Journalists’ Roundtable 10/23/15

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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 hear about Governor Doug Ducey revisiting his state land trust plan. And find out why a former state lawmaker wants to introduce four people to the Independent Redistricting Commission. 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.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," I'm Steve Goldstein sitting in for Ted Simons who has the night off. Joining us tonight, Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Hank Stephenson of the "Arizona Capitol Times." This past Wednesday Governor Ducey spoke more about his plan to put money back into public schools. Jeremy, a brief history lesson what was in this initial plan and what's the feedback been so far?

JEREMDY DUDA: It's the Governor Ducey's plan to temporarily increase funding for the K-12 schools from the state land trust. It normally pays out 2.5%, if it's earning per year to increase that to 10% for five years, 5% for another five years, for a total of about $2.2 billion over the course of a decade. On Wednesday he told us he is considering changes. First and foremost, one of the things the plan would do is put all this new money in. After five years you have a big fiscal cliff where schools are going to be trying to figure out how to plug a hole of a quarter million or more. Once the final version of this is introduced to the legislature, that will be addressed and they are looking at changes. A lot of it is probably the result of not having the votes right now.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Mike I thought the timing is interesting, considering there was that ASU study in which the economists said great things. There was some criticism because the Koch brothers support this particular school. It seems like the timing is obvious. It did seem like Ducey did have some support for this.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Yeah, I mean that study and what the economist said is maybe tempered how much there we want to spend from the surplus and the rainy day fund. I think there's some support out there for the state trust land and in general you have folks on the right, the fiscal conservatives and folks on the left, the teacher's union, who want more than money now. That's the key people say, well we need more money now. We have a surplus sitting out there and there's a lot of pressure on the Governor and the Republican legislature to do something about not only the education lawsuit out there but our low standing in teacher pay and classroom spending. We have all this cash out here, why don't we use it for something very worthwhile, K-12 education.

HANK STEPHENSON: Ducey -- I read an editorial today, this is how you lead on education. He doesn't have enough votes to get it through the legislature, no way no how, at this point. He's realizing he has to compromise to some degree. I wonder if this compromise is going to be enough. People on the right and the left are asking for more. They say this is a good part of the solution but this is not a solution in and of itself.

JEREMDY DUDA: You have some folks on the right in the legislature who are saying we're not entirely sure we should put more money into K-12 right now, until we get more assurances on how it's going to be spent, less administrative spending, some assurances and safeguards. On the Democratic side you have people who just don't like the land trust plan in the first place. It's kind of getting attacked from both sides. Some of this coming from Treasurer Jeff DeWit who launched a number of broadsides against this plan and the fiscal cliff was one of the primary concerns of this plan.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The messaging kind of goes against the Governor on this. The state trust thing is a little complicated for people. Your exploiting fiscal cliffs and what's happening right now with state trust lands. Your average teacher, your average family out there, the state's going to spend this much more money into education now, instead of this kind of more complicated ballot measure. You kind of lose people in terms of what kind of resonance this has in terms of improving education spending.

HANK STEPHENSON: Not only that, they have been talking about $2.2 billion as if that's a chunk of money that's going into the education system now. Divide that by 10 years, by about a million students, you're looking at really $300.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: What struck me though, coming back to what you said, Jeremy, it seemed like the conversation has actually changed. In the past it was maybe we should spend more, maybe not. Most stakeholders, maybe they are not sure where they want the membrane to come from, but I'm interested in the lawmakers who aren't convinced that we need to spend more.

JEREMDY DUDA: There's a broad consensus that the state does need to put more into education, the state has lost a lawsuit and is appealing a second part of that now. I think this land trust plan, a lot of that seemed to be in response to the flak Ducey was taking over the budget and education spending. A big part of that was this big number, $2.2 billion. 360 billion or so a year for the first five years and going back to the fiscal cliff issue, the problem is if you find some way to even that out, then have to lower that number, maybe flatten things out. The number is not big and doesn't look as impressive once the Governor is fond of saying, he's putting more new money into K-12 education than any other state. How does this affect that, does it really make it seem as appealing if you have to flatten out those rates.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think the governor faces a lot of political pressure on this. He has political aspirations as we all know, maybe beyond this office. And I think he took a lot of hits for the University spending cuts in the budget, how to handle the budget, everything's dire fiscal-wise. And now we have this surplus. I think they are hearing from rank and file business owners beyond his kind of allies in the business community that get behind the things he does. You have real business people out there, and some of the poll numbers especially with women Republicans and women independents were really disappointed in how the budget went. There's a push he's getting to do something big now, not something that takes a ballot measure.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Let's put Governor Ducey in the therapist's chair for a second. What does this tell us about him? Anything about his leadership style? People have been wondering the first nine or 10 months in office, what, can we read from him. He seemed like potentially a compromiser, other issues not at all.

HANK STEPHENSON: This signals possibly an end to the honeymoon. The Republican lawmakers really wanted Ducey to succeed. They came off of years of bad relations with Governor Brewer. There was very little push-back, it flew through the legislature in record time. A lot of them afterwards saw, you know, the state's revenues were kind of turning around. We have this surplus. We had the ability to not make some of these really deep cuts to universities, to other places. That's how the Governor chose to approach it. Lawmakers went along with that. I think they got a lot of push-back and now they are saying, wait a minute, maybe we don't just follow this governor no matter what.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Jeremy, you cover the governor very closely.

JEREMDY DUDA: I think there's no doubt he'll have to do some compromise here, every governor does. If you want to take a -- my way or the highway approach, it's not going to get you very far. Governor Brewer had to fight hard to get things through the legislature that had a lot of Republican opposition and it really cost her in terms of her relationship with a lot of the lawmakers.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It would be interesting to see how pragmatic he is on this. His messaging is so disciplined, the access he gives to some of the media is kind of limited. So we don't always get an idea of how pragmatic he is. Does he follow Brewer's Medicaid formula where she relied on some Democrats? Will they play along with a Ducey plan or does he have to have all Republicans?

HANK STEPHENSON: And Democrats are sensing an opening here. I've talked to leaders in the house and Senate, Department of forget about us, we're here and we could provide the necessary votes. But they have a list of demands they wanted to see, as well.

JEREMDY DUDA: And is Governor Ducey going to want to go along with those demands. Prop 301, reauthorizing that, it expires in 2021. That would be at the top of any Democratic wish list. Can Ducey really sell that to the Republicans or do you go the full Medicaid coalition, where you have a small handful of Republicans and the entire Democratic caucus. I don't think that's how the Governor wants to go.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And you mentioned your colleague in the "Arizona Capitol Times" talked about a possible grand bargain. What are some elements that would be involved in that?

JEREMDY DUDA: It is hard to imagine, the prop 301 tax, this six tenths of a percent of a sales tax increase the voters approved in 2000, expires in 2021. That would probably have to be part of that. Governor Ducey and the legislative leadership and education leaders have been meeting around the clock for weeks now. I ran into a couple of them on the way to the eighth floor of the tower a couple days ago. He -- they meet a lot with Kirk Adams, Governor Ducey's chief of staff, with some of the legislative leadership. They are trying to find a solution and so far after weeks of meeting constantly, they have not found that yet.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The Governor has some real challenges. He wants to be pure on taxes. He opposed the sales tax extension. He doesn't want to come across with a George H.W. Bush flip-flop on taxes he has to address this education spending. It's the number one issue for a lot of people in the state, it's a black eye for the state's economic development. We always rank very low in terms of spending, our high school dropout rates are too high. This is something I think he wants to address. Then he's facing these Republicans on the right that are really stuck in the mud on some of these issues. He has issues, not only state trust lands but finding this kind of grand compromise. There are a lot of factors he has to overcome.

HANK STEPHENSON: At this point they are looking to a small compromise to something. That may be on the hospital records for years to come. A really hard look at how we fund or schools, maybe revamping that system entirely. Right now the focus is on the state land trust and whatever else we need to do to get that through.

JEREMDY DUDA: All the talk about the land trust and the possible special session, I think that is very much tied into the lawsuit and any potential grand bargain. You have to satisfy everyone. Ducey can't get a special session for land trust because of some of the things President Biggs wants right now. I don't know how far he's willing to go to give in to some of the requests of the K-12 folks to settle this lawsuit. I don't know if Biggs or house speaker Gowan will be in favor of that. There are so many people you have to satisfy, and they are all coming from so many different directions here.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And the governor has his classrooms first council which we have to watch, as well. Mike, one of the greatest mustaches in the history of the state capital is with Doug Quelland. Give us some background on what the commission looks like now and what changes he wants to make.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: You have five members now, two Republicans, two Democrats a supposedly independent chair that didn't turn out so well in the last cycle when the Republicans felt the chair sided with Democrats. No one's been happy with this thing. He wants to go three, three, three, kind of a Herman Kane type of thing, three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independents. He has a good argument. Qualland's an independent and he's run as an independent in the legislature a number of times. I think independents are the largest block of voters now and a lot of people identify that way. When these folks draw the lines they draw partisan lines. This puts independents at the table, so you have nine people total and the chairs would be picked by the people on the panel. So you would have a vice-chair and chair. And hopefully it would give Independents a voice in these lines. The question is whether this thing would ever even come close to getting on the ballot considering you have both political parties against this thing.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: I feel like we can't even talk about what we can get on the ballot. It may or may not, Jeremy, go ahead, please.

JEREMDY DUDA: Unless Doug has a bunch of money for this campaign that we're not aware of. Now the idea itself is very similar to things that have been enacted in other states where you have a larger body, more representation from all three of these factions, in McClellan's proposal you would need at least one vote for every one of those three factions. What stands out is kind of curious, the way these members are produced or selected. The Democratic and Republican leaders in the legislature do it, and independents if there are any in the legislature, which there are not. If there are no elected independent legislatures, this devolves to independent candidates for the legislature who get the most votes. But there's a little wrinkle in that under the current draft, in order for an independent candidate to make that pick, they have to have run in a race where they were running against a Republican and independent. In last year's election there was only one independent legislative candidate who filled that criteria and that was Doug Quelland who runs as an independent and his old district every year against the people who replaced him since he got kicked out of legislature for Clean Elections violations, has been trying to make his comeback. He was a Republican and now is an Independent. He's also running for LB27 as an Independent next year, as well.

HANK STEPHENSON: This is totally self-serving and ridiculous. There are people at the legislature who are talking about the exact same thing, legitimate people, Republicans who are talking about adding Independent members to the IRC. They may go ahead and refer something like that to the ballot. But Doug Quelland's proposal isn't going to go anywhere.

JEREMDY DUDA: I'm surprised we haven't seen something like this from the legislature before. Back in 2011 we had a giant fight over redistricting when, as Mike mentioned, the independent chair Colleen Mathis sided with the Democrats who were getting outvoted. You were starting to see proposals from lawmakers on both sides to expand the size of the commission, more independents that everything doesn't swing based on this one independent chair who may or not be independent and since then it's been a crooked Sharpie.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Put the political science hat on a little bit, there's an argument to be made whether anybody's really independent. They lean Republican, lean Democrat, voters do that, elected officials who claim they are independent do that. They might have conservatives or more liberal. If push comes to shove, are you going to maybe side with one side or another. When we talk about independents it's a faction with political parties but it doesn't mean there's no attachment there. These folks who would be independent in this panel, they might not necessarily be on these kind of neutral arbiters that we hope they would be.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Regardless if this is self-serving for Quelland, I wonder if we would consider the registration independents have now, does it make sense, putting your political science hat back on, does it make sense logically, even if it never happens?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: There's no good way to draw lines. The legislature does it, it's gerrymandering. You pick another way, the Governor might appoint them, the Governor has control of this. Current system with five, it has drawbacks which came about from the Republicans' perspective. Always kind of subjective in terms of who's drawing the lines and how they're drawing them. Just kind of maybe reflecting the political realities of American politics in Arizona right now, because you do have a lot of independents. They get frozen out, just like third parties get frozen out of a lot of things.

JEREMDY DUDA: The problem with trying to create a system that really favors independents as Doug Quelland wants to do, is that independents don't all think the same. If they all had the same opinion, they would have a political party, but they don't, they're Independents, which technically under the law is party not designated. They don't actually have a party. Even though they are the largest group of voters in the state and there are a lot of ways the current system works against them, such as Quelland could tell you, actually getting on the ballot, it's hard to find a way to create a district that will favor Independents and stuff like that.

HANK STEPHENSON: One of the interesting things that he threw in there, though, it would take almost like a super majority to approve a map it would almost be seven of the nine members. It might negate some of the partisanship one way or the other. You'd have to be pulling some of those independent votes to your side.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Hank, final thought on this one though, is this an example of good government that people will, again, it won't happen we don't think, people but say, Clean Elections, great idea. Term limits, great idea. Then when they put it into practice, that's one of the struggles for a lot of people, even in issues like this is, let's get people excited, amped up, give Independents more priority. All of a sudden, wait, this doesn't work the way we wanted it to.

HANK STEPHENSON: It may not work the way it is predicted. But I don't think it can get any worse. And you know, we're stuck with the IRC as it is. We had the U.S. Supreme Court case on that and it upheld the IRC. One way or another we're having an IRC. It's how do you want to formulate that.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: To have one party rule and competitive districts, that's the challenge across the country. If you have folks on both sides representing districts where they just have to win in the primary. They don't have to worry about a general election. Especially in a state like Arizona, the way to win is pretty far to the right for Republicans, pretty far to the left for Democrats. It squeezes out kind of moderate's voices. So if it would do that, it could work. But like you said, these other things, term limits, Clean Elections, have had all kinds of unintended results.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Let's move on to the nine finalists for the next Arizona Supreme Justice court seat. Do you know any of these nine?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The Chief Justice is retiring, Clint Bullock, a big Libertarian name with the Goldwater Institute, pals with Jeb Bush, friends with Clarence Thomas. He's really well-known in conservative circles. He's the only one that's not a sitting judge, he's a litigator with the Goldwater Institute. They have challenged a lot of things related to incentives, subsidies, racial preferences. So-called school choice. He's the biggest name on there, there's a bunch of appeals court judges on there. Daisy Flores, the former Gila County attorney's there, too.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And Governor Ducey will take a much bigger role.

JEREMDY DUDA: This will be Governor Ducey's first Supreme Court pick, he's picked court of appeals judges but he has kind of an enhanced system compared to the way judges were vetted their judges. Figure out who the final I.C.E.s are, send them to the governor. Now, you have an extra layer there. You have before you get up to see Governor Ducey, you have to sit down with Mike Liburdi, his general counsel, chief deputy, and they kind of grill you on some of the finer points of law, substantive issues that matter to the governor's are separation powers, rule-making. You have to do that before you get to the Governor. You have to go through an enhanced background check, which makes me wonder if there had been issues with people with old arrests slipping through. These are really the big parts. They want to -- Governor Ducey wants to do a much more thorough job figuring out who he's going to put on the ballot.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Using very much his CEO hat on that one, doing his due diligence on that. If he picks anybody else on the list it's not a huge story, it's a big story. If he picks Bullock it's a big story nationally within Republican Party circles.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Justice Burke said they were really proud these are not political decisions that were made, and it does seem like when he hear this about Governor Ducey, Mike Liburdi, etc. It reminds me more of when the U.S. Supreme Court, when the presidents choose their justices, very much litmus testing, it seems like that. Do you think Governor Ducey is going to want somebody who goes down this list of issues as Jeremy mentioned?

HANK STEPHENSON: I think he probably does, that's not an unreasonable expectation. It's kind of interesting he's putting all this in place for his first pick coming up here. I'll be curious to see how he picks and how the whole process plays out.

JEREMDY DUDA: I think the governor wants some broad latitude here. The commission has to send at least three names to him. Only two can be from the same party. He said don't be afraid to send us more names, he wants kind of a broader range to choose from. Incidentally, you mentioned Clint Bullock, it's usually two Republicans, one Democrat are sent up there for Republican governor. It can be two Republicans and an Independent, which is what Clint bullock is. You get a lot more to choose, from and I think that's certainly something Governor Ducey is looking for. Governors have always kind of wanted more power over the system and Ducey may be the first in a long time to really get it.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I think there's some trickle down nationally of voters. John Roberts sided with Obamacare, Suter, those types of picks where Republicans have picked them and they haven't turned out to be as conservative as folks on the rights may have hoped. It kind of stems from that, this is kind of a national Republican thing. When they are picking a judge, weather the state or federal level, they will make sure they toe the line on some conservative issues.

HANK STEPHENSON: We haven't had a problem with people changing their divisions after being on the bench a long time. This may be a way to start changing and influencing a little bit how we pick these people and vis-à-vis what they decide.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And Hank, segue into this, this week the center for affairs and public policy, many thought wow, I can't believe it last the 20 years. What are you hearing from lawmakers right now? Why is it that the CAP has had so much power and influence and is it growing?

HANK STEPHENSON: They are definitely one of the most influential groups at the capitol and have been for many years. A lot of their success is attributable to the fact that generally our lawmakers agree with them. They come from kind of same background on positions. But there's also a lot of backlash to these people. They are the ones pushing Senate Bill 1062, a couple years back, the big religious freedom bill that left Arizona with a pretty bad black eye. I think that there are some lawmakers who, you know, Republican lawmakers even who are saying their tactics are a little bit too bold, they have gone a little too far on a lot of these things. They have brought us into court many a time and lost a lot of those cases and the state has footed the bill.

JEREMDY DUDA: A big part of what they want to do is push the envelope. That's going to get you in court a lot of times. Maybe you lose a lawsuit here and there, you have a lot of policies that Department of end up in court at all. Especially in the past six, seven years since Jan Brewer has replaced Janet Napolitano there has been kind of a Renaissance for them that of course never would have made it past the desk of a Democratic governor. They had Governor Brewer, Ducey, Cathy Harris certainly has his ear. It remains to be seen what their agenda will be next year.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: They have carried the water, the LDS Church isn't always vocal about their stances down there. The Archdiocese isn't always vocal about those things. They have kind of stepped in where other groups haven't and kind of carried that agenda. Certainly there are folks in the business community frustrated with them and would like to see somebody take them on. Again, a lot of legislatures agree with them.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: What can we look forward to in 2016 from the CAP?

JEREMDY DUDA: Hard to say, in the off session you had the big case on gay marriage, I'm sure there will be response to that. It's kind of hard to imagine what. Hank you mentioned senate Bill 1062, and it was, Ducey wouldn't sign a bill like that.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Jeremy, Hank, Mike, thanks for the conversation. Monday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll hear from a consumer advocate about data breaches and cyber security and the coeditor in chief of Bloomberg News speaks to students at Arizona State University. I'm Steve Goldstein, thanks so much for joining us. Have a great weekend.

Jeremy Duda "Arizona Capital Times"; Mike Sunnucks "Phoenix Business Journal"; Hank Stephenson "Arizona Capitol Times"

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