Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon." Journalists' Roundtable. State corporation commissioner Bob Burns demands access to APS finance records. And Governor Ducey wants Arizona out of the 9th circuit Court of Appeals. The journalists' round table is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us now is Alia Rau of the Arizona Republic, Bob Christie of the Associated Press, and Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times.
State corporation commissioner Bob Burns is ordering APS to turn over its campaign finance reports as questions persist over funding of recently elected commissioners. Was this a surprise that he came out and basically said I'm organized you to do this?

Alia Rau: It isn't. I mean, it's been talked about for a while. Why is he doing it now? But I think no, I think people have been asking him to do it and it got to the point where he's going to put it out there and we'll see what happens.

Ted Simons: Why is he doing it now?

Bob Christie: He's been really measured about this. You remember back in September he sent all of the utilities in Arizona a letter saying please voluntarily refrain from spending in political campaigns next election cycle. Most of them signed on, APS said no, then he sent a letter to APS saying disclose voluntarily your spending, they said no. They've never confirmed or denied they really did spend. It's believed that they spent $3 million. So why is he doing it now? Because they told him no, and he feels that the public needs this information and he needs the information in order to look at a rate case, coming up.

Ted Simons: Is this no more Mr. Nice guy?

Jeremy Duda: He's done playing around. Commissioner Burns has been kicking this idea around for quite a while. I mean, this controversy has been brewing so much since the 2014 election. We've got another election coming up this year. He really wants to see whether this APS money is getting spent. Like you said, it was more than $3 million in 2014 by two groups. There's no reason they couldn't do the same thing, unless they have a deterrent here.

Ted Simons: And one commissioner, we've talked about this in the past, we've done stories on this. It seems as though you only need one commissioner to order those books open, although some don't necessarily agree to that. What's going on here?

Alia Rau: That was the general thought, that you don't need a vote of the entire commission. You need one of them who have the authority to ask for it but now that it's happened, there does seem to be some question about do you need to go to the commission for a vote? I think the question might go to court. APS we expect will not take this kindly and we'll see what happens.

Ted Simons: It's going to court, isn't it?

Bob Christie: No doubt. APS will not -- what the investigation order from Bob Burns states please tell us a time and place, we will send an inspector down there, provide your people, put them under oath, give us the documents and I want to look at both Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, that's the for-profit owner of this APS, I want to look at their spending, I want to look at your spending.

Alia Rau: And lobbying, not only spending.

Bob Christie: And charitable contributions because under the 501(c) (3), these are technical charitable --

Ted Simons: Yes, social welfare organizations.

Bob Christie: Yes, which are widely used.

Jeremy Duda: If one commissioner can't do this, it's obvious that this is not going to happen at all. Bob Burns is kind of a one man army here. At the very least three votes against this on the commission, based on who's viewed as aligned with APS. Andy Tobin would join the other three. So Bob Burns is going to have to win this one in court if this is ever going to happen. Otherwise, we'll be waiting for this dark money law to come into effect.

Bob Christie: And Andy Tobin was on Ted's show a month ago where he's I wouldn't go along with that.

Ted Simons: I think he made himself clear that this was not an idea that he was all that enamored with. Again, we're just talking about finding out who funded races for the Arizona Corporation Commission which regulates utilities. And a lot of folks want to know did a utility fund the campaign of a candidate?

Alia Rau: A utility who has never said they didn't, they've never denied it. So the thought is yeah, they did it. But what kind of influence has that bought them and if it's bought them any, people want to know.

Ted Simons: Real quick last point on this, though, Bob Burns running for re-election. Does this help him or hurt him?

Bob Christie: That's a good question. We probably won't know until Election Day, but I think it shows him as an independent who will uphold Republican values in important points but also stand up to the people he's supposed to regulate. Remember the reason we're talking about Corporation Commission is because every Arizonian pays an electricity bill and if the Corporation Commission is bought by a utility, they've lost their faith, the public loses faith in the regulators.

Jeremy Duda: Commissioner Burns might want to look out for these shadow money groups that were so prominent last time around, no reason why they wouldn't go after him, as well.

Ted Simons: Governor Ducey wants out of the ninth circuit Court of Appeals. This is not a new idea. Actually, this is a relatively old idea. It seems like any time the folks who don't -- and again, let's frame this here; the ninth Court of Appeals is the most overturned, busiest of the courts. It's also the one that gets under the skin of conservative Republicans of which Ducey is one.

Alia Rau: Yes, the conservative Republicans hate the ninth circuit. They assume they're going to lose most cases and we've seen that a lot. We saw it with same-sex marriage, we've seen it with I don't know how many abortion cases. It is the bane of the conservative Republicans in Arizona and it is a very busy court. There does seem to be an argument that this is the busiest court in the country. Do they have too much on their plate? Do we need to put Arizona into a less busy circuit or should we split it and is there enough for this one to become two?

Ted Simons: We should mention real quickly that the governor's office said it's because it's overburdened and takes much too long for the cases to turn around and for us to get results here. Is that really the reason?

Jeremy Duda: They say this has nothing to do with politics, of course not, it's not because it overturns stuff that the legislature loved. It's because they're so often overturned. This this is the most over-turned Court of Appeals in the country. Not necessarily the case. If you look at the straight raw numbers yes, they had 92 cases over the last four years, heard by the court, only 21 of those were affirmed. But they also had most overturned but more than three times as many cases heard by the Supreme Court as the next Court of Appeals. You want to look at the overturned rate; they're the fourth most overturned, 88% for the eighth circuit, 86% for the sixth circuit, 86% for the 11th. They're not actually the most overturned by the rate.

Ted Simons: Just by raw numbers.

Jeremy Duda: Which is what the governor's office was telling us we should be focusing on when we're discussing this with them earlier.

Ted Simons: And I think that's what Jon Kyl was saying, Sandra Day O'Connor and others were saying it is too big. There are too many cases there.

Bob Christie: It is too big, and now there was an effort in 1995 or 2005 to break up the court. It failed. It was deemed political by those who fought against it. It was pushed by an Alaska senator who thought it was too liberal and wanted to break it up. There was a study, a commission in 1997, the former Supreme Court justice at the time, and they recommended not breaking up the court but reorganizing the court so it could more efficiently administer justice. There's 28, 29 sitting justices on the appeals court, that's almost twice as many as many other courts and to get an en banc, it takes 11 in the ninth circuit. Other circuits have 23 full judges sitting on their en banc panels. There's a lot of administrative stuff that they thought in that commission report could be better done if they made it into three mini circuits.

Jeremy Duda: And there's no question that there's arguments to be made for splitting it up based on sheer size and volume of the cases that they here but let's be honest. That's not what this is about. There's a reason why every Republican in the state is cheering the governor and Senator Flake and Congressman Salmon is on for this and every Democrat is saying no we shouldn't do this.

Ted Simons: You mentioned them and the governor, I can understand Senator Flake and Congressman Salmon, this is federal law here. What's the governor -- how much impact does he have on this?

Alia Rau: They don't require federal law change so he doesn't have any direct impact. It's more what kind of influence does he have, he has a bully pulpit, he has an argument as a conservative state in that district. So he's got voice. He has a big voice. But other than that it would be up to Congress.

Bob Christie: And it's pretty interesting, the proposal from Senator Flake would break the ninth circuit into California, Oregon and Washington, the three democratic states and all the rest of the states, the Inner Mountain West and Alaska into the new 12th circuit I believe it will be, if they actually do that. Whether it gets out of Congress...

Ted Simons: Is it going to get out of Congress?

Jeremy Duda: If it does once it gets to the White House all the Democrats are opposed to it. At least in the next year you can guess how President Obama would go on that. After January who knows.

Ted Simons: The governor also wants a little more budget power between sessions in case things start going south and he doesn't necessarily I guess feel like calling a special session. I don't quite understand what's going on here. He wants power that really the legislature has now.

Bob Christie: They do. The legislature as in Congress, the Congress appropriates the money and the executive, either president or in our case the governor, spends it through the administration. The governor wants the legislature to give him specific authority to lower an agency's spending level, mid-year. So, for instance, if we get into August, the legislature has been gone for a few months, revenue is down. I should be able to just go and tell an agency to stop spending money. That's the legislature's job. I don't think they're going to go along with that. And if the governor really needed he could get on the phone in five minutes, call a special session to get it done.

Ted Simons: Is the legislature going to go along?

Alia Rau: I don't think so. Senate president Andy Biggs, he said the legislature has the constitutional authority to do this. This is our job and in cases where the economy tanks, we can and have come into special session and dealt with it very quickly, problem solved.

Ted Simons: But the governor says leave it up to me, it's a lot quicker, a lot more flexible, we can get this done and not have to worry about all the -- what?

Jeremy Duda: About having to bring everyone back. I was surprised when I -- I spoke to a number of Republican lawmakers who actually supported this idea more than I would have expected, considering this is the separation of powers turf war, both sides as anywhere else in government jealously guard their turf. So many of them are going to be like the Senate president but I did hear some who were favorable. The way one lobbyist told me if it was ever going to happen it would be with this legislature and this governor who get along very well but there's another aspect to that. I asked Senator John Kavanagh about this, he said if there was a way to do this that only applied to Governor Ducey and never another governor but I don't know if that can happen.

Ted Simons: Let's move on here. Career and technical education cuts. This has been a major issue at the capitol. From the get-go, it's interesting what bubbles up as a big time issue. This is one of them and it sounds as though the legislature and the governor are the odds on this? Career and technical education cuts of $30 million this year on the table.

Alia Rau: $30 million is actually cut during the last budget cycle and this is a program, there's about 100,000 mostly high school students who are part of these programs and they're career and technical programs. So we have cooking, chef programs, we have EMT programs, all kinds of things, nursing, medical and basically, they cut $30 million. The programs have come back to the legislature and said if you don't refund us this money this year, very quickly, we're going to have to eliminate some of these schools entirely, it's going to decimate a program that has incredible high school graduation rates and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are working together to get it completely reversed.

Ted Simons: And they really are working together. I mean, this -- if they get a bill crafted, has it been crafted?

Bob Christie: The bill has been crafted. It was dropped early in the session a couple of weeks ago and it has 72 co-sponsors of 90 total lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors and, you know the other 18, you might get them, as well. There will be a few who don't. This $30 million cut was slipped into the budget deal last year, I mean, I'm not sure if anybody really knows the actual genesis. I've heard some stories, I think I know where it came from, but the bottom line is this $30 million, when the lawmakers went back to their districts, especially the rural lawmakers and back to Pima County and Flagstaff where these programs are incredibly important to the economy, they were hammered and they were ready when they came back into session.

Jeremy Duda: I think there's a legitimate question here as to what Governor Ducey's end-game really is. He puts this in the budget, he knows very well that there's overwhelming pressure from the legislature on both sides of the aisle from the get-go to restore this and at least in my office we have a little conspiracy theory that this is a bargaining chip. He knew that $30 million is coming back but this is a way you can bring people on board: bring in some a few stragglers who aren't voting on the budget. Last year, we had a few folks who were very upset about mainly university funding which could also be a bargaining chip here but, you know, at the end of the day the governor could be willing to say well yes okay we'll give you that $30 million back but we're going to need your vote on that.

Alia Rau: At this point, they don't need him.

Ted Simons: I was going to say. I don't know, I think that was the idea but I'm not sure it's going to work out.

Bob Christie: The Senate president has to put it up on the board. You can have a veto majority in the president doesn't put it on the vote, it doesn't make a difference.

Ted Simons: If it doesn't get up for a vote let's go all the way to the end there, doesn't pass, we still have what, the governor is proposing three years, $10 million each, but you have to side up with an industry that definitely wants you, it's a lot of strings attached.

Bob Christie: And that's nowhere near what the criticisms of the JTEDs, these career and technical education programs wants. Andy Biggs said they're teaching subjects that don't have to do with welding or nursing or whatever. And so I think what you're going to see is a compromise where they add some accountability, and they add -- they make every JTED say okay we don't teach English in our program, we don't take the extra money for that. Something along those lines I think is most likely.

Ted Simons: Keep the mission creep from creeping too far.

Bob Christie: Correct.

Ted Simons: Ballot collecting, a ballot collecting bill has advanced. What is ballot collecting and is it really a big problem in Arizona?

Ballot collecting is an individual or group who may go around the community, may go to a neighborhood, and collect multiple ballots from voters, whether it's somebody they know or whether they're just knocking on doors, offering to be helpful and take ballots on Election Day. Concerns from Republicans most recently has been that individuals, they collect these ballots and somehow discover who the person voted. Some people say you can look through the little yellow envelope and see who they voted for and then turn in those. So there are allegations of ballot fraud.

Ted Simons: Allegations of ballot fraud. Any proof of ballot fraud?

Bob Christie: No proof whatsoever, none. There hasn't been any. This is the old go around with the bus and say we'll take you to the polls type of thing. And it's Democrats, and it's Republicans who do it. Democrats are much more successful at it. And it's people like school boards and teachers who go during bond elections and get out these votes. There is no evidence that there has been any fraud. There's concern among Republicans that there could be fraud and the perception of fraud in their view is what's most important. We need to protect the sanctity of the ballot and therefore, this is a potential area for fraud, let's get rid of it.

Ted Simons: I thought that was an interesting argument. Does it need to be proof that this is happening if people believe it's happening, that's good enough?

Jeremy Duda: For a lot of legislators maybe. We hear these stories, this bill comes up every year for the past several sessions. Every year these allegations, some of them veering off into the pretty wild but others maybe a little bit more reasonable. You had one county elections official who said someone claimed to be an official asking for his ballot. Others you have these crazy stories about barbecues where they're trading food and money for people's ballots. Nothing like that has ever become confirmed but there's so many stories and so many allegations, so many suspicions about this that to the Republicans in the legislature there's a willingness to do this and it seems like it's only a matter of time before it passes. It was that close to passing last year. That's when the house ran for too long after the Senate had already passed it, they were debating that actual bill when the Senate decided we're done, we're going home.

Ted Simons: Felonies could be up to a year in prison. There are exemptions, caregivers, postal carriers, family members, in the same house, this sort of thing but it's got a pretty good chance?

Alia Rau: It seems to. The Republicans, it's an election year, it's a big issue for them. They finally put in an exemption for the mailman, postal workers. We'll see what happens.

Ted Simons: All right. Department of child services, what's happening there? It's a big problem keeping, folks. My goodness, the turnover there is unbelievable.

Bob Christie: It has been for years. I mean, we've heard for years, all the problems at child protective services now called the Department of Child Safety. One of the biggest problems is turnover. You get people, you hire them for $35,000 a year, $40,000 a year tops entry level. If you're a social worker, given a huge caseload of beaten children and abused children and neglected children and you say go out and stop the abuse from happening and take them out of the home if they need to and monitor those that are at risk. And you don't pay them very well and these people just run off into the night.

Ted Simons: A quarter of employees left the job. Quarter of the employees left their job, more quit their jobs than any other state agency. That sounds like an agency with some problems. What's being done to correct this or address this situation?

Jeremy Duda: They're talking about trying to get the infamous back log down that's been plaguing them for the last few years. They're touting they're clearing more reports than they have been lately but they're not really clearing the open cases. The reports, each case has multiple reports, most of them. So the cases are not getting closed. And so far, not necessarily making that much progress.

Ted Simons: So does this mean DCS, the Department of Child Safety, never get the letters right, are they going to get more money like they want more money? More accountability?

Alia Rau: They want a lot more money. I'm not sure they're going to get all the money they're asking for and there's a big question with, you know, last year we gave them a lot of money and we gave them a lot of money to hire new case workers and they have not hired new case workers. The money went towards other things. There's some question as to how the money was spent, how it should have been spent and if we give them more money this year how do we make sure they're doing what the legislature wants them to do?

Ted Simons: Calls for new leadership, are they increasing, still there? Have they decreased?

Bob Christie: You know, you hear it from outside, from the child safety oversight committee, there's a joint legislative panel that looks at DCS. They're willing to give Greg McCay more time. How much more time? Hard to say.

Ted Simons: All right. There's a move to change the national vote for president to a winner take all kind of deal. Jeremy, what exactly does this involve and obviously, a federal issue here. What's Arizona's place in this? I know lawmakers are discussing it.

Jeremy Duda: There's a discuss to do the national popular vote, which is the States form a compact with each other where they agree that once you reach the 270 electoral votes, then they all agree to give their votes to whoever wins the popular vote nationally. We're looking at -- we're also looking at here in Arizona a less dramatic change but something very interesting, the secretary of state's office wants to get rid of the presidential primaries here. Almost every state has a primary or caucus, Secretary of State's office says we spend $10 million every four years on this. It's expensive, we don't let independents vote. We should get rid of this and then the parties can hold a caucus, they can have a convention, as long as the state's not paying.

Ted Simons: But the popular vote idea is again you can't do this until you reach 270? I don't understand.

Jeremy Duda: Well, the point is to ensure that everybody -- you don't want to do this if most of your states aren't doing it. No state wants to give up its place in the Electoral College but once you ensure that enough states to reach that 270 that you need to become president are going to do it becomes a bit more secure. People are more willing to say we'll give our votes to whomever wins the popular vote nationally, that ensures you don't have another Bush V. Gore.

Ted Simons: It sounds like a bit of a stretch?

Bob Christie: Yeah, any time you meddle with a presidential election, people may not love the way it is right now.

Ted Simons: The death with dignity bill out there, this affects a lot of people very strongly but I'm not sure how far it's going to go. Talk to us quickly about this.

Alia Rau: This is a bill that says if you have a terminal disease, if you have six months to live and there are a lot of requirements for proving that. It requires two doctors, quite a list of what you need to go through to get to that level. But if you get to that level, then a doctor could prescribe you a medication that you could take to essentially kill yourself, to end your life. And in terms of how well it will do, there are five states that allow this but it's a very controversial issue obviously, and it's not a popular idea with conservative Republicans.

Ted Simons: What about the governor?

Bob Christie: The governor strongly is a Catholic, a pro-life, strongly opposes euthanasia. He won't sign the bill if it gets to him but there's an argument to be made here it's sponsored by a Democrat, I talked to her and she said I've held the hand of four of my close relatives, some of them died long, horrible, agonizing deaths. We euthanize animals, dogs and cats when they're at the end of their life. Why do we have to have our loved ones suffer for days and weeks because they don't have this choice?

Ted Simons: Interesting most Arizonans approve but I doubt it's going to get too far at the legislature. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," a corporation commissioner discusses efforts to mend relations between APS and the solar industry and we'll look at efforts to reform Arizona's campaign finance and elections system. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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