Journalists’ Roundtable 06/24/2016

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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" state lawmaker is indicted on charges of welfare fraud and a recent poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in Arizona. 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. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us Mary Joe Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Rachel Leingang of the Arizona Capitol Times, and Luige Del Puerto of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: A state lawmaker is indicted for her involvement in an alleged food stamp scam. Mary Jo, who is Representative Cecilia Velasquez.?

Mary Jo Pitzl: She is a first term lawmaker from the west valley, and earlier this week a grand jury handed up an indictment finding that the -- charging that she has committed about $1700 of fraud using a food stamp benefit.

Ted Simons: These are three charges here, fraudulent schemes and practices, lawful use of food stamps and theft. These are serious charges.

Rachel Leingang: Right, but it doesn't look like normally you would see a lawmaker getting northbound trouble. This is a small amount of money, seems like she's using this to help feed her family. She has five kids. $1700 over about two years. That doesn't seem like it goes that far. So I guess in the scheme of corruption you shouldn't be committing any crimes but it's not what you would expect to see from some sort of lawmaker being indicted.

Ted Simons: Indicted for doing wrong. Allegedly doing wrong. But not using her office to allegedly do wrong.

Luige del Puerto: I think Rachel hit a major point. This is not the usual case where we have a politician who uses his or her office to enrich himself. I could give you a couple examples. Richard Miranda spent time in federal prison because he was heading two nonprofits and had used those nonprofits' money to line his own pocket. We have Ben Arredondo, another democratic lawmaker, was sentenced to if I'm not mistaken to community service, was accused in this FBI sting after -- giant FBI sting for accepting $6,000 worth of game tickets in order to give two people who turned out to be FBI agents the inside track to a loaned deal. It's a unique, quite sort of extraordinary circumstance that Cecilia is facing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The story is growing. The House Minority Leader Eric Meyer has called on her to resign saying to stay in office and seek reelection is a distraction. She has not responded. I think what's interesting is this is sparking a conversation about is this alleged crime -- is the punishment proportional to the crime. As Rachel pointed out this has been a two-year investigation. Apparently we now know to have a prosecution as well, all costs Bourne by the state. If you've done wrong using your snap benefits there should be a sanction but is a potential criminal sentence the right answer? Even repaying the amount in full, because presumably she doesn't have any money, is that the right kind of response?

Ted Simons: Is there some thought, 1700 some odd dollars over the course of two, three years of alleged food stamp fraud, Atlantis some conversation out there that this is too much, heavy handed here?

Rachel Leingang: Yes. To me it shows there's pervasiveness of poverty, somebody is in the state legislature, they get paid meagerly, and she's not able to make enough on her salary. She is on food stamps and using more than allotted. It seems like the three felonies, it just seems like the crime doesn't necessarily fit the punishment in this case.

Luige del Puerto: Right. I did mention earlier this is not a case about a person who uses the powers of her office to enrich herself. This happened before and outside of the state legislature. There's another case, of course, that Mark Brnovich's office is investigating involving a bigger amount of money, David Gowan, speaker of the house, accused of -- allegedly using his office as a lawmaker to -- let me back track. We pay the state $12,000 and they paid the state because he admitted to number one asking for travel reimbursements when he shouldn't be reimburse too, gale daily allowances for days that he wasn't actually working. I'm also interested in what's going to happen to that case because as we mentioned earlier, CECE's case is different, doesn't go public corruption. Here's another case public corruption if that is true.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Gowan is sort of explained by saying it was a woopsie. His assistant filed the -- thought he was traveling on state business, filed the report when this assistant should not have. We don't know representative Velasquez's side of the story yet. We have to get documents, wait for comment from here. It's soon to rush to judgment but luge raises a good point. $12,000 of state money clearly misspent. 1700 that a grand jury says has been misused. I think we need to know more about this.

Luige del Puerto: Gowan repaid that money.

Ted Simons: We should also add that again the Attorney General is still looking at David Gowan's actions.

Rachel Leingang: Gowan asked for this investigation himself. We don't know if the amount ofG. was investigating ahead of that or if Gowan jumped the gun, said, hey, investigate me.

Ted Simons: Velasquez says this is a political witch-hunt. Do we know who is behind it?

Rachel Leingang: Certainly Tim Jeffries, director of the department of economic security, who handed this down, said long that he has been investigating all of these crimes of defrauding the poor is reprehensible. There have been larger dollar amounts. This is smaller but every time there is one he sends out a press release. This is something he has made a big deal about in his agency.

Ted Simons: Was he even there when this --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not when it started. Jeffries didn't come along. You turn to who are her political opponents and that was a contested race in 2014. She had some problems that came to light even then. She has -- there's a contested primary again in district 29 but where that came from I really don't know.

Ted Simons: When she was campaigning and won the election, she was driving on suspended license, driving without insurance, she had 2,000 in unpaid court fines. She had those problems to begin with, now these problems, which is probably why the democratic leadership is suggesting to please move along. It's Les Miserables a little bit.

Luige del Puerto: Sparking conversations about the pervasiveness of poverty. What struck me is we have a lawmaker who clearly was in poverty, had a difficult life. As you mentioned, she was on the run from the law. There was a warrant out for her arrest last year. But we now have an camp -- whenever you talk about poverty in the state legislature it's a favorite by many, but we have someone receiving food stamps. Somebody in the legislature who knows exactly what it's like to be poor.

Ted Simons: It seems like democratic lawmakers in the past few years, Miranda, Arredondo, now curiosities regarding Velasquez. What's going on?

Rachel Leingang: I don't have a grand conspiracy for what's going on. I don't know if they are tied together in any way. Probably not. Certainly the public corruption cases, in this case, they don't have a lot of parallels.

Ted Simons: No coincidence at all or --

Luige del Puerto: They are not related.

Ted Simons: Do we make anything out of this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think politically people will. The common thread I see is that they are all Democrats. Actually I think Arredondo's offenses happened when he was on the Tempe city council. I can't remember if he had been a Republican --

Luige del Puerto: He switched to Democrat.

Ted Simons: Speaking of that particular line of thought, we have a candidate who I guess she probably was a candidate. I'm not sure she was registered. Her husband was registered as a Democrat. She wants to succeed her husband in state Senate because her husband is going to run for Congress. She can't get enough nominating petitions?

Rachel Leingang: She announced really late, less than a week before the filing deadline. She wants your vote but she didn't have enough signatures then. She doesn't have enough signatures now. As of now she's kicked off the ballot.

Ted Simons: This was a challenge by Democrats.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. Because they felt burned when her husband's Carlisle Begay, elected -- appointed to the legislature to fill a democratic vacancy, then very conveniently before the next election he reregistered as a Republican, said that is where his heart really is. No, he only registered as a Republican after he won election in his own right as a Democrat. Then he did the party switch. He's testified he's going to run for Congress this time as a Republican so in steps his wife. What was interesting about the court hearing this morning, not only did the judge find she only had about 40% of needed signatures, but she decided you can't run as a write-in. That's part of state law, but she awarded attorney's fees to the Democrats because of the time and effort taken apparently there had been a lot of effort spent in the last week or so to find out is she going to be here, is she going to come down from the reservation for the state hearing? She assured officials she would be. She didn't show up. Called the whole thing a big waste of time.

Ted Simons: Basically she lost her job earlier because she worked at a newspaper and the newspaper said by the way you can't run as a candidate and be our editor. Now she has to pay attorney's fees for the opposing side.

Luige del Puerto: The way I look at it it's a terrible loss for journalists. She did a very good job as editor of the Navajo times. Spoke with this publisher couple months ago, he was really impressed with her job. She was forced to resign because the publisher found out like the day before that she was running as a Republican, and then read about it I think in the republic the day after. Had a conversation with her, she was forced out.

Ted Simons: Might be a good editor but journalist judgment wasn't the best.

Rachel Leingang: Certainly ego bruising. She announces it in this big way, she is succeeding her husband, novel, and then it fizzles.

Ted Simons: Sounds like the Republicans' plans for maybe picking up a seat in the state legislature there not -- is there another Republican running in that race?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not a Republican. I heard one of the democratic candidates whose last name is Begay, I don't know if he is related, that he might be of a mind, Carlisle Begay.

Luige del Puerto: That race has always been as soon as firm Carlisle announced he was becoming a Republican, now that he's not running for that seat it always was iffy for the Republican party whether they could hold on to that seat. This is a heavily democratic district. The thinking has always been even with the Democrats will regain the seat.

Ted Simons: We have a poll. A lot of polls here from now on. Statewide poll from the Phoenix based predicted insights -- I don't know who they are. They have Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by four percentage points in red state Arizona. What's going on here?

Rachel Leingang: Well, this election is entirely impossible to predict. The polling has always reflected that. It seems like it's here, there, everywhere at any given time. But it would be very surprising for Arizona to go blue the last time that happened was when Bill Clinton ran against Bob Dole. It's very rare. Has not happened in the past six decades but trump is rare as a candidate. Anything is possible.

Ted Simons: Maricopa County a virtual tie, Pima County not a virtual tie.

Luige del Puerto: No running way, way ahead in Pima County according to the poll. Rural Donald Trump is winning by a huge margin. A lot of people will be surprised if Hillary Clinton wins in Arizona but there are some who think it's possible. It's not impossible. It's plausible. The reason for that is for the myriads of reasons why people don't like Donald Trump. He's not -- his popularity rating is really low. He's not very popular with nonwhite voters. He's known to say a whole lot of things that embarrass his campaign and his party. That's probably an understatement. There are as you know Arizona has a huge Mormon population and Donald Trump has always had a hard time getting the Mormon vote. He lost in Utah during the presidential primary here in March. We were looking at the counties with heavier LDS Mormon population and Donald Trump didn't do so well there.

Ted Simons: He's not helping himself saying Mitt Romney is not a real Mormon.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know if that translates into votes for Clinton or if those people just might skip the race. It's so early. So much we'll be barraged with over the next couple of months.

Ted Simons: Clinton leads Trump by 12 points among women.

Rachel Leingang: He has had a lot of comments about women.

Ted Simons: That's going to be hard. Long and winding road to November but that's hard to make up.

Rachel Leingang: Another interesting thing happened this week, he said he buy it is that Arizona could be a swing state.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think who was it, somebody just changed Arizona in the presidential race to leans Republican as opposed to likely Republican, which is moving it a little more toward the center.

Luige del Puerto: Quite interesting because national view of Arizona is that it's a state that is in play. You see it in politico, the hill, national publications. They think Arizona could be in play. The view here, however, from the local pundits if you will, no, it's not going to happen. In order for Hillary Clinton to win in Arizona, the so-called Hispanic vote has to show, has to turn out to vote, and we really haven't seen that one yet.

Ted Simons: That brings us to our next segment, the Supreme Court deadlocking on immigration. Still recent news here. Is that the kind of story that the president's deferred action plan regarding parents of American kids, but they are undocumented, so the parents trying to get an executive order on this line, Arizona among many states saying that's unconstitutional, president overstepped his authority. Supreme Court deadlocked so they go with the lower court which says, yes. All that being said, does that bring out the Latino vote?

Rachel Leingang: It could. The reason it's deadlocked is there a nominee sitting there they won't take up. There could be presidential campaign implications, people probably want to see some sort of action. Deadlocked vote you don't get any legal reasoning. No precedent. Missed opportunity to have either way some sort of judicial input on these big policy changes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think one of the drum beats underpinning the presidential race, think of the Supreme Court. Think of what whoever will win, think about what that will mean for the Supreme Court in this case it shows what happens when you've got a Congress which has blocked and denied the democratic president his Supreme Court pick. I think that could play in. But we hear this every cycle that the Latino vote will rise up.

Ted Simons: Everyone has talked about the Latino vote will it rise up, but you're also talking about conservative second amendment people will say if this means one, maybe two Clarence Thomass making noises about stepping down here, if this means two Supreme Court justice appointments, maybe they do show up for Donald Trump, hold their nose and vote.

Luige del Puerto: Right. The folks who haven't really showed up, the voters, are they going to show up to vote for Donald Trump? Those questions we can't predict what's going to happen. But you're right, there are groups that are looking to this presidential race and saying this is at the end of the day about the Supreme Court. That's where all these laws are contested or decided. The Supreme Court decides whether we'll have same-sex marriage or whatever it is that will come up next. So for those groups, they are certainly looking to this race saying if a Democrat is going to be elected or a Republican, what kinds of justices will they appoint?

Rachel Leingang: Not exactly a sexy thing to talk about on the campaign trail. While it's absolutely true I'm not sure how much that will affect voter turnout. We don't want to talk that much about justices. Bunch of people on the bench, whatever they do, things that happen in the daily news cycle tends to be more bombastic.

Mary Jo Pitzl: In the case of this immigration case, though, I think that brings it home depending where you land on the DOPA issue it shows how important the Supreme Court is to the fate of that program.

Luige del Puerto: Not only that, it's not just about the turnout, it's about supportive troops traditionally leaning Republican. Are they going to tell their members, go out and vote for Donald Trump? Big example, evangelical Christian voters. Donald Trump is courting them aggressively. We know for example that there are evangelical Christian organizations that look at Donald Trump and say he just can't represent us, but at the same time those groups are also concerned about Hillary Clinton appointing the next justices. So yeah, it's not just about turnout, it's a whole set of issues that could come up as a result of who gets to appoint the next justices.

Ted Simons: We got a lawsuit challenging nonwage compensation involving 2579, this particular law. Council members from Tempe, Tucson, Flagstaff, state representatives and Senators as well. What's this about?

Rachel Leingang: There was a state law passed this session as part of the whole spate of anti-local control that tamped down the cities for overrunning, of all things, that says local governments don't have to provide paid time off to their employees. A lot of local governments are saying we want to have the right to say it. We want to be able to consider those things locally.

Ted Simons: This is a surprise that all these folks are piling on here, and considering what the Attorney General said regarding previous decisions, somewhat similar in vein, what's going to happen here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: They are pointing to a precedent that they think will under pin their case. It's the push-back. They have had enough of the legislature meddling. These involves charter cities with their own independent charter and are supposed to be free from the legislature telling them everything that they must or must not do.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Luige del Puerto: This is not a surprise at all. We expected the cities to go challenge this law as they have challenged other laws in the past that tend to do sort of tell them or order them, if you will, how to do things.

Ted Simons: Haven't got too much time left. We may talk more about this next week. This Brexit, U.K. leaving the E.U., stock markets takes a big 166 points down for the Dow, down, big losses around the world. What about prop 123, based a lot on investment?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is how Brexit affects prop 123. The state is scheduled to give $191 million to the schools. That comes from the state land trust. The state land trust -- I think 60% equity in the stock market. They have to liquidate some of that stock to raise that big chunk of cash. Now, the treasurer's office has been doing this in weekly stages so they are not taking one big hit all at once. They made some savings earlier this month but now with the stock market down, we'll see what happens on Monday, this could -- we'll see how long the down market persists, it could put the state in a hole in terms of trying to make sure that it can cover the cost of the 6.9% annual a withdrawal from the land trust and not hurt the body of the land trust.

Ted Simons: That 6.9% withdrawal doesn't look that hot any more. Does it look all that stable?

Rachel Leingang: I don't know. This Brexit thing has so many implications we probably won't know for years how it will affect finances, how it will affect world economics. There are all sorts of things thrown up in the air from this unexpected leave the European Union.

Luige del Puerto: One of the arguments against prop 123 is assuming that you'll get 6.9% every single year for the next nine years --

Mary Jo Pitzl: For an average.

Luige del Puerto: People have always said it's impossible to predict what will happen to the stock market. As we know, who would have known -- would say, we're exiting the European Union.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The voters have spoken. They want a higher withdrawal from the land trust. We'll see what plays out after ten years.

Ted Simons: Hopefully we'll talk about it next week. Thank for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday we'll speak with the authors of a new book on the history of policing immigrants. We'll learn more about the historic Grand Canyon watchtower. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon."

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

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

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