Journalists’ Roundtable

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

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, a federal judge appears ready to refer a criminal indictment against sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Ted Simons: And the secretary of state's handling of last month's special election is now the focus of a special investigator. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight: Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times. Bob Christie of The Associated Press. And Mike Sunnucks of The Phoenix Business Journal.

Ted Simons: Federal judge Murray Snow appears to be ready to refer criminal charges against sheriff Joe Arpaio. I say appears to be, Jeremy, because the hearing this week, some folks thought he might do it now, get the criminal investigation underway. Didn't happen.

Jeremy Duda: It didn't happen. This is still under consideration, this started actually a couple of weeks ago when they found Arpaio in contempt which I think was kind of anticlimactic, we saw that coming but the criminal charges, this is really going to come down to it and what this is going to ultimately come down to is were these violations by Arpaio intentional or unintentional? Arpaio has always argued unintentional, the orders from judge Snow were kind of confusing, he didn't understand them, but ultimately if it's civil, there's things they can do for civil contempt you can't do to Arpaio and the judge noted this, especially as some of these folks could lose their jobs and obviously, you can't do that to an elected official.

Ted Simons: Exactly. If there were hints from the judge, the hints seemed to be yes, something criminal will be coming.

Bob Christie: Right. In his written ruling that came out a couple of weeks ago and on the bench he said the word intentional repeatedly and as Jeremy said, intentional is the test. When you intentionally defy a federal judge, or a state judge for that matter, there's potential criminal penalties involved and the judge, it may be weeks, this has dragged on for years on the civil contempt alone, it may be weeks, it may be more than a month, maybe a little longer before the judge comes back and issues his decision as to whether he should refer it for criminal contempt to the U.S. attorney's office who would then make the decision.

Mike Sunnucks: It's been kind of like a poker game all along between Arpaio and his opponents and the feds in this and Jeremy is right. The civil contempt ruling wasn't a surprise. I think a lot of folks are kind of immune to all of this. We've seen these stories for a long time. But if you have criminal charges, if you have a criminal referral, if you have an indictment, whatever step it is, that does step up, that's a bigger bet by the anti-arpaio folks because we're talking about defying a judge, perjury, obstruction of justice, that starts to get the public, they might perk up a little bit.

Ted Simons: We should mention the criminal referral that the judge was kind of talking about, he did a couple of MCSO personnel, he did kind of let them off the hook. They didn't need to be worried about this. Neither one of those folks were sheriff Arpaio and the chief deputy.

Jeremy Duda: Those were the two, not the only two.

Ted Simons: One other.

Jeremy Duda: And the judge suggested Arpaio's attorney find some counsel of her own. So there's other folks not let off the hook here.

Ted Simons: Is it possible and we've often wondered about this. Could there be something underneath the surface, back channel negotiations with the sheriff where they could say we're going criminal, we're going to refer this unless you step down for health reasons or any reason you want to give, you step down and we'll keep this at the civil level. Is that possible?

Bob Christie: I don't think that the -- this level with the federal judge, I think that's highly unlikely. The federal judges don't enter into those types of negotiations. That's for prosecutors and defense attorneys. I think what we're likely to see in the next few weeks is judge Snow to make his decision as to whether it should be referred for criminal charges, then the U.S. attorney has it in his or her, on their desk, and that is where those type of back door negotiations would occur. That would happen after the criminal referral where the judge says I believe there's probable cause for criminal action, justice department, take a peek at it.

Mike Sunnucks: I think that's the end game for a lot of anti-arpaio folks, they would like to see him out of office and it doesn't look like he's not going to be reelected if he's running so they would hope for that but I don't think he's politically weak enough for them to play that hand and for him to go to that and also, you've got Donald Trump out there who looks and acts a lot like sheriff joe and I think that has helped him politically as he looks for another term and so I think that's the -- getting him out of office and cutting a deal is certainly what some of the anti-arpaio folks would politically like but I don't think the sheriff is ready for that.

Jeremy Duda: This is the third or fourth re-election in a row where we said Joe Arpaio has never been this vulnerable going into re-election and it's always been true but whether for the anti-arpaio folks whether that's going to actually be enough, the primary it seems like his main challenger is dan sabin, doesn't pose much of a threat, general election, slightly different dynamics, we have the Democrat who ran against him four years ago who put up a pretty good fight, I think he lost by seven points or so, pretty substantial margin of victory for Arpaio but lower than we saw in his re-elections and if there are criminal contempt charges, that could make a difference but Arpaio has always been such a survivor in politics.

Bob Christie: And on a civil contempt side, the hearing this week, you know, the judge essentially told the sheriff that hey, not only have you not been following my orders but B. your internal affairs investigations are worthless, I am considering taking over those, reopening the ones that have already been closed, potentially opening more and I'm going to take your veto power away for discipline so basically, he's putting -- he's strongly signaling that the next step he's going to do is A., hold more contempt hearings and B. take a lot of Arpaio's power over his internal policies away, regardless of whether it goes away.

Jeremy Duda: And I think they're willing to concede some of these things, restitutions for folks who are illegally detained but there's dispute over exactly how far this is going to go, including discipline terminations, reminds you of the college sports teams finding an infraction, impose some of their own penalties before NCAA gets to them. Very tight.

Mike Sunnucks: Politically we have a really tough timeline. If a certain person wins the White House in November, that changes the ballgame in terms of the justice department's approach to things and I do think the Trump factor is there. You see Trump going after this judge in California, some parallels to some of the criticisms the Arpaio camp has said of the judge in this case, and I think if Trump was not the nominee, we would be talking very different dynamics politically but you don't have a strong primary opponent, that's where you knock Arpaio out probably in Maricopa county. It's very hard for a Democrat to still win here kind of in a law and order type race.

Ted Simons: All right. Independent counsel named regarding an investigation of secretary of state Reagan. Interesting. Attorney general basically says someone else is going to take care of this?

Bob Christie: Well, the attorney general who has -- who came out when it -- when it came known that the secretary had not sent out more than 200,000 voter pamphlets, kept it secret for a couple of weeks and he was given a request to block the results of the election because of that failure, he said I'm not going to do that. However, this appears to break the law that you didn't send these out but at this point, he's conflicted, right? He is an elected official investigating another elected official so he's reached out to a retired federal prosecutor to do an independent investigation of whether that was actually illegal which Brnovich has said he believes it was and why it was kept secret for two or three weeks, whether that was intentional, whether that was just ineptitude, whether it was just a mistake.

Ted Simons: Why was it kept secret for so long? What was that all about?

Jeremy Duda: Well, the secretary of state's office has always said we wanted to focus on fixing the problem. We didn't see a need to, you know, hold a press conference, put out an announcement. We wanted to fix the problem. Now, I don't know why you couldn't have done both at the same time. Start fixing the problem and let folks know hey, by the way if you didn't get -- we didn't send all these out, they blamed it on vendor error, they could just say that and do that while you're fixing the problems, the old maxim in journalism that the coverup is worse than the crime and this is really about Reagan getting dinged more than anything, the fact that they didn't say anything about this for two weeks after county election officials started calling and saying hey, people aren't getting the pamphlets.

Ted Simons: And the fact that the election was so close has a lot of people saying this really could have played a factor into the results.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, if you compare to the primary, the presidential primary we had these long lines, neither of those races were close so it wasn't like people thought Bernie Sanders won, those weren't close. People can easily make that kind of jump that boy, if a few more people had received those things, maybe it would be a different outcome and it's interesting on the political part is attorney generals and secretary of states often run against each other for governor and Senate. That's why you see Brnovich picking a very veteran prosecutor.

Ted Simons: The emphasis is on the word prosecutor.

Bob Christie: Correct and this is a gentleman who has more than 20 years of federal prosecutor experience, he's invested -- investigated white-collar crime and national security issues, he's well versed in detailed investigations and the attorney general has confidence that he'll get to the bottom of this and be fair.

Ted Simons: Reaction from the secretary of state's office on this announcement and the investigation in general?

Jeremy Duda: Oh, they're willing to talk with the prosecutor, you know. They're willing to comply, obviously. They still stand by their statements that, you know, this wasn't our fault, this was I.B.M., the vendor, they put out a 100 page report on this. What will be interesting to see out of this is I don't know what law there is out there that you can hit Reagan on that would require her to make a public statement. The law is politics and common sense.

Ted Simons: Wasn't that Brnovich's argument in the first place? There's no statute violation.

Bob Christie: There's a statute that says, you have to send out the guides but there's no penalty that says if you don't, you go to jail or it's a civil crime or civil issue. None of that exists. So I'm not sure where we're going to get out of this other than, you know, a report that says the same thing that Brnovich said in the first place.

Jeremy Duda: Fodder for a future attack ad.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a when did you know it type of thing and how did you handle that and why did you handle that in a certain way and why the delays? It does feel, even though the prosecutor is a professional prosecutor it does feel like there's some more political and P.R. dynamics to this.

Ted Simons: And the secretary of state, now, we have something else regarding signatures, qualifying for yet another concern coming out of that office?

Jeremy Duda: And another issue where people are asking well why didn't you say something when you found out about this? There's a couple of issues. One was that they had the wrong form, just for I think for a few days there saying the wrong form for people who want to run for precinct committee, the local voting members of the legislative district Republican and Democrat organizations. And then there was a revision in the number of signatures they said everyone would need to qualify for the ballot and this could have some impact potentially because the secretary of state's office is saying this is a very small amount. Some of these folks you look at how many signatures they turned in don't have much of a cushion and this is, of course, a biennial tradition where the second these petitions and signatures get turned in, political opponents say who can we challenge, who can we knock ballot and one of the first things they're going to look at is do you have invalid signatures?

Bob Christie: Regardless for Michelle Reagan, it's a violation of P.R. 101. If you make a mistake as a elected official and you want to minimize the damage, what you do is you go out on the steps, you call the reporters, you say this is what happened, this is what we're doing to fix it, this is why it will never happen again and that hasn't happened at the secretary of state's office.

Jeremy Duda: And coming after they had already been criticized so much for not telling people about the pamphlets issue, you wonder why you wouldn't feel the need to come out and say well this time we're going to let people know ahead of time. We're not going to wait for a news report.

Ted Simons: What is going on at the secretary of state's office? What's going on over there?

Bob Christie: There's a lot of talk that a lot of the turnover that happened after Michelle Reagan came in, a lot of the old steady hands which were nonpolitical under ken Bennett and previous secretaries of state had been replaced. We have people who are inexperienced, we have people who are elections director with a more political tune to him rather than a straight down the middle I'm running the elections. Her elections director rewrote all the election laws for the state this year in the legislature. He wrote the new laws.

Ted Simons: It seems like a lot of politicization.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a lot of scrutiny after what happened with the presidential primary and the cutting of the polling stations and the lines. I think their ears are up and paying attention to what's going on. You have these inside baseball things that go on with the signatures and stuff. Everybody is paying attention to that, disputes with the vendor, is that really a big story? It is now because you've had kind of a cascade of these types of problems.

Jeremy Duda: What you're seeing with the rewriting of all the campaign finance, the secretary of state's office always has felt they want to run the world of campaign changes. Things have to be done, things have to be changed but I don't know that we've ever seen anything quite like this and sometimes, it seems like a policy shop being run out of what's usually a pretty quiet office at the secretary of state's shop.

Ted Simons: Is that going to change do you think after all these problems, these errors?

Bob Christie: I don't think so. I mean, there's no sign that Michelle Reagan thinks that the direction she's going either as a politician or secretary of state is incorrect. She hasn't replaced any staff. There's no sign of that. So until we see some evidence that she thinks that, there's no reason for us to assume it I don't think.

Mike Sunnucks: It's an interesting contrast because if you look at the governor, very careful, very disciplined in message, hasn't stepped in a lot of things. Conversely a less high profile secretary of state position, a lot of controversy, stepping into a lot of problems.

Ted Simons: Or just making errors, not doing the job correctly. It's not even a grand, you know, scheme or some sort of pyramid thing.

Bob Christie: It's a ministerial job, it's running the elections, making sure that the pamphlets go out on time and that the forms put online are accurate and if you can't do that job then why are you here?

Mike Sunnucks: I think Jeremy is right, the dark money has raised the profile of the position and the position that the legislature and Reagan have taken on some of those controversial issues, it's raised things up and once you had all the debacle with the polling stations, that really raised things more, what's going on here?

Jeremy Duda: And I think because of the dark money thing, Reagan has more enemies probably than your past several secretaries of state. This is such a contentious issue that's come to the fore over the last few years and Reagan really changed positions on this going back from a couple of years ago when she was running legislation to stop this and said we can't do anything, and now she has an office that's very pro-dark money, that's invited a lot of criticism from the left.

Ted Simons: And a lot of attention as well because secretaries of state in Arizona often move upstairs.

Bob Christie: Jan brewer was a secretary of state and we had other instances of that happening. So you know, she's essentially the lieutenant governor of the state, if Doug Ducey decides that he wants to run for a bigger office, or if he, you know -- something happens to him for any other reason she's next in line.

Mike Sunnucks: And she does have a lot of political rivals because the last cycle a lot of Democrats, a lot of folks thought terry Goddard was going to win that race and Republicans swept and her and Diane Douglas were the two surprises and she won pretty easily. So I think you see folks looking at her politically as a target but somebody to pay attention to.

Ted Simons: We've got a lawsuit requesting judicial oversight over Arizona's elections process in general. What's this all about?

Jeremy Duda: This is the third lawsuit stemming from the presidential primary fiasco. I think the second demanding judicial oversight. this one is in state court. They're laying the blame at the feet of Helen Purcell and also secretary of state Reagan but they want, at least for the next few cycles, they want the courts to have oversight over the plans, the number of polling places, all the things that went wrong on March 22nd when the lines stretched for four or five, six hours.

Ted Simons: A couple of people who were in some of those lines are the plaintiffs here.

Bob Christie: One was a disabled woman who had to take the vehicle that you call to bring, you get two hour window to use the vehicle, they brought her to the poll, she got out, there was a line that was four hours, her car had to take her home without voting. Another woman who just couldn't put in the four hours. So here's the issue. The issue that both the federal lawsuit and state lawsuit bring up without asking the judge to rule on it is that the U.S. Supreme Court got rid of justice department preclearance for changes to Arizona election laws and voting methods and if that hadn't happened, we wouldn't be here. Judge, this is why we need it. Take oversight.

Jeremy Duda: What I'm kind of surprised that we haven't seen yet is in response to that Supreme Court ruling that got rid of preclearance is when that was in place, states and counties and other jurisdictions used to be able to get a bailout, there's also something that allows for a bail-in and you can file suit to demand that the justice department put you back in under those guidelines and I'm surprised given the number of just lawsuits that have focused really heavily on that that we haven't seen that yet.

Bob Christie: Or you can just say voluntarily can you send a team out, review our procedures, make sure that they past muster and give us an advisory opinion? I don't think the justice department would disagree with doing that, even without something formal.

Mike Sunnucks: Lawyers committee on civil rights, a lot of civil rights lawsuits over years, folks on the right will say there's a lot of liberal money behind it and they're seeing this as an opportunity to challenge that Supreme Court ruling and bring some oversight back in Arizona.

Jeremy Duda: This lawsuit is actually a bit less far reaching than the federal one. They're seeking the same thing, this one under state law, the other one under federal law, but the federal one is also looking to get rid of the ban on quote/unquote ballot harvesting, they want changes to the way counties handle provisional ballots.

Ted Simons: The first one was dismissed in federal court corrected?

Jeremy Duda: The second one.

Ted Simons: Second one?

Bob Christie: The first one challenged the outcome of the election, that was in state court by a Tucson guy who said the whole thing should be thrown out, we should new elections. The federal lawsuit filed by Democrats is waiting for its first hearing in a month or so and we'll start the ball rolling on that.

Ted Simons: Okay. Before we go, Carlisle begay changes party from Democrat to Republican, decides not only after doing that, he's going to run for Congress, and now his wife says I'm going to run for my husband's seat. This is the power couple in the making here.

Jeremy Duda: Potentially. I don't know how many people think that either of their odds coming up this year are very good but Kandice is running for the Senate seat that Carlisle is vacating, running as a Republican. Now what's important to remember, this is an overwhelmingly democratic district. On the house races in the district the Republicans aren't even running candidates. And she's running as a Republican. A lot of Republicans were hoping that if anyone could take that seat for the Republican party it would be Carlisle who's already in there, well known, switched his party. Now that he's leaving to pursue a congressional run, the odds are obviously I think very much against his wife or any other Republican for that matter.

Bob Christie: And you need someone who was known in the Navajo nation community, who has the name I.D. that Carlisle has and she was the editor of a newspaper up in the Navajo nation, as soon as it was determined by the publisher that holy cow my editor is running for political office, she's no longer working there.

Ted Simons: But that was a confusing story in and of itself. Didn't she realize that as an editor of the paper it's a little bit of a conflict here if you're going to be a politician, too?

Mike Sunnucks: We'll go back to college again with journalism 101 and that's the first thing you learn. You can't run for office and cover the election.

And the Navajo times has a lot of influence, they do a lot of community service type stories up there, like you guys said the name is big up there but it's an uphill climb. That's the reason Ann Kirkpatrick is in Congress, that's the reason she's running against McCain is because she got big votes from the Navajos up there.

Ted Simons: Recent converts seem to be the most zealous as they make the switch. It sounds like both, Republican party is it. I mean, this reflects our values, our history, they are full throated Republicans.

Jeremy Duda: And that was a great message for the Republican party. This young up-and-coming lawmaker was reevaluating the Republican party fits my values, they took a state Senate seat that the Republicans never would have dreamed of taking, a huge get and that's a big loss for him to actually leave and run in the Republican primary for CD 1 which most observers expect him to lose.

Bob Christie: He might have a chance. It's very interesting because there's multiple candidates, the Navajo nation is a big bloc of voters, there's going to be multiple Republicans running and if he can get a big bloc of Navajo nation support, he's friends with Andy Biggs down in the south part of the district, he might with all the split, he may pull it off who knows.

Jeremy Duda: You need people who are voting in the Republican primary and the way the voter registration numbers are in the Navajo nation skews so heavily in favor of the Democrats, I would be out there trying to get people to switch their registration and get into that Republican primary.

Mike Sunnucks: I mean, the story is like you said fits that big tent narrative that the GOP has wanted for so long. That narrative has eroded a bit with the presidential race. I'm not so sure that's a priority right now.

Ted Simons: It always comes back to Trump for you. It does make a difference as far as you're concerned.

Mike Sunnucks: The guys are right, the district is so spread out geographically that you could see somebody from one pocket surprisingly carry in a crowded race. It's going to be tough.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll take a look at new state laws affecting Arizona businesses.

Ted Simons: And on the anniversary of D-Day, we'll meet an Arizona veteran and highest ranking survivor of the Normandy invasion. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday, we'll get a fiscal year-end update on the state's finances. Wednesday, learn about efforts to recruit more foster parents. Thursday, we talk with the new director of the Arizona opera. And Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists' Ted Simons: Roundtable. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You 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.


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