Journalists’ Roundtable

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

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, lawmakers pull the plug on plans for a privately funded fence at the Mexican border. And the campaign to convince voters to approve an education lawsuit settlement begins. 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 Rachel Leingang of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

TED SIMONS: What was once a grand and provocative plan by state lawmakers to build a privately funded fence along Arizona's border with Mexico is now Mary Jo a bit of a memory. Isn't it?

MARY JO PITZL: Well, I think instead of getting a wall we're going to get some high-powered binoculars, we're going to get some equipment that can be used in defending the border but the legislative committee that's been raising and overseeing this money finally decided that they would disburse it to the attorney and he wasn't asking for a fence so they're not going to get a fence.

HOWARD FISCHER: And the problem was remember this went back four years with all these grand plans and we've got a website and people from all across the nation were going to rush to contribute. Well, the first two years we got $265,000. And the last two years we got sort of $16.27. And somehow the donations have fallen off. So what do you do with that? Now, the good news for the lawmakers is it says a fence or virtual fence. Now what's a virtual fence? They're insisting that high-tech binoculars are a virtual fence, GPS units are a virtual fence so we're going to let the county sheriff have the money.

TED SIMONS: But that's not what John McCain was saying when he said build the dang fence.

RACHEL LEINGANG: I think the term fence is being used pretty loosely in this case. They haven't been able to raise enough to even get a mile of fencing. Fencing is so expensive. The border fence, three to $4 million per mile and we've only raised a small fraction of that, and it's dropped off precipitously in the last two years or so.

TED SIMONS: Why was not more money raised? This was quite the campaign, quite the crusade.

MARY JO PITZL: As any fundraiser will tell you, you have to keep after it. You have to have a very active, you know, solicitation effort, ongoing, that's not happening. We haven't seen that and a lot of the steam has gone out of the border issues. Even in the last year or two of Jan Brewer's administration and certainly since Governor Ducey has come into office, we just haven't had this heavy drum beat about all these bad people coming across the border and some of the numbers bear that out.

TED SIMONS: Representative Steve Smith who was behind the whole thing, now he's saying the goal was to shame the federal government, this whole effort. I see shame here but I'm not sure that's the direction I'm looking.

HOWARD FISCHER: Shame on you for not building it. The federal government will tell you out of like 380 miles of border they have about 318 miles of fence. Some of this is vehicle barriers, in other words, people can walk through and the cars can't. Folks are still coming across the border. If you live in Cochise county -- I used to live down there and you would see them coming across at all hours of the day and night and there is a problem down there and there are people who can't leave their homes for fear that everything is going to be gone. For the rest of us it's an invisible issue. As Mary jo said, this is not the political hot button that folks want to make of it. Even Kelli Ward who's running for U.S. Senate, well, the border is not secure and everyone is saying okay.

TED SIMONS: How much political damage do those who are so grandly behind this plan -- I mean, any fallout, any damage at all or water under the bridge?

RACHEL LEINGANG: If the fundraising efforts are continuing I don't expect that that many people are going to be opening their wallets if it's going to binoculars. It doesn't have that same kind of cachet. People aren't hopping to give someone a GPS unit. In terms of the actual fundraising, there's probably not a lot of hope for that to continue.

TED SIMONS: But as far as just those who are so big on this, now, kind of looking at the numbers, I mean it certainly can't be considered a success.

MARY JO PITZL: So you're wondering are they going to get chastised for not delivering on this? Depends on who they're running against and how much this resonates as an issue in the next election. I think most of the lawmakers that were behind this are probably going to stand for re-election. Even speaker Gowan who's running for Congress, you know, said well this is enough money but we're not going to see him doing fundraising for this effort.

HOWARD FISCHER: But the fact is that many of the people on the committee, the voting members are only the sheriffs and the law enforcement folks, but the legislators on the committee are essentially mostly from border areas. And even if they were unsuccessful, anything that keeps it in the news plays in Cochise county, plays in Yuma county.

TED SIMONS: Any reaction from anyone who actually donated to this?

HOWARD FISCHER: We haven't seen anything and part of the problem was we only got a partial list two years ago of some of the donors and a lot of these were nickels and dimes and let me put it this way, nobody's calling capital media services saying I want my $50 back.

TED SIMONS: All right. We'll move on then after that. The governor orders DPS to order some sort of strike force along the border. What are we talking about here?

RACHEL LEINGANG: This is really interesting. Apparently, started it quietly and nobody really heard about it, about a month and a half ago to try to combat drug trafficking, human trafficking at the border using DPS and it's just sort of in its infancy. I guess we'll see what it ends up being. I know he wants to have up to 200 employees involved with this. If that can really change the tune in terms of drug trafficking, I'm not sure. We have a lot of presence there already and there's always more added so I'm not sure.

HOWARD FISCHER: This is tricky because if you're going to use 200 existing DPS officers, what are you taking them off of? Is that the lab? Is that the folks who are stopping traffic on the 51 or what? Now, if you're adding 200 officers and assuming $60,000 salary and ERE, you're talking about $120 million. Now, I'm not sure that he's ready to ask for $120 million from the budget but he's got DCS, no education funding and the rest of that.

MARY JO PITZL: It is an interesting idea. He's trying to leverage the federal efforts because we do have federal efforts down at the border and try to leverage that and put some state skin in the game so rather than sending like the national guard down to the border which has been done in the past, usually more as a big show than anything substantive, this effort aims to target sort of the more dangerous types that are coming across and the drug traffickers and some of the human smugglers.

TED SIMONS: So the idea is to help local law enforcement, not necessarily dictate to law enforcement. That's the goal.

RACHEL LEINGANG: You never know if that's how they'll see it. It can be a little condescending say, I'm here in Phoenix, I know this is what's going to work on the border, the same relationship we've had with the federal government, you know. We know what's happening here. So it could be a little tenuous, I could see it.

TED SIMONS: Is that going to fly Howie? We're here to help?

HOWARD FISCHER: Having dealt with border sheriffs, they see themselves as the alpha and omega of law enforcement, that DPS is there to help them and they answer to the sheriffs. Now, I know how frank Millsap is going to take to having his people bossed around. I think they want the support. They like the staffing, they like the equipment they bring, they like the money they bring but if it's just a question of, you know, yeah, you've been down here for decades but we're going to do it different, that's going to create some real hard feelings.

MARY JO PITZL: And among the sheriffs, there's some mixed reaction. I think the Republicans are pretty much on board but we've got a democratic sheriff in Santa Cruz county who said he wasn't contacted and there's been some grumblings from Pima county saying we need these people on the roads. We don't have people patrolling in these areas after a certain hour. I guess this doesn't preclude that from happening. There's a lot more detail that has to come on this. This is just starting to drip out. We don't know how lawmakers feel about this.

TED SIMONS: We don't know the cost of this, we don't know the timeline for deployment, we don't know much of anything, except something's going to give.

HOWARD FISCHER: Except that this is a governor, you may remember, who said during his campaign, I'm going to do something. And it's sort of like his statewide school achievement districts. Well, okay it's November! Where is this? And I think he probably had to get something out there.

TED SIMONS: Last point on this, apprehensions at the Tucson sector seem to be at a two-decade low. Apprehensions at the Yuma sector is a 1960s level. And none of the presidential candidates are whipping this up, are we seeing that same level of discourse these days?

RACHEL LEINGANG: It's not the same as it was a few years ago. But I would guess that the presidential election coming up, that this will be one of the major topics, especially when candidates come here. They're going to talk about that.

HOWARD FISCHER: And you had the fifth circuit decision about the issue of quote/unquote amnesty and that's one of those hot button issues that are always going to play well.

TED SIMONS: That's the executive order, the order from the fifth circuit. All right, prop 123, how easy can it be and I still got it wrong, it's prop 123. This is the deal where voters get to decide on the education settlement that lawmakers and school districts came to regarding that education funding lawsuit. I guess the campaign is like it's already started?

MARY JO PITZL: Oh, yes, definitely. The campaign proponents filed their paperwork with the secretary of state office, made an event out of that. They're going to try to maximize every opportunity to get the message out that this is money for schools, you know. We need your support, May 17th. We're a half-year out but we're going to hear a lot about this over the next six months.

HOWARD FISCHER: What's interesting is what they're all trying to avoid, which is the political side of this. May 17th, the legislature will have been in session for four months, maybe even gone and the concern is that using the trust fund money, we're leaving all that extra money in the bank. What happens if we end up using that to give tax breaks to the governor's friends in the business community? What message does that send to voters that well we couldn't afford to use that money for schools, we've got to raid the trust fund but we got enough to give away.

TED SIMONS: We've talked about that in the past on the program. The fact that this is a May 17th vote means that the legislature will certainly have done quite a bit of work by that time. And the work that the legislature does, that could very well impact the vote couldn't it?

RACHEL LEINGANG: Absolutely and you have a special election so your voters are definitely different than they are in a standard election, so it depends on how active they'll be in paying attention to what goes on in the legislature and if there is some opposition campaign that forms in the time from now until then.

MARY JO PITZL: I think what you'll have, if the lawmakers do enact a tax cut you'll have the members of the education community who are at the table who have been saying since all this became public two weeks ago this is just the start. This doesn't fix education. There's a lot more that needs to be done. They will be the voice on that. Is that enough to thwart an election? At the end of the day, this is, you know -- it's $3.5 billion over 10 years. It's not extra money. You could argue it's money that the schools were due and maybe less than what the courts found, it is less than what the courts found they were due. I don't think voters are going to turn that thing away.

HOWARD FISCHER: No, I don't think it thwarts it but I think if some people after being beaten over the head saying look at all the great things we're doing for education and they see a tax cut they may stay home and that becomes an issue. I think it passes but, you know, I can you've got an you will hill fight. When people are confused, we've seen historically, they vote no.

MARY JO PITZL: What I found interesting about this week's filing and I wasn't up there but talking to my colleagues and looking at the images from there, all the people that were there were Sharon Harper, she's a business executive with the plaza companies and all the educator groups. The school budget officers. Where were the lawmakers? Where were the guys that were at the other end of the table? I checked today and President Biggs was out of town so he couldn't make it but there were, you know -- I'm not sure where speaker Gowan was, but where were these guys? Are they going to campaign for this thing?

TED SIMONS: Who will campaign for it and you referred to this early, is there any opposition group brewing out there?

RACHEL LEINGANG: I haven't heard anything about any opposition brewing because it would be really politically unpopular to say don't give kids money. How do you P.R. that? How do you make that an issue when really we all know what the rankings are for Arizona, we all know where we're standing here and saying no, this little bit of money, even though, you know, it might not be the best option, we don't want it, we don't need it. There's just not a way I don't think to put that together in any sort of logical way.

TED SIMONS: Will there be a face to this, the pro campaign?

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, I think the face is going to be the Arizona education association, particularly. That's why they had Andrew Morel doing a lot of the speaking. Here's the guy who represents teachers, saying if you want more for your children, vote for this and he's the ideal person to be the front on this.

MARY JO PITZL: I think the face will be teachers and kids and don't forget the governor. That's what's interesting is that the governor is the one that brought these parties together and increasingly this looks like it's Doug Ducey's initiative. He's already done interviews and some videos that are on his website and on the campaign website touting this, and I think we'll hear the governor talking about this a fair bit.

HOWARD FISCHER: It raises an interesting question and I'm actually interested in what you guys think. Is the -- is having a politician at the head of this, a guy who's got his enemies on both sides, is that good or bad for the campaign?

RACHEL LEINGANG: I think your best bet is to use parents and kids and teachers as your P.R. for this. I don't think using a politician who, like you said, they have enemies, he might be a part of the problem in some people's eyes so having him be the voice of it might not be the thing.

TED SIMONS: Using politicians in any way, shape or form begs the question, looks at the question of why are we here in the first place? You start looking deep and all of a sudden lawmakers may not be the favorite --

MARY JO PITZL: When you've got the Republican governor, he is a Republican, I think that might assuage some Republican voters and there's a template for this. Look at Jan Brewer and that campaign had a lot of firefighters and teachers and kids in it but you saw a fair bit of Jan Brewer in there and she was not a super popular governor at that time. She hadn't been elected in her own right.

TED SIMONS: All right, we had an in-depth study of registered voters that do not like Republicans and do not like Democrats, they're independents, Howie and we've talked about independents many times on the program. What did we learn about independents from the study?

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, they insist that they're moderates, they insist that they vote, although Mary jo went through some of the data and they say that 50% vote, well, it was 20% so they can't do math.

TED SIMONS: And far fewer vote in the primaries,

HOWARD FISCHER: and they fought very hard for this idea of a semiopen primary, they don't do it. The problem with the surveys is we don't know why they're independent. Did they come in from another state and decide I don't know the Republican party here, I'll register as independent? Did they leave one of the two parties, although the Republicans seem to continue to pick up some strength. How many years have we talked about here's a force to be reckoned with, there are more independents than Democrats or Republicans. If they actually got their act together, they could make a difference but maybe they're independent because I don't care what's going on.

TED SIMONS: Is that the gist of the study to find out who these folks are and get them to vote?

MARY JO PITZL: It's to find out what motivates them. I mean, we sort of know who they are. You can run the voter rolls, although we don't have a demographic profile, a lot of them are younger. But it's to find out where do they come from? Where are they at politically? What gets them to the polls? And this survey that the Morrison institute did at the behest of the citizens clean elections commission went through a bunch of issues and they found out okay on social issues and on education, they tend to lean a little bit more towards where the Democrats are and on fiscal issues and to the extent to which the government should support the poor, they lean Republican. If there's a way to reach voters by casting candidates through the lens of where they stand on issues. They think that that can get them out to vote but you have the issue of how do you get them into a primary where most of the elections are decided.

TED SIMONS: And many independents, I'm independent, I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Democrat but they're usually often disaffected Republicans or disaffected Democrats, and they lean correspondingly, don't they?

RACHEL LEINGANG: The ones who are truly in the middle probably aren't motivated, anyway. How would a campaign use this study? I don't think it would be very smart for them to try to target those ones who are wishy-washy on the issues.

HOWARD FISCHER: The only campaign that might be able to use them is if Paul Johnson, Terry Goddard ever get their act together and put out their ballot measures, one for the top two primary and then the independents suddenly say hey, there's a reason for me to get out there in August and pay attention. That may be where they can raise their voice. Now, I'm not sure that that would pass and we can play with that on the prediction show about what's going to happen but that's where the voice would be is in an open primary.

MARY JO PITZL: Yeah, I think Howie is correct because the study actually found that 75% of these independents identify themselves as moderate and 20 as leaning conservative and mid- to high teens liberal. So those people that are in the middle and that's a big chunk of these independents, at the end of the day right now, you're either going to vote an R. or a D. Those are your choices. If you have a primary where it's wide open, and you can go in and you can hop and skip between and vote a mixed ticket, that could change things.

TED SIMONS: It could change things. Obviously, it has to pass with voters and you would think that if there are so many dependent voters and so many of them are moderate that they would say I like this idea. That idea went down in flames last time it was tried.

RACHEL LEINGANG: Right. I don't think they're very engaged in this process. So the ones who would be the ones who would benefit the most, independents would be the hardest to get to the polls.

HOWARD FISCHER: And the other piece of it what happened last time is the league of women voters, the people who would try to get as many people to the poll said the way it was crafted was poorly worded and when league of women voters comes out against a reform you're doomed.

TED SIMONS: And you had Republicans and Democrats, party people saying we don't like this at all and so there you go.

MARY JO PITZL: And you had a lot of outside money, so-called dark money, that ran a pretty aggressive campaign against this and messaging matters.

TED SIMONS: Howie, who is general David Rataczak and why is he no longer with DCS?

HOWARD FISCHER: He had headed the department of emergency services, national guard essentially, and when the governor at the beginning of his term put Greg McKay in as head of child safety, he said well, we recognize, he's back and he's a cop. We need some other people to put in. Put in Vicky Mayo on the business background and David Rataczak was a consultant in terms of managing things. And the idea was the this was going to be a triumvirate, they're going to go ahead and work on the agency. Vicky Mayo left, perhaps ran kicking and screaming out of there, David Rataczak who we all thought was going to stay on for a year didn't make it that long. Problem is nobody is talking. But we know from the folks we talked to that there has been a turnover at DCS and we don't know whether this is Greg's management style or a natural progression in terms of a new agency.

TED SIMONS: What is going on over there? I mean, Rataczak had a 12 month contract, he's gone after nine months because he wants to return to private life. It's not as if he's leaving everything in tip top shape and great changes were made.

RACHEL LEINGANG: When this was announced there was that huge press conference announcing the dream team, and now, the dream team is no longer. You have one person left, and we don't really get to hear a lot about why they left. You get pretty vague press releases and you don't get a lot of people who want to talk on the record about what's going on. So there's still just this big cloud over that agency and it's tough to get through.

MARY JO PITZL: We can't get the governor's office to comment on why the -- we wish him well. People are going to fill in that vacuum and they're reading between the lines that there was discord and that the general was either unhappy to the extent that he exited himself or he was pushed out. We don't know and we don't know what that means, you know, going forward for the agency. What we do know is that DCS has seen a tremendous amount of turnover. The cases, that's stopping and some of the turnover he says was justified. They had bad staffers in there and prior to his coming on they had ramped up some staffing and made some bad picks. Those people are gone. And now, they're starting anew but it's a tall hill to climb.

HOWARD FISCHER: But he doesn't need this kind of, Greg McKay, doesn't need this kind of publicity. He's got oversight committees saying we gave you $20 million here, what happened to the money? Maybe it was misspent and when you find that the two people brought in to help him are gone and now, he's going to be back asking for much more, lawmakers are going to say wait a second, let's step back.

TED SIMONS: And the governor has said he's not happy with DCS still. He still wants to see changes there.

HOWARD FISCHER: Obviously, he's going to say we can do better.

TED SIMONS: We had him on the program.

HOWARD FISCHER: What else is he going to say? I'm happy that we got 15,000 back logs.

TED SIMONS: He could say that if he were happy.

HOWARD FISCHER: That's the way it looked.

TED SIMONS: It could be a zero sum world. We've got a minute left and we can't do a Friday show without Diane Douglas. This assault claim against the board of education president is with the county.

RACHEL LEINGANG: Right and Diane Douglas recently came out that she said her wrist could have been broken in this altercation, which was apparently sort of like a lean across and I don't know if he touched her, the report says he touched her but I don't know about breaking the wrist in that interaction. It seems like there's still a lot of bad blood there.

HOWARD FISCHER: And, of course, the issue is technically if I lean over and I grab your arm that's assault in this state. The question is is it the kind of thing that the county attorney looking at the video tape, listening to her say let go of my arm is ready to do something with it. I read the reports from DPS this past week and they said there's one board member who says he grabbed her arm and held it. And another said we didn't see anything like that. This is going to be a hard one for the county attorney to say, you know, do I really want to get in the middle of this?

TED SIMONS: Is the attorney going to get in the middle of this?

MARY JO PITZL: I look at all the child welfare, child safety issues that come before that office and you've got to think there's more important fish to fry.

TED SIMONS: All right, that was our Diane Douglas update for the week. Thank you all very much.

TED SIMONS: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," sobering results of a study looking at the academic growth of online charter school students. And we'll hear about a new opera set in 16th century Mexico. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 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.

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Mary Jo Pitzl: The Arizona Republic; Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services; Rachel Leingang: The Arizona Capitol Times

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