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, Congressman Matt Salmon announces he will not run for reelection. And the state senate votes to greatly expand a school voucher-like program. 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, Rachel Leingang of the Arizona Capitol Times, Bob Christie of the Associated Press, and Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times. Republican congressman Matt Salmon announced yesterday that he will not be running for reelection. A bit of a surprise, don't you think?

Rachel Leingang: Right and a game of dominoes now as the pieces fall apart here. We have Senator Andy Biggs who's favored by Salmon to take his place and a bunch of other people really interested. So definitely a surprise and definitely shakes up Arizona politics.

Ted Simons: Was there any indication that this had been brewing for more than a week or two? What was going on here?

Bob Christie: A couple of months ago his chief of staff stepped down, which is always -- it doesn't necessarily mean anything, sometimes, it can give you a flavor that maybe that person is telling his staff maybe find another job because I may not come back but we had no real indication of that until, you know, boom, early yesterday morning. And then everything blew up and everybody was working early and it was quite interesting.

Jeremy Duda: And what came almost in tandem with this is the announcement that Senate president Andy biggs will be running to replace Matt Salmon and this is my design. Matt Salmon reached out to senator biggs when he decided he was going to retire, he told him I want you to be my successor, someone who shares the same political principles, to get behind him early, get in the race off to a running start, help get people -- help box some other folks out of the race.

Ted Simons: But it seemed so fast. It seemed so orchestrated. It felt a little uncomfortable, a little insider don't you think?

Rachel Leingang: I don't know anyone who might have been surprised by it, but it rolled out very perfectly. Each piece came out one right after another. It's not like this was some fly by night idea. Everybody was on board. They had previously talked about it like Jeremy said. And this is where we are now. He's the likely frontrunner and a lot of other people have a bit of a disadvantage to try to catch up to where he is now.

Bob Christie: It does feel a little bit like a kingmaker where, you know, if you're not going to run for Congress, you should step down and let the next -- let the public choose who's next instead of reaching out and tapping someone on the shoulder. Mr. Salmon, I talked to Andy biggs and that's what he said. He wanted to choose someone who was like minded, who can stand up to his own party, his own establishment which Salmon is well known to do. He's been responsible for helping overthrow at least two speakers of the house. And he wants someone who shares his values. Smaller government, pushing back, making the federal government shrink.

Ted Simons: But don't you get a list of candidates first, and then say that's my guy?

Jeremy Duda: Well, if you have the power to help move the needle on who your replacement is going to be and you have a firm idea, these kinds of things happen a lot, people are going to give their allies a heads-up. When Senator Kyl retired a few years ago, it was pretty clear that he wanted Senator Flake to replace him. Interesting side note when Jeff flake replaced Matt Salmon after the 2000 election, I don't think Congressman Salmon was necessarily so pleased with how his replacement turned out when he reneged on the self-imposed term limit pledge that Salmon himself had honored.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned the term limit pledge. First time around for Salmon, he did keep his pledge for three terms, left. Came back, now is leaving again. Is he going to go back in a few years?

Rachel Leingang: Well, he said and it seems very earnest, this is all about his family. He had missed out on some important moments and he didn't want to do that again and that's something to be respected. You have to fly back and forth from Arizona to D.C. He has grandkids now, he wants to be around. And that's important. So...

Ted Simons: Are you buying that?

Bob Christie: Some people aren't. It seems he is publicly saying that's the reason. And I have no information that it's not true.

Ted Simons: Okay. So with that in mind, Jeremy, is everyone and their brother going to be running for this, despite the kingmaker kind of situation?

Jeremy Duda: It's possible. Everyone and their brother is at least flirting with the idea of running right now. We're hearing a lot of names, almost no one has ruled themselves out. One of the first names I think that popped into everyone's heads was kirk Adams, Doug Ducey's chief of staff who Matt Salmon defeated in the primary for the seat in 2012. My first inclination was that he wouldn't do it but he's apparently thinking about it. He told the republic that he's made his decision, it was easy but he's got some folks he needs to talk to first and that would certainly indicate to me that he's taking a hard look at running. You have Justin Olsen, the house appropriations chairman who's giving it a good look. Senator Bob Worsley who's giving it a look, he's going to do some polling this weekend, hearing so many names. I think representative Justin pierce is the only person I've heard who's ruled himself out.

Ted Simons: What about Russell pierce?

Rachel Leingang: I haven't heard that one at all. I don't know if anyone else has.

Jeremy Duda: I've heard some speculation but I would have a hard time seeing him running against biggs, they're very closely allied. They're pretty tight.

Ted Simons: I thought the bob worsley name was interesting.

Bob Christie: He's got former Senate president Russell Pearce's old seat, a little bit more business friendly. He voted against immigration, a couple of immigration bills this week. He's more focused on helping Arizona grow, which kind of might align him more with Governor Ducey than possibly with president biggs so yeah, that was very interesting. Scott smith who ran in the gubernatorial primary, Republican primary two years ago told me he's got to consider it. Listen, this is an open seat in a heavily Republican district, every Republican in that district has to look seriously at that because once you get in, you can keep that job as long as you want.

Ted Simons: And not only that, well yes, if you are of a certain political bent but could there be so many people in there that a less conservative Republican could wind up watching others split the vote and sneak in?

Jeremy Duda: It's possible. I think if someone like Scott smith gets in, that may be what they're angling for and only one of them can really run, they both occupy the same niche. It all depends on how many folks get in. When a seat like this opens up, you hear 10,000 names in the first 10 minutes and piece by piece they're going to drop off, saying this isn't the race for me. So oftentimes, you end up with 50 people saying they're considering it and three people running. That may be the case or it may be like in 2010 when you actually had a 10 person primary.

Ted Simons: So we've got the Speaker of the House already involved in a congressional race, and now, the president of the Senate is involved in a congressional race. Does this mean the speed of business at the legislature is going to ramp up even faster?

Rachel Leingang: We could get out of here a little bit earlier but we're on pace the same as last year. I don't know if they'll speed it up. They have incentive to do so at this point. They might want to get out and get on the campaign trail.

Ted Simons: Is that what you're hearing as well?

Bob Christie: I think there are concerns about the budget not being quite so quickly worked out as it was last year. Remember last year, about this time, they rolled out the budget, bam, bam, a week later, early March, the budget was passed. Well, there was a lot of freshmen Republicans especially in the house who were told this is the way we do it, vote for it and they went home to their districts and got black eyes from their school boards and business leaders. They're not going to want to go along so quickly this year. We'll see. But that's the pulse I'm getting.

Jeremy Duda: Last year that was all very leadership driven, and I think at the end of the day there was a little pushback or at least sentiment that we're not going to let this happen again. Next time the rank and file, we need to have a little more say in this when they didn't have a lot of last year.

Ted Simons: If that's the case, let's say everything goes pro forma. You're going to have a new house speaker next session and I would imagine a new Senate president next session. What kind of names are floating up there?

Rachel Leingang: Right so I know senator Debbie Lesko said she's interested in the Senate presidency. Steve Yarborough, as well. On the house side we have potentially J.D. Mesnard, lots of names going around. I think Lesko and Yarborough are the most serious ones in the Senate.

Jeremy Duda: It opens up some interesting avenues because a month ago, two months ago, it was kind of assumed that he was the fait accompli to be the next house speaker. He had the votes lined up and why would he take a long shot on Congress against the frontrunner Andy biggs if he could be speaker? But he may not necessarily have that as locked up as we thought he did not so long ago due what happened with the JTED funding, what happened to the pension reform stuff, J.D. Mesnard claims he has the votes to become the speaker. So maybe Congress is a little more appetizing for Justin Olsen now.

Bob Christie: And you look at the pension vote that Olsen really opposed some of the provisions of the pension, thought we could get more, we could save the state more money. He only got like six Republicans to vote with him and that's a sign that if you want to be speaker, if you can only get six people to vote with you out of 36 in your caucus, hmm...

Ted Simons: Who winds up replacing biggs and/or Gowan, will the nature of the Senate and the house change much?

Jeremy Duda: I guess it depends on who takes over the spots. You know, when Andy biggs became Senate president, some people were apprehensive because he's such a strident conservative. He's run the chamber pretty efficiently, he's been pretty open to all of its members. So whoever becomes Senate president I think we're still going to see someone pretty conservative, whether it's Lesko or Yarborough, same in the house. I don't know if the overall flavor will change that much. I don't expect to see one of the moderates over there taking over.

Bob Christie: Well, I could say this about the Senate president. He has run a very, very tight ship in the Senate. He has kept -- he's moved bills that he's ideologically embracing without himself getting involved in most of them. The budget is all all Andy biggs from what I can see for the last four years. Andy Biggs and whoever -- Senate president is involved, but I think senator biggs has a lot of sway of over what gets in that budget, and it's a good legacy to walk away with.

Ted Simons: All right. And he'll have that to run on.

Bob Christie: Yep.

Ted Simons: Alright. The Senate did pass -- a voucher-like program. It's scholarships but people -- whatever it is, it's the idea that tax dollars would be used for private and parochial schools by 2020 for almost all kids in Arizona. Talk to us about this.

Rachel Leingang: You have opponents saying this is the end of public education as we know it. It would allow, like you said, nearly all students to use state aid that would go to a public school to find other schooling. It could be private schooling, parochial schooling, home schooling, and there's a lot of talk about what this does to neighborhood schools then. Who goes to public schools if this is what happens?

Ted Simons: And not only that but who wants to vote for prop 123 to pump all this money into public schools when no one is going to be using public schools?

Bob Christie: It's dangerous for the governor to have this hit his desk. You know, last year and the year before there were efforts to do this big expansion. Right now, this started about 4 ½ years ago, it was just for special needs kids. Then they expanded it to military families in failing schools, 150,000 kids technically could use them now but there's a cap of 5.5%, which the proponents say the cap, look it's capped. Cap goes away in 2019 and all 1.1 million Arizona schoolchildren would be able to take their public school money, $5,400 and go to a private or parochial school. That's a big change and that's a voucher. When the state gives you the money, they don't like you to call it that.

Ted Simons: They call it a scholarship.

Bob Christie: The definition of a voucher is the state gives you the money and you can go and spend it where you want.

Jeremy Duda: Now, thick certainly be a problem for Ducey and prop 123 if it gets to the governor's desk but whether it actually gets there is a big question. As Bob mentioned, this failed the past couple of years in the house and the house is where it's running up against problems now. They pulled this bill from the calendar because, you know, there's 6-10 Republicans who are against this, it's highly unlikely any Democrat is going to cross the aisle. They put back on the calendar but it's still problematic. We know who the usual suspects are there among the Republican caucus in terms of the moderates, people are going to have problems, the same group, maybe even a couple of other folks outside of that group who are pushing back.

Ted Simons: And it comes on the heels of the Arizona republic reporting on a study that shows that people that are using these things, these are higher income folks, not lower as it was designed to be, and these are folks from better performing schools, not the worse performing schools as it was designed to be.

Bob Christie: I would quibble with design. As it was sold to be. [ Laughs ] It was sold to where everybody can -- first off, if you have a parent in south Phoenix who makes $25,000 a year and a parent in paradise valley who makes $100,000 a year and you give them about two thirds of the money it's going to take to pay tuition for private school, who can go? Well, it's not going to be the south Phoenix family and they don't get busing and some parents have to bring them there so the people who take advantage of this already are engaged in their kids' school and can afford it.

Ted Simons: We had Senate president Andy Biggs on our show and he said that basically the scholarship would cover the entire tuition for most if not all of these kids. Is that true?

Rachel Leingang: It doesn't seem to be true and certainly, that's not how it works now. Like Bob said there's still going to be those built-in disadvantages. You would have to drive an hour each way and you have multiple jobs, it's just not feasible. It keeps the kids in failing schools, likely in failing schools. It's not really -- there might not be the money there and not only financially but feasibly it seems like it's a pretty big reach.

Ted Simons: And if you have a million some odd kid, everybody kid going off to private and parochial schools provided they have enough space for them, what happened to accountability? All this fussing and fighting over common core, where's the accountability?

Jeremy Duda: It's a private school. It's a private entity, they don't operate with anywhere near the oversight that a district school has or even a charter school has and they have a lot less than district schools. The private schools can do what they want. They can accept or reject whoever they want, they can set their tuition at whatever they want and that's -- I think potentially a major problem as this moves forward.

Ted Simons: Do you think this is going to pass the house?

Bob Christie: I think it potentially has serious problems in the house. To give proponents their fair share, they believe that all Arizona parents have the right to take the tax dollars that they're contributing to and directing them to the school that they want their children to go to. It's a reasonable argument. The question is you know, what does it do to the public school system and that's the problem.

Ted Simons: 80 some odd, 90 some odd kids go to public school.

Bob Christie: 82% are in traditional public schools.

Ted Simons: Senate also speaking of education finally decided to help Diane Douglas, the superintendent of public instruction, understand what her job duties are correct?

Rachel Leingang: Help her. I'm sure she's so happy to have the help. Yes, so this bill would clarify that the board of education actually has the hiring and firing and oversight for their employees, which you remember a year ago now, the two employees that were the board's, Diane Douglas fired them, led to all kinds of fun for us who work in Arizona politics. So this should clarify that and make sure that it doesn't happen again.

Ted Simons: Clarify by the point of saying you do not have the power to hire and fire board of education employees?

Rachel Leingang: Right. And this is going forward for everyone. I know there's a lot of animosity towards Diane Douglas. In the future might there be a superintendent that they trust more, that they give more deference to, it doesn't matter because that's not their job anymore.

Ted Simons: And Diane Douglas when she testified or wrote about this bill, she thought it was great right?

Jeremy Duda: Oh, yeah. No, she's quite adamant this is usurping her power, she's fighting against it because last year, a very similar piece of legislation went up after the blowup between superintendent Douglas and Governor Ducey and the two of them agreed to clarify the superintendent's and the board's powers and it gave the power for the exclusive hiring and firing to the board. Douglas was behind this, the governor was behind this, it failed because some of Douglas's conservative allies in the legislature, they didn't want it. Now, a lot of them are saying enough is enough, no more press releases, no more lawsuits. Andy Biggs, Sylvia Allen, both four square behind this and those are from the faction that you would expect to side with superintendent Douglas if anyone's going to.

Bob Christie: Their wildcard is the house. Last year, the bill to fix this passed the Senate unanimously, and then it went to the house and there was an uproar among some of the conservatives. I've been kind of a little too busy in the last week or two with all the other stuff, I haven't gone around and tested the pulse on this. So I really don't have a good idea how it's going to fare in the house.

Rachel Leingang: Not sure.

Jeremy Duda: Only five votes against in the Senate, people are a little more familiar now that folks like Biggs and Allen are behind it, maybe that's a little permissive for the more conservative members to say I'm with this, too.

Ted Simons: Senate voted to approve grant's law. Talk to us about this.

Bob Christie: This was prompted by the killing of an 18-year-old man by an undocumented immigrant who had been let out by the corrections department in the east valley a couple of years ago. Senator Steve smith brought this forward. What this bill does, this is if you've been convicted, you have to serve -- they have to sentence you to the presumptive sentence, which is you can't get any time off, you can't get a minimum sentence.

Ted Simons: No parole.

Bob Christie: And they did put back in the bill where the corrections department, after you've served half your sentence and can be deported they give you to ice and they can deport you but if they don't, you serve your full sentence.

Ted Simons: Critics saying you're singling out a particular group. Didn't get much traction, though, did it?

Rachel Leingang: It did on the other bills that it ultimately failed, two other immigration bills and certainly it's a different time now than it was five years ago with immigration at least in Arizona. I know nationally it's a big deal for presidential candidates. But we've been trying to have a great trade relationship with Mexico, more people seem to be going there than coming here, deportations are down, it's just a different world than it was back then.

Ted Simons: Indeed so that one passes but as Rachel mentioned a couple of them regarding shared revenue to quote/unquote sanctuary cities and the city-issued I.D. cards, president Biggs was saying those are aren't necessarily immigration bills, those are city power bills and state power bills.

Jeremy Duda: That's obviously not the way that a lot of folks at the legislature are looking at it and you see the Republicans who joined across the aisle to join the Democrats in defeating these bills, immigration fatigue, a term we've been hearing pretty much ever since the heady days of S.B.1070 when you saw a slew of tough immigration bills get killed in the legislature in 2011. So there's certainly less of an appetite of this over there even among some of the Republicans. I think it's questionable how much of an appetite there is with Governor Ducey. That's never been a big issue for him so if these things get up to him that will be another test.

Bob Christie: Right and the Republicans who voted against this in the Senate, they said listen there's a difference between a criminal who is convicted of a felony and sent to prison and is eligible for deportation, yeah, let's throw the book at them. But these policies that deal with sanctuary cities and I.D. cards that don't really mean anything, why are we messing with them? They give the state a bad name. We're not going down that road if we can stop it.

Jeremy Duda: The I.D. cards I don't think are good for anything outside the city of Phoenix, they're the only ones really considering this. Just something that people are in the country illegally would feel comfortable showing an I.D. or calling the police because they had some sort of I.D. to show them and sanctuary cities, that was one of the provisions from 1070 that was not struck down, that survived, outlawing the practice of sanctuary cities.

Ted Simons: Could we see these bills again?

Bob Christie: We're not sine die. Any of those bills could be struck onto something else but they've been voted down. They're not going to try again.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Ted Simons: Tom Horne. We haven't mentioned that name in quite a while. Lost his appeal over this business of whether or not he was coordinating with an independent expenditure committee in his race against Rotellini six years ago, all the phone calls, he said it was a real estate deal, almost everyone else said it wasn't and it sounds like the appeals court said it wasn't.

Rachel Leingang: And he has vowed to take it to the Supreme Court so it could be a few more years we're talking about the same issue again. This was his chance to clear his name. He's not really in the public view anymore at all. He's doing a private practice. It didn't work to clear his name this time.

Ted Simons: The $400,000 fine, does he have to pay this?

Jeremy Duda: If the Supreme Court -- he's got one appeal left but the odds are against him. The process by which he would have to overturn this, it's tough when you are overturning an administrative agency's decision that's gone through the office of administration hearings, tom Horne likes to point out that a judge sided with him but that's completely nonbinding, her word pretty much stands, unless they can prove this is just an egregious flouting of the law, arbitrary and capricious, and the court said it's open to other interpretations but we have to defer to Sheila Polk and that's where this gets difficult.

Bob Christie: It will be interesting, it's been interesting all along because tom Horne and his attorney both say listen this is a First Amendment issue. This is a criminal justice -- this is the way our courts work. Who gets convicted when the only neutral arbiter said you're not guilty? There's not enough evidence to find you guilty. But someone else can, you know levy a $400,000 fine against you? Or make you repay $400,000, plus he faces a potentially $1.2 million tripling of the fine. A million and a half dollars that can be thrown against somebody because one county attorney said I think you did it. That's their argument and so far none of the judges who have looked at it have gone with that.

Ted Simons: We'll see what the Supreme Court says. We've got 30 seconds left. But I know guys did a lot of work following speaker Gowan's travel records and it sounds like he's agreed to repay for some of this?

Rachel Leingang: He had his staff go through all of the reports, they found about $12,000 for per diem that he didn't actually work, travel that wasn't exactly kosher, and he paid it back. So he paid back $12,000 or so.

Ted Simons: Trips he took in state vehicles, days he claimed he worked that he didn't work. Explanation?

Rachel Leingang: That a staffer had a miscommunication with him when she filled out the forms basically.

Ted Simons: That's about it?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. I think there's still a question of whether or not he noticed $12,000 that had somehow appeared in his bank account over the last few months until we started writing these stories.

Bob Christie: The house has changed their travel policy and the majority leader has repaid back a double dip to ALEC, the legislative exchange committee.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," senator John McCain joins us in studio to give us his perspective on replacing justice Scalia, closing Guantanamo and other issues. Senator John McCain Monday, on "Arizona Horizon." That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great weekend. ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you. ¶¶ ¶¶

Bob Christie: Associated Press; Rachael Leingang: Arizona Capitol Times; Jeremy Duda: Arizona Capitol Times

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