Journalists’ Roundtable 05/27/2016

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Join us as three local journalists bring you up to date on the news of the week.

Steve Goldstein: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, the state has officially certified the results of last week's special election on props 123 and 124.

Steve Goldstein: And the secretary of state continues to blame others for failing to send election pamphlets. 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.

Steve Goldstein: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, I'm Steve Goldstein in for Ted Simons. Joining us tonight. Mary Jo Pitzl of The Arizona Republic. Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Luige Del Puerto of The Arizona Capitol Times.

Steve Goldstein: Thursday's canvassing of last week's special election results has officially certified prop 123 and 124's passage into law. And what did the governor have to say about what happened with prop 123 specifically?

Mary Jo Pitzl: He said it's a great day for Arizona, it's a great victory for Arizona parents and teachers and kids. He turned this canvassing event into the celebration that they never really had on election night because we didn't really know which way the vote was going to go.

Steve Goldstein: Were people buying this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The crowd there yesterday, you bet. This was full of people who had been party to the lawsuit settlement, to the closed door talks, full of teachers, there was some students way in the background, lawmakers, oh, yeah, it went over very well.

Howard Fischer: Except for what he wouldn't say, which is we're not sure if that money is going to flow by June 30th. We know that the state treasurer Jeff DeWit who heads the board of investment sent a letter to the attorney general and said, you know, we still center this open question of do you know congressional approval before you alter the formula from 2.5% of the corpus, the principal, and then another unusual question. Apparently, the way the law is worded, the enabling act, it says money can go to benefit schools that are totally under the control of the state. Well, now charter schools are public schools but they are run by private for profit operations. Can they share in it? So sometime between now and the end of June, Mr. Brnovich needs to get a little word out in terms of where we go from here, plus, there's also a federal court lawsuit on this.

Luige del Puerto: And, in fact, this particular issue was fleshed out during a hearing when they were deciding what language to use in the publicity pamphlet. And he was talking specifically about a 1999 federal law, the last law that amended the enabling act and in his opinion, that legislation, that federal legislation, pretty much gave Arizona carte blanche to decide how to distribute the funds. As Howie mentioned, there are those who think that you need congressional approval before you can do any change.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There are some questions that are still lingering over prop 123 and, you know, yesterday the governor I think was trying to say look, the voters have spoken. Let's get this money going into the schools and he said it will be getting there next week. I talked to his spokesman this morning and the sense is that as long as the money is disbursed, and it's $250 million, by the end of this fiscal year, June 30th, all is good, teachers' raises don't kick in until the beginning of the next year on July 1. But the governor would like to move on, treasurer DeWit who has never liked prop 123 who said even if I was the biggest fan, we can't cut a check next week until we get a green light from the attorney general.

Howard Fischer: And remember that the investment board consists of two Ducey appointees, the head of his department of financial institution and the head of the department of administration and this was a unanimous vote by the board to seek the opinion so you can't say this is all Jeff DeWit.

Steve Goldstein: When you say the governor didn't mention about this, he's not bringing this up, are you saying he's trying to hide from this or does he not believe there's a problem?

Howard Fischer: He believes la, la, la , I don't see anything. He recognizes it but he said we're here to talk about positives, we're here to talk about today, we're here to celebrate but he did acknowledge afterwards in talking with all of us that yes, I recognize it. And when we pushed him a little bit, there was a little bit of pique there about Jeff DeWit saying any elected official who would disobey the will of the people should be ashamed.

Luige del Puerto: The governor certainly wants to move on. He wants this issue behind him. I think that's not going to happen quite as soon as he wants it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And also, the governor in his defense said look, he sought a legal opinion, you know, back last fall, can we do this without having to go to Congress and that opinion which he has never shared publicly but he says it gave him the all-clear.

Howard Fischer: Especially by the best opinion. The other piece that's also waiting is the whole promise during prop 123 is this is the first step. Well, the children's action alliance and other groups got together earlier this week and they said okay that's about $300 million a year. But if you actually look at all the cuts that have been made in inflation funding, in student and teacher training, in full day kindergarten, we're still about $1.2 billion short, small gap in there. And we keep pushing the governor. So what's next? What's next? He says we're working on it.

Steve Goldstein: So the fact they're saying this, is it falling on deaf ears basically?

Howard Fischer: No, I think the governor wants to do something. The question of what becomes the issue. What's politically salable, you don't know who's going to be in the legislature. The other thing we've got that's hanging over this is you've got a governor who was elected on a promise to do a tax cut every year he's governor which leads to the question how can you increase aid to schools even as you're cutting the revenue sources?

Luige del Puerto: And that really is a big question, right? Because the folks who are pushing for more money for schools have also pointed to tax credits or tax cuts rather that we are currently implementing and are saying look if we just suspended all those tax cuts, then we would generate I think in my calculation about $900 million over three years that would state would get and they're saying we can use that money to give to schools and do all the things that we want for our children. We can do them without necessarily raising taxes if we suspended those --

Howard Fischer: But you know the political reality to suspend a tax cut will require a two thirds vote. It's not going to happen.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The governor -- you don't know what the legislature is going to look like after this fall's election, he's keeping his powder dry on the money question and trying to turn the focus to outcomes in the schools, test scores, and there's a good argument to be made that you don't want to just throw money at it. However, the groups has had their news conference on Monday made the point that this is money that the state had committed and they reneged on and we know that a lot of the no vote and it was 49.2% or something of the voters said we don't like prop 123. It's not because they don't like education. They wanted more. This was a way for them to put their foot on the accelerator and say we've got to keep going more on the financial front, as well.

Luige del Puerto: And what's really interesting is that the governor has cobbled together this to my mind diverse coalition of people who are pushing proposition 123. You've got the schools, you've got the A.E.A., the teachers union, you've got the business community, you've got every major Republican figure out there, except, of course, Jeff DeWit, and then now the question is does this coalition persist? And I think it will continue to exist and it will be up to the governor to try to harness this coalition to do something else, to do what would be steps four, five and six.

Steve Goldstein: I think the coalition is a great point but I know we're looking ahead a little bit, how much do you expect the impact of prop 123 or K-12 funding in general to affect August primaries? Are we going to see more moderate challenges, which is kind of the opposite of what we've seen?

Howard Fischer: The group that got together hinted around gee folks, you ought to be asking your candidates what do they think? Not just do you support education? Yes, I support education but are you willing to support someone? Now, the problem becomes as we all know we have, you know, gerrymandered legislative districts where only five, six legislative districts are really competitive. So you end up with Republican districts, Republicans running to the right, Democrat districts, Democrats running to the left, and then we get a choice in a few. I think there will be some hard questions asked certainly. Does it make a difference? I don't know. You're Steve Goldstein: looking at a lot of the legislative races, Mary jo. Is it going to make a difference in terms of defeating some incumbents?

Mary Jo Pitzl: A lot depends on how the districts are drawn and how the questions are framed. Everybody is in support of education but does that necessarily mean you support more money? So a lot will depend on how constituents ask that question and what they're looking for in terms of a pro-education commitment.

Luige del Puerto: I think at the end of the day it really hinges on whether the Democrats can change the partisan ratio in both chambers. If they can manage to narrow that gap, for example, in the state Senate, maybe they have a chance to push more money for schools or maybe stop more tax cuts but unless we see those kinds of changes, it's really hard -- I mean, just basically, it's really hard to push the legislature to raise taxes, for example, for schools.

Howard Fischer: You'll never get the tax hike. You may get the coalition that we saw, the same coalition that put kids care finally on the governor's desk saying we get the message. And it will be interesting because you have some really high-profile races out there among people like Barbara McGwire trying to retain her seat against frank Pratt, you have an interesting race out in paradise valley. What's interesting is that Kate is part of the moderates and there's not a lot of choice there for some of the voters.

Steve Goldstein: Let's talk about someone who was a moderate when she was in the legislature but now has decided to take on big blue. Michele Reagan versus I.B.M. Where does that shake out?

Howard Fischer: Oh, lord. I think the Michele Reagan that ran is not the Michele Reagan in the office. I don't know if this is bizarro Michele Reagan or whatever. We've talked around this table, she ran on a campaign of getting rid of dark money, and now she can't do anything about it. 200 plus thousand ballot brochures didn't get mailed out. She blamed it on IBM. IBM said wait the contract was up. You wanted help, get help. Then she blamed it on an outside contractor. It turns out that what they didn't say is that the help they asked from the outside contractor was for the presidential preference primary and not the May 17th primary. A lot of this comes down to the fact that she got rid of a lot of very qualified people when she went up there. I don't know whether this was political or whatever, she put in her own people, and then we're trying to figure out can she run an election?

Luige del Puerto: I would also like to point out in their report because attorney tom Ryan had filed a complaint, as you know, asking what happened, what went wrong, the attorney general's office is investigating this issue. The secretary of state's office, you know, did their internal review and among the things they found out was there was supposedly a change made to the household list of household voters in 2011, and that list, that change excluded voters who were on the early permanent voting list. The interesting thing about that is that between 2011 and 2016, we had, what, two general elections and we didn't have this problem. And so I guess it goes back to Howie's point, that same report noted I think in a footnote that we don't have the guys who ran those previous two elections in the office now and that might be a key to really solving this mystery.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And that's what brings us back to IBM because the secretary of state's elections director Eric spencer says look the continuity to understand how this works from cycle to cycle rests with our vendor. That trance sends staff turnover. We're going to have staff turnover. And IBM said wait a minute, and they were still under contract when they were apparently starting to build this mailing list but they basically said we were asked a vague question, we answered as best we could and the dispute goes on and on. But for a report that was written to try to figure out what went wrong and the issue saying look we the secretary of state's office we take full responsibility, there's a lot of finger pointing going on.

Luige del Puerto: And that's really what struck me the most, the finger pointing, the blaming others. When this thing became public, Michele Reagan's office came out and essentially said yeah, there was a supposed vendor error but we take responsibility. At the end of the day, they're in charge of sending out this publicity pamphlet in time. So to see them now start blaming others and sort of saying yeah, we're to blame but, you know, they're to blame, too. That's the thing that struck me the most.

Howard Fischer: There's another piece to this and remember I'm the old one around here and I remember the Nixon administration. And, as you know, with Watergate it wasn't the burglary, it was the coverup. They knew in late April that pamphlets had not been mailed.

Luige del Puerto: April 22nd.

Howard Fischer: And they say maybe it was the 25th, they knew in late April. This is an office that manages to send out a press release when almost anything happens. Oh, we were busy fixing it. How about a press release or a call to Mary jo or to me saying hey, can you let your readers know if you didn't get a pamphlet, here's where you can go, here's where you can call. It took a week or more for them to even acknowledge it, only when questioned by somebody at KJZZ that ooh, gee, we forgot to tell anyone.

Steve Goldstein: So what does this mean for Michele Reagan's reputation? More importantly the secretary of state's office? Is there a feeling, Mary jo that maybe the public is questioning whether they can trust -- is there a feeling of incompetence?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There's a lot of questions about that and all eyes will be on the August 30th primary election. I mean, we've got a couple of months to go. I understand that secretary Reagan has decided to not attend the GOP convention, which is happening I think two weeks before the election. So just stay home and sort of tend to your main job, which is to pull off a good election but yes, it has fueled skepticism because there's been a series of errors. I also question, you know, how much trust there will be. She's preparing a report on what happened, what went wrong with the March 22nd election, which seemed to be mostly a Maricopa county problem, not a secretary of state problem but she's got a report, I don't know when we're going to see it.

Howard Fischer: The other piece of it is we're going to be looking at legislation next year as mark Brnovich pointed out. Problem is we have a violation of the law here. It says the secretary of state shall mail, shall send. Well, what happens when the secretary of state doesn't send? Well, mark Brnovich said gee, I don't know. And he used some rather mixed terms for public television about how he felt about it and the question is so how do you punish somebody who does not comply with what should be a ministerial act of doing your duty?

Steve Goldstein: Finally on this issue because you have chased many a politician in your career, does it matter do you think to the general public when they see Michele Reagan trying to get away from the media, getting on the elevator, looked like a funny scene and yet this is the secretary of state not wanting to talk to the press?

Howard Fischer: Well, any time you chase a politician into an elevator, and this is great television, you know. You end up with a situation where the public sees this and they think no matter what she has said, images matter. This isn't radio. I can't have the sound of the elevator door slamming. A secretary of state backed up against the wall, sweating, clearly not listening to the questions and then being chased into the elevator, that's going to stay with her a long time.

Steve Goldstein: We've already mentioned attorney general Brnovich briefly. Let's talk about this bathroom directive from the Obama administration. Tell us about that. How did this get started and what is mark Brnovich upset about? What is Diane Douglas upset about?

Luige del Puerto: A city in North Carolina passed an ordinance saying we're going to protect transgender people and the most controversial part of the ordinance said that transgender men and women can go to the bathroom of the sex that they identify with. And so the legislature there quickly passed a law that said nope, you can't do that. And as a result of that, there was a lot of back-and-forth between North Carolina officials and federal officials over what this means and whether they're allowed to do it and finally, the U.S. department of education and the U.S. department of justice came up with this guidance. It doesn't have the force of law. It's a guidance and essentially, it threatens schools that don't follow this guidance that their federal funds would be withheld. And what the guidance says is that it doesn't matter if people, in your community, do not like this or object to it; you have to make sure that transgender students can go, that there's no discrimination against them and they can go to the bathrooms of the sex they identify with and as a result, we have officials in 11 states suing the feds over it.

Steve Goldstein: Mary jo, does this feel deeper than Arizona's usual fights with the federal government?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No. I think it's sort of par for the course. A lot of it is going against executive orders or directives that have come from the Obama administration, immigration comes to mind and this is a hot-button issue and we are in an election year.

Howard Fischer: And, you know, there's another piece behind all this, there's the sovereignty issue, we know best but there's another way to look at that. I got into it a little bit with Diane Douglas when she had a press conference, supporting the lawsuit, she's technically a plaintiff. Okay we should let communities decide. Should we let communities decide how to treat black students or Hispanic students? And it's a slippery slope there and I recognize race and religion are protected classes whereas sexual orientation, sexual identification is not. But this issue of what should be decided at a local level gets very, very tricky.

Steve Goldstein: How similar or different is this to what lawmaker John Kavanagh brought up a few years ago when the city of Phoenix was going through it?

Howard Fischer: There's some parallels, this was more with businesses and whether businesses could be disciplined for telling a customer no based on your plumbing you have to go to this bathroom as silly as that sounded, he couldn't get that bill out of the legislature which shows that perhaps people in Arizona don't think this is much of a problem as mark Brnovich, Diane Douglas and governor Ducey do. I don't know that there's a problem. And this becomes the question of is any of this a problem?

Luige del Puerto: I haven't seen it being a problem. Have you seen any stories about this being -- it's such a small group of people that we're talking about and the feds are trying to say let's make sure that they are protected.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And I mean, transgender people have to heed nature's calling just like we do, probably a couple of times a day, this has been happening apparently without riots in the street so I don't know if this is a solution in search of a problem.

Howard Fischer: And that's the thing, going back to the Phoenix case. The Phoenix ordinance said and Tucson which had a similar ordinance since 1999 has said this is the rule about you get to use the restroom, locker room of your sexual identification. The world has not ended. And so I'm not sure who's looking for a cause here, whether it's doe, department of education, maybe even you could turn around and say the gay community, human rights coalition is looking for a cause since gay marriage is no longer an issue so maybe that's part of what they want.

Steve Goldstein: We can expect to see some campaign ads based on this particular topic. As far as campaign ads go as well we're seeing already John McCain ads against Ann Kirkpatrick.

Luige del Puerto: They're right now fielding ads against each other, presuming, of course, that -- Kirkpatrick has no challenger in her party. John McCain has a couple of challengers. In any case, what we are seeing is that the two campaigns have seized on the most hated issue by each party and run with it with ads saying the other side is, for example, in John McCain's case, Kirkpatrick saying his best pal is Donald Trump and McCain saying Kirkpatrick is very proud of her Obamacare vote.

Howard Fischer: The funny part about him being best pals with Donald Trump while he said he'll support him, you'll remember the insult Donald Trump made about he was a prisoner of war, he's a loser, I don't support losers. I'm not ready to paint John McCain as a trump fan.

Luige del Puerto: That's the thing about it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The discomfort.

Luige del Puerto: What Kirkpatrick's campaign is clearly trying to do is tie Donald Trump around John McCain's neck thinking that would boost her performance within independents, women, and minority groups.

Howard Fischer: But the problem with that, look, we have sat around this table trying to figure out how the heck did Donald Trump happen in the first place? Every political rule that we have known in all the years we've covered politics seems to have been violated. I made the horrible prediction on the year end show that Donald Trump would not win one primary. Well, I'm sure I'll be hearing about that. How do you even explain that? It's nice to say that Kirkpatrick thinks hanging Donald Trump around McCain will make a difference, I don't know.

Mary Jo Pitzl: To your point. The ads going back and forth. Who knows what's going to happen?

Luige del Puerto: I spoke with Robert Graham just this afternoon and he's very confident or at least this is what he's saying. He's saying that he is hearing from minority groups, from the Muslim community, for example, and they're not exactly completely afraid of Donald Trump, if you will. Some of them had sort of expressed some statements that may be construed as support for Donald Trump. Howie's right, who knows what's going to happen? This year has been so disruptive.

Howard Fischer: Every time he opens his mouth, Mr. Unscripted, we get another headline.

Steve Goldstein: A few seconds left. So jan brewer has become very tied to Donald Trump. Is this going to last for her if trump wins?

Howard Fischer: I think it will. I don't see her as V.P. material for a whole variety of reasons. But look, you know, she loves fox, fox loves her, they found somebody to talk because Trump had his problems with fox so we've got jan brewer to talk about the border, immigration and all that stuff so jan brewer became the stand-in. if Trump does well, jan does well. So does Jeff DeWit because Jeff supports him and he's not running for re-election. Maybe there's a U.S. treasurer position out there for Jeff DeWit.

Howard Fischer: And a picture on the $10 bill in three decades, right?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I like it.

Steve Goldstein: Thanks for the discussion. Appreciate it.

Steve Goldstein: Monday, it's a special Arizona history edition of "Arizona Horizon." We'll talk with the author of a biography on Arizona's first elected governor, and we take a look at some rare stereographic photos of Arizona's past. That's Monday, on "Arizona Horizon."

Steve Goldstein: Tuesday, we'll talk about how possible Colorado river water shortages will affect our state. Wednesday, hear about affordable housing for seniors. Thursday, ambassador Kurt Volker joins us in studio for an update on foreign affairs. That's all for now. I'm Steve Goldstein in for Ted Simons. Have a great weekend.

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

Mary Jo Pitzl: Arizona Republic; Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services; Luige del Puerto: Arizona Capitol Times

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