Journalists’ Roundtable 04/01/2016

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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, fallout continues over long voting lines at last month's presidential preference election. And the governor signs a bill that loosens control over anonymous campaign donations. 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. Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal. A legislative hearing this week did nothing to ease frustration and accusations over last month's troubled presidential preference election. If anything Mary Jo, it may have made matters worse, huh?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This was a hearing that was called like two days after the whole election fiasco. So people had all weekend to sort of get worked up about this, to get organized to the extent that they were organized, it didn't seem very organized to me, and they filled hearing rooms at the Capitol and what added to the frustration is that not everybody got to speak. It went on for three hours and the lawmakers said we've got to go to caucus, the crowd doesn't know what that means, we'll ask for a postponement, it went back and forth. I would say 20% of the people who had signed in to speak got to have a say, they adjourned the meeting and the angry people went upstairs because the legislature was going to get ready to debate the dark money bill.

Ted Simons: They went upstairs and some of them were escorted out of upstairs, correct?

Howard Fischer: Exactly. They decided they were going to do, for lack of a better word, it was like 1968 Chicago, the whole world is watching and protests and one guy ended up having to get arrested because he wasn't going so quickly and it was fascinating because you have to remember, they waited in line, some of these people are five hours to vote, then they're told you have to wait to talk about you having to wait in line to vote. Some people drove down here. And, you know, the frustration builds and this is the kind of thing that lawmakers should have anticipated, maybe held an evening meeting, I know they don't want to disturb their drinking time, but seriously! You know, hold an evening meeting, give everybody a couple of minutes.

Mike Sunnicks: A small venue and frankly, the folks that showed up, frankly, a lot of them are Bernie Sanders voters, they're dealing with Republicans and they go down there and as we know sometimes there are lawmakers down there, aren't always as cordial as they could be to the public sometimes. And so I think there was a lot of frustrations because they're seeing their candidates, big crowds for Bernie, put a lot of effort in here and he's done well in other western states. They're looking at that and saying maybe our folks' turnout at the polls a little bit more and all this stuff conspired against them.

Ted Simons: The conspiracy theories were running hot and heavy here. We had Representative Ugenti on the program and it doesn't sound like anything was learned from the hearing. Was anything learned?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, I talked to a couple of the legislatures who were we have hearing about what they learned and she said well, I think -- she's still confused about how they got to 60 or just 60 polling places. She pointed out that there is a provision in the law that says if you're going to hold a presidential preference election, you must have no less than half polling places per normal. She doesn't understand why that was in the law and wanted to understand the origins of it and get rid of it. You know, the rest of it, I mean other lawmakers said we wanted to understand the whole registration problem, which is what I think brought a lot of especially Sanders supporters out and they didn't even get into to that.

Ted Simons: I still can't get a good answer and we've had a ton of people on this program, who decided -- we know who decided there would be 60 but who decided where this 60 would be? We've got the mayor of Phoenix saying it seems like his city was underrepresented, we've got folks saying the low-income and Latino areas -- all sorts of accusations. Who decided where these things were going to be?

Howard Fischer: It came down to where could we rent a hall, where could we find a place, some of it was based on before and a lot of it was scatter shot. I mean, you had three polling places in Gila Bend. Now, one of the arguments was well we didn't do it where people lived, where they worked. I'm sorry not a lot of folks are working in Gila Bend.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But the thing has been blown out of proportion because two of those polling places were technically on Indian reservations, there's a different set of rules under federal law when it comes to the Indian reservations, anybody if they were going to do 180 polls or 124 would have had to have those.

Mike Sunnicks: The Sanders folks look at the big narrative on voting in this country and in politics and the state and they see Republicans as suppressing the vote, that's what they view, motor voter, back to that, voter registration, all these supposed to voter fraud bills that you see Republicans run in states like Arizona and down to a hearing and they don't get a lot of answers about anything and the media is not getting a lot of answers and it builds upon that and so their frustrations aren't going away.

Howard Fischer: But I'm less inclined to believe a conspiracy theory on this. For example, Heather Carter pointed to a large area in her district and said no polling places near here. There aren't a lot of Democrats living in north Scottsdale. They're an endangered species there. I think this was a combination of well what can we put together? And how do we save money? That's really the key to this. This is all about money.

Ted Simons: Get into that, we had the chairman of the board of supervisors on and his instructions to the election folks, Helen Purcell, be as frugal as possible.

Howard Fischer: Exactly because what happened was in the prior election, presidential preference, you know, $1.25 per voter and they said we'll cover your full costs and immediately basically rescinded that as part of a budget cutting move so they're back to the $1.25 which they say does not cover their costs so they told Helen and they told Karen Osborn, okay how can we do this without busting the budget? There's a bill in the legislature to repay them, which is still stalled, is also tied to the idea of getting rid of the presidential preference primary so they said okay how do we do this on the cheap?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This cut, you know, didn't happen just in Maricopa County. You know, the reduction in election funding from the state went to all the other counties so you call a couple of them and say how did you do it? Tucson had 124 polling locations or Pima County, much smaller place than Maricopa County. And they just found a way to make it work. I think that the dynamic, especially in Maricopa County is that this comes on yes, they sucked it up and they find the money in other parts of their budget but there have been years of the state taking money either from the counties or shifting state responsibilities on to the counties and that makes them all very hesitant.

Howard Fischer: That's the key, you put your finger exactly on it. They are ticked off because every time the state needs money they say oh, you know the part about who pays for locking up juveniles? That's yours. You know the part about treating the mental health, that's yours. And so I think the supervisors in this county, and remember these are Republican supervisors, finally said huh-uh.

Ted Simons: That's not only yours but you get no say in the policy involved, do your job.

Mike Sunnicks: I think a lot of folks think Republicans don't like big voter turnouts so they're a little obtuse to some of the concerns.

Ted Simons: Stop right there. This is a presidential preference election. Republicans voted for Republicans, Democrats voted for Democrats. Who wins?

Mike Sunnicks: They don't care. The folks on the left think the Republicans in general don't have a big voting interest in big turnout in general. They don't care about that. They like smaller turnout and so that's kind of their backdrop for everything, even in a primary, because they think that Bernie Sanders will say all his rallies the more turnout we get, the better Democrats we do, and so they view that. That's their mind set.

Howard Fischer: I'm going to disagree with you on that because the fact that one of the arguments has been that school boards and cities purposely schedule certain things and bond elections.

Mike Sunnicks: Prop 123.

Howard Fischer: To get a low turnout, knowing that the committed will turn out and the Republicans have been arguing for consolidated elections, particularly to get a high turnout.

Mike Sunnicks: I don't disagree with that. If you look at primary elections, folks farther on the extremes, including the right tend to do better because there's lower turnout, you have moderates that make the same type of arguments. But the one thing, the conservatives are always about what's the basic roles of government? Is it holding democratic elections part of that? It doesn't really feel like that. We're not the only state that has gone through this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think to support what Mike is saying is that the Democrats on that panel Monday were trying to use that as a podium to say look at these laws that have been coming out of the legislature, the Republican controlled legislature, that, you know, we believe suppressed the vote. We've got the ballot collection measure that's going to become law, you know, later this summer. So I think there is -- we haven't proven that there was an intent to suppress the vote, but that's what happened.

Ted Simons: Right, it's what happened. Again, I can't quite figure out who that would benefit if only Republicans vote for Republicans and only Democrats vote for Democrats.

Howard Fischer: You're assuming that this is -- that there was actual thought behind this as opposed to incompetence, I hate to say that's what it was but that's what it comes down to.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, we do have a vote on prop 123? What did you call it? It's going to have a vote in May. Helen Purcell says you bet you they're going to be fixed. Are they going to be fixed?

Howard Fischer: They promised to try to have twice as many polling places, what's going to be fascinating is the turnout may end up being 17% and you'll be able to roll a bowling ball down some of these polling places unless the electorate gets wired up. She's going to risk this again.

Mike Sunnicks: Who's backing this thing? The governor and the chambers, all the powers that be, all those people, not those little Bernie Sanders voters, it's going to be all the powers that be. And they'll do it right and Howie is right, they'll have 17% turnout.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And they are looking for more polling places. They released a letter today, the County school superintendents got a list of 37 school districts that said we'll host a polling place in May. This might be in the schools' interest, too, because prop 123.

Mike Sunnicks: Every chamber of commerce will be open, every Coldstone Creamery will be open.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Howie's prediction, a lot of people in the press corps, a lot of people saying we're going to have this proliferation of polls for May 17th and people aren't going to show up. If you remember six years ago, Jan Brewer had a special election, penny sales tax increase for three years for the schools, very similar dynamics, the statewide turnout was 35%. So it's a lower turnout.

Mike Sunnicks: And they can blame the voters again.

Ted Simons: Let's move on here. The governor has signed what many describe as a dark money bill. I initially said that it kind of loosens restrictions on anonymous spending. Let's face it. It gets rid of just about all restrictions.

Howard Fischer: Pretty much. They basically created a road map that if you want to put anonymous money into campaigns, there's a lot of ways to do it. We start off with the basic stuff. Form a 501(c)(4), a social welfare organization with the IRS and the state says okay the IRS hasn't challenged you therefore we're not going to ask you to report your donors. You've got one of the bigger loopholes that people don't see is this fundraising. Let's say Mike is running for office and I want to help him get elected.

Mike Sunnicks: I appreciate that.

Howard Fischer: I could put up a $200,000 party so that he can hold $1,000 a plate fundraiser and all the money goes to him. He knows who put up the $200,000 but the public never will. All the criminal penalties, gone! Now, supposedly coming back if you believe Eric Spencer. You have issues of candidates giving from one to another, you're laundering money through whoever the first candidate is.

Ted Simons: And they're all quite curious but the idea especially of transferring money from one to another, that sounds like unlimited donations by whomever wants to make them.

Mary Jo Pitzl: When you layer on another provision which I'll get to in a second, this reverses a 1986 voter initiative that said we don't want -- they called it the kingmaker provision, and it's back in the day when Burton Barr was Speaker of the House, he had a big pot of money and he could direct money to lawmakers and keep them in his corner and get them to go along with his agenda because he could give them a lot of money. Now, the argument against wire are we so upset about this? Because well shoot, a Pac can give money to a candidate but that's like one step removed there. There's another step in there. But the interesting thing is the one I love, the provision that they call reattribution, so I want to help Howie get elected. I give him way too much money over the spending amount, the contribution limit. Howie could give me the excess back, which is what the law is now or he could say I'm going to reassign this money and say it came from my mom and it came from the guy down the street and it came from Burton Barr. And that would be perfectly legal. Now, the author of the bill, state elections director Eric Spencer has said the intent is that this would be for people who share the same checkbook but there's nothing in the law that says that.

Howard Fischer: And all this stuff about well, strictly -- this is the funny part. Mary Jo and I went to an early hearing on this last year and this was sold as we're taking the code and simplifying it, cleaning it up. We've cleaned out everything!

Mike Sunnicks: It's been terminated. We had all this good government stuff, clean elections, they've dismantled most of it via legislation, via court challenges and, you know, the thing -- this is a friend to the lobbyists, they like to entertain and you have a lot of lawmakers down there that don't make a lot of money and this is a way to recoup that. Obviously, people point to the governor's ties to some dark money groups that went through his election campaign and people see this as a direct benefit to candidates like him.

Ted Simons: So does this render contribution limits meaningless?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, certainly from a 501c4 because from a political nonprofit corporation there are limits for individual donors and for PACs. Those remain.

Mike Sunnicks: As soon as we reattribute that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Maybe.

Ted Simons: And another thing since when does the legislature think that the feds have their act together enough to be the enforcers here?

Howard Fischer: The IRS has admitted they're not going in and doing it. So theoretically, a year and a half after the organization is formed, slightly before the November 16 election, you'll get a 4990, which will show some of how they've spent it and you can say well wait they spent more than 50% on political purposes and all that stuff and this is all meant to hide it. Understand the philosophy behind this. The people who are pushing this aside from the fact they would like to influence government and do it quietly say it promotes people to participate. People are scared that there will be retribution, if somebody found out you spent $1 million on so and so that somehow there will be retribution there and this will promote people participating. To which Steve Farley said we've got to protect those anonymous millionaires because Lord knows if you find out the Koch brothers participated maybe you won't buy products from their company.

Mike Sunnicks: The IRS provisions have been neutered with targeting conservative groups and so they're hands-off now with a lot of groups. And the thing that Howie said that's the most salient is the fact that the lawmakers, the candidates know when they're getting the money from, know who's buying for them. We don't know who's buying that for them. And so that's the big problem for the Democratic process.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is such a wide ranging bill, Senate bill 1516, that it's really hard to incapsulate everything that's in there. There are some of the measures that we're told are going to be fixed in a bill over in the Senate, like the reattribution and the kingmaker directly between candidates but we'll see. That was sold to some reluctant Republicans who didn't like this but they went along with it saying well, we think it's going to get fixed over in the Senate but that assumes it will get fixed in the Senate, it assumes that the governor would sign it.

Mike Sunnicks: This is an outgrowth of citizens united, if you look at the presidential campaign, what candidates are talking about, Cruz, Trump, Sanders, this is what they're talking about, cartels, crony capitalism and here it is showing up in our face right here.

Ted Simons: The governor signed that particular bill yesterday. Also yesterday an abortion bill, but one that is getting a lot of attention involves abortion inducing drugs and again, what looks to be the state basically saying obsolete guidelines by the FDA, okay by us.

Howard Fischer: The back story on this is there's a drug called R.U.486, it's got a medical name that I'll mispronounce so I won't do it. Since 2000, the FDA said the label says use it through seven weeks, 600 milligrams but the FDA has never prohibited off-label use and the doctors have found, you know, this works up to nine weeks and at 200 milligrams. And the doctors were using it that way so in 2012 the legislature passed a bill saying you will use it according to the FDA labels. Judge said you can't just make it variable like that so they came back this year and passed a bill and said you will use it according to the FDA label at the end of last year. Guess what happened?

Ted Simons: The day before.

Howard Fischer: The FDA comes back and says we've seen the research, you can use it through 10 weeks of pregnancy at the 200-milligram dose. The governor's got a bill on his desk saying it's got to be the old standard, and he signs it anyway.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Effectively the governor signed into law a bill that is made moot by the FDA ruling. Why did he do that? Because this was a key initiative for the center for Arizona policy that's been pushing this.

Howard Fischer: I'm going to go a step beyond that because he may not even want to change it because I talked to Cathy Herod today, she said basically over her cold dead body that they will go with a 10 week proposal. So she does not want the legislature to put -- after years of saying FDA standards are safe, now, it says FDA standards are political, and now she wants to say no, we don't want like the FDA.

Ted Simons: I thought her major concern was the health of the woman.

Howard Fischer: And she is arguing that there are complications at nine and 10 weeks, never mind what the FDA says.

Ted Simons: The FDA doesn't know what it's talking about.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is just setting us up for another lawsuit.

Howard Fischer: The lawsuit is coming. First of all, you already have an existing ninth circuit case that said any state medical standard that interferes with the rights of women and doesn't protect their health is illegal per se.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think what's flummoxing some people is why the governor would sign this when he had an easy out. The FDA standard changed and, you know, yes, his heart and his mind is with the legislation that came to his desk, but it's not effective.

Mike Sunnicks: There's a lockstepness to the legislature when it comes to abortion rights. This is really one of those Gilda Radner, never mind moments, right? Timing is everything in life and when they change the rules and the guidelines right before you have this bill, it is -

Ted Simons: Lawmakers said this was a perfect opportunity for the governor to show that he is not beholden to Cathy Herod.

Howard Fischer: He is very anti-abortion. Look, I think in Doug Ducey's heart if he could, he would outlaw abortions. That's how he believes. Anything that makes medication of abortions harder means past a certain point you need a surgical abortion, more expensive, actually more dangerous for women but to the extent that it throws up yet another --

Mike Sunnicks: There's not a lot of gray area. We're seeing this with Trump and everything. There's not a lot of gray area for a pro-life or pro-choice elected official politician to move away from it, even if there's a common sense thing in timing couldn't be any worse, they have no wiggle room.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The governor's not on the ballot, you know, for another 2 ½ years and if this is heading to litigation we've got another cost to the state and, you know, we have a lot of -- go talk to any lawmaker and they'll give you a list of other needs.

Mike Sunnicks: Anti-abortion groups run these bills all the time and we're one of the states that passes them so they run these bills and run them up the flag pole, see how the courts react and see what they can take to other red states.

Howard Fischer: It's the same thing with the other two bills. One bans the sale of fetal tissue. Planned parenthood in Arizona doesn't. You can give to any 501(c)(3) our charity groups but not if they do abortions.

Ted Simons: I want to skip ahead and get to a county issue. The Diamondbacks and the Maricopa County. Really going at it here and Mike, you're the sports business guy. Diamondbacks, county?

Mike Sunnicks: An aging facility over there that was built back in the last century, right? Century old facility. It's gone public. This has been out there for a while. It's 49,000 seats, it's too big of a ballpark. And so most of the ballparks built after that have been a lot smaller and the Diamondbacks have been looking for ways to get around that, you know. How do you reduce number of seats? And they've been going back and forth with the County about how do we improve it, how do we modernize it? They see all these other newer, spiffier revenue producing stadiums out there. It's gone public with who's responsible for what, $187 million worth of repairs or renovations. The Diamondbacks want the County to do it, the County wants the Diamondbacks to do it.

Ted Simons: Is this a ploy to get involved? We know the Suns and the Coyotes are all wrangling around, the Diamondbacks don't want to be left in the lurch. If you ask voters to pay for something and they've already paid for the hockey and the basketball stadium, are we going to see some like totally humongous sort of stadium district thing?

Howard Fischer: Well, I know that's one of the angles and the city of Phoenix and the mayor are probably drooling over themselves on this idea of having it but I'll tell you, the voters, look, county supervisors took a lot of guff.

Ted Simons: And a bullet.

Howard Fischer: Literally for Mary Rose Wilcox over this whole issue of the stadium. Now, it turns out, you know, they did cut -- the County probably thinks is a great deal, the Diamondbacks say wait a second, we have an aging scoreboard, it's not state-of-the-art. And I don't think they recognize how hostile the public is. Wait a second we paid for this thing, you liked the thing, it was your design, now, you want something smaller and more intimate?

Ted Simons: They want state-of-the-art, Howie.

Howard Fischer: You mean like Wrigley Field? Oh, I'm sorry, bad Howie.

Ted Simons: That's it, state-of-the-art is the definition.

Mike Sunnicks: And you're absolutely right about the other teams. The Coyotes are looking, and the Diamondbacks don't want to be left out.

Ted Simons: We've got to stop it right there. Good conversation. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," department of child safety director Greg McKay talks about the balance of protecting children and respecting parental rights. And we'll update the performance of Arizona's bioscience industry. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend!

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