Journalists’ Roundtable 04/08/2016

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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," the Arizona House demands expanded background checks from capitol reporters. And the U.S. Justice Department investigates Arizona's troubled Presidential Preference election. 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, Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times," Bob Christie of the Associated Press, and Luige del Puerto of the "Arizona Capitol Times." The Arizona House of Representatives institutes a new background check requirement for reporters covering the House floor. What exactly did the House do?

Jeremy Duda: Well a few days ago they let us all know that in order to maintain our press badges which gives us access to more restricted areas, especially the House floor, we have to fill out a background check. Not to be conducted by actual law enforcement, but by House staff. Anyone who doesn't do that didn't have their badges activated. We had serious questions about is the information confidential, public, what are they looking at, how deep are they digging and serious questions about why they were doing this. Three of us and folks and Republic and our colleagues, we decided we're not doing that. We watched from the House gallery with the lobbyists.

Ted Simons: How long can that last?

Bob Christie: Well, it can last for as long as the Speaker wants it to. We're only two or three or maybe four weeks away from adjourning for the session and the Speaker is gone. But I think the bigger issue is what this prevents reporters from doing is having day-to-day interaction with lawmakers. Actually being able to talk with them, being able to get floor amendments in real-time. Especially as we get into this rapid fire part of the session where things happen fast and furious, you've got to be on the floor to know what's going on. This type of access has been in place for decades, at least 40 years if not well before my time.

Ted Simons: Any felony in the last 10 years? No House floor, any misdemeanor in the last five years, couple of exceptions here or there. Bribery, eavesdropped trespasses included on transgressions.

Luige del Puerto: That's critically important. One of the reporters, Hank Stephenson, had a trespassing charge against him a couple years ago. And as you know, Hank has been reporting a lot about questionable activities as Speaker. He had driven state-owned cars and that has increased under his term. He has used those ASU state owned cars to travel in CD-1. We have written critical stories of his conduct in office. And the person, the reporter who's been doing all that is Hank Stephenson.

Jeremy Duda: Speaker Gowan's rationale for all this seemed fairly spurious. We've had some incidents over at the capitol; we had an incident a couple weeks ago where some protesters caused kind of a ruckus in the House gallery. There were some other protesters who chained themselves to the tower. None of them had anything to do with reporters. And Speaker Gowan acknowledged to I believe Howie Fischer saying, admitting to that there's never been an incident in anyone's memory regarding reporters. None of that would be prevented by these background checks. You have to ask the question is this physically targeted at our colleague Hank.

Luige del Puerto: And there are two groups of people that have badges that allow them to access the House. Law enforcement officers and then reporters. And so naturally law enforcement officers would comply with these background checks. It's hard to believe why it wouldn't be targeted to reporters. If you want to beef up security in the house, you would think the way to do that would be to add more security officers for example, physically beef up the security in the House. So there were protests two weeks ago a couple of days ago. The way to prevent those protests or prevent somebody from reaching the House protocols is to do a background check on reporters; it just did not make sense.

Ted Simons: So what's really going on here, Bob?

Bob Christie: Good question. I would love to have a crystal ball saying what's really motivating this. There's a lot of concern that it's targeting the reporters, trying to make them have less access. A lot of animosity towards at least one reporter who works for the "Arizona Capitol Times." The bottom line is I undergo a background check quite often. If I cover a presidential candidate with Secret Service protection, I haven't had a Secret Service background check in two and a half decades, it's not a problem. The issue here is it's almost like towards the end of the session we know the Speaker. We all know every single one of these lawmakers. And the Speaker's reasoning is that, well, our members are concerned that you're a security threat. No one has ever come up to me and said, I know all these people; we talk to them all the time.

Ted Simons: And again --

Luige del Puerto: How do you prevent somebody from breaching your security protocols by running a background check on reporters? For example even if you decided a couple of reporters shouldn't be allowed in, shouldn't have access to certain areas of the floor, how would that prevent somebody else from doing whatever they want to do?

Bob Christie: I think we'll probably end up with some negotiation. The attorneys for the media organizations are working with the attorneys for the house saying listen, we have great concerns about the political aspects of this. If you want to have the Department of Public Safety to run a criminal background check to make sure floor ax murderers on the floor. We're very public people. But the way it was rolled out and the way the depth of the background checks they want to put in just really raised a lot of issues.

Jeremy Duda: And worth noting, I think we haven't seen the same thing on the Senate side. We all went over to the Senate at about 1:30, welcomed with open arms. They do not seem to share Speaker Gowan's sentiment.

Ted Simons: We'll see where this goes. It's quite curious. What does this do to Speaker Gowan's congressional run? He is running for Congress, does this put him in good stead with the folks in District 1?

Jeremy Duda: It's always a popular campaign item, bashing reporters. I can't imagine it looks good for him. It looks like you're retaliating against a reporter who's written some negative stuff about you, possibly at Speaker Gowan's request; I don't think that looks good.

Ted Simons: And he had to refund $12,000.

Luige del Puerto: He had to admit to overbill the state. He asked for reimbursement of travel expenses he was not entitled to, and he had billed the state for four days he wasn't working. Maybe in the primary some voters would be happy with bashing the media for example. Assuming he wins the primary, a big if, but assuming he had, general election voters, how would they react or respond to a Speaker of the House with questions surrounding barring reporters because some of them might have written something critical about him. If I were his campaign consultant I would be concerned going into an election like that.

Ted Simons: Department of Justice will investigate what the heck happened last month as far as the Presidential Preference election, looking mostly at discriminatory questions.

Bob Christie: Right, right. The department of Johnson was asked by the mayor of Phoenix and I believe the mayor of Avondale to do a civil rights investigation to see if the Voting Rights Act was violated by the changes, shrinking of the number of polling places from 200 in the 12 election to just 60 in the last election. The Justice Department weighed in late last week and we found out about it early Monday. What they are going look at is exactly that. Did they look at whether this would affect poor and minorities, was there any discriminatory intent, was there any discriminatory effect. That's really the issue, even if you don't do it intentionally, are you disenfranchising poor minority voters by your actions.

Jeremy Duda: Sure. And County Recorder Helen Purcell during the very contentious House elections committee hearing recently, she said basically they didn't consider a lot of these things. Arizona is no longer bound by this provision of the Voting Rights Act. They had to have locations and numbers of polling places are one of the top things they are going to look at. The county elections folks say there was no discriminatory intent or effect, they say. There were some of the longest lines in predominantly white and Republican areas. The pain was spread equally, they are going to look more specifically at the predominantly minority quarters.

Ted Simons: The Presidential Preference election, it's not as though -- who would you be incriminating against? Democrats voting for Democrats and Republicans voting for Republicans. If somebody is discriminated against they look into it.

Luige del Puerto: They look into it. Of course let me backtrack a bit. The County admitted it was a huge mistake. The error was apparent on the morning of March 22nd when the long lines were starting to form. They assume fire department they reduced the number of polling centers they would get about 1500 per center. It turned out some of the centers had more than 3,000 people. Some had 22. There was one precinct; voting center on the reservation had 22 people. So you see the distribution of people. And you begin understand why we face such a huge problem.

Bob Christie: The number we never will know is how many people drove up to their polling place, saw the lines and left. And that is particularly effective in poor and minority communities because have you mom or dad going to vote, they don't have -- first, they don't have transportation to get there. When they get there, they have to go to work. They can't take hours in line. There are possibly people who aren't poor minorities who have more time. That's the kind of calculus the Justice Department is going to look at. What they ultimately do, that's a real wild card I. haven't done the analysis of whether they can come in after the fact and put in Voting Rights Act preclearance again. It might be a case for something like that.

Ted Simons: That would have to happen relatively quickly considering the election coming up.

Luige del Puerto: In May we're going to have an election. They are going try and double the number of voting centers. And presumably 120 voting centers would be sufficient. And also they are hoping that one problem they saw March 22nd wouldn't repeat itself, which is that the number of Independents wanting to cast ballots, of course they could not vote in a presidential primary. In May we're not going to have the problem, anybody and everybody can vote.

Jeremy Duda: That's in the issue the DOJ wants to look into, as well. Mass provision of ballots, only about 4,000 were permitted. There were a lot of allegations, people saying something funny happened with our registration.

Ted Simons: And the DOD department trying to look at this before. There apparently was no problem voting at the executive tower. It sounds as though the Secretary of State was willing to collect ballots. I thought that was a felony.

Jeremy Duda: It will be in a few months. The legislature passed bill Republicans have been trying to pass for many years now that bans the practice of ballot harvesting, folks going door to door collecting early ballots. There was legislation against it, a tool of the radical left. There's concerns who's got the ballots. They are doing a service to some folks in the governor's office; she is reported she sent someone up to collect folks' ballots if they had early ballots. We just told them to bring them down to our office. Either way it looks bad. There's an acknowledgement that maybe there's some utility for being able to do this, for people for whom it's too late to getting them in.

Ted Simons: Why in the world is she even getting close to doing that?

Luige del Puerto: We're election officials. This is part of our duties, something we're allowed to do, maybe try and urge people to give their ballots to us. What happened according to Matt Roberts who speaks for Michele Reagan, that is, you know, the state had gone up on an unrelated matter and said, if you want to send out an email to everybody saying you can bring your ballots to our office on the seventh floor. The staffer contacted by the governor's office earlier, that person never actually went up on the eighth floor to collect ballots. No ballots were collected or harvests. There were two or three ballots dropped off at the Secretary of State's office because it is one of those drop-off centers. That's the explanation, anyway.

Bob Christie: It's reasonable when she says we are by law elections officers. It just looks bad. The election official opt forefront of trying to ban this practice of having people go and collect ballots for others, I don't know if she wasn't thinking or if it was a mistake or she just didn't think it would matter but it just doesn't look good.

Jeremy Duda: It's tone deaf at the least.

Ted Simons: Governor Ducey says he wants a budget and doesn't want to see any more bills until he gets that budget. Shades of Governor Brewer a few years ago?

Jeremy Duda: I think Governor Brewer three years in a row she threatened to start vetoing bills if they sent her any more legislation without a budget. Now Ducey is saying he doesn't want to see any more bills until he gets a budget. It's definitely a line in the sand. Things are dragging on a bit. Almost a year ago today they signed, the session moved really quickly.

Ted Simons: Why are they dragging on? What's going on?

Bob Christie: First off the budget negotiation resource stalled. The Senate's ready to government the House are apparently still working through a lot of different issues A. lot of members last year were told, this is how we do it down here. When the budget deal is in place you vote it for. They voted it for, went home and came back with black eyes from constituents who said, you didn't fund what? Miscellaneous bits and pieces everywhere. The message from the governor came through. As soon as it hit we have seen no floor count to speak of for the last week and a half. They come on, they introduce their guests, they debate three bills and then they don't vote on them. Next day, same thing, it's obvious the message is clear, they are focused on the budget but it's not moving.

Luige del Puerto: And leaders heard the message and they are amenable to it. They don't want to risk sending a bill and having somebody veto it. When you're doing the budget, once it's done it's pretty much over, you go home.

Ted Simons: Basically we are seeing some folks in the house saying lots cut last year, let's restore more than maybe expected?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, there's a core group of folks, at least 12 House Republicans hoping to make their voices heard in a way that didn't happen last year. More University funding, Universities took it on the chin pretty badly last year. Over in the House in general which is the hold of it. In the Senate Andy Biggs wants the budget next week. Sounds like the House has a lot to sort through before that happens.

Ted Simons: There's a bill that once again seems like it's the state trying to tell the cities what to do. It's a little complicated.

Bob Christie: If you read the news this week, you'll know San Francisco passed a bill that required businesses to offer sick leave a couple weeks for all employees. There are some cities in Arizona that might want to do that, Flagstaff, Tempe are considering it, parental leave and some other benefits. The legislature thinks it would be bad to have a patchwork of laws across the state; it would be bad for business. They want to ban that practice. It's an extension of the effort to block cities from raising the minimum wage which they are allowed to do around voter initiative that passed several years ago. This is another example of the legislature saying, you know, we don't want Seattle, we don't want San Francisco here in Arizona.

Luige del Puerto: The reasons given, he wanted a union fight strategy when it comes to protecting businesses. You can't have one city forcing them to offer these kinds of benefits and another city not. Their argument is that it should be the state deciding on these things and not local jurisdictions.

Ted Simons: Because minimum wage is involved here in some way, shape or form does this have to go to the ballot? Didn't voters already approve the minimum wage formula?

Jeremy Duda: This is just for paid time off, sick time, stuff like that. Minimum wage, the legislature is looking to do so, as well. Next, there's another minimum wage issue that would also require 40 hours of sick time per year.

Well, they're making the benefits blocking efforts, as well.

Bob Christie: It may be a citizen's referendum to raise it. We have a legislative minimum wage raise designed duty that off at the pass. Then we have the benefits block. And so it's very complicated but the bottom line is the legislature doesn't want cities and towns to assign their own, and they want to have control over minimum wage when they do go up.

Ted Simons: Paul Penzone has announced he will challenge Sheriff Joe Arpaio again, did it four years ago, lost, but didn't get trounced. Why is he doing this again?

Luige del Puerto: He came really close. Of the sheriff's opponents in the last couple of elections he came close to being a threat. The thinking then is there was a third candidate. Businesses can't believe that third candidate might have acted as spoiler. Let's try and see if we can get Sheriff Joe. There is thinking this time the sheriff is more vulnerable. There's a lot of court orders, for example. So it is very end of this term and they are thinking that maybe this time he's vulnerable. But of course the sheriff has a ton of money, at every single election. His challenge would be right off the bad trying to raise sufficient funds to compete with the sheriffs.

Ted Simons: Is the sheriff vulnerable?

Jeremy Duda: Certainly more vulnerable than he has been. We heard in that 2012 and 2008. It was probably true both times like it's true this time. There was a lot of action in court, he was found to be violating the profiling, racial profiling. Allegations of investigating judges. Certainly there's been a lot on Joe's place that he hasn't been facing before. It's going to take a tough contain.

Bob Christie: The question one of the sheriff's race says an incumbent has an, is in an uphill battle. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is older. If Paul Penzone can get the funding to do it, he's shown he's a decent candidate so we'll see.

Ted Simons: With that election we're looking forward to it. We will not see state treasurer Jeff DeWit. In office 16, 18 months and has already had enough?

Luige del Puerto: Right. The political work was not a cakewalk the way he put it. He told the Republic "there are some rules that apply in the business world that don't apply in the political world." At one point he said some things in the physical world just do not make sense. I'm going to go back to the business world. And still has two years to serve. He's done a lot, saved the state some money. He's also racist profiled by contradicting the Governor and opposing the Governor's proposal for example, when it comes to the K-12 inflation settlement that we're going to be voting on this may.

Ted Simons: One thing I think he learned that you probably shouldn't do, say no one's ever told the Governor no and gone public and all thing prop 123.

Jeremy Duda: He's told the Governor a number of times and politically seems to have paid the price. He's burned a lot of bridges in his short term as treasurer. He doesn't have a lot of friends down there when the public is certainly made to it to -- that makes it hard to work with the Capitol and other opposition. It's not going to get any better.

Ted Simons: Quickly, Don Stapley running for Congress.

Bob Christie: Yep, another one looking for Matt Salmon's seat. Former Maricopa County Supervisor, he joins Justin Olson, Andy Biggs Senate President, and Director Brian Martin.

Ted Simons: And possibly Christine Jones. Maybe you. Everyone seems to have jumped. The fact that Stapley settled with the county, he went through a ringer there, Arpaio and Thomas. The county attorney settled for $3.5 million.

Bob Christie: You know, the fact that you've been attacked and had to sue your attackers is not a negative. Now, some negatives on him are that, you know, he may be a little more open to illegal immigration. Looks like he's going stake out the moderate ground in this race which we haven't seen yet. The other three folks are more on the conservative side. He's well-known, County Supervisor for 18 years, he's got as good a shot as anybody. Scott Smith has said he's not running in the race.

Ted Simons: That's it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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