Journalists’ Roundtable 12/11/15

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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. The Supreme Court hears another Arizona redistricting case. And Governor Ducey's school achievement plan stalls. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on Arizona Horizon.

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon's Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Rachel Leingang of the Arizona Capitol times, Howard Fischer of capitol media services, and Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business do you remember. The Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments for an Arizona redistricting case, and this one, unlike the last one, which dealt with congressional, this deals with legislative districts and population, correct?

Rachel Leingang: Right, so the plaintiffs allege that the independent redistricting commission improperly favored Democrats in this process, and the redistricting commission says that we were trying to comply with the department of Justice, and the voting rights act, and there was no improper shifting of populations to favor any political party.

Ted Simons: And as plaintiffs we should mention are Republicans who are not happy with these districts.

Howard Fischer: As well as a Republican attorney general, and Republican Secretary of State, but this is not partisan. What this comes down to, is there is a, for lack of a better one, one person, one vote requirement in the U.S. constitution, in dividing up the state in 2011, you would have had approximately 213,000 in each legislative district. Well, there is an 8.8% difference from the top to the bottom, and the argument is, in any district, that had close to a margin, they took the Republicans out, shoved them into Republican district to make the other districts more competitive or as the case may be, more democrat, and the attorney, Mark Hearn said you cannot do that, one person, one vote trumps. As Rachel mentioned, the question is why, and the other big question, the court said look, we have generally said that the differences are less than 10% are nothing we're going to get into because otherwise, we're going to be micromanaging 50 legislative districts. 50 different states, and so, what's the problem here?

Ted Simons: And it wasn't 10%, it was 8.8%, as mentioned, and I think one of the Justices did ask, what are we doing here and looking at?

Mike Sunnucks: The court kind of across the board, was skeptical of the Republican's argument. The Republicans don't like this commission, they did not like the lines they drew for the congressional races, and they did not like the lines they drew for this, and they felt, we always talked about this before that the independent share was in cahoots with the two Democrats, and, you know, on the panel, against the two Republicans, and that paints everything that they did, according to the Republicans, so they are trying to convince the Supreme Court now for a second time that they did a bad job even though, you know, some of the logic doesn't like up.

Howard Fischer: And that's part of the problem, the court said look, let's look at the numbers. In fact, the Republicans who were elected to the legislature, are more than their proportional share of Republican and Democrats in voting registration, so they said, so, what happened? Of course, Hearn said just because it's in confidence, gerrymandering does not make it legal --
Ted Simons: And you mentioned The Department of Justice, wanting to see some of these districts, having a chance for minority representation, and these sorts of things, and we should mention that this goes, you know, this was a ruling that was in place when the commission did its job, but the courts have kind of overturned that now, so even that, I guess, could be an argument in favor of the plaintiffs.

Rachel Leingang: Right, but they would say at the time that it was drawn, that was the law of the land, so it's sort of irrelevant what came next because when their intent was to do this, according to the voting rights' act.

Howard Fischer: Let me go a step farther, what the court avoided in this Shelby versus Alabama case was preclearance, Arizona's state, with the history of discrimination, and requires voting laws to be clear, but the vote rights act still exists to this day, and the voting rights act prohibits the states from doing things that, that harm the ability to collect by minority groups.

Mike Sunnucks: I do think that you are right about the court being hesitant because the redistricting, and it is so subjective, you are looking at trying to make the numbers work, meet the voting rights act requirements in some states, and have an equal amount of people in there, look at communities of interest, and geography and all these things, and whoever draws them, the Republican legislature, independent commissioner, or democratic legislature, you are going to have people that are not happy, and if the Supreme Court starts undoing each of these, they are going to have 50 cases every ten years.

Ted Simons: And not only that, in Arizona, if the Supreme Court, makes a decision sometime next year, you are talking months, you have to redraw most, if not all the districts, and go ahead with an election that will be kind of thrown up in the air.

Rachel Leingang: And it was not an easy process, so, it would not be done by the 2016 election, and they are hoping, if this goes through, it would be done by the 2018 election.

Ted Simons: Okay, all right, and last point on this, attorney general mark brynovich got some laughs and talk to us about this.

Howard Fischer: Justice Scalia pointed out, when case first this came up, the state was not involved. You didn't have the Secretary of State's office, Ken Bennett involved, and he did not have the attorney's office involved, and basically, the Secretary of State said, this is a partisan fight, well, all of a sudden, we have the state set to brynovich, so what happened, there was an election in between, and brynovich, who was, who met Scalia said, and I was elected handily, and Scalia responded, I thought so, brynovich had to come back with yes, I am up for re-election in three years.

Ted Simons: And apparently got some laughter there.

Howard Fischer: Yes, he did.

Mike Sunnucks: He's really good on his feet, you know, and he ran against horn and run that race. He was kind of playing with house money because nobody expected him to get in there, and he's really been able to do these things, you know, the stuff when he was Governor for a day and went on, on Twitter, and that stuff, and we'll see this going forward.

Ted Simons: If the Justices decide no go, this can't be a feather in his cap.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think there is anything to lose. I think that that was enough to make the day. This is the Republicans against Democrats, for Republicans, it's the legislature, and they are the ones that would take the loss more than the A.G.

Howard Fischer: And the other fact is, attorneys die for the ability to say, I argued before them.

Ted Simons: Right, yeah, or I did that before the Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: Governor Ducey's achievement plan, which was, I think, funded to the tune of 34 million, not a lot of strings attached, here's -- 24 million, do what you think is are best, why aren't we seeing anything? We have not seen anything out of this.

Rachel Leingang: And the administration would say it's been busy on the education front in the past year, if you will, especially in the past couple of months with the special session, and prop one, two, three, so they are now giving it fresh eyes and trying to come up with an enhanced plan for the achievement zones, but there was not really a plan in the first place, so, I don't think how you enhance the plan.

Howard Fischer: And the problem is, this is dealing with the capital side. Supposedly, prop one, two, three, and you are not supposed to call it 123, 123 is as easy as abc, and all routine, 1, 2, 3 deals with classroom funding. This deals with building. The argument is, there were high performing schools with waiting lists, and we're going to go and find a way of dealing with it, look, let's pull back the Curtain here, public schools have access to state money, even though the state has fully funded the formula, public schools have access to bond money, and what does that leave? That leaves the charter schools, and I think that part of the problem they found, part of the reason we're sitting here in December, and saying, what happens to the plan, there is a problem called the gift clause. Charter schools are privately run, some of them, for profit operations. You cannot give them money for capital. You can pay them to educate children, you can't give them low interest loans. I think the problem has been, finding a way around that.

Mike Sunnucks: A fresh set of eyes will probably take care of that. We'll take a look at it and try to get around the legalities of it, but the Republicans run the show down there, and they have thrown a lot of money at this. And it should be questioned by they are doing it, and can you chew gum and walk at the same time?

Ted Simons: That's the point. Everyone understands the fact that the inflation adjustment was a big deal, a lot of concentration, but certainly, you could have done something with the 24 million, or gotten more headway, and when are we going to see something?

Rachel Leingang: Supposedly, next year, he won't ask for more money, the 24 million should say, no more appropriations, but there would probably need legislation, to codify some of the plans that he's trying to do. That could be a challenge. He's generally had a really friendly relationship with the lawmakers there, so it may be, it might not be, depending on the gift clause issues and things like that.

Mike Sunnucks: And we want to see some of the folks at the legislature do oversight, if we had Governor napolitano or Fred, they would have been asking a few more questions, here's 24 million, go and have some fun.

Howard Fischer: And Diane Douglas, as expressed a lot of skepticism on that. Now, she hasn't been consulted, and of course, they did a little, shall we say rocky relationship ever since she suggested he was racist but she's saying, look, my background is I was a board member at Peoria Unified School District, elected board overseeing, where is the oversight of the charter schools?

Ted Simons: The classroom's first group, This is not the same thing, the first group, they are kind of slow on the uptake because again, we don't want to get in the way of prop 1, 2, 3, or whatever we are going to call it, I mean goodness, gracious, you can do two things at once.

Rachel Leingang: It seems like it has been a catch-all excuse, we were working really hard on this one thing, and these other things, sort of, went by the wayside, and we're going to pick those up again, and we'll come back with a bigger and better plan.

Ted Simons: The classroom's first group, that's to overhaul state funding in general. And this is a lot of overhauling state funding and in terms of getting the high achieving schools more room, and that's a lot of work that needs to be done.

Howard Fischer: To be fair, the current funding formula was adopted in 1980, it was a nice simple formula, and then we said we need to give extra weight for this and that. And What about small schools, and what about rapidly growing districts? It has become an unholy mess, is it current or prior year funding, so there is a lot of work to be done. The question of, should the Funding follow the student? How does all of this work out? And that's been the problem. They do recognize that probably more money is needed, and you do need to pay teachers better. But, the really tricky part is when the Governor formed the class, and he told them, don't worry about the money, it's not the size of the pie, it's how you divide it up. Which leads to a lot of fears, that even with 1, 2, 3, passing, will not be any new money to do this.

Mike Sunnucks: I think Prop 123 is the key there, and this Governor and his office, is very disciplined politically. I don't think that they want something else, any kind of side shows, so let's get this passed. And we have all the business folks behind this, and a lot of folks that are willing to pass this to get something. And I don't think that they want some kind of other program, there, so probably after that, we'll probably see those fresh eyes.

Howard Fischer: Well, there is one other factor at work, what do they really want to do before May 17? And this goes to how much do they want to monkey with the system, and who will that tick off, do they want to do tax cuts, do they want to do permanent funding for the schools because a lot of it is going to come down to if voters see the legislature is doing things for business, for special interests --

Ted Simons: That suggests a do nothing legislature, doesn't it? What's going to happen? They start in January.

Howard Fischer: Well, they are starting January 11. And theoretically by May 17, they could be gone. And I don't think we're going to see major changes in education, even the governor, admitted, maybe we can do a little tinkering this year but probably, next year, before we do that.

Ted Simons: We're hearing about the reports, these teacher investigations, which Diane Douglas and the board of education are kind of fighting over who has the access, and who can't cross the street and who should not be crossing the street to use computers. It turns out that a third of these investigations have been inaccurately put into the data system or not, what is going on here?

Rachel Leingang: This is sort of a feather in the cap for what Diane Douglas has been saying, that the investigators should be under her and they would do a better job if they were her employees, and not subject to the board. And this sort of does give an example of why. I mean, over one-third of these reports are not accurately put into data bases at the state level, national level, that would prevent teachers who do really bad stuff from being in classrooms with children.

Ted Simons: Yeah, we're talking everything from sex crime convictions to teaching drunk and harming students, 79 of these cases were not put into data bases, which means some of these people could be out there in the classroom right now.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a horrible P.R. thing, and a classroom safety thing. It brings up harkens things of cps, and those types of inefficiencies and incompetencies. And it does bolster Douglas's argument that the folks running are obviously not doing a very good job.

Howard Fischer: But the question becomes, so, you take the seven investigators, and instead of reporting to the board, and they report to Diane, does that mean none of this would have happened? And I think that's the question. Look, bad systems lead to bad problems, no matter who is in charge.

Ted Simons: Well we should mention that some of these problems date back, you know, three, four or five years.

Howard Fischer: But, to be fair, it was about 2009 when those investigators were moved from being employees of the department, to employees of the board. Now, Diane insists they're really still an employees of the department, which is why -- we're at the court of appeals, and we're going to have a fight over that.

Ted Simons: Are we going to see something in the legislature? I mean obviously not much will be happening, apparently starting January 11th. But are we going to see someone finally put some lines of demarcation here between the state department of education and the board of education?

Rachel Leingang: They thought that they had that agreement last year, and at the last minute there, it sort of failed. So, I think it will depend on who can come to the table and agree here. And these are two groups that are definitely not getting along, and they have had all kinds of different arguments, related to assault charges, and all kinds of things. So, it remains to be seen.

Ted Simons: Is that assault charge still out there?

Howard Fischer: As about a half an hour ago, Bill Montgomery put out a statement and he said, I have looked at the DPS report, and this was something with the board meeting, where Greg Miller, who runs the meeting, was saying something. Diane was trying to make a point, he ruled her out of order, and she was sitting next to him, and he reached over, and he says to pull down her mic, and she says, he hit me, you know, get your mitts off of me, kind of thing, which led to the Department of Public Safety coming out. Doing an investigation, and doing a follow-up, and which led, essentially, to Bill Montgomery, the county attorney, saying today, you know, you have to show intent, that even assuming that Greg did touch, hit, grab her, we're not going to get a conviction so we're not going anywhere with this.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a root -- he laughed, and --

Ted Simons: Wow, what a reference! Holy smokes!

Howard Fischer: You're showing your age.

Mike Sunnucks: I'm showing my age.

Ted Simons: We'll move on.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's a circus on that one. But really, on this, when it goes to the legislature, it's up to the Governor. He can get something up there if he wants to, if we wants to exert the capital and, you know, twist a few arms, and get a bill through there.

Ted Simons: As Rachel mentioned, they thought that they had something the last go around.

Mike Sunnucks: He's going to be the only one who's going to be able to do that. They are not going to be able to come around.

Rachel Leingang: I wonder if they will stay out of this, and say, let's let the court figure out what the statute means, and go from there, basically.

Howard Fischer: Howard Fischer: But the tricky part of that, is judge Patricia Star, when she rule before the court of appeals said, this is a political issue, the courts should not be involved. Not exactly a definitive decision.

Ted Simons: And at least it's out of the crime lab at DPS, and all right. And we have yet another lawsuit. We don't have it, we have talk of a lawsuit, regarding Arizona getting Federal lands, controlling Federal lands, in the state. This sagebrush rebellion. This was a press Conference called by Diane Douglas, who later said, I don't know if I really like this idea.

Mike Sunnucks: She wants the land, she wants the Feds to give us a bunch of land, and they own 42% of the state, and it's been a conservative cause and in all kinds of western states for a long time, because they own wide swaths of land, in Idaho and Nevada and Alaska and here, even California. And so she wants them to give us the land but the lawmaker, that was with her, wants to sue for it, and Diane is not sure about suing for her.

Ted Simons: Why did she call the lawsuit, if she didn't think this was necessarily a great idea?

Rachel Leingang: I think suing the federal government is a costly and timely proposition. And Utah has been contemplating this idea, and their estimate was around 14 million, and so maybe she's a little shaky on the cost. And if you are trying to get more money in education, those lawsuits don't really help.

Ted Simons: It's probably also good for, I'm sure that she agrees with the concept, let's sue the federal government.

Howard Fischer: There are a lot of Republicans who believe that you know, you look at the states back East, and they don't have to worry so much about the BIM having so much land, and leaving aside the tribal reservations leaving aside the military reservations, and the whole Goldwater bombing range but it's a populist idea. I mean heck, we had a guy up in, up in Nevada, you know, holding off the Feds, and about grazing his land. And as you say, it's a sagebrush rebellion, 1980's all over again, and it's a very populist thing to do. But again, winning in court, and having to be in a federal court, about you know, remember, all this land came from the, from the Feds in the first place, and the 9 million acres that we have got left, the trust lands, we are talking about to use, came from the federal government.

Mike Sunnucks: Just imagine all the development issues that pop up and if they did that, the mining, the subdivisions, the shopping centers, and that they would supposedly try to do because they want to raise money, you have to sell it to somebody so it's developers and uranium miners.

Ted Simons: Just keep the rest open, and let's start with that. Can we do that as far as the land? -- All right. And Corporation Commissioner Stump. He's had a rough go of it recently, and now, because of the reporting, down at Capital Times, and mostly Capital Times, with regard to Solar City and checks and balances, two of his number one and two, if there is such a word. They are kind of tied a bit, as you guys reported; he's comparing them to the mafia.

Rachel Leingang: Right, so we asked Solar City if they were funding checks and balances directly or indirectly.

Ted Simons: Who is checks and balances by the way?

Rachel Leingang: The checks and balances has been going after the commission, especially commissioner Stump, to try to get access to his text messages, to sort of try to prove some collusion between him and dark money operators on the Corporation Commission races last year. They have been particularly, I think you could say dogged, and he hasn't been so friendly back to them. So this week, we asked Solar City if they had been funding the checks and balances in any way. They said we fund their major fundrer. It's a 501c4. They don't have to tell us that, I am not entirely sure what they did. But stump really didn't take a liking to that.

Ted Simons: No, he said that the checks and balances is not a virtuous watchdog, that instead it's like an enforcer who goes and breaks kneecaps.

Mike Sunnucks: I think that folks, on the other side, on the solar city, on that side, would maybe make similar comparisons to folks on the commission, some dark money groups, and Arizona public service. I think that there is a lot of equal opportunity fighting this, And Solar City has gone after utilities in a lot of states, and they have been unabashed about this, so I think that's probably why, hey yeah we are doing this. They are not afraid to go after utilities, and I think it has caught a lot of utilities off guard, and I think it's caught some regulators off guard, who've had some ties with utilities.

Howard Fischer: And this is part of the reason that you are going to have, perhaps, a ballot measure to get behind these 501c4s. Michelle Reagan said, there is nothing that we can do, the IRS classifies them as a social welfare organization, whatever the heck that's supposed to mean. But the fact is the U.S. Supreme Court, and all the rulings have said, you can't stop them from giving but you can always demand disclosure, and so, we could -- the idea is, we could find out who is funding, save our future now, and who was funding, you know, this group, and it should not be us sitting around the stable, playing a guessing game or having to call them and say, would you please, please tell us, who you are funding.

Mike Sunnucks: At least Solar City was, you know, forthright about that, and most of those groups, they are secret active.

Rachel Leingang: It gives them a moral high ground, so they can say well, we said that we were doing this, and APS, if you want to say something, go ahead.

Ted Simons: That's true. Alright, we can't leave without talking about what looks to be now, next Wednesday, at Phoenix Gateway airport, Donald Trump, your hero.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, he's coming down from Vegas, the last, the one before the end of the year on CNN, so he's going to come down, and there was talk for a couple days of worry, and Greg Stanton, the mayor, said he has the right to be here but he called it racist, and offensive, like a lot of his critics have. And he's going to land at the airport out there, and you might see a few less protesters out there than you saw downtown. But I'm sure they'll be there. We'll see what kind of crowd he gets and the media circus will come here, and it's ironic because his first rally in Phoenix was right after those inflammatory immigration remarks, and it really started, the ball rolling in terms of the media and the crowds and his ability to manipulate the media process behind the Republican primary.

Howard Fischer: And this becomes interesting in terms of a tactic. If you are a protest group and you want to say, Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, whatever, anything you want to do, do you go out there and just feed the media frenzy? Or do you just figure, go away, and he's going to get me no matter what. Why go out there and get arrested, and he can say, look, Richard Nixon was very good at this, in terms of, and Spiro Agnew, and look at the protesters, look at those bums.

Ted Simons: My God, Spiro Agnew and Ruth Bussey in the same conversation? Wow.

Howard Fischer: Yes, yes, look it up.

Ted Simons: Are any Republicans going to be on the stage with him or try and photo bomb him? Who wants to hang around Donald Trump here, as far as the Republicans in Arizona.

Rachel Leingang: I am not entirely sure, who wants going out to Mesa airport to do it, that alone might be a way to kind of dissuade folks from coming out and being a part of this, and being part of the manufacturing.

Mike Sunnucks: I talked to the sheriff, sheriff Joe, and he was talking about going out there, and he was at the last one, and Martin O'Malley was here talking about deportation policies and Joe brought up the number of 20 inmates from places like Syria and Afghanistan and Iraq and the county jail, so, Joe might be it.

Ted Simons: Senators McCain and Flake has come out against Trump's comment that we need to completely shut down Muslim immigration to Arizona right now.

Howard Fischer: Dick Cheney!

Ted Simons: He's come out against them. We have not heard much from other Arizona Republicans.

Howard Fischer: Part of it is, doing a bit of this, you know, when you have got somebody polling 11, 12, 13%, and sometimes into the 20%, and he could be your nominee, how much do you want to go out there and undermine that person. They are also looking at their own bases, you know, they are saying, you know, who are we appealing to? For McCain, it's easy. McCain figures, Kelly Ward will get the Trump voters, so it does not matter so I can safely go over here. Everyone else has been quiet out there.

Mike Sunnucks: When these establishments, like McCain, it helps Trump. He feeds off of this. His voters, they may not be enough in the end, to win the presidency, and it looks like he may win the nomination, and his voters are so angry at the Republican establishment, and those guys have been on the losing end of two elections, and they do the Obama Care things and take stuff to the Supreme Court where they lose. These guys are losers to them, and trump is the winner and every time they go after him, even if it's on something outlandish and illegal, like the Muslim travel band, it feeds into that, and he's just, did it's more -- it's initiative to give the middle finger to them.

Ted Simons: All right. We'll stop it right there, and there is so many other things that we could talk about but I'm afraid we'll go back to the 1960s as opposed to the 1970s.

Howard Fischer: I was there.

Ted Simons: I am sure that you were.

Ted Simons: Monday, on Arizona Horizon, former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker joins us to talk about the worldwide fight against ISIS, and we'll look at the education challenges facing American Indian students. Monday, on Arizona Horizon. Tuesday, best-selling author James Rollins will discuss his latest book, and Wednesday, an update on the Paris climate talks on global warming, and Thursday, actor Daniel Baldwin will be here to discuss drug addiction, and Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I am Ted Simons, thank you very 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 PBS station. Thank you.

Rachel Leingang: reporter at Capitol Times; Mike Sunnucks: Senior Reporter at Phoenix Business Journal; Howard Fischer: Founder, President, and CEO of Howard Fischer Associates

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