Journalists’ Roundtable 04/22/2016

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, the U.S. Supreme Courts upholds Arizona's legislative district maps.

Ted Simons: And we'll look at an effort to put pro-solar policies on the ballot. 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. Mary Jo Pitzl of The Arizona Republic. Bob Christie of The Associated Press. And Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal.

Ted Simons: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that Arizona's legislative districts are legally drawn and can continue to be used. And it wasn't even close it was?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It was a unanimous vote. They didn't need justice scalia. It came down with an 8-0 decision from the Supreme Court. This all hinged around a challenge that said look, the legislative districts were drawn to favor one party over the other. In this case the Democrats. And the redistricting commission said, no, we were -- yes, we did put some more Democrats in a couple of districts but we're trying to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, which was in effect at the time. They wanted to get preclearance on the first go with their map and they did. It was the first time that's ever happened.

Ted Simons: And it sounds like the court said because it may not be in effect now but it was in effect then the Voting Rights Act, they bought it and they bought it unanimously. It wasn't even close.

Bob Christie: It was 8-0. The legal argument was there's a Supreme Court precedent that says one person one vote is your goal but you can have a difference of up to 10% in population between districts and still be presumptively constitutional, regardless of what measures. They looked at this and said listen it's under the 10% threshold. Yes, you had a reasonable reason to make the adjustments you did, there might have been a little bit of politics inside but your main reason was let's get this okayed by the justice department so they can go into effect and the Supreme Court says it's presumptively constitutional, there's nothing that jumps out, it's good to go.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, the lines didn't disenfranchise Hispanics, 2% to 8% or something like that. And if they had ruled differently on this, you would see a case every cycle from every state because every state goes through these types of redistricting fights because it's a very subjective, very political sometimes partisan practice, no matter how you do it, whether it's the commission or legislature. So they kind of saved themselves a lot of headaches going forward.

Ted Simons: I think justice briar said that we can't deman mathematical precision. One man, one vote but that gets to be pretty impossible when you look at all the other factors that have to be considered.

Bob Christie: And when you hear the charge this helped Democrats, it wasn't fair for Republicans, there hasn't been much of a change in the last couple of election cycles, has there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This got rid of supermajority. Remember the Republican supermajority.

Ted Simons: That's true, the supermajority but in general, I mean, it's still a Republican dominated legislature.

Bob Christie: It really is and justice Ginsberg during the oral argument said if you guys are trying to help Democrats, you didn't do that great a job because you get all these Republicans.

Mike Sunnucks: That paints their view of the whole commission of how they favored Democrats on that.

Ted Simons: They lost that one, too.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This was legislators.

Mike Sunnucks: They viewed the whole commission's actions as helping the D.

Ted Simons: So again, these now will stay in place until 2020, which is not that long from now, anyway.

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, so we'll have flee more election cycles for the legislature under this plan. Now, one thing that this has done, at least in some quarters is there are measures still knocking around at the state capitol that it's like hey, let's put a thing on the ballot and have our redistricting commission elected statewide as opposed to this somewhat elaborate appointed process. We don't know if that's going to go anywhere but it just renews those calls that something's got to be done to change the way the redistricting commission does its work because the Republicans are in the majority this time, they don't like what's come out of this commission last time around, in the last decade, you know, we had a Republican majority in the legislature and they were just fine with the commission because their maps were a little bit more favorable.

Bob Christie: The Democrats -- the way it's set up now with the commission there's two Republicans appointed, two Democrats appointed, and there's an independent. And the independent is assumed to be independent. Last cycle, in this current cycle the maps we're dealing with now, there's a lot of Republicans who believe firmly that the independent actually is skewed to the Democrat side.

Mike Sunnucks: Certainly in hindsight the Republicans could take in all these legal fees on losing these court cases and put it towards a ballot measure to spend some money on that and educate voters on that on their side of things, maybe expand the commission, maybe find a new way so you're not on the short end.

Ted Simons: So 2020, next census, we'll get a new map and 2020 ½ we'll get a new lawsuit.

Ted Simons: Solar city is backing a pro-solar campaign for an initiative. Talk to us now about what this initiative does, general or specific as you want, but this is something that the solar industry says is needed or solar is not going to survive in Arizona.

Mary Jo Pitzl: She was in the forefront when she was on the commission in sort of pioneering rules and regs that would open up solar, I think they created the solar standard, the renewable energy standard during her tenure. That's been eaten away at so I mean, in very broad strokes what this attempts to do is to restore some of those protections for solar customers, because the cost has been mounting in the last couple of years for people that do choose to go solar.

Ted Simons: The Arizona solar energy freedom act, this would keep net metering, keep away some fees for the next six years, she said six years was a good time. Between industry development, technological development and getting everyone's act together, they thought that was a good time frame. Have we had a response from apes?

Bob Christie: APS has responded or at least a lawmaker who thinks their position is correct. This initiative tries to lock in place net metering. The utilities are dead set against it. If you have panels on your roof, any excess power that you use that you don't use goes back into the system and you get full retail price for it. If you're paying 15 cents a kilowatt hour, you sell it back at full retail price, no wholesale thing. That is a big deal for the utilities. They think that that does not take into account their costs of service, that you're not paying for the transmission and the transformers and the maintenance and all the other stuff and they think that that's shifting the cost to other customers who don't have solar.

Ted Simons: If you have solar and I don't, APS is saying good for you, you're selling back to the grid, but if we need to maintain, to build another power plant, etc., I'm the one who's going to have to pay for it.

Mike Sunnucks: This is going on in other states. Solar city is running an initiative in Nevada, same dynamics. You have the power companies, maybe not so popular with the public sometimes or the media but they have a lot of power at that state assembly, state legislature across the country. So the solar industry is fighting that versus the utilities fighting kind of a P.R. uphill battle.

Mary Jo Pitzl: One of the arguments on the net metering thing is sure, the utility does have a cost for transmission, etc., but the more people that go solar, the less they're going to have to build new power plants and new sources and string lines out to them and set all that up. There's a weighing of those costs.

Ted Simons: Indeed, a weighing of the fees, as well. Even if everyone's off the grid as it were, they're not really off the grid, and someone's got to pay for the grid.

Bob Christie: Exactly. So if you have a bunch of rooftop solar panels on your house, you may be off the grid from noon until 5:00 in the afternoon but you're using power the rest of the time. And you're still having a power bill, unless you have a whole bunch of rooftop solar. So instead of having a $300 electric bill you might have a $100 electric bill but other utilities believe that's not enough to pay your fair share of them generating, distributing and getting that electricity.

Mike Sunnucks: This is supposed to a lot of TV ads, a lot of spending, solar city plays hardball with these utilities, in Arizona and other states, and APS has been responding in time, different from the good old boy country club days where they got along with people quietly. You could see a lot of ads, a repeat of the net metering fight we had at the Corporation Commission, and I think the idea of the rival measure is just to confuse voters enough to vote against both.

Ted Simons: I want to get to that, the rival measure in a second but as far as the Super PAC is concerned, that solar city is contributing to, they're saying they could help solar candidates, as well. They're not just focused on the initiative.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This might trigger -- there's a growing sentiment out there in some quarters that there's just too much of the outside money that's coming into our elections and we just really need to put a stop to this and make this be a campaign about Arizonans. Of course, you know, Chris Mays in her company says you've got 65,000 Arizonans that have adopted to go solar. This is a campaign for these people and others.

Bob Christie: That's the next step. If these new rules go into place that utilities hope the Corporation Commission will adopt to cut the net metering rate, we won't see big solar growth like we had and you want solar and you want solar and you want solar and the only way it makes sense is if you can actually get some money back out of it because it's a very expensive proposition. What's happening now is as soon as Chris Mays filed her thing, Debbie Lesko, senator in the Senate, came out this week and said I'm going to run a voter referral which means 90 people to vote it and get it on the ballot and she says I'm working with APS to come up with the language. APS says we're backing it but they won't admit that they're writing the language but Debbie Lesko says they are. We'll go from there.

Mike Sunnucks: The solar crowd has an advantage. Everybody likes solar. We're a solar state, all the sunshine, it's a no-brainer for us. Solar city and their group put a lot of money and run a lot of ads on this, that's going to be a big challenge for opponents and the rival ballot measure to overcome.

Ted Simons: But as far as an opposition campaign, why can't APS just fund an opposition campaign? Why can't they fund a competing initiative as opposed to just go right down to the legislature and say you do it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Because the clock is ticking. Any initiative petitions are due by July 7th, it's not a lot of time, you would have to get more than 125,000 signatures of voters. It's just a lot easier to get the votes of 31 representatives and 16 senators. You don't need the governor and send it to the ballot. You get the math.

Ted Simons: It was more of a rhetorical question, the idea is why does one side have to go through the initiative side and the other side --

Bob Christie: One side has to go through it because the Republican legislature will not refer theirs to the ballot, whereas this one has a decent shot of getting out of the Republican-controlled legislature.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's all about who has friends. In fact, this isn't coming from the legislature but there appears to be another ballot initiative launched today that takes aim at clean elections. It wants to defund the public campaign financing portion of it, send it to the schools. This is something lawmakers have tried for a couple of years. It never goes anywhere but this ballot initiative, this comes a week after the clean and accountable elections committee formed and they want to do some stuff on dark money and they want to strengthen the public campaign finance system. So we're looking at the possibility of a ballot where you've got competing measures that appear to maybe try to do the same thing on a given topic and whenever voters are confused, the mantra is that they vote no. That's not always the case.

Mike Sunnucks: Like the smoking ban, we had he tougher one and we had the bars and restaurants may be pushed that wasn't as tough. You're going to see two pro solar initiatives out there, the voters will have to figure out which one's the real one.

Ted Simons: Before all that, we're going to have our special election for proposition 123. And oh, my goodness there's so many things to talk about. Let's start with the fact that the Spanish language ballot for prop 124, which is not 123, just so you know, they're not the same, but they got it all screwed up in Maricopa county.

Bob Christie: They sure did. They sent out 1.3 million early ballots on Wednesday and people opened them up today and somebody actually read it and said wait a minute the title for the proposition 124, which is a pension overhaul says it relates to education. That's not right.

Ted Simons: And was this Spanish language?

Bob Christie: Just the Spanish language. Every ballot has both languages on it but the English language was right, the Spanish language was wrong and Maricopa county's got egg all over their face again and says we're going to send out 1.3 million post cards to everybody to tell everybody about this mistake.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And reprint 700,000 ballots at the polls and the reason bob says they've got egg on their face again is that this comes what a couple of weeks after the long lines at the polls for the presidential preference election but also in 2012, the county not once, not twice but three times made errors in Spanish language elections materials so there's some problem there when it gets to the Spanish language translation and that's going to lead to a whole host of questions, scrutiny, people are already saying boy, we miss the Voting Rights Act.

Ted Simons:This is Maricopa county.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Only.

Ted Simons: Only Maricopa county. What is going on at Maricopa?

Mike Sunnucks: The other counties were able to get things okay on some of these things. It's been a challenge for them. They've had some problems, they kept printing those wrong. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of oversight there and the thing with the Bernie Sanders voters and the trump voters that couldn't vote, that's going to stick around and when you have something like this a couple of weeks after, it just adds to it. So they can't change that narrative. So we'll see what happens when Helen Purcell is up for re-election.

Bob Christie: The interesting dynamics of this is there's a couple of lawsuits that are already challenging the presidential preference or come out of it anyway. One challenges the actual outcome. There's a hearing next week. It's a state court lawsuit but there's also a federal lawsuit which invokes the Voting Rights Act because we've talked about the Voting Rights Act and how the preclearance is gone but all the rest of the Voting Rights Act is in place which means you can't disenfranchise people, you can't do stuff that takes their vote away because of minority or poverty or any of those things. You have to be fair and clear.

Ted Simons: The preclearance was there because of the quote/unquote history in Arizona of having a problem. History is repeating itself, Mary jo.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It would appear that but the county, Maricopa county responded and said the department of justice today regarding the presidential preference election, they said our data shows we weren't discriminating against any one group. There were long lines in Anglo-dominated areas and lower income neighborhoods and Latino neighborhoods but there is an appearance that we do have problems that are recurring and Congress could bring back that preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act whenever they choose to.

Bob Christie: The tricky thing is this federal lawsuit that's filed by the democratic national committee and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is asking a federal judge to look at it and say should you issue an order saying regardless of the preclearance and the justice department you have to bring your changes to a judge to have him sign off on it first so we could technically go under preclearance again, just with the judge's order.

Ted Simons: Now, keeping with the prop 123 idea here. Or 124. Take your pick. It doesn't take a difference en espanol. Governor Ducey, fred duval together, once again.

Mike Sunnucks: Every establishment person in the state right is for this thing. The chambers, the sheriff, the governor, legislative leaders, democratic mayors, everything is for it. It's not polling, as well. It's not the slam dunk in part because of voter confusion, we've seen these state trust land things before because people, what are state trust lands? That's the first and last questions you get. They're reaching to both sides of the aisle so you saw this add with fred duval who lost to Ducey in the governor's race, you're going to see Greg Stanton out there, you're going to see Democrats, you may see the sheriff who backs this thing out there and, you know, everybody thought this thing was going to be a blowout because everybody and their brother is for this thing, except for maybe all the voters and stuff. And I think one thing that works against this if you're a Democrat and you see Doug Ducey and Andy Biggs and Republicans out there pushing this, your first gut reaction may not be trusting this because of how they view the GOP funding of education, and then you see these teacher ads out there and if you're a conservative Republican, you think of teachers unions and if you think of it in a partisan way, they're Democrats. Where they have all this bipartisan support, it may work against it a little bit and you read that thing, it's hard to figure out what it is if you're an everyday voter. You get that kind of no vote by default.

Ted Simons: Does the fact that fred duval sits shoulder to shoulder with Doug Ducey make a big difference?

Bob Christie: It will make some difference. Not only do they run this ad but they called up all the capitol press corps and said come up to the ninth floor and interview the governor. Which I did, took a couple of phone calls to get up there and I interviewed them both and the governor is very concerned that this is the only path forward. He doesn't believe -- I mean, he doesn't have a plan B. supposedly.

Ted Simons: Well, yes. And that's a nice way to bridge over to someone who thinks he does have a plan B. and that is a state official who is against this idea, treasurer Jeff DeWit and he seems to think there's a plan B. that's in big shiny bright letters.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, he looks at what the state has in terms of its rainy day fund, which is approaching $500 million, close to half a billion dollars. And a carry-forward that's projected for the next budget year and so why can't we use the money that we have as opposed to dipping into the trust fund, which is somewhat analogous to the kids' 401(k) for the future. This is similar to what the Democrats were saying last fall at the legislature, Democrats have pretty much all sort of fallen in line and said they're going to vote for 123 because they want to get money to the schools but I don't know. DeWit, I don't know how persuasive this is. We've heard DeWit out there at almost a lone voice opposing this. He got a little support from the league of women voters the other week.

Bob Christie: And there's a lot of underlying chatter that maybe this isn't going as swimmingly as the governor hoped. There's no real polling in the state. There's just a lot of -- I mean --

Mary Jo Pitzl: You know what I hear from people is that they look at it and the teachers are in favor of this, the Arizona education association has endorsed it, the school board association, everyday voter told me I see the schools are for it. Teachers, I mean why wouldn't we vote yes?

Mike Sunnucks: Anecdotally it's not polling as well as they expected with all that support across the board, bipartisan, business support, education support, it's not polling what they expect it to be at and that's starting to worry them that hey, there's a lot of voter confusion out there, we've seen state trust lands go down before and voters are going to look at this and say eh.

Ted Simons: Bringing Fred Duval out will help?

Mike Sunnucks: You're going to see a lot of people coming out. I don't think they wouldn't invited people if it was up 70-30. You're going to see Greg Stanton, joe Arpaio out there. You're going to see more ads and the fact that the governor is cutting an ad with him maybe shows that it could have more trouble than we expected.

Bob Christie: Well, I asked Mr. Duval. I said are you holding your nose and saying I've got to endorse this because -- he says no I'm enthusiastic. I'm enthusiastic because it gets money to our schools now, teachers haven't had raises in six years, this gives them money now and I don't see any other way to get them money now. Then it's the first step and we can talk about other reforms. So that's his argument.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And, in fact, on that front there was a committee called prop 123 go and these are people who are supportive of the ballot measure, they're urging a yes vote, groups like the protecting Arizona family coalition and the A.E.A. and the children's action alliance but this is just the first step, which is not an original thought. The governor has said the same thing but they're trying to signal that they're going to keep up the pressure on the legislature and the governor after May 17th to do more for education.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't know if we're sure what voter turnout is going to be. It's going to be low. You think high-efficacy voters vote for that. On its face you think that would help it but is this going to be conservatives that are voting? And are they voting against this because they don't understand what it is.

Ted Simons: Before we go, the legislature is still in session so the state budget is still being kicked around here and what is going on with this thing?

Bob Christie: Holy Toledo, the governor put the moratorium saying don't send me more legislation, give me the budget. This week they finally said we're going to meet. They met this morning, they were still meeting when I left the office a little while ago. They are supposedly that close. We'll see. We might get a budget Monday, but then they have to bring it to the members in the house. There's members in the house as I've mentioned before who last year thought they got rolled, that they were told to vote for this and this is all the money they have, they went home and their cities and school districts beat them up and they saw a big infusion of money into the coffers. They're not going to do that.

Ted Simons: Bob says there are meetings going on, they're talking, they're talking. We're not talking everyone here. This is very few people once again are involved correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. I mean, when it comes down to it, the budget is decided by the leader of the house, the leader of the Senate and the governor's office, a triangulation, and then they usually reach an agreement, they've got a sense of what their members want or don't want and they take it back to them. It does take a while but it's not something that we see. It's something that we hear about and every reporter and lobbyist is looking for that spreadsheet that gives you the latest allocation of money.

Mike Sunnucks: You know what they could do, they could put all three of them in a car, and drive all around C.D.1 and try to get a deal. [ Laughter ]

Ted Simons: Such an original and bold idea! But with this idea again, you've got hundreds of bills are back logged. Are we going to have one of these mad rushes? People aren't even sure what they're signing?

Bob Christie: It's highly likely. That's the way it usually is, as soon as you get a budget done, usually gets introduced on Tuesday morning, and then early Friday they vote on it and the next 36 hours is a mad rush to pass everything. And if you don't get a vote on it, it dies. And bring it back next year.

Mike Sunnucks: Sleep deprivation.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Many, many bills will wait until the budget is done, so many things hinge on that. It's all bargaining chips. The question will be what's really important to get done after the budget? Probably that solar measure.

Ted Simons: Yeah. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll discuss the impact of parks in Arizona on this national park centennial.

And we'll look at the future of Phoenix as the quintessential suburban city. That's Monday, on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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