big ruling from a couple of years ago that barred the sheriff's office from doing these immigration enforcement sweeps. He claims that he was unaware of this ruling and they continued doing immigration enforcement for another year and a half. They said well, you got e-mails about this and they said I never opened them, I never looked at them, I was unaware of this. Picking up a newspaper, looking at a computer would also inform you that this ruling had come down.

TED SIMONS: The informant was a biggie today, the e-mail that was received but not opened, that kind of thing was a biggie yesterday. They're kind of drilling down here aren't they?

BOB CHRISTIE: They are drilling down. There's three basic issues. They're trying to determine where Joe Arpaio deliberately violated the judge's orders that he stopped the racial profiling. One he didn't stop the racial profiling. Two they held these side investigations that looked at the judge and looked at some other things and three, they have a very poor practice of internal investigations over there. They had the judge had ordered them to turn over 1,500 identification cards that these immigration officers or these sheriff's officers had seized and they seized them from guys they pulled over driving down the road and Jerry Sheridan said today you know, I knew there was an order I was supposed to turn them over but I wasn't quite sure it applied to these so I wanted to talk to my lawyer first. This is a very well-lawyered witness.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: There's tons of lawyers. There's lawyers all over the place. KJZZ had a story about the number of lawyers involved with this. You have the justice department, the plaintiffs, the sheriff has his own lawyers, the county people need to have their own lawyers now because the sheriff dumped the county lawyers. Everybody's lawyered up and we've seen this M.O. before in some of these Arpaio investigations, slow playing things, misinterpreting things.

TED SIMONS: Not sure.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Not sure. But the question is how much is this resonating with folks outside of the courthouse, outside of the anti-Arpaio camps, outside of the meet? Are we going to reach a tipping point where people start thinking about maybe we should elect another sheriff next year? The sheriff doesn't run? I don't know if we've reached that point yet.

JEREMY DUDA: A lot of it will depend on how this plays out because at the very end of this, Arpaio could end up facing criminal contempt charges, at the end of this, the judge will decide whether he wants to move forward with this, Judge Snow has not a lot of love lost for Joe Arpaio after one or two investigations against him. He'll have to refer that over to the U.S. attorney's office. I believe Judge Snow could find an outside prosecutor to do that if the U.S. attorney declines and, you know, with another re-election with his 100th re-election coming up, that could weigh down on him a lot if he does face those charges.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: When does this resonate beyond folks like us, behind the folks, there are folks that like his stances on green baloney and his stances on illegal immigration but the folks in power, they haven't stepped forward yet and the folks in power aren't impacted by some of Arpaio's policies because they're not poor and they're not Hispanic. So if this ever goes beyond just the anti-Arpaio folks and the media doing their job in covering this and there's folks in power, other Republicans, the senior Senate, they're finally going to step forward or the business community, make a push to get him out of there.

TED SIMONS: The chances of criminal charges either are going to happen or could happen but let's meet behind closed doors, why don't you go ahead and step down and we can just move on? How likely that an Arpaio resignation would be part of any kind of deal?

BOB CHRISTIE: I think for the sheriff, who refers to himself as the sheriff, I think that's highly unlikely that he would ever agree to do that. He has told anybody who asks I'm not leaving the sheriff's office, I can be reelected as many times as I need to and he's privately talked to our reporters and said, you know, as soon as I leave, I'm not in the press anymore, nobody will think of me anymore. So he wants to keep his job and he's dedicated to it.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: And they'll play it as political, that the judge is against him, the judge's wife is against him, the Obama administration, the justice department, they have a vendetta against him, they're trying to stop him from enforcing immigration laws, we've seen this kind of song and dance before and even if there's a criminal contempt charge brought against him, you're going to see those same dynamics.

JEREMY DUDA: Sure, even if the worst happens, he very well may get re-elected next year. He's always been popular with voters in the county. We don't know if he's going to have a credible opponent. So far, he does not, there's folks trying to draft some candidates in but so far, there's really no one out there who's declared an intention to run who could take him on.

BOB CHRISTIE: And as far as contempt goes, it's not something that will get you a year in jail, right? So you have a civil contempt, let's say the judge finds him guilty of civil contempt in this case that's going on right now. Then the judge decides okay I'm going to refer it for a potential criminal contempt charge. He could fine him but no one's talking about putting the sheriff in jail. He's 83 years old. Next year, he'll be 84 and by the time it goes to trial, knowing how many lawyers he has, he'll be 85. You know, I don't see it happening.

TED SIMONS: All right. Something that's definitely happening is that the Arizona Corporation Commission which was once a low-profile affair is in the news constantly. We have now a public records snafu. We talked about this on the program this week but again, it sounds like inaccurate and incomplete information from the Corporation Commission by way of a public records request.

JEREMY DUDA: We used to go years without talking about the Corporation Commission. Now, we can't go a week but the latest, one of the latest from this week is this group, the checks and balances project based in D.C., pro-solar group has been hounding the Corporation Commission for public records, specifically e-mails, text messages and whatnot concerning commissioner Bob Stump. They turned over a collection of e-mails. This week it turns out we didn't actually give you all of the e-mails, here's another dozen that we found, and by the way we also forget to mention there's an tablet, there's an air card and the phone we told you he had, he actually has a different phone. So here you go.

BOB CHRISTIE: It's bad for credibility of any public agency when you delay production of public records, and then the public records you do produce are at best sloppily gathered and produced. I think the Corporation Commission has problems that extend far beyond this particular issue.

TED SIMONS: Just the integrity of the commission. We had commissioner Bob Burns on the show this week. Even he admits the integrity of the commission is at stake here and it doesn't look very good.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: No it doesn't look very good at all the APS stuff with the dark money for the latest two guys that were elected and they've had pronouncements, a lot of folks on the Republican side how they don't like public records requests, they're onerous but then when they don't produce them accurately, is it willful? Is it a misstep? Are they misleading people on purpose or purposefully on accident?

TED SIMONS: And another complaint against commissioner Bitter Smith. Similar idea that she shouldn't be a registered lobbyist for telecommunications firms when telecommunication firms are appearing before the commission and again, she says ah but that part of the -- I represent this part of the telecommunications.

BOB CHRISTIE: Correct, she works as a cable industry association lobbyist and she also works as a lobbyist for Cox Communication on the cable side. She says I never do any work for the telecom side that's regulated by the Corporation Commission and there's a fine line, there's a hard line there between those two. I do not have a conflict. Others beg to differ in a great way. There's a complaint that's already been filed with the attorney general asking him to remove her or start removal proceedings. And then this week, two more were filed by a group that also attacked Tom Horne last year and some other folks that were filed with the secretary of state and clean elections. We've got a trifecta of agencies who are being asked to look at Susan Bitter Smith.

TED SIMONS: Public integrity alliance I think was the group. Very familiar name from the Russell Pearce and the Tom Horne situation.

JEREMY DUDA: And the legislative races, some other more low-profile fights that are kind of all over the board and another complaint actually we had this week, in addition to commissioner Bitter Smith is we had Bob Burns, your recent guest, who was the last commissioner I believe who did not have some sort of complaint or something against him over there of the five and you had kind of an activist up in Sedona who similar allegation to what's going on with Susan Bitter Smith is that he was prior to getting election to the Corporation Commission in 2012, he was a lobbyist for a telecommunications group and he is still registered as a lobbyist for that. Now, commissioner Burns says he quit that job when he got to the corp com, his name was never removed, some people, such as the activists don't seem to care, think he should be bounced, too.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: One of the big things that hurts their argument is Cox communication has spent years of advertising and promotions to bundle your services, you bundle your telephone with your Internet. I do that they gave me a better deal. And when you say they're separate well I don't think consumers or regular folks see that. And when you're a registered lobbyist for an association or a company, who are you working for? You're elected by the people, you're supposed to be a regulator, you work for the people of Arizona, you don't work for a company or an industry or an association.

TED SIMONS: It just all seems so cozy. It just seems like it's so unnecessarily cozy and yes, there may be a line there and if you really want to drill down again to use that metaphor, you might find something but goodness, gracious, you're supposed to be regulating for rate-payers.

BOB CHRISTIE: That's correct. It does seem too cozy. Of course, the reason that all of this is in the news really has to do with Arizona public service and a lot of ways, a charge that they want solar customers to pay. Two years ago they tried to get solar customers to pay a monthly fee to offset their use of the grid because when you put solar on, you don't by as much electricity, therefore APS doesn't have as much income to support the grid. The power plants and the transformers and all that stuff that brings the power to your house. Well, so they got a $5 increase a couple of years ago, they came back this summer and said by the way that $5 increase isn't enough, we want $21 a month and the solar people went nuts. And they today pulled that proposal. Actually, said listen, we'll pull that proposal if you'll instead do an in-depth look at whether indeed there is a caution.

TED SIMONS: A lot of this was and there were a lot of questions regarding that increase and the fact that the pro-APS you know, you have to refer to these commissioners as pro-APS because that is the general consensus and impression. They were saying let's do it at a hearing as opposed to the general rate hearing later on which everyone else thought might be a good idea. That's all what, under the table now?

JEREMY DUDA: This was kind of surprising now, APS was well on its way to getting what they wanted. They wanted to do this outside a rate case, do it earlier so they got the three pro-APS commissioners, as you said, to vote for this. I don't think there's any doubt in anyone's mind that once it went up for a hearing next year, they would get that $21. Today, they say we're not pushing for that anymore and perhaps this is kind of an acknowledgment of the perception that people are talked about of the fact that a lot of people view APS has controlling the Corporation Commission now.

BOB CHRISTIE: What APS said today is this whole process, which they went into with good faith has been hijacked by these attacks by the solar companies against corporation commissioners and against APS and they want to call a time-out and they said okay let's just look at who's right here on the cost shift.

TED SIMONS: Isn't it interesting though that if there is a thaw here, the thaw comes from APS, and not the commissioners? I mean, shouldn't the commissioners, one of the three, the first one to say maybe we should consider this?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: In the past, the commissioner, there's people who view themselves as regulators that look at rates and energy sources. The folks that are on there now are viewed as lobbyists for the industry and folks that are supporters of APS, and it's a weird job because you're somewhat regulator but you also run for office so you're --

TED SIMONS: Judicial.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: So you're partisan and you have some cross over there. In the past when we had this board, we haven't had a lot of negative press, it's been more regulatory focused. Now, it seems to be more who you're in bed with.

TED SIMONS: We'll see what happens next week as we await further headlines. Not the only Arizona commission making headlines. Go ahead, Mr. I'm responsible for getting three people to resign from their positions.

JEREMDY DUDA: I feel like it's probably senator Kimberly who bears the real responsibility who uncovered this a month ago at a committee hearing over the legistlature, the industrial commission of Arizona, primarily responsible for overseeing worker's compensation, occupational safety and health issues, it's a five-person board and during a hearing to determine whether this agency should be reauthorized, the senator wanted to know how much are these folks getting? Most only get the $50 per diem for meeting days, there were a couple, chairman David Parker and Michael Sanders who got quite a bit above and beyond. In fiscal year 2015, Parker claimed 253 days, 292 for Sanders, there's only 251 work days in a calendar year by the way. And ultimately, the amount, I mean in the terms of state government, it's a drop in the bucket, 12,000, $13,000, 14,000 but you start looking through the logs at what they were claiming, any day with work related activity. Most of them were reviewing materials but some days it was exchanging some e-mails, one of them I believe Mr. Sanders claimed $50 per diem for reading an article in the Atlantic monthly about the granite mountain hot shots which they oversaw and those are long articles but $50 for that seems excessive.

TED SIMONS: Emphasis here again, 251 work days per year, both of these gentlemen applied for more than that. I mean, 253 and what was the other one? 292 days of work.

BOB CHRISTIE: It appeared egregious enough that as soon as it hit the press, thanks to Jeremy's work and the associated press moved a version of his story and the Arizona Republic chimed in and suddenly this week, both those commissioners and the executive director over there resigned. Now, Governor Doug Ducey's office, I called him up immediately and said have there been calls from the governor's office to the industrial commission requesting their resignation? And they would not answer directly other than to say we're -- the facts speak for themselves, it was time for a change over there.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: They're politically swimming with the fishes, right? They got the call. I mean, it's embarrassing. It's good that we have some oversight both from the media and somebody in the legislature. We've had a lot of problems with some of these boards lately, beyond the Corporation Commission, the medical boards, some of these folks are political appointees, partisan, good old boy stuff. This is one of the panels that actually does some work. They hear cases and they did a lot of work during the fires and those types of things. But you've got to have some judgment there when you cross the line of opening an e-mail and getting $50 for doing that.

TED SIMONS: What does the law define as work activity? Could reading a magazine article about the hot shots be considered work activity?

JEREMDY DUDA: It certainly could and that was one of Senator Yee's points in the committee is that the law does not define what is work related and keep in mind there are 200 plus boards and commissions in the state with appointed members who get per diem and the Senator Yee's looking at making sure an occasional committee hearing or newspaper article are not the only accountability. She wants an overhaul of the system, she wants to start looking at per diem agency to agency, how much they can claim, what counts as work-related activity. She wants to make sure that this does not happen again and when she introduces this next session, based just on this alone, it's hard to imagine there being much opposition.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think we'll see some more public records requests from people in the media and all those watch dog groups that cause so much problems.

BOB CHRISTIE: The issue is, you know, as the Senator Yee said, you appoint people who you hope are good solid people doing this as a public service working on these boards and you expect them to do the right thing. It appears maybe these people were stretching it a little bit to line their pockets.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Sometimes, there's a culture of entitlement among folks that are in partisan politics that are cozy with folks and get appointed and that seems to come out sometimes in cases like these.

JEREMY DUDA: Yes, and I'm sure for these kinds of boards and commissions, there is a lot of work you do have to do but you look at the other, the rest of their colleagues, the rest of the folks are not claiming this, even though Parker said his workload increased and that is reflected in his per diem payments if you look back at the past five years but the guy he replaced as chairman didn't do that, for the rest of them it's 60 to 80 per diem days per year.

BOB CHRISTIE: And this is an important commission. The industrial commission is responsible for enforcing the state's workplace safety laws. They have inspectors who go out and do OSHA inspections essentially. They fined the state for the deaths. Right now, the department of corrections is facing a $14,000 fine for the rape of a prison teacher. That case was supposed to go before the commission next month. Now, they're in mediation. But those folks have to sign off on all of that and they're the hammer, they protect workers.

TED SIMONS: Yeah, all right. Well, good work, Jeremy on that one. Mike, latest poll of Republicans regarding Republican candidates for president shows Donald Trump still number one, took a drop after that last debate. And Ben Carson still number two, took a drop -- They're still one and two.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: You know, you see it nationally, too, maybe the trump mania is wearing thin a little bit somewhat but he's ahead 23%, Carson is next, I think what is shaping up both here in Arizona and nationally, it's not more outsider insider stuff, it's more Tea Party versus establishment, you've got Trump, Carson and Ted Cruz on the Tea Party side and then Rubio, Fiorina and Jeb Bush on the more moderate mainstream side and as the race narrows and more folks drop out, the Arizona folks showed some Rand Paul in the low single digits, as more folks drop out, and as we see kind of Trump's numbers level off, you'll see people start getting behind one of these candidates.

TED SIMONS: Did I notice the Cruz campaign a lot of low lawmakers, state lawmakers jumping on that?

BOB CHRISTIE: There were a few who signed on this week. The more conservative Tea Party types in the legislature signed on to Ted Cruz. Scott Walker dropped out this week. That was very interesting because he's among the bottom tier candidates who couldn't get over 1 to 2%. Of course, Doug Ducey is a big fan of Scott walker and had him come and visit him earlier this year. What's interesting is what Walker said when he dropped out. He didn't just say I'm dropping out for the good of the party. He said I'm dropping out for the good of the party, and I think a bunch more people should drop out so that Donald Trump doesn't get the nomination.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: As long as there's 10, 11, 12 people in there, Trump's got his 25% or whatever it is. He's going to lead. Until we got more people out of there, he's going to be up there in the lead. Maybe he runs out of gas or his gaffes finally catch up with him but maybe Carson gets all those votes or Cruz. So if the moderate folks want to get somebody in there like Rubio or Carly, you're going to have to see more people get out of there.

JEREMY DUDA: You're seeing the attrition happening faster than we expected. Walker, he looked like one of the absolute top contenders nationwide, conservatives love him, he's done a lot of conservative things in a very blue state, and he never got the traction. So far, it looks like Rubio is picking up the pieces from that. He picked up a lot of Walker's fundraising people. You can see in this poll, it's reflected the same where he's starting to gain some ground. He's the only double-digit candidate who isn't among the outsider set of Trump, Carson and Fiorina.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: There's a scenario where we could have Cruz and Rubio, the Hispanics as the final two standing, we're a long ways off from that but that would be an interesting dynamic.

BOB CHRISTIE: First off, we're five months out of the first elections yet. And there's no money coming in yet. Jeb Bush is sitting on more than $100 million and there's a lot more out there besides that. When you start seeing money flowing into Iowa and money flowing into New Hampshire, then you're really going to see how hard hitting it's going to be and who has the dynamics to really win an election.

TED SIMONS: Is before we go, education funding recommendations from the governor's classrooms first initiative council came out, we're also hearing word now that the legislative leaders have ideas regarding education funding, as well. Just give us an overview of what's happening here.

JEREMY DUDA: Classrooms first council, they were tasked with rewriting the state's 35-year-old formulas for funding education. But we've learned this week is their work is pretty far from done. The biggest part of what they said is we want to equalize the funding between charter schools and district schools but not with more funding, we're not trying to pump more money into the system, we're not trying to take money away from anyone so I'm not sure how you redistribute the slices of the pie without taking away from one and giving to the other.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: They always default to charter schools. They love charter schools down there. They did have stuff in there about showing more information on school-level funding, school-level performance so parents can see that, so parents can see how their kids are doing versus this wide district stuff that nobody cares about.

TED SIMONS: They also had an idea of exempting a-rated schools from audits and regulations, what is that all about?

BOB CHRISTIE: That's about putting your spending where it does the most good. The governor has called for much more school-level decision making. One of the things in this proposal was giving principals more power to decide how to spend the money. The governor's really on board with that. So if you have an A school, why are you spending all this money 8 it? We should outing those who have real problems. The question is our schools are underfunded, we have this inflation funding lawsuit out there. There's great pressure to get more money into schools, do you want to at the same time start messing with the formulas?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: That's tough around the ages, special needs.

JEREMY DUDA: And another from the legislature also seeing an interesting proposal, David Gowan starting to push a plan, they want a ballot referral to deal with that lawsuit where not by putting more money in by eliminating the need to fund it.

TED SIMONS: We've got to stop it right there. Good discussion, gentlemen. Monday, we will have the latest on trade relations between Arizona and Mexico and we'll hear about an event that looks at the life cycle of innovation. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 right here on "Arizona Horizon." 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.

Jeremy Duda of Arizona Capitol Times; Bob Christie of the Associated Press; Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal

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