Journalists’ Roundtable 03/25/16

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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. We'll discuss the fallout over long lines at polling places during the state's presidential primary, fallout that includes Governor Ducey siding with independent voters. 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. Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times. Bob Christie of the Associated Press. And Dan Nowicki of The Arizona Republic.

Ted Simons: Governor Ducey said it was "unacceptable." Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton called it a "fiasco." Arizona's presidential primary made headlines this week not for the results, but for the tortured logistics of attempting to vote at polling places. What happened out there?

Jeremy Duda: Well, four years ago, for the presidential primary we had about 200 polling places. This year about 60 of them. And the reason for that, the rationale was, you know, most people are going to vote by mail, they thought it would be upwards of 95% of folks. We changed it so anyone can vote at any polling place so we don't need that many. Turns out they were wrong. These lines stretched around the block all night, people were waiting for two, three, four, sometimes, five hours. The races got called hours before some people even got a chance to vote and it was almost midnight by the time the last ballots were cast.

Ted Simons: And county recorder Helen Purcell took full blame, full responsibility. Is it entirely her fault?

Bob Christie: Um... It's hard not to say that it's entirely her fault. I mean, she was trying to save some money. The projection was they would save $1.5 million by cutting the number and the legislature has been kind of slim on giving money for elections. I think they wanted to give $6 million this year instead of $9.5 million to counties to run this election so she was taking some steps to try to trim costs but she did actually have a plan in place that was supposed to work. Unfortunately, the election got in the way. Rubio didn't drop out, until a week before, so people were waiting with their ballots and they wanted to go to the polls.

Ted Simons: Dan, is there still -- it seems like there's still a lot of confusion over who can vote and who cannot vote in a variety of Arizona elections.

Dan Nowicki: Well, that's right. Everyone calls this Arizona's primary and it is a primary in almost every sense. The presidential candidates call it a primary, the national media calls it Arizona's primary. Technically, it's the presidential preference election. Arizona has to be a little bit different. And people are saying they were confused by that, that in Arizona there's a tradition of independents being able to vote in primaries. Technically this isn't a primary, although all the media and everything you would hear called it a primary. And so I think that contributed a little bit to it. It just -- I mean, you have to be kind of an election wonk to know the difference between a primary and a presidential preference election.

Ted Simons: And again, those lines, lots of independent voters were in those lines only to find out you had no business there. And a lot of -- and I kept hearing reports of Republicans and Democrats when they finally get up there, they are no longer Republicans or Democrats. They were listed as party not identified.

Dan Nowicki: And I think the wrinkle that's emerging today, the possibility that when people would register or change their address, there may have been some sort of a glitch, if you didn't change your voter party registration, you got reregistered as an independent.

Ted Simons: Helen Purcell talked about that last night and said that may have been a factor but were there that many folks?

Dan Nowicki: People said I'm a life-long Democrat, I got up there to vote and they said you're an independent.

Bob Christie: The way it was explained to me on Tuesday night when this first emerged is if you changed your voter address, you have to go all the way down to the bottom of the page because once you change one thing it moves you from whatever party you default to independent. You have to go all the way down to the bottom of the page and scroll yourself back. Supposedly that's the problem with service Arizona. I don't know. There's problems in southern Arizona with that, as well.

Ted Simons: As far as the fallout of this, mayor Stanton and a lot of Democrats are saying how come places like fountain hills and paradise valley had one polling place for every couple of voters, and here in Phoenix we had one polling place for every 108,000. Going on here?

Jeremy Duda: There's a lot of allegations flying around about which neighborhood, is it Latino neighborhoods? Is it other minority demographics where there weren't as many polling places as there used to be in the more affluent areas? An interesting sidenote is three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the voting rights act that required a number of states including Arizona to get preclearance from the department of justice for all changes to voting and election laws. This may not have been intended to undermine minority voting but it very well may have and the department of justice would have never approved this kind of reduction in voting places.

Ted Simons: It was another set of eyes, it's going to raise the question of is this adding burdens for voting?

Bob Christie: That's exactly the point. You would have a third neutral person come in and say okay there's your plan. What about this? You know. And they could have at least consulted and come up with some compromise and maybe would allow them to go to 100 or some other larger number.

Jeremy Duda: And I suspect we'll hear a lot more about it. Mayor Stanton is calling for an department of justice petition. I suspect you'll see some investigations at the state level, secretary of state is looking into this. There's a big legislative committee hearing on Monday. There's going to be a lot of people poring over this and that's going to be a major aspect of what a lot of folks are going to look at here is whether or not minority voters are the ones who got the special card.

Dan Nowicki: There's an Avondale city councilor asking for a department of justice review.For some reason. Based on the lack of polling sites in Avondale, which is 50% Latino.

Ted Simons: Fewer out there, as well. So people are confused. Not enough polling places. That's your recipe right there. Not enough information in the lines. A lot of folks said not enough parking, we heard that, as well. One solution would be just let independents crash the party, whether it's a Republican party or the Democratic Party, let them crash and the governor I think somewhat surprisingly, said good idea.

Bob Christie: Yeah, that kind of was a surprise to a lot of folks who watch this because the thought is you don't want -- if you're a Republican or a Democrat, you want to be able to choose your party's candidate. You don't want a bunch of independents coming and in mucking up the situation, right? They have -- if you want to have a democratic primary, at least for president, you should keep yourself insular like that. The voters said they stood in line, it's obvious the voters want to participate. And he said we should change the state law and allow independents to also vote in the presidential primaries.

Jeremy Duda: This is going to run into some roadblocks potentially. First and foremost, if nothing else, in the state Senate where I asked Senate president biggs, he was quite adamant he does not believe that independents should be able to vote in the presidential primaries. Secretary of state's office told me this is something they would be open to if the two political parties were amenable to this, as well. You may remember that a year or so ago the state Republican party passed a resolution ordering their leadership to bring legislation that would allow them to close their other primaries to independents so I doubt the Republican party if nothing else would be for it.

Dan Nowicki: Governor Ducey is going against the grain of what his fellow Republican activists have been talking about for years.

Ted Simons: The state has a Republican majority in terms of office holders. The last thing I would imagine if you're winning that you want to do is not one by so much.

Bob Christie: The other thing this does is there's a bill in the legislature that's pushed by the Republican leadership and the secretary of state that would eliminate the presidential primary funding, which would almost by default require that the parties hold caucuses. It would eliminate the presidential election. Well, Utah goes that way, they have horrible problems up there. It would make it less open to voters if you had a caucus because you can't just go any time to the polls. You have to go from 5:00 to 7:00 at night to participate, and the governor today, the governor's spokesman said he is not amenable to that solution. He wants an open primary.

Dan Nowicki: Anybody who's covered the GOP county meetings, at least from a journalism perspective, might appreciate the opportunity to cover caucuses. It could be a crazy experience.

Ted Simons: I would imagine crazy indeed.

Jeremy Duda: I sincerely doubt that Governor Ducey could get this proposal through this year but if nothing else this may be a death knell for this bill that bob mentioned that would eliminate future presidential preference elections. Governor Ducey hasn't officially weighed in, this is not really his style but his spokesman kept talking about the next time we have this in 2020, the governor would like this. Strong indication he wants there to be another presidential primary which to me indicates that secretary Reagan's big knell to get rid of presidential primary is dead in the water.

Ted Simons: Before we get to the results here, before the vote treasurer Jeff DeWit apparently was among the many who was confused by the whole process.

Bob Christie: Here in Arizona in most regular primary elections anybody can go. If you're an independent you go and you say I want to vote the democratic ballot or the Republican ballot or you request one, an early ballot. This is the one closed one and Jeff DeWit got on national TV and said yep, our independents are going to come vote, it will be great. And how much sway that had on everyday voters, how many people were watching fox news that day who knows but still it reflected badly on the treasurer.

Ted Simons: All right. Let's get to the results. The process was tortured. Let's get to the results. Donald Trump takes the presidential preference election for Republicans rather handily. Surprised?

Dan Nowicki: Maybe by the margin. There was a lot of speculation Ted Cruz was closing in on him a little bit. Cruz made two appearances in the days before the primary in Arizona. He had a big rally on Friday night and made a surprise appearance on Sunday in Peoria and he was sort of preaching that they were catching Trump, Trump was leading in the early voting but the turnout was going to go Cruz's way. So I think to get blown out of the water the way that Cruz did that was a little bit of a surprise.

Ted Simons: Do you think -- the morning of the vote, the bombings happening in Brussels, did that play a factor at all? Because Trump is very big on America being strong and fighting this and fighting that.

Jeremy Duda: That could have somewhat of an effect. I think Ted Cruz has been beating that drum a lot too, wanted to be very strong on security, Muslim terrorism. I don't think anyone was particularly surprised by Trump winning or by this big margin. Now, ultimately, the margin didn't really matter because we're a winner take all state and the 58 delegates is quite the surprise. Cruz offset that a little bit with some big wins elsewhere in the state. Took more than 50% of the vote in Utah so he won all 40 delegates there. It offset that. Trump has a commanding lead nationally.

Dan Nowicki: It's hard to catch a guy by winning less delegates than he does in the end.

Bob Christie: What we don't know is how many people didn't go to the polls because of these long lines. And you know who knows, that's speculation. But Trump did win by 21% and looking at Maricopa county results, the early ballots, Marco Rubio only got about 400 ballots. That means that voters knew that he had dropped out. So that tells me that anybody who is paying attention to the election is real intent on voting, as soon as they realized that Rubio was out, they looked for another candidate and Trump won by 21 points.

Ted Simons: Okay. So Trump takes Arizona. He's taking everything right and left here. From a national perspective and an Arizona perspective, as well, how do you explain the attraction?

Dan Nowicki: Well, the year of the outsider and he's the consummate outsider. Cruz I think was expecting to be the outsider and he got, you know out-Trumped by Trump himself. I think that explains a lot of it. I know I've talked to many Republicans who are very nervous about the down-ticket impact that Trump at the top of the ballot is going to have for other Republicans.

Ted Simons: Are they nervous or are they attempting to understand why establishment Republicans want this and the voters are saying no, we want this?

Dan Nowicki: Honestly, I think there is a disconnect. I think they realize it's a situation they have to deal with. It's a reality they have to deal with. It's not going to go away. Early on for months they were saying don't worry about Trump, he's going to fade, he's going to implode and they realize that's the lay of the land that they've got to maneuver and navigate. I don't know if they still fully understand the frustration that a lot of the voters have with them.

Ted Simons: It is frustrating. It's anger, it's frustration and we had -- they're saying what's happening is kind of an angry contingent that has been promised everything from immigration to jobs, they have failed to deliver, the Republicans have, and so now, they're going with a guy like Trump.

Bob Christie: That's part of it. And I was at the big Trump rally in July in downtown Phoenix and the one in Mesa in December and I talked to a lot of the voters there who kind of seems like almost like a Tea Party revolution that we had in 2010, except these people, when you talk to them they say listen I know Trump says stuff that is politically incorrect. But he's honest, he's not a politician, he says it the way he is, he's a successful businessman and I trust that he's going to get stuff done and that's what I'm hearing from the voters out there, the average folks, not the Republican insiders, not the political -- not the delegates to the state convention, but the real voters are saying we like this guy.

Dan Nowicki: And what's really interesting is he's peddling a lot of promises that he probably can't deliver and probably won't even try if he did make it to the White House?

Jeremy Duda: So much of it seems to come down to style and attitude than politics. If you look at a lot of Trump's positions, he was pro-choice not all that long ago, contrary to a lot of conservative positions on trade and a number of other issues. The voters don't seem to care. They like what he says and how he says it.

Dan Nowicki: They appreciate the swagger and somebody who is going to take the fight to the Democrats. I think a lot of people on the conservative side feel that President Obama has been treated with kid gloves, the Republicans didn't hit him hard enough.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So the Republican side Trump wins. They march off. Before we march off, democratic side, Hillary Clinton wins and wins big and Bernie Sanders made a late push.

Jeremy Duda: He came out here two or three times I think, you couldn't turn on TV without seeing a Bernie Sanders ad on March madness.

Bob Christie: Outspent her two to one.

Jeremy Duda: Obviously, he was making a very concerted because for the Democrats it's not winner take all. Proportional and did not end up all that well for Sanders. Clinton took 51%, it was a big win for her, as well.

Ted Simons: Women, minorities?

Bob Christie: The traditional Clinton support. From women to minorities, from older voters. Younger voters gravitated towards Bernie Sanders. But they didn't -- he campaigned in Flagstaff, he campaigned in Tucson. He did those things to where you would have expected a surge from him and, you know, I don't predict these things, I thought maybe he'll get within 10 points. No 17 points down. He did not get the traction that you would expect in Arizona.

Dan Nowicki: Kind of reminiscent of Nevada, if you remember, he put a big effort into Nevada, he was going to prove that he could compete out in the west. And it reminded me of how he competed pretty hard in Arizona and the results were the same.

Bob Christie: I think part of it has to do, they didn't turn their attention to Arizona until a week before the election. So super Tuesday, we had Florida, Marco Rubio dropped out, and then the candidates, all of them turned their attention to Arizona. Well, half the ballots are in by then. If you really want to win in an early ballot state like this you've got to be working it a month before and three weeks before.

Ted Simons: Last point on this, on the presidential preference election, we've got some state news to talk about. Could Hillary Clinton win Arizona in November?

Dan Nowicki: Her campaign supporters in Arizona definitely believe she can. They remember in 1996, bill Clinton became the only Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948 to win Arizona. They think that she's got a lot of support. They think she can do it especially against Trump. I think they're very confident.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Bob Christie: That's going to be tough. It's a conservative state and she has high negatives among even independents.

Ted Simons: Do you think she can pull it off? Against Trump or against don Trump?

Jeremy Duda: Against Trump all bets are off. Pretty much every rule that we knew to apply to presidential elections is out of play right now. Against someone besides Trump, Arizona has never been the swing state. It's still a solidly red state. Only one Democrat has won it in a presidential race since 1948 so it's hard to see that happening against someone who's not Donald Trump.

Dan Nowicki: The poll showed Bernie Sanders beating Trump.

Ted Simons: We've had that poll here but that's obviously -- I don't know how that will be likely to happen.

Ted Simons: We've got state news to talk about. There's an idea of adding two new justices to the state Supreme Court and these would be added by Governor Ducey.

Jeremy Duda: This is not actually being pushed by the governor's office. They do not have a position on this. I'm sure Doug Ducey like any other governor in the country or the history of Arizona would love this opportunity. This is being pushed by representative J.D. Mesnard. It didn't go anywhere last year. This seems to be going along a pretty steady clip but an interesting aspect is that the Supreme Court itself, not so keen on it. The chief justice gave a presentation yesterday and said we don't like this. We're unanimously opposed but we would support it under a particular set of circumstances. We've got $10 million in budget requests, including the restoration of $6 million in cuts and we want pay raises for judges across the board from Superior Court to Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: And thus the horse trading begins.

Jeremy Duda: So it begins. Whether that will go over in the legislature, it's hard to say. Representative Mesnard said he's amenable to all of this but Andy biggs maybe not so much because of the pay raise issue.

Bob Christie: The question is why, okay? The Supreme Court is not overburdened, their case load isn't overly high. They're not considered a political court. They're not throwing out Arizona's laws against this or that and angering either side. They seem to be a fairly well run legitimate right down the middle of the road operation that tilts conservative as the state does. So why do you want two more justices? Well, Mesnard says well, you know, it will bring diversity. Well, you know, I don't know how many women or minorities in this state might end up on the Supreme Court. You would have to look at the appeals court bench. And I don't know why.

Jeremy Duda: Sure Mesnard says to him this is a matter of pretty much every other state that is as big as Arizona or bigger or some states that are smaller have seven or even nine justices. He thinks we should have parity, diversify power, spread it out among more people. Other advocates like the chamber of commerce, a super cheerleader for Governor Ducey say the courts should be able to handle more cases, write more opinions. Scott bales said we could take more cases, we could write more opinions if we want. And those things will probably happen if there's two more justices but there's no need for it.

Ted Simons: How could it not be about politics when Governor Ducey would be the one appointing these people? He's already had one appointment. This would make three appointments in a year and a half?

Dan Nowicki: And obviously, you know, judicial appointments are a big part of a governor's legacy so they want to make as many as they can. It seems like the only argument that they're really making is Arizona's grown so much in population so we should have a bigger court. And it seems like there should be more substance to the argument.

Ted Simons: All right. Speaking of arguments we've had arguments over pay day loans and all these sorts of short-term loans years ago and it seemed like the voters said we don't want this, get this away from us. Flex loans are now here. How are these different from pay day loans?

Bob Christie: You're not pledging your paycheck. They're unsecured. The interest rate instead of 400% is 204%. So maybe there's a little cut there. The state usury rate is 29%. So the pay day loan industry has been trying for years ever since the voters refused to continue their ability to operate in the state to convince the legislature to let them back in the state. There was an effort over the last two or three years that kept getting shut down because Democrats brought over consumer groups that said are you kidding me? They're back. They've spent a lot of money trying to influence lawmakers or at least giving to the lawmakers' campaigns. And doing lobbying efforts. It's passed out of the house on a striker and we'll see what happens in the Senate.

Ted Simons: But after that vote against pay day loans, I mean is there a massive public call for these sorts of things? I mean, why is this constantly being brought back up?

Jeremy Duda: There's money to be made from all kinds of lending things, these folks that want to get back in the market here, they've been trying for years. This is probably I think the strongest push we've seen since that big vote in 2008. I mean, now this thing is having some trouble in the legislature. You mentioned this is a striker because I believe it failed in committee earlier this year because not all the Republicans on the committee were supporting it, it passed by one vote in the house, several Republicans went against it. You only need to take three votes away in the Senate to kill it there. It's been pulled from the caucus calendar a couple of times. So there may be some issues here.

Ted Simons: All right. We'll see how far this goes but again, if it doesn't go too far can we expect it to return again next session?

Bob Christie: Absolutely. As Jeremy said there is big money to be made in this industry. The reason you see title loan companies in, you know -- you don't see them in Scottsdale but the poorer sections of town is because people have a need for short-term borrowing and the only thing you have is this company that charges you 200% interest. The problem is for a $2,500 loan it's $10,000 to pay it back in two years.

Ted Simons: In two years.

Bob Christie: Unsecured loans.

Dan Nowicki: And the companies argue that these are high-risk loans.

Ted Simons: You can't find them anywhere else. We have to charge you $450 a month or $10,000 over two years.

Jeremy Duda: Sure and that's the flip side of the argument is well, you know, people who don't have a lot of money need these loans sometimes. Not everyone has a car they can borrow against. Not all these people can get traditional loans from a bank. They say this is another option for people. The other side of that is it's very predatory and a lot of people have problems with that.

Bob Christie: And if the air conditioner goes out in August in Arizona and you're making $10 an hour and you need to get it fixed because your wife and kids are home, who do you get to? The pay day loan people say come to us.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to have you guys here. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," the chairman of the Maricopa county board of supervisors joins us to discuss the county's dust-up with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And Maysoon Zayid, one of the very few female Muslim-American comedians joins us in studio. That's Monday, on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, we look at the future of higher education in America. Wednesday, Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton joins us. Thursday, our friend Lawrence Krauss will be here. And Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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