Journalists’ Roundtable 10/2/15

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Three local journalists discuss this week’s big stories

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists Roundtable. The latest on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's contempt of court hearing. And we'll look at three competing plans to pay for education in Arizona. 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. Mary Jo Pitzl of The Arizona Republic. Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Alia Rau of The Arizona Republic.

TED SIMONS: Sheriff Joe Arpaio takes the stand in his contempt of court hearing. Again, subdued and again, kind of blaming subordinates and not really taking too much responsibility. Give us a little bit of an overview here.
MARY JO PITZL: Very much. I mean, Arpaio is deflecting a lot of this to people who worked for him saying these were decisions that he delegated to others and let them make the decision and really take the heat or hopefully shifting the blame away from him in this contempt of court hearing.

HOWARD FISCHER: You know it's hard not to watch this and you think of all the mafia dons that got busted in places like New York, when they're in control, I run everything and they show up in court in their slippers and bath robe, I'm just a poor old man, I don't know what's going on. There are two Joe Arpaios, the one we see at the press conferences, the sheriff, since he speaks of himself only in the third person, and then this sort of calm demeanored almost hushed tone in the courthouse of saying I left that to my underlings.
TED SIMONS: And they played some video clips of the sheriff of all the people and they also introduced evidence of depositions and previous testimonies and they basically used his words against him.

ALIA RAU: Yeah, the big question right now is was this intentional? Who knew what when? And kind of a lot of the audio log recordings, conversations, and statements and it's just a question of did he know, was it intentional? And is this a criminal issue or is it a civil issue? And will sheriff Joe to jail?
MARY JO PITZL: And not only are they using his own words against him, they're using his former attorney against him.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. What ever happened to attorney-client privilege? Apparently, the judge thought that didn't play in this case?

MARY JO PITZL: He did and Tim Casey who had represented Sheriff Arpaio testified over the protest of Casey's own attorney, but Mr. Casey had resigned as Arpaio's client. They wanted to understand what led up to that.

HOWARD FISCHER: And this gets real tricky with attorney-client privilege because there is no attorney-client privilege if the attorney is helping you break the law. That's obviously to be determined here but clearly, the allegations are and the tapes are the sheriff saying I'm not going to let any federal judge tell me what to do, I'm the sheriff of this county and then him saying well you know, he didn't tell me what was going on, a lot of other people were doing things and I had no idea.

TED SIMONS: And again, the attorney basically said he quit because the sheriff just simply wouldn't listen to him on a variety of things, including the Seattle informant which apparently everyone involved thought was bogus, get away from this but one individual thought there was something there, Joe Arpaio.

ALIA RAU: Well, you google this guy and you find, you know, there were issues on the east coast with the federal government, there were issues in Nevada, all kinds of situations where he was supposedly accessing information, providing information, informing information, turned out to be completely bogus and yet sheriff Joe, according to the testimony, decided that he wasn't interested in what everybody had to say about this guy, he was going to go ahead and hire him and there was an allegation and it was secondhand, it wasn't first-hand, that Arpaio did spend $10,000 of his own money to continue to pay this guy when they started to run out of money. Arpaio's attorney said he did not believe that was the case, he had no such information.

HOWARD FISCHER: Part of what's interesting is there's various cover stories. Well, we heard there were 150,000 Arizonans who were having their bank accounts looked at and I was in this to find out about that. So exactly where did the federal judge fit into this? And that's the problem is keeping all these stories straight.

TED SIMONS: And again, the informant had the idea that the FBI was looking into people and wire tapping and that there was some sort of -- and maybe bank fraud allegations going on. But there's also I mean, and again, Arpaio's side says this simply didn't happen. But the informant also said collusion between Judge Snow and the department of justice and if that were case, that's a big deal and nothing and Arpaio said no, no, we didn't question him about that at all.

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, again what's the old saying? If my grandmother had wheels she would be a trolley. Come on now! Certainly if that were the case, that would be true but given the guy's credibility and like you say any fool with a Twitter account or a google account can find it out, you know, is this really what you rely on? And there's just -- it's piling up and as you point out the question is civil contempt or criminal? I mean, clearly the judge, 18 months after he issued his orders to stop these immigration arrests, these immigration raids, he was still doing it or the department was still doing it.

TED SIMONS: They admit that, they've already admitted that but it was inadvertent, they said.

HOWARD FISCHER: We didn't know what the judge said, somehow federal court orders somehow didn't escape the sheriff. Does it rise to the level of criminal contempt? That's a really high bar.

TED SIMONS: Last question on this. Are folks -- are they following this or is there a little bit of Arpaio fatigue or what do you sense out there?

ALIA RAU: The people that are following it are really following it. They probably know more than we do about it. They've watched everything they can get their hands on. I think there's probably some fatigue. I think it's a question of is this the thing that, you know, according to some people finally take sheriff Joe down. We've seen other things and he's like a duck, it all rolls off. Is this the thing and there's a lot of people watching to see is this the time?

MARY JO PITZL: There's fatigue and there's also I think most people, many voters in Maricopa county made up their minds. Either there's people that just think the sheriff is not an upstanding person, he's not being truthful and others who are with him until the last dog dies.

HOWARD FISCHER: But until we get a credible candidate, somebody who can win, somebody who doesn't have certain things in his past that can be used against him, it's going to be hard to shove him out of there until they take him out of there in a box.

TED SIMONS: Be that as it may, will we continue to see mostly Republican candidates flocking to Arpaio for his endorsement?

HOWARD FISCHER: It seems to be tapering off, but the fact is if you've got a shot with Arpaio, you know, there are people who like him no matter what. And among certain groups, that helps. I've got the endorsement of the sheriff, here's a picture of me with the sheriff, isn't this great? Until he becomes poison, that's going to continue.

TED SIMONS: All right, we have a lot to talk about here regarding education funding plans. Everyone and their brother has got an education funding plan.

MARY JO PITZL: What's yours, Ted?

TED SIMONS: I'm going to release mine Monday in a press conference. Let's start with the Republican plan and what legislative leadership is looking at doing and how viable that may be.

MARY JO PITZL: Well, this is something that they unveiled the day that everybody threw in the towel on a negotiated settlement with the arbitrators in the long-running school funding lawsuit, and it's a four point plan led by Senate president Andy Biggs and House speaker David gowan. They want to take some money from the land trust as Governor Ducey has proposed but they're a little iffy on how much. Adjust the inflation funding factor that is right now a big part of the school funding formula, they want to adjust it downward, the law now says up to 2%, they want to make it I think 1.6%. They want to take money from the first things first fund, which is voter protected so that like the inflation funding factor would need voter approval, and then they want to take some money out of the rainy day fund and out of the surplus that our state budget has and put this all together, do a special session and we've fixed education.

TED SIMONS: Why would you think that voters would approve you knocking down that inflation adjustment interest rate from 2% down to 1.6%. They need to approve that. Why would voters do that when their voter mandate to begin with wasn't followed?

HOWARD FISCHER: That's the key question. We've had a requirement for inflation funding going back to the '90s when Fife Symington was governor and he said we don't have the money, we won't give it to you. Which is why it became voter protected and in 2000, voters not only put in the inflation mandate of 2% but they also agreed to tax themselves six tenths of a cent on top of the sales tax to help pay for that so this isn't like we're draining the budget. This is money earmarked for a lot of that. And there's no way that I believe that they're going to go back and say we're going to trust the legislature again!

TED SIMONS: And they have to vote, ask voters to once again and they tried this before, sweep money out of first things first. Again, the viability of these ideas.

ALIA RAU: First things first is early, early childhood education. This is the little bitty kids. And the idea is okay do you want to take all the money from the little kids and give it to the big kids? Pick your favorite child. Which one would you like to give money to this year? They tried that with first things first and there's very little interest it seems like from the public to mess with that money.

HOWARD FISCHER: I've got to wonder not that there's any Machiavellian things going on at the capitol. Whether there's some Republicans wondering we'll put it to the voters and if the voters reject it, that will show us that they believe there's enough money going into education. Andy Biggs believes that. Andy Biggs will tell you well money doesn't equate to it and I don't see where they need more money. Never mind the reports showing us we're 51st in the nation for teacher pay. Never mind the reports showing us 49th in the nation for state funding. Never mind the study that showed Arizona is that third worst place in the nation to be a teacher. He believes money isn't the issue because we have some basis schools and schools in Mesa that are doing well with $7,000.

TED SIMONS: If voters vote no will lawmakers really think that voters are saying you're already spending enough already? Or will they say knock it off and start spending more? Is that honestly, part of the equation there?

MARY JO PITZL: It could be. I mean, it's a bit of a Rorschach test and it's what you see or what you want to see. If this thing even gets to the ballot which I highly doubt it will, what the talk is about this from voters. I mean, again, voters approved first things first and it's designed to help preschool kids, to get kids ready to go to school into a system that most voters believe is already underfunded.

HOWARD FISCHER: What's also happening and, you know, I know it's on your list is we've got all competitive proposals out there. Diane Douglas talked about hers again earlier this week. She said we've got the money, we have a $325 million cash carry forward, slash surplus. We have $460 million in rainy day fund and we don't need to play these games.

TED SIMONS: Speaking of competing, we'll get to Douglas in a second here, Democrats, though, came out with their ideas and that involves a whole lot of money going into education and critics are saying where are you getting the money from, correct?

ALIA RAU: They did. They put out their plan and the primary part of it is let's give $285 million immediately this year to the schools from again the surplus or the extra money and then going forward it will be $250 million. They got massive criticism from the Republicans saying well wait a minute you have no idea what's going to happen five years from now. You could put us in a giant hole, we would be back where we were but their number came from jlbc. This in a recent report that said, we have about $300 million extra, about 250 of it we think could be ongoing money. But again, nobody -- I mean, nobody has much.

MARY JO PITZL: All of these hinge on a certain level of projection, we don't know what's going to be happening in five years. First things first which gets its money from tobacco tax, well hello, tobacco usage rates have been declining, not precipitously but that's probably going to only get smaller as time goes on. So everybody must put a fair amount of money, it's not just the Democrats but if you add everything up it's a fair amount of money from most quarters. And how sustainable that is, as long as you don't enshrine it in the Constitution, then it becomes a year-to-year legislative decision.

TED SIMONS: But again, the criticism on the Democrats' plan is you are expecting for a certain kind of growth here over the next 10 years and, obviously, no one can predict that kind of growth. But the critics are saying we can't -- Republicans are basically saying we can't count on that.

HOWARD FISCHER: You can't count on anything, although I think people who are giving up tobacco are going to take up marijuana. [ Laughter ] Here's the other thing that has really gotten the attention of the Democrats' plan,that a lot of Republicans like. We currently allow corporations to divert $51 million a year of what would go to the general fund to go to scholarships for parochial schools,they have built in an inflator of 20% a year. By 2030, that number is $660 million and what the Democrats have said is rather than diverting that much money, if we take the savings from that and cap it in at $51 million, we will have more money for public schools.

TED SIMONS: How many Republicans would go along with freezing that credit?

ALIA RAU: Very few. You know, it's very popular program with Republicans. It's a very popular program with corporations. I don't know. I think it would be a hard sell.

MARY JO PITZL: You might get, though, enough Republicans to vote against it that if they ally with the Democrats, they could put a cap on it. There have been economic forecasters who said this thing needs a cap or it's going to drain the general fund.

HOWARD FISCHER: And fact, Heather Carter who's a Republican from cave creek and a Republican from Phoenix, tried to do exactly that last year in the middle of the budget and were basically sort of talked off the ledge. There is a lot of sentiment out there from public school supporters on the Republican side in the house to say look we're not taking away the $51 million. But you cannot let it grow at that rate.

TED SIMONS: Okay. So again, we should mention the Democrats' plan, no tax increase there, either. They say shove the money over there, and go from there. President Biggs was on the show this week, he said it was "not worth the napkin it was written on."

ALIA RAU: It was surprisingly vehement, his response. He's usually a very calm, measured guy and it was quite the statement that he's been making.

MARY JO PITZL: Same for the governor. And it does --

TED SIMONS: The governor's office came out pretty strong.

TED SIMONS: Interesting well it's time again for our weekly Diane Douglas update and this one actually deals with yet another competing plan for education funding and she basically says we've got $400 million, send it right now to teachers.

HOWARD FISCHER: And we do have $400 million. And she recognizes that we may not have $400 million a year but what she's doing is she's also relying a bit on the trust fund but only above a certain level. She's aligned herself with state treasurer Jeff Dewit who said look we can take out a little more without going into the principal but once you go into the corpus of the trust, now, you can bring the money out certainly, but then again you're hurting it down the road and so she's saying I'm going to align with Dewit. We'll use that as a cushion and she said we can do this and she sat there as a press conference, we both covered her yesterday and said look at the numbers on teacher salaries. Look at the fact that 45% of teachers in Arizona leave after the first two years. You cannot get quality education based on that.

TED SIMONS: And teachers salaries or reducing classroom size she says pick whatever you want to spend it on but you've got the money. She also -- obviously, she wants to get rid of common core, nothing to do with funding here. The board of education, how likely are they going to take that up?

ALIA RAU: I don't know. It's a good it question. I mean, Ducey a couple of times has come out against common core but then we haven't seen any direct action from him, you know. The board are his appointees but I don't know. I mean, it's a sticky situation.

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, I talked to Greg Miller, the board president last night after her speech and he said look, after the governor came in and said do something, he said we formed a committee. We are going to be making modifications. We do not need to blow it up like Diane Douglas. And we can go ahead and make more modifications and make it more like Arizona planned.
TED SIMONS: And also pushed things like phonics, reading, math, civics, economics, emphasize cultural diversity, getting rid of hate instruction and curriculum which on the surface sounds like that's rather a liberal leaning for, but what she's doing is looking at race-specific classes.

MARY JO PITZL: Isn't that a reaction to the whole debate that's been happening around Tucson with its Hispanic curriculum? And I will say that if Douglas based a lot of this on her statewide listing tour and if she is faithfully reporting back which you heard from people who showed up at her meetings, maybe people should listen to that, these were educators, parents, business people.

HOWARD FISCHER: Odd balls in there. For example, she wants more time for lunch because she said now that we're serving healthier meals, it takes kids more time to eat the apple than the fries.

ALIA RAU: Howard, you ever tried eating with the kids in the classroom? I've done it recently, you can't possibly finish in time to get to recess and get to break. I love that one, that's a great suggestion.

HOWARD FISCHER: And then along the lines of getting rid of common core, she wants to do something the legislature rejected the past session, which is allow parents to opt out of standardized testing for their kids. So this is a grab bag of ideas.

TED SIMONS: All right. Speaking of Diane Douglas, the board of education, they've been talking about this, considering this, they went ahead and sued her for basically not doing her job, not fulfilling her duties.

ALIA RAU: This is back to the whole issue of some folks moving out and saying the investigators do not have access outside the department of ed building to the information they need to investigation. Serious allegations against teachers and then also this question about who maintains the website, and who should have control over it but the big issue seems to be access to the information on these features.

TED SIMONS: And the bigger issue is who controls the board of education?

MARY JO PITZL: Well, that's still in court. Douglas lost the first round but it's on appeal. And this issue will be decided either in court or perhaps the legislature might want to take that up and clarify that law.

TED SIMONS: That's a really good point. Wasn't that supposed to happen? What happened to that idea.

HOWARD FISCHER: In fact, Diane had even signed off on something that clarified the board controls its own employees and some of her supporters got their backs up and the bill blew up late in the session. There are conflicts in the law. It does say that the employees report to her, even though they're board employees but you've still got a Constitution that created a board that sets the policy that has to be able to tell its employees what to do. And so you're going to have these kinds of conflicts there, and it's going to require you know, the trial court ruling that Mary Jo was talking about, the judge said look, this is a political battle.

TED SIMONS: And that's a good point. He said that's a political battle. Why isn't the board of education suit a political battle as well?

HOWARD FISCHER: It probably is. That was their response that Charles Tack made, Diane's publicist, he said, how come it was political when we sued them but now, it's not political?

ALIA RAU: Who's saying it's not political? Let's let a judge to weigh in on this and maybe he'll look at the other judge's ruling and see if he agrees with that.

TED SIMONS: Alright, so we wait for the judges as we always seem to be doing.

TED SIMONS: Mark Killian resigns from the board of regents. He's still with the department of agriculture, correct? But he resigns from the board of regents. Is this the same Mark Killian that criticized the governor, criticized funding cuts on universities, anything to do with the resignation?

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, he says he wasn't forced out. And I knew mark in his days when he was house speaker and he's a straight shooter, very conservative, but he's a straight shooter. And he never let the fact that he was a supporter of the governor keep from talking about suing over the issue of adequate funding. But he said the connection is look, I've got a department of agriculture whose budget was cut 30%. Sound familiar? I have to spend full-time trying to get this agency's budget back up and I can't be doing that and be doing the regents' work. So this gives the governor a chance to put in a replacement.

MARY JO PITZL: What's difference between the two parallels you draw about the cuts to ag and the cuts to the board of education is that as a regent, Killian spoke out very loudly and very strongly about the harm that those cuts would do. As the governor's appointee he isn't saying that same thing.

HOWARD FISCHER: He's saying look we've got fire ants, we can't do inspections on, he's saying, we're supposed to be inspecting pet food. I don't know if the dog food you're buying at the grocery store is what it's promised to be. So again, he's not the person who tends to stay quiet but you're right, the difference is the regents are constitutionally created and he had a lot more power there to say governor, legislators, you're wrong.

TED SIMONS: And he was outspoken, saying the state ought to think about suing. Before we go, we've got a minute or so left here. Audit, department of child services or child safety or whatever they're calling DCS these days, kind of put them at risk of blame a little bit.

MARY JO PITZL: This audit took a look at the practices that the agency follows for assessing should we take a kid out of their home? Are they safe enough with their parents? Or do we see enough evidence that we should remove them and put them in foster care? And the audit found some problems with that. They feel that the guidelines are not crystal clear, they're not clear cut. There's a lot of room for discretion by case workers which other people would argue you need some discretion in there. You can't put them all in the same category. They also said that many case workers when it comes down to having a meeting with the family to decide could you meet with the family as a case worker, meet together to try to do what are we going to do with these kids that often the case workers come in with their minds made up, presumably that the kid's got to go and they don't listen to the family. So this is a cautionary warning.

TED SIMONS: And we're still dealing with 17,000 some odd kids removed from homes.

HOWARD FISCHER: And that's been the problem, you've got Craig McKay said we're going to deal with this back log. They got rid of Charles Flanagan. The back log has only grown, and he made a very startling admission to the joint legislative budget committee saying quote the money was not well spent. It's always wonderful when you're asking for more money.

TED SIMONS: And the judge says go ahead with that lawsuit against foster care systems?

MARY JO PITZL: This is the federal lawsuit and the state wanted out of it and Judge Silver said, nope we're going to proceed because we've got to give these kids their day in court.

TED SIMONS: Alright, Thank you so much, good stuff. Thanks for being here.

TED SIMONS: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker makes his monthly appearance to discuss the latest in foreign affairs. And we'll hear about an arts district that was designated a great place in Phoenix by the American Planning Association. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon." That's 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.

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