Journalists’ Roundtable 06/17/2016

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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" -- "Journalists' Roundtable." Senator John Mccain said he misspoke when he blamed President Obama for the shooting in Orlando. The Journalists roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight we have Jeremy Duda, Howard Fischer, and Jim Small. Senator John McCain this week said President Obama was directly responsible for the tragedy in Orlando. Jeremy, that's a bold thing to say.

Jeremy Duda: It was a bold thing to say, and he kind of walked back, said I didn't mean he was directly responsible like he was one of the triggermen or something but responsible in the sense that his policies McCain said led to the rise of Isis which the shooter Mateen pledged loyalty to them. He means by creating the situation in the worldwide --

Howard Fischer: Maybe I missed something in covering the middle east. I seem to recall Isis was after we destroyed the government of Iraq we broke it, we didn't fix it. We kinds of destroyed the government in Syria, and I seem to recall from was a certain senior senator from Arizona who was saying let's just bomb everyone. Somehow that's the solution.

Ted Simons: Yet, Jim, he's basically blaming the president for failing to check the growth of Isis, pulling out U.S. troops when it seemed like things were still volatile over there. But still, the wording was not good.

Jim Small: No, it wasn't good. Didn't take too long after the story came out for him his office to walk it back and say, no, we didn't mean he was personally responsible but his policies created the situation. In the interview, though, there are a number of accounts of this interview a bunch of reporters were there, when he made the first statement the reporters pressed him on. It do you mean the president is personally responsible for this and he said, well, yes, he is. The facts are the facts and they show what they show. He talks about the policies but then said the president is directly responsible for this issue.

Ted Simons: This is at a time when the president was in Orlando visiting with families of victims and survivors, was actually in Orlando at the time, and at a time -- we still don't know how much Isis had to do at all with this deranged gunman's actions.

Jeremy Duda: The timing probably could have been better. Law enforcement is looking at it as a lone wolf, Democrats teed off at McCain for this as did his main challenger who raised the points Howie did about McCain's bellicose foreign policy. She says John McCain is directly responsible for growth of Isis because of what she called his knee jerk trigger happy foreign policy.

Howard Fischer: The fact is the Republicans are going to look for anything they can to link this to Obama. Jan Brewer made some statements earlier this week saying when Obama went to Florida, well, why they don't give them time to let people grieve. If he hadn't gone she would have said how can he not be there? This is the problem. They think somehow that they can flail about and blame everything on Obama. This goes back to the original statements from the congressional leaders in 2008, our number one job to keep Obama from doing anything.

Ted Simons: So does this impact the primary against Kelli Ward? Sounds to me like John McCain is trying to appeal to the base as best he can. Is he feeling threatened?

Jim Small: I think there's obviously a threat against John McCain both in the primary and the general. McCain's campaign has I think primarily been focused on the general election, but obviously those close to McCain, there's a superpac supporting him they have been sending mailers, doing TV ads, going after Kelli Ward for months now, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this. I think it's clear there's a threat. If you look at the polling McCain's favorability numbers are at best fair. But most of the time he's definitely below 50. A lot of times he's upside down. Negatives outweigh the positives. All of the elections, if you're the incumbent you don't want to be south of 50%. He's in a lot of cases south of 40%. That's a troubling place for him to be. Especially since he's been in Arizona politics for so long. National politics for so long, he's the guy everyone knows who he is. Not like there's a pocket of voters we can say, you don't know who I am. Let me introduce myself. They all have an opinion of him. The climate, his history, there's a lot of things conspiring to make this a very difficult election.

Ted Simons: They know who he is but they know him as the Maverick who says whatever comes into his mind on either side. This sounds like an appeal to the base.

Howard Fischer: I'm not even sure what base he's appealing to. The base I think in some ways is seeing things more like Obama about, well, do we really want our foreign policy to be based on shoot first, ask questions later? I don't think he knows where the base is. I think he's appealing -- the hawk we saw over the years. This is a guy who over the years also has said why do we do certain things? Is war the answer? Now he's back to where he was, and I think that's a real problem. At the other problem he's got, when goes to the other thing we're going to discuss tonight, he's agreed to back Donald Trump. There are people running, do I really want to be linked to him and he said, well, I'll support Donald. Never mind what trump said about him being a POW.

Ted Simons: We will get to Trump in a second but one last point on McCain.

Jim Small: It's been the cornerstone of his professional career. He's chairman. He's obviously been very involved in those issues. I think it's a strategy, something we heard from the McCain camp already and will continue to hear this. We live in dangerous times. This is an era where we have threats real and existential. We need to have someone strong on foreign policy. You see the attacks on Kelli Ward are that she's weak on foreign policy; she would own danger America and Arizona.

Howard Fischer: You have to make the assumption that somehow putting troops back into Iraq, even back into Afghanistan, is somehow going to do something about Isis. There are a lot of folks who looked with experience said no, that's exactly what created Isis in the first place.

Ted Simons: Donald Trump. You introduced the topic. The governor met with Donald Trump at trump tower this week along with a bunch of other governors what. What was discussed? What do we know about this con fab?

Jeremy Duda: Governor Ducey had not actually met him yet. He was in Wyoming, I believe, for the western governors association meeting. The governor of Tennessee invited governor Ducey, a few others to New York, why don't you sit down, talk with the Donald, get to know him. We don't know what was discussed outside of perfunctory statements Ducey's office put out. He's committed to -- he put in a good word for Robert Graham. He wants to be chairman of the national party. He came home and this weekend he will be attending a fund-raiser for Donald Trump and most likely -- fire up north permitting.

Ted Simons: So he will be at the fund-raiser at Barry Goldwater's old house?

Howard Fischer: At this point that's what they say. Of course governors Jeremy mentioned went to the fire did go to a chamber event. Depending if Donald opens his mouth between say now bees and, oh, tomorrow afternoon he may find it easy to visit the fire again. This governor is fairly careful with his words. He's watching and while he said I will support the party nominee even before he knew it was trump, but I have a feeling there's a gritting of the teeth going on there saying this is really what I want to be doing. It will be interesting to see with the Donald there and maybe the governor off to the side exactly how much the governor grim is as assuming he goes.

Jeremy Duda: You know, the two -- tomorrow with Donald Trump, private fund-raiser, one a big, well publicized rally. From the governor's perspective being cautious as he is probably better off being at the private fund-raiser than on stage at the veteran's memorial coliseum where he has to sidestep all the controversial statements that Trump has made. It's harder to do that when you're on stage and he's said something that will get in the national media.

Howard Fischer: I say he's going off script, he hasn't had a script. He's used the teleprompter twice, maybe three times.

Ted Simons: As far as the governor meeting Trump at Trump Tower what does the governor think of Trump's positions on everything from foreign policy to immigration to trade?

Jim Small: I'm sure we'll find out at some point. To be fair, I don't know it's entirely clear what the Republican nominee, if he has positions on any of those areas. We have seen throughout the last year of his campaign a number of changes in positions depending on where we're at in the campaign and what voters he's trying to appeal to. Governor Ducey is very concerned with the image, his image, with the state's image, making sure we don't have some of these pitfalls that land us in the funny pages or on the daily show. So I think it will be interesting to see what his reaction will be to specific policy proposals, especially things that might have a direct effect on Arizona.

Howard Fischer: I tried to get the governor to call following this speech, this little meeting, I wanted to find out did the governor say, excuse me, could you tone down the Mexico rhetoric, we have to live with these people. Nobody wants to call me back. I have a feeling this governor says he's our nominee, he's what we got and I'm going to back him.

Jeremy Duda: Remember governor Ducey is going to be not only pardon of Arizona's delegation he's going to be leading that delegation.

Ted Simons: There's still a delegation? [laughter]

Jeremy Duda: They are minus a few. We have had a number of folks, nine of the 58, including one alternate, who got bumped up because others resigned. Oh, they have something else to do, realize the responsibilities. One guy said my son's volleyball tournament, I can't make it. One a prominent Muslim reformer, a Congressman from California both explicitly said I refuse to vote for Donald Trump.

Ted Simons: Besides governor Ducey, will other big time state Republicans going to start showing up for this guy?

Howard Fischer: I think at some point they are stuck with governor Ducey says he's stuck with. It's Hillary or Donald, the lesser of two evils. You'll never hear the governor say it that way. Here's our nominee, Hillary would be four to eight more years of the Obama administration. They will rally around him. A lot of it depends what the latest headlines, what aha he said lately. Oh, my God, do I really have to back this man.

Ted Simons: Do you think we'll see more prominent Republican leaders at the rally and fund-raiser tomorrow night?

Jim Small: No, not the rally, but the fund-raiser more likely to be there or if not now, in a few months when trump comes back in the fall.

Ted Simons: That elections manual we talked about, this idea of having a manual for coworkers so they don't mess up at the polls, do it all the time. Every Secretary of State does it. This Secretary of State did not release an elections manual and someone wanted an investigation from the Attorney General's office. What did the office say?

Jeremy Duda: Unlike last time this happened this time Mark Byrnevich's office said we're not going to be doing an investigation. The statute Ute says you have to have this in place at least 30 days before each election. At least 90 days before each election. Secretary Reagan's office says it just has to be in place before the election. Other Secretary of States has not seen it that way. Plausible is the word. Has to be willful, knowing. I think it's worth remembering that the last time with the publicity and threats there's no remedy in law. Mark Byrnevich can talk about how terrible it was nothing you can do about it. This time there's a remedy that the complaint mentioned but that would lead to her removal from office. All or nothing. They chose -- the former.

Howard Fischer: He could have determined there wasn't a willful violation but I love that word at least plausible, which was the way he phrased it. I'm sorry, if I were doing a news story and saying to the camera, folks, this story is at least plausible, you would know exactly what to think of that.

Ted Simons: Charged with anything or suspected of anything. Plausible that you might have robbed the liquor store for this reason. What does that mean?

Jim Small: I think it means that -- I don't know. It means that clearly they thought that and the A.G.'s office believes to some degree that the Secretary of State's office was acting on a legal analysis that may or may not be something that's real.

Howard Fischer: I have a word for that. It has to do with cow manure. The reason is I think this is a woman who got rid of much of the senior staff up there. Had no idea about this requirement, had she saved some people over, got caught; oh, well; now it's too late. It's too late because normally you do this in odd numbered years. What were they doing in odd numbers year old? Her director was crafting ways to make it easier for dark money, oh; we were supposed to be doing this?

Ted Simons: Tom Ryan the attorney pushed for this investigation, the one the Attorney General's office did the action on. The statute mentions shall seven times.

Jeremy Duda: Shall. It says each election. Obviously the A.G.'s office -- we don't know if agreed with it. Thought it was plausible. Tom Ryan has put a target on Reagan's back but he's not going to pursue this any more for now. Looks like the ends of the issue. Look forward to a manual next year they say.

Howard Fischer: It will be interesting to see what occurs at the primary. We have so much that's gone wrong in terms of the lines and the ballot brochures, everything else. She's one of the people not going to the convention. She says I probably better stay here.

Ted Simons: That's probably a pretty good idea. Jim, the Corporation Commission is thinking of a code of ethics. Why?

Jim Small: Well, I don't know, they have been in the head lights the last couple of years. There's been a lot of turmoil at the Corporation Commission. People making accusations about who is in who's pocket, who is for sale, who is corrupted. The idea here I think put by Corporation Commissioner Tom Forese was let's create an official code of ethics that for Corporation Commissioners to follow and they would have to abide by in commission policy. I think it's probably more than a satisfy for a lot of bad headlines and some of the really nasty fights happening down there, a way to maybe inoculate themselves a little bit from some of the things that have been thrown.

Howard Fischer: Where were these commissioners when they were amending the law to help Andy Tobin over his problems with relatives? Nobody spoke up and said, no, we really need title 40, which the statute is dealing with the commission, we need strict construction. Let the legislature come in and pretty much gut that. Now, oh, we'll have a code of ethics, not a statute, a code.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask about that. Campaign finance, conflicts of interest, commissioners registered as lobbyists, ring a bell? Use of travel funds, able to censure fellow commissioners. Aren't these in statute anyway?

Jeremy Duda: A the love them are but with everything going on with the commission, the FBI investigation, it seems a code of ethics would be welcomed by a lot of members of the public and folks at the capitol. Ironically in trying to push this code forward commissioner Frese almost pushed the Corporation Commission to a violation of the open meetings law. It took extended back and forth of the commission's lawyer to get him to back off from that.

Howard Fischer: Here's the problem with the code. In a statute use there's a provision for enforcement. We saw how Susan Bitter-Smith was forced from office, she said incorrectly, but it does happen. A code of ethics, who enforces that. Who enforce it is? If you want to put the three of us together and force ethics I'll vote for that.

Ted Simons: Was there anything mentioned in the code regarding open meeting law?

Jim Small: Well, no, that's a law but that needs to be in the code of ethics.

Ted Simons: The last point. Why is Commissioner Forese doing this?

Jeremy Duda: The sheer amount of bad press, negative incidents. Questions hovering around the commission. More and more and more. We used to go years without talking about the Corporation Commission. Now it's every week.

Ted Simons: We used to have to explain what the Corporation Commission did. Now we have a clash between commissioners regarding battery storage and APS, which never seems too far from the action.

Howard Fischer: This is one of those fascinating things. APS is required to do something called demand side reduction, get people to use less. They use ratepayer money to do that. Rebates for programmable thermostats, things like that. Andy Tobin, the newest commissioner who doesn't have any history with them other than some used to serve at the legislature with them, said, wait a second, if the problem is demand side reduction and we're trying to cut peak usage because APS wants a demand charge so your bill is based on one appliance going on, I have an idea. Battery storage. If we're going to use solar, cut those peaks. Now, he made and amendment at the last minute. Little, the chairman of the commission said this is last minute, Arnold by the way, I probably would have pulled it anyway but APS asked me to pull it which led to Andy Tobin Epp accusing him of doing APS's bidding. Let's just say lots of hurt feelings.

Ted Simons: He said commissioner Tobin instead of picking fights he called it a fight club, sort of verbiage here, they were going at it. Snarky stuff.

Jim Small: Yeah. Well, I think some of that speaks to the bunker mentality going on at the Corporation Commission. Certainly sub missioner stump and -- still definitely have all been kind of painted as APS Stooges. People who are bought, their votes are bought. Everything is pre-ordained. That's obviously offensive to them on a lot of levels. Someone like Bob stump, he's been very out front about his feelings about the accusations and how much, A, he disagrees, and B, he thinks of the people that are making them. This was a reaction. Tobin saying the chairman is doing the bidding of the state's largest utility. He's in their pocket. Not in so many words. That was the implication. I think that was stump in a lot of ways defending his chairman and in some ways defending the process and the institution. Things are put forward, pulled back. It's not an uncommon thing to see.

Ted Simons: Jeremy, was this Tobin running for office saying I'll stand up to APS, vote for me?

Jeremy Duda: It couldn't hurt. APS, obviously going to be the big issue of the Corporation Commission election. As it is going to be for every one for decades to come. But in the short time he's been there he's clashed with his colleagues and staff over there a couple of times. Some of this might be learning the ropes. This is going to come back. It got tabled once. Doesn't mean it's gone forever. Quite the opposite. They have to vote on the annual plan. He could make this amendment again if he wants to.

Howard Fischer: You're right; it's the politics of this thing. Tobin is up for reelection. Bob burns is up for reelection, you have other folks running for the third. Bob Burns is trying to get APS to open up its books. What did you give perhaps to the free enterprise couple which just happened to line up with a couple million dollars to help Forese get elected? The simple term of dark money people say how did that money get there? APS has done itself no favors we're not going to confirm or deny we put money into this race.

Jeremy Duda: It's their right to do so.

Ted Simons: Does this help an Andy Tobin and his campaign?

Howard Fischer: It can't hurt. Andy was tainted by the whole thing changing the law. Curiously enough, the law was changed somehow she thought he would vote for solar because of his son-in-law being employed by solar. So Tobin needs to show he's independent. He's not beholden to anybody. When you're that far down, remember we have national race, we have a primary to survive and a corporation which is way down there and he needs to have name I.D.

Ted Simons: We have to stop it there. Good discussion. Thanks for joining us. Monday we'll talk about the increasing number of girls in stem education and careers. And we'll talk to the founder of child's play, specializing in theater for kids and families. Tuesday a debate on dark money in politics. Wednesday a look back at the history of the G.I. bill. Thursday we'll talk about cheaper, more accessible solar panels. Friday another edition of the "Journalists' Roundtable." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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

Jeremy Duda- Arizona Capitol Times, Howard Fischer- Capitol Media Services, Jim Small- Arizona Capitol Times

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