Journalists’ Roundtable 11/20

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Join us as three local journalists bring you up to date on the news of the week.

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." Bob Christie of the Associated Press, and Luige del Puerto of the "Arizona Capitol Times". Governor Ducey this week announced that he opposes the entry of any new refugees into Arizona, this after the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. Didn't say just Syrian refugees, he doesn't want to see any new refugees.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The governor has joined a chorus of mostly republicans out there, a lot of governors, half the states, most republicans in Congress, calling for various suspensions to the number of refugees coming in after the Paris attacks. At least one of the attackers they believe came in in this wave of migrants from Syria and other war-torn countries. So they had a Syrian passport, whether fake or real showing up at one of the attack scenes. A lot of republicans, a few democrats, are warning for suspension of new folks coming in. A lot of resistance from the Obama administration, which is committed to this. There are a few democrats on each side but, Arizona has a long history of accepting a lot of refugees. Per capita, more than some liberal states like California and New York.

TED SIMONS: I want to get to the bill in Congress in a second, especially Kyrsten Sinema's vote on that. As far as the governor, he can request consultation and he got consultation, did he not?

BOB CHRISTIE: He got consultation under I believe the 1980 refugee resettlement act, federal law. The state department has to consult with the states where they place people. But it doesn't -- the law doesn't describe what that consultation entails. It doesn't say that states can reject them. It doesn't say anything else. The governor demanded a consultation. A whole bunch of governors got on a conference call on Tuesday night with the White House and senior officials who briefed them on the refugee program and the vetting process. He after that said that that did not meet my view of what the law requires for consultation. I want more issues. And he wants, I mean, he said today and he said all week that, you know, his job is to protect Arizona citizens and he wants any new resettlement into the United States from anywhere stopped until his concerns are addressed.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Right. To answer your question, governors of the states do not really have the authority to stop the refugees from settling into their states. That's because immigration, of course, is a federal purview. We know that very well in Arizona because we fought the feds on that several times -- that is why it is a request to the feds to ensure that before they resettle new refugees to our state that there is enough vetting and that the governor wanted this -- in fact, the law that he was referring to had required quarterly consultations with the state. I asked the governor's office, when was the last time you had a consultation with the feds? And they could not really give an answer. They were trying to figure out when that was exactly, when that happened.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Two legitimate things here. We have a history in this state and country of accepting refugees, humanitarian concerns are there. People are being obviously persecuted. Muslims, Christians, others, so there is a world-wide push to help the folks. The governors have a point that there are security concerns out there. The question is how do you background check some of the folks when they are coming from countries and parts of the world where they might not have passports or I.D.s or we don't know their backgrounds. This has been magnified by what went on in Paris.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: What set our governor apart from other governors is the fact that he's asking for a halt to all refugees, not just Syrians, which is the focus of most governors they don't people form Syria and Iraq to settle here. The governor said no, everybody. That means Cuban refugees, for example, we have been accepting them here. -- There are refugees from the most troubled areas of the world that we have been accepting over several decades and he wants a stop to all of them.

TED SIMONS: I want to get back to the consultation aspect because almost like the next day these 19, 20 some odd governors got on a conference call. You had the FBI, homeland security, state department, White House officials all telling them the process for vetting refugees. The governor next day says that is not good enough. He wants a formal consul -- what does he want? The information was presented. What more does he want?

BOB CHRISTIE: He hasn't specifically laid out what he wants. He said that the briefing that he received directly from the Federal Government officials did not meet the requirements. And he has not gone out and said anymore of what he actually wants. What kind of consultation he wants. I think, you know, you had someone on the program, Paul bender, ASU law professor on the program earlier in the week, there is no definition in the federal law as to what the consultation must entail. What I got from that and I have not read the law and I am not a lawyer, but -- they have met requirements. The governor has no right to reject their consultation -- this is political. The Governor Ducey, as Luige said is a little more nuanced than some governors are, but it is a political issue we generally see a split. There are some democrats on board, but mainly republican governors.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Republicans -- this is a lack of confidence in the president's policy. A lack of confidence you hear from republicans on the response to Isis his and his remark since then and I think they look at immigration where they don't trust the administration on how they handle illegal immigrants sometimes. I think this stems from that, they don't trust him on all of these other issues so why should they trust the administration on this?

TED SIMONS: Is he confusing refugees in Europe, the crisis in Europe with the resettlement program in the United States in which a lot of vetting goes on for refugees.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: You are absolutely right about the vetting process. I don't think the governor is confused about the two, I mean they are vastly different. Europe's borders are quite porous as opposed to ours. I understand where the governor is coming from. He is trying to reassure the citizens of this state that they are going to be safe and that he is -- doing what he can do and so far as what is legally allowed to make the assurances. The asked the governor's spokesperson, what kind of oversight or consultation do you want to see? What kind of assurances do you want to see from the feds, in order for you to say okay we fine we will accept those new refugees? They can't really say, because the governor spokesperson was saying we want to have the consultation first and be briefed about how the program works and at that point we will have questions and go from there. Which is quite vague-- again, you know, I spoke with someone, Donna Magnuson from the international refugee committee, she's the executive director there, and I asked her about this particular issue and I said what do you make of the governor's stance? The one thing that people are missing is that this process is very thorough, very intensive, and the refugee population is the most vetted population that is coming in, entry into the United States. She said it takes about two years to go through this vetting process.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: But they will just point out that if one person, one Isis person is allowed in, then we have a problem. You look at the Boston Marathon bombers, they were refugees, radicalized after they came here but they were refugees. While the numbers work against the republican argument against this, they have the lone wolf type thing, one person infiltrates things and then we have an issue.

TED SIMONS: Number as far as voters, public opinion poll show they are on the right side of that. So much so that representative Kyrsten Sinema, who was once the president of a non profit refugee settlement program, argued at one time the process took too long and was too strict. She voted for the republican plan in the house.

BOB CHRISTIE: Right, she was one of 47 democrats in the house who broke with the party and supported this. That is a goodly number. I don't know if it is quite enough to overcome a presidential veto or not but, it is a large number. She is in a swing district. She obviously has -- a lot of folks believe she has aspirations for higher office. This is an issue that could damage her in an election if she did not break with the democrats. She hasn't explained other than her -- she has echoed what a lot of the democrats said, which is -- , it makes sense to add this extra layer of pause time to this refugee program to make sure that the vetting is like.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It would certainly help her in the general election, if she runs statewide for something, it would help her within a general election. People generally as a gut reaction think we should take a pause on this. Her and Matt Salmon, who work on a number of issues. They introduced a new bill this week to tighten up Visa waivers. If you come from Europe, Japan, or Korea you can pretty much travel throughout the country for three months freely, but they are putting language in there that if you visit Afghanistan, or Syria, Iraq, or Iran, then you don't get that waiver.

TED SIMONS: That seems relatively reasonable I would imagine to most folks. I mean certainly polling would indicate as much.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: To most folks, you're right. They think it is reasonable. Kyrsten Sinema is arguing to other republicans that we need to put this extra layer of protection, if you will. What the bill does, what this legislation does is two-fold. One, it requires another background check by the federal bureau of investigation. And at that point, it requires three security agencies to certify to Congress that the person coming into the U.S. is not a threat to the community. You about Kyrsten Sinema, why she has voted this way. She is in a swing district. She has aspirations for higher office. And the other thing that -- I looked just very quickly at her voting record. I think she has broken away from her party on bills that are more or less destined to die. They're not going to go anywhere in the Senate, or the president said he is going to veto them.

TED SIMONS: Democratic leaders in the Senate --

MIKE SUNNUCKS: McCain, senator McCain has downplayed this refugee issue repeatedly this week along with Lindsey Graham. -- But republicans are kind of overplaying it a little bit because there are plenty of other threats and this is probably not the odds on threat for people to come in here and do something.

BOB CHRISTIE: First off, the governor, Governor Ducey is a strong Catholic. This is the second or third time he has broke with the Catholic church. The Pope called for an end to of the death penalty and I talked to him after that and he said, no I'm going to uphold the law. I talked to him today and he said no the conference of Catholic bishops said this is a wrong idea. These are people who need the United States to reach out to them to help and embrace them, fully vetted and we disagree with the politicians who are doing this.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: And to that point the evangelical Christian community -- there are various organizations, but those national organizations have put out states basically saying look, let's not go there. Let's not go there, they're saying, look, this vetting process is thorough. Those people -- and basically they are saying we should make a distinction between terrorists and stop them from coming to the U.S. And their victims, these families are victims of terror trying to flee the terror in their countries and we should make those distinctions and it is important, this evangelical Christian organization, even the Catholic church and saying we make sure that we are making those distinctions.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: You are seeing the split within republicans. With Jeb Bush saying, maybe we should accept Christians because they are really getting hurt along with other religious minorities by ISIS. -- Maybe we should let them in, that's creating a little bit of a schism too.

TED SIMONS: Let's get to education leaders. This is a weekly topic on this program in some way, shape, or form. The Department of Education, and or superintendent Diane Douglas. Now lawmakers are saying Douglas and department, board of education, knock it off, get together, work together. Because -- student safety is at risk here.

BOB CHRISTIE: Correct on at least one issue. There are a couple of fights going on between the board of education and the Department of Education, which is run by Diane Douglas, the superintendent. The issue that they came out this week and told them to knock it off on and to settle was the investigators who work for the -- board of education who actually are involved in deciding whether teachers -- teaching certificates should be revoked, talking about teachers accused of misconduct of all kinds, molestation, to drugs, other issues, where those investigators have to have access to the Department of Education files. Right now they have to leave the office, drive five, six blocks to Diane's office, go up and be escorted to access the electronic files. This letter came out and both sides reiterated their long-time position, which is just give us the access says the board. Just come over to my office says Diane Douglas.

TED SIMONS: Right. And apparently Senate president Andy Biggs and other Senate leaders, they are saying, again, we're talking about records of teacher performance, perhaps safety issues for students, figure it out.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Safety issue was a major concern for the Senate leadership. They're saying look, I understand your fight, you have some legal disputes to go through and at some point maybe resolve, but we need to make sure that our students are safe. The board of education basically said just give us access. Diane Douglas said we are not talking about investigators in the sense of real investigators. The people who investigate those teachers are police officers and these investigators, they confirm that the person being investigated is, in fact, the holder of that certificate and then at that point they decide whether to revoke or suspend that certificate. So, she is saying our children are not in harm's way. There is no question about that is what she is saying.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The average person out there, business owner, what a waste of time to have to think about this. We have a lot of educational challenges here. We have talked about this before. How much we spend in classrooms, classroom signs, design schools, all of these things. Every time there is a chance to have a turf battle down there on everything, they take advantage of this. It should be noted that this hasn't gone on before under previous republican and democratic instructors, this is under one person.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: And maybe this time the legislature will do something about this dispute. Remember, they had a chance to basically decide whose authority -- who has the authority over which employees, and they could not get that bill through. And so maybe next year we will see something that essentially that would decide who is in charge of who?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: I don't know if they really care. It probably takes the governor to push something through. I don't know if there is a collective will there in both chambers to get this through.

TED SIMONS: Sound like the Senate did something, but the house has to --

BOB CHRISTIE: The Senate passed the bill, Diane Douglas was on board, The Senate was nearly unanimous -- it went to the house. And then the house, somehow or another got bogged down and there was an issue in Wyoming a few years ago where the governor took all of the power away from the superintendent of public instruction. A group of republicans in the house who said this is similar. We don't want to vote for it and the bill died. What Senate president Andy Biggs said today is listen, you guys have your legal fights. But this is easy. Make a one-page agreement that says we're going to allow the access, we're going to put this aside. This doesn't mean legal precedent. We can keep duking it out in court but let's just get this done. It doesn't look like from the responses that it is going to happen.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: And Mike's right it probably takes the governor's office to say look we need to do something about this once and for all. If this is such a big issue to Senate Andy Biggs and the leadership in the Senate, they themselves can push this bill. There are all sorts of mechanisms and strategies they can use to ensure that they can use to make sure the house does get something -- if they are talking about the safety of children, which they believe this issue is about, then they can do something about it.

TED SIMONS: It sounds like someone tried to stop the tribal casino yet again, but the tribe just keeps winning over and over again. -- Congress basically not enough votes to block the casino, correct?

MIKE SUNNUCKS: They tried to fast track a vote through the house without debate -- so they need a super majority, couldn't quite get it. They win in the federal courts because of this 1986 land exchange law. This bill which has been pushed for a while by the Salt River and Gila River and Trent Franks and John McCain, who get a fair amount of contributions from those folks. Its gone up before they just can't seem to get this through. The tribe plan on opening some limited slots out there before Christmas. So we will see something out there. But they still have to go through some of the fights with the state over a more formal gaming license that would allow them to have blackjack and other.

TED SIMONS: First phase opens December 20th. The Gila River Indian community said they're not done with this and they will keep fighting this.

BOB CHRISTIE: Yeah, they're not and procedurally in the house, it didn't go through on the super majority vote. It can still come back. That passed two years in a row in the house and then it never got out of the Senate. Now we have a different Senate majority. John McCain, Jeff flake both on board. It could have enough votes to pass.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: This would block the casino until 2027. They could sue, and that could be a billion in damages.

TED SIMONS: You get a lawsuit involved here, and Luige, you have all sorts of things that could possibly happen.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: One thing that I think is sure, if the U.S. Congress passes something that would stop this casino from opening or being able to open, there is going to be a lawsuit. I think that is the one thing that is certain.

BOB CHRISTIE: It would be an illegal taking lawsuit. They might have a good chance to win. They've got $250 million invested in the casino already, a thousand slot machines ready to fire up, they're bingo style slot machines, but they are about the same.

TED SIMONS: And you have a gaming compact that ends in 2027, but it could get altered as well.

BOB CHRISTIE: Quite an interesting fight.

TED SIMONS: Yes, it is. Alright, State jobless rate, 6.3% last month in September. 6.1% in October. A little bit of a drop. Not too bad. Nothing to get excited about but still it's the right direction.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Yeah, I think 3,000 or so jobs. Most of them private sector. Still the same challenges. It is retail, wholesale trade, call centers, restaurants and bars. We are not seeing the robust higher wage industries, but that is kind of usual for seasonal stuff. Coming up on the holidays. It is a little better. Republicans look at the labor participation rate, 56% of adults in the state are working. The job market is not bad, but still kind of soft.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Year over year we have added 60,000 jobs and that is a very good thing. Economist in the state basically said we have a moderate pace of job growth, and the jobs yield moderate wages. Which really is our problem, our problem is trying to attract the high-wage jobs and trying to create an environment that would create -- not just create those jobs, but track those jobs from out of state. It has been real difficult for us to do that.

BOB CHRISTIE: Those are the jobs that drive tax growth. High-wage jobs, people who pay lots of taxes because they're earning $100,000, $120,000 a year proportionately speaking and they spend more, sales tax, buy bigger houses, property tax, that all drives the economy.

TED SIMONS: We should mention the national unemployment rate is down to 5.0%. Still a full percentage -- still higher than the national average, why is that?

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Right. You see, Arizona has had this history, when we have had downturns and adding jobs we have added more jobs than anyone else, that's not the case this time, in fact, when the economy goes very well or is doing well, we have always done better than the national average. We are not seeing that. The question in my mind of course, what the legislature does, what the governor does when they look at the jobs numbers and whether they decide maybe we need another tax cut to spur the kind of economic growth and attract those jobs that we need to see. I'm almost certain we will see those kinds of arguments crop up again next year.

BOB CHRISTIE: The Governor talked today to the tax research association, and I was there and Howie was there and a bunch of other reporters were there. We talked to him after. The first thing he said was, the tax cuts we passed this year, which were relatively small, two or three small tax cuts. One which indexed it so if you get a raise this year, you don't pay -- you don't get bumped into a higher tax bracket. He said that's the first start of my plan to cut taxes every year I'm in office, income taxes, and we will be looking at targeted taxes again, and the reason is we need to have a climate, low tax climate to draw those good jobs.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: The problem is we are competing with Texas, Nevada, Florida, states with zero income tax and revenue streams, oil, gas, tourism, gaming, that allow them to do that. We don't have that. Our population growth is still tepid historically and we rely on that and real estate. Home building is not back nationally or here the way it was that creates not only construction jobs but, all of these title companies, finance companies, office jobs, that is why our office vacancy rate is still 20%.

TED SIMONS: Original question, one of the reasons we can't get past the national average is we had a worse situation here than the national average as far as the recession.

BOB CHRISTIE: We did. Not only the overall recession, but the housing industry made up a larger proportion of our economy than other states and Arizona was among the hardest hit of any state in shedding construction jobs and we all know what happened.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: That really is the ultimate question for the state. How do we diversify our economy so we are not so reliant on one industry, in this case the housing industry. In the latest jobs market, housing industry didn't gain as many jobs as we would like it. The growth in the housing industry has been tepid for many years and that has been a problem. We are reliant on that industry. The question is how do you diversify and how could you do it fast enough so that we're growing at a level that we would like to see? That really is the big question.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned earlier that you spoke to the governor today on a variety of issues. Last time we had a chance to speak with the governor, interesting situation at the governor's office, I will take a shot here of myself and the governor speaking in the governor's office. As you will see, between us is a cardinal football helmet, which I thought was a little curious. I mean, flowers, you know, a little garden display, something along that. It's a football helmet.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: It's a coaches show.

TED SIMONS: It all makes sense now Mike Sunnucks, because apparently he is going to be honored by the football foundation. He's a big wheel when it comes to football.

MIKE SUNNUCKS: Yeah he's going into the National football leadership hall of fame, along with president Michael Bidwell of the cardinals -- Jerry Jones is in this, Chris Christie is in this. I guess if you host a Super Bowl and you're a governor of a state that built a nice new stadium for an NFL team, you get in this club.

TED SIMONS: -- Mike Bidwell, excuse me, he is a big deal in republican politics, isn't he?

BOB CHRISTIE: He is. The governor has been seen with Mr. Bidwell -- he had the big economic summit out at University of Phoenix stadium a few months ago. Mr. Bidwell was there when the governor signed the education funding bill a few weeks ago. He is a supporter of the governor. I think when the governor needs a group of people behind him to back him, Mr. Bidwell is there for him.

TED SIMONS: Alright, Congratulations, I guess, to Mike Bidwell and Governor Ducey for making not the NFL hall of fame, the National Football Foundation Leadership hall of fame. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," world renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss returns to discuss the latest in all things science. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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