Journalists’ Roundtable

More from this show

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, the Journalists' Roundtable. A look at the proposals to change Arizona's election system, and a judge rules that Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump's text messages can remain private. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on Arizona Horizon.

Video: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your 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. And Howard Fischer of capital media services, and Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business adjourn. Two groups are combining efforts to push a pair of proposals that would fundamentally change Arizona's elections process. What are we talking about here, Mary Jo?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We're talking about the effort to establish a top two primary or an open primary, which would get rid of partisan primaries, and another measure that would require disclosure of dark money contributions to independent expenditure groups.

Ted Simons: And these are the same coalition of folks, getting together, as one here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, it's called the open and honest committee, and one is for disclosure and one is for elections, and they believe that these two things combined could really end the way that elections are conducted. I think that that's a debatable point, which we can get into in a bit.

Howard Fischer: The sweeping of the dark money. Ever since the Citizens United we have seen what's happened. And in fact, there was more money spent on the gubernatorial race last time by outside groups, by a factor of two, and versus the what candidates themselves spent. The question is where did it come from? Was it APS or Charlie Koch, and anybody who spends $10,000, you have got to disclose it. Well, I don't know where it came from, we'll find out where. Well, it came from this committee. Well, that committee has to search it out, too.

Ted Simons: Basically, the original source of the 10,000 or more dollar donation?

Howard Fischer: The tricky part is enforcement. What Terri Goddard came up with, this idea, if you can't find it, you cannot spend it. Now, I'm not sure whether that's legal. Kory is an attorney who represents these groups that says, that becomes the censorship, so count on the litigation on this.

Mike Sunnucks: That's going to be the backdrop, will be the Citizens United and what -- will this run a fuel, and all the interpretations that we have, and you are moving chairs around on these things, the wise guys, are always wiser than the cops on these things.

Ted Simons: Let me play the wise guy. 10,000 or more, and we need to find the original source. Me and my buddies will find 100 people with 9,000 each, and no --

Mike Sunnucks: Right.
And that's the problem, and all these things are well intended, and all these finance things, since McCain and the post-Watergate things, but you have the Supreme Court rulings that go against that, and you have folks that if they are willing to break the rules or post-the envelope, can get around these things.

Howard Fischer: Well, the issue becomes, you are right you know, but that's happening now, you know, in 1986, prior to that, there was no limit on the campaign donations, and then it became $200 for the legislative, so you ended up with bundled contributions, the chiropractor get all the chiropractors together, and they, and the lobbyists say here's a bunch of checks, but, the real big money, and we know where the big money is coming from, when you have got groups spending 3 million, 4 million, it's not the 9,000 or 10,000, but a difference between 4 and 10,000.

Ted Simons: And that, again, pushed by Terri Goddard, the other one, the top two, that is -- Chuck Hoffland, Republican consultant, what's he doing with this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: He's involved with the dark money and the top two primaries. He's the treasurer for both those campaigns. And these will be run as a joint campaign, but two separate questions on the ballot, if they get on the ballot, in November. You know, Chuck says, hey, I've fought against Paul Johnson, who is pushing the primary, and I have certainly fought against Terri Goddard, pushing the dark money thing, but we have common ground, and our electoral system is broken. There are people that don't know where the money is coming from, and in regards to the primary, the way that they are set up right now, independence can't vote -- independents can't vote -- well, they can, but it's not widely known. They want to make a more inclusive -- they believe this will lead to a more inclusive process.

Howard Fischer: That's the point. If I'm a political independent, I can say ahead of the primary, we're not talking the presidential preference, I would like to vote the Republican or Democrat ballot, and I can be handed that. I cannot get on the early voting list on a regular basis, and I have to choose a party, and if you create a top two primary, everybody runs against everyone else. Look at what happens to the City of Phoenix. You have got everybody running against everyone else, and then you have a run-off, seems to work here, the question is, why should it work in the legislature?

Mike Sunnucks: Well, Paul Johnson's argument is that it will get, it will produce more moderate folks in the center because you will have the top two come out of there, and but, we don't know that's going to happen. We have had the other reforms out there, and they have had all types of unattended consequences, what happens when we have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as the top two or Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Those are the people energized, so we are not sure. I think it's interesting because there was a lot of bad blood between Terri and Chuck --

Ted Simons: To see those two, at the same podium.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The politics make strange things, and this is where they see common grounds, you know, Goddard, if you remember, ran for Secretary of State, and dark money was a big topic in that election, in 2014, and when he lost, he said I'm still going to push forward, so he's trying to make good on his promise. It took him, what, 18 months to come up with language, because it is a thorny issue, and I will say, like on the top two primaries, yeah, you never know the unintended consequences, I think this will lead to a new kind of strategizing. We had a case in California with the top two primaries, where you know, dominant Democratic district, and the top two primaries, yielded two Republicans. And so one of them won. Why did that happen? Because there was so many Democrats running for the ballot, that the two Republicans there, picked up --

Ted Simons: And that's a good point. Now, the last time that this lost, a similar top two primary thing lost, 2-1 last time, but that was because anyone could put anything as part, part -- one of the reasons, as part of the party affiliation. This time, you can put your party affiliation?

Howard Fischer: It would be up to the local Government, and in other words, if the City of Phoenix decided you are going to run with a label, it would be the label you are registered with, the Republican, and Democrat, and Green, and Americans Elect, Libertarian. The city could also decide, or the state, could decide, we don't want labels, and nobody gets a label there. That's not the only problem. Remember, the League of Women Voters, that radical group, that wants to protect the electoral system, came out against it, saying that we think it's going to hurt minor candidates. And that's going to be a fight for somebody like Paul Johnson, who is campaigning.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The argument is that, like a minor candidate, if by that, you mean someone who, you know, is a member, of the Green party. They have got a lot of money, you know, and they can -- they can, they could stake a claim, so it can work both ways.

Howard Fischer: But, the other side of that, is yes, the minor party candidate, if they can survive the wide open primary, can get there, you could have a Green and a Republican. But, if you don't survive the primary, you are out, whereas right now the Green party is guaranteed a slot on the ballot, so in November --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not really. Not in Arizona.

Howard Fischer: Not in Arizona, well, the Green party, it has to qualify each time or the Libertarian, but essentially, if you have got enough registrants, you get a spot in the ballot and you get to compete with the Republicans, and the Democrats.

Mike Sunnucks: It's one of the challenges. The parties are against it, and incumbents are against it, and Democrats are against it because they worry they might lose their seats and the voters are confused, and as we talked about many times, when voters are not sure about what it is, they vote no, but Paul is hoping that this is in some states, going to be proposed in some others, that they can make this more of a national issue, maybe get some more money behind it this time, and have voter education more on their side.

Howard Fischer: Now, the bigger change, we go back to this issue of the dark money, and part of the reason this is occurring is you may remember, and some of it occurred around this table, Michelle Reagan, when running for Secretary of State had some dark money being used against her, said we're going to do something about the dark money. Well, suddenly, in January she took off, oh, we cannot do that. It's unconstitutional. And then, she has the chutzpah to tell the elections, I will try to block you from dealing with that, so, that's part of the reason that stands a better chance because apparently, nobody wants to do anything about it at the Capitol.

Ted Simons: 226,000 signatures by mid, early July. Will they get the signatures, do you think, just, in, just a thought, and could this pass? I mean, especially with -- either.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, I suspect that they will get the signatures. They have got a professional organization, and they are aiming to raise 13 million, and they have got the first million in the bank yesterday, so that will pay for a lot of circulators to go out there you know, and double up the petition and double them up with the marijuana initiatives, and a lot depends on how much of an opposition campaign is mounted against both these measures, and how much of a message Johnson and Goddard and their --

Mike Sunnucks: They need a sugar daddy, like Jim Pederson did, in those elections. They need somebody to spend money, and run --
And send mailers to voters.

Ted Simons: And make sure it's a transparent sugar daddy.

Mike Sunnucks: No dark money.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And they have vowed that they will be transparent down to the last penny.

Howard Fischer: One other thing, even if they get the signatures, they may not make the ballot with this dark money. The attorneys are pouring over it. There is a constitutional rule that says if you go to amend the Constitution, you have to have a single subjected. That's been redefined over the years, as we know, by the Supreme Court. But, there are arguments to be made that this does several things, having to do with state enforcement, and having to do with limits and everything else, and I will be willing to bet you lunch and dinner, that some attorney is going to be in court after July 6th, challenging this to keep it from going on the ballot.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't know how they are going to get -- the argument to get conservatives to vote for this, the folks on the no side can say they don't like how elections turn out. So, they want to change the rules and screw you guys over. That's going to be a challenge for them to be able to get to kind of the Republicans to vote for this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: One other point on the top two primary, in addition to opening it up to everybody in, and compete, and go to a run-off, there is a provision that would level the playing field, so that if you are, for all candidates, so right now, an independent, has a much higher field to climb to get on the ballot. They need to gather more signatures than the democrat, and far more signatures again than any Republicans. This would set the same signature limit for everybody regardless of your party affiliation or lack of affiliation.

Ted Simons: Ok. And let's get moving here, and we got a corporation commissioner, his text messages, according to a judge, who said not a single one of these text messages, which again, a group, that is funded by all sorts of solar interests and these things, are going against this corporation commissioner saying he's texting candidates, texting utilities, dark money, we need to see what these are about. The judge says, not a single one of those things were public domain?

Mike Sunnucks: A special master, a Government phone, I believe, a cell phone that Bob Stump had. This is not over with, we'll have more appeals and questions on this, but this is another intersection of kind of these post-Watergate, sunshine laws, freedom of exercise act, and whether text messages and emails fit in there, and what's privileged and what's privileged on the Government phone. But it's interesting because if you look at the national issues, like Hillary Clinton's emails, things are disclosed that are a government business, and this guy didn't find anything, which is something.

Howard Fischer: Let's understand what we don't know is the global universe. We know, as you mentioned, Bob Stump had a state-owned cell phone. He deleted messages, tossed the phone when it wasn't working, and got a different cell phone, and that's the one the state got a hold of. Tried to find ways through perhaps the sim card to find the old text. We know there were like 3,600 texts between Bob Stump and various people, you know, Scott Busey, and APS, candidates that he was supporting. We don't know how many were recovered, so that's part of the problem. And the question becomes, let's assume that they could only recover 100, and they said these are, what do you want to do for dinner, so that leaves 3,500, that, you know, what are the odds that none of these dealt with public business?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Absent having those, how do you proceed?

Howard Fischer: That's the problem. You prove a negative. Now, I talked to Dan Barr, the attorney, and he said well, we go in and we start taking depositions, and what did you say? Is this about going to the opera? Going to lunch, but it raises questions, the APS executive, even if it was personal, why the state utility regulator was texting back and forth with someone that was the executive of a utility that's regulated.

Ted Simons: A judge says no evidence of improper communications, but there was -- this was not a well-articulated or at least a lengthily articulated --

Mike Sunnucks: It was short. And it was a lot of smoke for a lot of people, that suspect what might be going on, or suspect corruption among the board members or what's going on in the relationship, so when you don't release anything, instead of a minority of them, this is a perfunctory business, and when you have a ruling, that's short, like this, it makes people kind of scratch their heads.

Howard Fischer: And one more piece in this. The guests, the retired judge didn't say checks edges made these things not private. If these were private messages, even if they are on a state-owned phone, again, what do you want for dinner? There is a claim of what they sort of, a legislative privilege, that we, you know, whatever we are doing, we're not going to take to release. The state lawmakers are claiming, I don't think that there is a thing. But if the judge is saying, this is privileged information, that does not necessarily mean that they are all private.

Ted Simons: We should mention that Bob Stump said the behavior of those going after these records, and now, having lost in court, he says the behavior shows a need for greater mental health funding in the United States.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, I mean, obviously, he's been stung by this and he sees the judge's ruling as vindication for what he's done. Case closed, let's move on.

Ted Simons: All right, let's move on ourselves. The Governor's plan is out there, I know everyone is pouring over certain aspects of it, everything from career in technical education to other things, what is the reaction at the capitol to what the Governor proposed?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, I would say that it's not what it was last year. When there was, in fact, the release of the budget was preceded by a news conference, with the Governor, and the Sspeaker of the House, and the Senate and the appropriate chairman, and they were all locking arms and saying, we have got a good plan here and we're moving forward and we're going to do this quick. You don't have that kumbaya feeling, and I think that there is a sense that the state, he's being stingy. The state is sitting on a $600 million plus rainy day fund, and a carry-forward, I forget what that is.

Howard Fischer: 320 million, carry forward, and year to date, we're running 200 million ahead --

Ted Simons: Can be up to 600 million without the rainy day fund.

Howard Fischer: There is this issue of --

Mike Sunnucks: Structurally balanced because we had borrowed money, and done some bookkeeping and all of that stuff.

Ted Simons: And the Senate President Biggs was on this program saying we have 2 million in debt, mortgaged buildings. All sorts of gimmicks. We're not in as good of shape as people think we are.

Howard Fischer: But the question becomes, you know, what point do you say a certain level of debt, and I don't want to get into Federal deficits, is acceptable, particularly, if you are gutting some of the economic engines, the universities would tell you wait, we have got cut 99 million last year, and since the recession began we've been cut 470 million, and do you know how much they are getting back? Eight.

Mike Sunnucks: Cool your jets budget, tells the people that want to backfill the spending, and for those universities that got cut, they don't get what they want and there is no tax cut for those people on the right, so it's in the middle, you know. I think that part of it is the education referendum. I think they want to focus on that and they don't want anything spoiling the pie on that one.

Howard Fischer: But, somebody is already doing that. Diane Douglas gave her state of education speech and said to the education committees and the House and Senate, look, this is all very nice, but we have got -- that's only a ten-year plan, and it's like $300 a child, and we have the .6 sales tax for education that expires in 2021, and that goes away, and we need a constant, reliable force of funding, and this ain't it.

Ted Simons: It seems of all the issues, and this is interesting, what we're hearing here most, and when I have done things in the community, career and technical education and JTEDS, and they are making the biggest noise, it seems, what's going on.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There was a provision in the law that cut out funding, basically, for a lot of them, and a lot of noise made, saying, if we don't get this restored, we're going to start closing down the programs, you know, and this year, early in 2016. So, the Governor comes out with a plan, and he gives them back the money that was effectively cut, but with all these conditions and it is 30 million but you will get it over three years, and pilot programs and you have got to match.

Ted Simons: Find a business that wants to work with you.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. And you have to apply and be screened by the Governor's office for this.

Ted Simons: And are lawmakers also wondering about this?

Howard Fischer: I think that they have a different idea, and in fact, this afternoon, Senator Don Shooter introduced a bill, there are only 90 lawmakers, undoing the previously enacted 30 million cuts. He recognizes that this type of negotiation, to go along with the Governor's office, and with Andy Biggs, he said look, we'll put in more transparency, and we'll make sure that there is technical education programs that need the money because teaching welding and auto expenses, you have expensive equipment which is why they are getting it, and we're not doing to create more journals.

Ted Simons: We're talking about the career in technical education, Joint Technical Education Districts, and they have shown quite a bit of success. It would seem to be something that you would want to celebrate.

Mike Sunnucks: The Chambers of Commerce, it's an issue in that, you are right, the voters cannot understand, and you saw it, there was these construction guys, and manufacturing jobs go away, and these are aimed at like retraining people, and giving adults, in particular, or folks not going to afford the school, a chance at a vocational job, or industrial job, and you would think, both parties, including the chambers, would have support. And I think what kind of got this, it's an easy issue for the regular advisories, they will shut these down, you have a career school, and where kids or adults go there, and train, and this is going to go away with these cuts, so I think that it's easier to digest for folks.

Mary Jo Pitzl: So, I suspect that your question is, if these are so popular, why not restore the funding, and I think to go back to Mike's point, about the cool your jets budget, the governor, he wants to move things forward, but it is putting on the breaks at the same time, so we'll give him a bit you know, I am going to try to show that I am -- I care about this, but I cannot -- I cannot do the, in good budgetary conscience do it the way that people want.

Howard Fischer: The difference that the 20 million difference could be the yet to be seen tax cut. The Governor said I will do a tax cut. How much, Governor?

Mike Sunnucks: I don't know.

Howard Fischer: We're going to work that out. For whom?

Ted Simons: Is that going to be seen before the prop 123 vote?

Howard Fischer: I think it has to be given that they would like to be out of here by May 17. He says, we're going to negotiate it in transparency, and then the Governor's press aide said the same thing today. I think that I know the transparency. It's the Governor and the Senate President, and the House Speaker sitting in the room and saying, what do we need to do? So, you know, excuse my skepticism on this transparency for that tax cut.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It most likely will be when they bring out the bill, and they have got all the votes lined up and take the votes.

Howard Fischer: It's transparent.

Ted Simons: Another kind of a noise-making procedure down here is, a bill that the state would pay for concealed weapons training.

Howard Fischer: We want more people to have the training. You can carry a concealed weapon now if you are an adult without any sort of some training. There's a certain advantage to having a CCW permit. You can bring your weapon into a bar and you have to agree not to drink. If there is, there is reciprocity with other states; there are about 251,000 people who have gone through this, the House Majority leader said we would like to more people trained, so we're going to pay for up to 80 for each person to get that CCW training. Let's do the math on this. There are probably 3 million adults in Arizona who are eligible for that, times 80, and all of a sudden you are looking at 240 million, and maybe that's a tax cut the Governor has in mind.

Ted Simons: Can you say all fuels?

Mike Sunnucks: The intersection of two things they love, tax cuts and guns, so it's a marriage made in heaven for them.

Ted Simons: Is there any idea to go back like to 2010 and require the training period?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There is no appetite for that.

Howard Fischer: Well, here's the other thing, the -- what's interesting, out of the 251,000 people, 80,000 from other states, and the reason that they come here, our training is so minimal, in comparison to the other states, and do you know which one, you can pass the background checks.

Mike Sunnucks: It is a tourism driver.

Howard Fischer: I like that.

Ted Simons: They need some help there. Before we go, Howard, I promise you this, another marijuana thing, lovable Jay Lawrence from Fountain Hills, a lawmaker from Fountain Hills, had an idea that too many folks were getting marijuana from the homeopaths and the chiropractors and these things. So, he drops a bill, and now he's undropped it?

Howard Fischer: What happens is, we have got about 80,000 plus people, who have medical marijuana cards that allow them to buy 2.5 ounces of the drug, something like 87% of these were issued by natural paths. There is only like 800 in the State versus let's say 25,000 M.D.'s and D.O.'s, and his feeling was these guys are coming in and seeing a natural path. My head hurts, gimme a joint, so he introduced the bill to say we'll take them out of it, and the homeopaths that don't do quite as many. He's come to find out that last year, amid the concerns, they passed a bill that says, you now need to look at the medical records of anybody that you have, and you now need to make sure that the medical records match, and so, what he did today is he said, you know, Howie, I was wrong, and I got --

Ted Simons: Is that what he said, you know, Howie?

Howard Fischer: Pretty much, and he also said, and he also said, when I first wrote the story, after I first wrote the story, he said, I also got a couple hundred phone calls but he said, I do believe the people need the drugs.

Ted Simons: Very quickly, 30 seconds left, is this an example of a lawmaker who should have done his homework or a lawmaker who realized he made a mistake and was big enough to say I goofed. I am changing my mind?

Mike Sunnucks: Maybe a little of both but you get credit for politicians saying, I goofed, and I changed my mind.

Ted Simons: In this day and age someone who says, I am going to change, is almost --

Mary Jo Pitzl: And better to pull your bill than to have it be voted down in committee, you know, and by your own --

Mike Sunnucks: We had one last year, the service dog bill --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right.

Mike Sunnucks: They voted against.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah.

Ted Simons: All right, you know, Howie, I think I will vote against my own bill. Monday on Arizona Horizon, learn about the importance of after-school science programs for kids and look at efforts to learn more about homeless families in Maricopa County. That's it for now. I'm 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 PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: