Journalists’ Roundtable Year in Review

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Host Jose Cardenas, along with Elvia Diaz of the Arizona Republic, Dennis Welch of the Arizona Guardian, and independent journalist Valeria Fernandez look back at stories, issues, and people who made news in 2009.

José Cárdenas:
Good evening, thanks for joining us. This is our annual year-in-review show. Welcome all to "Horizonte." As I've said in the past. This is my favorite show. Gives us a chance to catch up with what's happened and this year what we end with is the same thing we ended with last year. Last year you were on the show and we talked about the fact that supervisor Don Stapley had been indicted and the sheriff and Andrew Thomas were going after him. What's going on there? The bigger news is Mary Rose Wilcox.

Elvia Diaz:
Exactly the same thing involving the same people a year ago. The same hyper-file folks. Stapley obviously was indicted a year ago. Now supervisor Mary rose Wilcox facing indictment as well this week. Essentially she's been accused of getting some personal loans by a Hispanic agency and then turning around and loaning the county supervisor, to provide funding in the forms of grant. But keep in mind that she is one of the critics of Thomas, who is actually bringing the indictments against her and against Stapley. It's amazing to me that we're still talking about the same people, the same kind of maneuvering, when you have an entire county, the top officials fighting each other.

José Cárdenas:
And Valeria, one of the things that supervisor Wilcox has been a critic of is immigration. We're going to talk about that later but do you see a connection between the most recent indictment and those criticisms?

Valeria Fernandez:
She's been one of the most outspoken critics. I think it's something that's expected in a way that something was going to happen. He's being -- it's been like a war of words, in a sense, between these two public speakers and I can't say whether or not the validity of the indictment. I can have a comment on it, but it's certainly no coincidence that she's been an outspoken critic of his immigration policy.

José Cárdenas:
And then supervisor Stapley, the indictment, the charges were later dismissed and there were new charges and this one seems to be a little different. Uglier, quite frankly.

Dennis Welch:
What they're alleging may be uglier, but how can you beat last year's headline when it says 118 criminal counts? I've been saying, we've been talking about déjà vu. All the counts were thrown out and want to go after this again, again with the same type of stuff. I don't know about the validity of all of this stuff. Why should you be questioning whether these charges should be valid. Because of all the shenanigans that's going on, it's a question of credibility and whether they have the credibility to go after these folks.

José Cárdenas:
Do you think its hurt Thomas and Arpaio more than the supervisors who got indicted?

Dennis Welch:
It certainly has the potential. For years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been incredibly popular. Easily winning the election with 65% and his polling numbers in the stratosphere -- being looked at a guy who is above the law.

José Cárdenas:
I want to come back to the popularity issue, there are some signs that that's starting to erode. But other aspects of the dispute between Arpaio and the supervisor's budget, among other things.

Elvia Diaz:
It's been a fight all over the place. Fighting about the budget and how much money the sheriff should get. They're fighting even about the money that's coming from the state that's been allocated from the state to the sheriff's office. But the county supervisors have the power to vote, to accept the money on his behalf. That's -- some have been don't give him the money. It's been allocated because we don't agree with what he's doing with the none money, in terms of the immigration sweeps. The crime sweeps. They're fighting over immigration, criminal indictment, the budget, you name it, they're fighting.

José Cárdenas:
And Valeria, things seem to have gotten to a new level with the announcement this week that Andrew has indicted a sitting superior court judge. What can you tell us about that?

Valeria Fernandez:
Well, I mean, it's no secret that Andrew Thomas has had an antagonistic relationship with the superior court for -- of since he took office and it's been a back and forth. I think it started a couple of years ago well, a judge that ruled on something related to immigration that his office didn't like and he filed a complaint against him and there was an investigation by the Arizona state bar, if I'm not wrong and back and forth and this is just a new chapter with this judge in relation to the charges against the deputy that took the documents from an attorney, if I'm not wrong. And I think a new chapter often wonder when does it stop? Because there's supposed to be a separation of powers. And who is going to be the mediator between these two powers who are fighting against each other?

José Cárdenas:
This makes the county attorney look even more vindictive because he's going after a sitting judge who has ruled against him in other matters?

Dennis Welch:
At this point, I don't think anyone looks better than anyone else. I was talking to a friend of mine; Nick Martin, who covers this on his blog. He goes home every night and says, Wow, that's incredible, there's no way we can top that. And wakes up, Wow, there's no way we can top that. It's been an incredible string of events. Indicting a sitting judge and accusing the Maricopa County court system of widespread corruption. What's that going to mean down the road?

José Cárdenas:
Going to the popularity issue we talked about, the incident, the deputy taking the document, and then finding him in contempt, has led observers, might say, to a -- sickouts by sheriff's deputies and delays in transporting prisoners to court. When you read the articles in "the republic" on that, they're negative to the sheriff. Did he cross the line here, or at least the perception?

Dennis Welch:
Like I said, if you read the blog, there's a difference between enforcing the law and people seeing you as being above the law and when you start -- being above the law. When you stop escorting people to their court date, you're messing with the system that you're sworn to uphold and I don't think voters are going to be pleased with that. When Joe is doing immigration, they're not as popular as they are with certain segments. Some say, go, Joe, but this is a different situation. He's blocking up and potentially doing harm to the justice system.

Elvia Diaz:
And I think they're also viewing him as going after their own people. He goes after undocumented illegals and, oh, yes, go for them. We went them out. But when he's working against his own system, I think that's when people begin to say, wait a minute, who is really going to protect us? We're talking about regular citizens. That's a problem for him. But I don't think it has hurt him that much anyway. I think it's a small segment of the population, but it's riding against him. Overwhelmingly, he's still popular.

Dennis Welch:
He's been around for a long time. People have made their minds up about him. They're so entrenched now. If the media goes after Joe, they're going after my guy, kind of thing. So it's going to be real hard to chisel away that popularity. But this has the potential to do that.

José Cárdenas:
With the exception of the times which has been -- there seems to be a change in tone. Your newspaper, editorial after editorial slamming the sheriff. The "New Yorker" last year did a piece. "The economist" did one more recently, and were critical. But now you have "the republic" and the Goldwater institute, saying rule of law, he writes further, in Maricopa County, they did several investigative reports, late last year, one in December. Mission unaccomplished. The misplaced -- and the unsolved crimes by the Maricopa County sheriff's office. You've got the chief on his way out of the valley, saying that the sheriff's office was committing malpractice in terms of dealing with real crime so there seems to be a groundswell. Maybe you can comment on this, that it doesn't make a difference with most people? That there's increasingly sharp attacks --

Valeria Fernandez:
Think it does make a difference. He has a really faithful group of followers of a certain age and that are going to continue to vote for him. So I think we will see a change, if he goes for re-election, which he says he will. Once you got a new of maybe younger voters and people coming from other states and hearing in the national press all of this information about -- you know, a number of things, because it's not just about immigration. The immigration issue is something that resonates with a particular group that are critical of Arpaio but when you talk about the lawsuits and the money, and the fact that there are crimes not being investigated, in many communities that affects everybody, then you get another group of people that start to get concerned because they see how it hits close to home. And so it's just like the number of things are increasing, the spectrum. And the Goldwater institute reports mission unaccomplished. It focuses about the job that the sheriff's office should be doing and it's not quite doing, just like "the East Valley Tribune" report that really inspired the Goldwater institute. That won the Pulitzer Prize.

Dennis Welch:
Having covered the sheriff for a number of years, their office was always particularly sensitive about issues. You wrote a story of them criticizing the immigration tactic, you didn't hear a lot from the office. But write a story about double dipping or fiscal irresponsibility or something like that, that's when your editors got the phone calls from the P.R. staff. They knew it was damaging to his image and his brand because the people who support him, they want a fiscally sound, well-run office and want that image.

José Cárdenas:
So acting against his own best interest asking for legal fees and anticipating -- suing the entities, asking for the money from the county board of supervisors.

Dennis Welch:
Very well could be. $7 million in legal fees, for what? You know.

José Cárdenas:
But what about the department of justice investigation announced last year, can you tell us what the current status is in.

Valeria Fernandez:
I can say it's ongoing and the question for everybody is for all the journalists is when is it going to be done? We know -- we've been talking to people in the community. And they've been interviewing potential victims of racial profiling and also physical abuse within the jail. Some allegations of that. They've been following that. The question is when are they going to make their next move and that could be subject to political reasons. Next year is an election year in congress. Next year is the year that the Obama administration is saying they want to tackle the immigration issue. I think when the investigation is ongoing and when we'll hear the results might depend on the political timing.

José Cárdenas:
Are you suggesting that because of the political considerations we won't hear anything until after November at the earliest?

Valeria Fernandez:
We may not.

Elvia Diaz:
We may not hear about it at all. They've been investigating this guy for a year. Unless they come back and say, stop it. They took way his power to arrest. And he doesn't care. He has -- turn around and say, stop me if you can. He went around and continued to do his crime sweeps and targeted undocumented immigrants and nothing has happened to him. It's almost ridiculous when he talk about the justice department investigating the sheriff when he doesn't seem to care. We haven't seen results.

Dennis Welch:
It sounds like an early prediction already. Next year, the thing will still be going on.

José Cárdenas:
Dennis, will we see an indictment of the sheriff next year?

Dennis Welch:
I don't think so. There's no way you're going to see an indictment on the sheriff's office.

José Cárdenas:
What about some reference to ice clipping the sheriff's wings with respect to 287G. And I'd like to get your thoughts.

Dennis Welch:
It doesn't matter. He's going to say, well, ok, so what? I'm going to do what I want to do and that we spoke earlier about his popularity. That plays to his base. It looks like he's taking on the big bad federal government.

Valeria Fernandez:
The fact that they took away that power to have 287G power, in the street. It didn't change anything. It was an opportunity for him to stand up. My point of view, very personal, if they truly wanted to do something about it, they should have taken away all of it. Especially in the jails, because there's some serious questions of how the immigration power has been used within Arpaio's jails. Some serious questions about that.

José Cárdenas:
Give us a few examples of those allegations.

Valeria Fernandez:
We talked last time I was here about the case of a woman who -- whose arm was allegedly broken while they were trying to force her to put her fingerprint in a document so they could remove her from the county. And there was the case of an employee sanctions raid. A landscaping company that continues to work for the sheriff's office. Doing the landscaping of the jail. So I mean, that's just some number of cases and we also heard in Utah, wrote a report about a pregnant woman and the treatment that she got just because, you know, she didn't pay a couple of tickets and she was undocumented.

Elvia Diaz:
José, you have both cases, and plenty more, similar specific cases with names and people talking. It amazes me that the justice department can't get to those cases and say, make a determination. Now they've created a specific phone line for people to call and see, you know, if they've been mistreated by the sheriff.

José Cárdenas:
Who's the "they" in this case?

Elvia Diaz:
The justice department.

Valeria Fernandez:
They made available a number so people can call and report instances of racial profiling or abuse. But I mean, the information is there. It's reported in several media outlets. All they need to do is grab it and make a couple of phone calls.

José Cárdenas:
We could spend several shows about sheriff Arpaio. Moving on to another topic. Part of the budget negotiations ended -- never-ending session. Included a provision with respect to benefits for undocumented immigrants. Tell us about that.

Valeria Fernandez:
By the Republican, especially, senator Russell Pierce, to really go back to the -- it was never enforced and strengthen those provisions and make sure that state agencies and cities have to reapply when someone applies for a state or federal benefit. They have to -- whether they're an U.S. citizen and legally in the country. This has created a lot of hype in the immigrant community. Especially families that have children born in the United States, because the children need health insurance and healthcare and just the news that there's a law that could result in the deportation, every time they go to the doctor or every time they apply for something for their children has made a lot of people very, very scared and I know that families, they have received phone calls from the department of economic security asking about immigration status because of what the new law requires and they moved from their home because they don't know what's going to happen. All they're doing is applying for insurance for their children. The other side of that that's important to know, the social workers and the state and city employees who don't buy in new law could face consequences. It's a misdemeanor. They could face up to four months in jail. Lose their job and that's what concerns them the most at this time and also there's a possibility, anyone can sue the state, you're not enforcing it properly. And that's money. There's a lawsuit by the league of cities and towns, the Supreme Court of Arizona, told them to refile it in the lower case. That remains to be seen. I heard it's looking -- how this law is being enforced and whether or not U.S. citizens are being denied benefits as a consequence. There may be legal action.

José Cárdenas:
There's a suggestion by economists that the depths of our current economic problems has been worsened because of the sheriff's actions on immigration and the employer sanctions law, people are leaving the state and taxes are going down. Was that your observation based on what you saw out there.

Dennis Welch:
Any time you have large migrations leaving the state --

José Cárdenas:
But do you think they're leaving because of those policies?

Dennis Welch:
Definitely. There's a couple of things working on that. You've got a law out there, clearly going after these folks and the jobs out there. And the other thing, the overall economy. You know, jobs are being shed of where and the only reason people would risk their lives to come here because there were no jobs where they were. And you've got a couple of things work to go that end.

Elvia Diaz:
Obviously, no one knows how many undocumented immigrants are here. But at one point, experts indicated there were about half a million. 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the state. The Pew center came up with a new report, roughly 300,000 in Arizona now. About 200,000 left the state in the last year or so. And we know of many stories where people moving out and going back to Mexico and other states. Especially to a place where they're friendlier than Arizona.

José Cárdenas:
I want to get to the predictions part of our show.

Valeria Fernandez:
The Pew center was talking about the fact there's less people coming, but at the same time, the people that are already here are staying and I think what could be happening in Arizona is they're going to other states because they want to wait and see what will happen with immigration reform. Especially people who have 15-20 years and there's a situation of violence in Mexico. I think it's over 2,000 people died on -- in 2009 with the cartel violence. People don't want to move back to Mexico. It's too risky. It's better to stay here and face the laws we have in Arizona than go back over there.

José Cárdenas:
In the time we have left, let's talk about next year. Probably the only thing we'll get to is elections. Dennis?

Dennis Welch:
You want my predictions?

José Cárdenas:
Yeah.

Dennis Welch:
It's going to be an interesting year. I would predict, if I was -- I would predict that, you know, the next governor is going to be probably going to be Terry Goddard because he's leading the charge. And maybe somebody in Maricopa County might get fed up and start a recall county government and recall all of the elected officials. [Laughter]

José Cárdenas:
We've got less than a minute.

Valeria Fernandez:
For next year, I think we'll see the federal level an attempt to pass immigration reform, but brace yourself because it's going to be nastier than the healthcare debate.

José Cárdenas:
And the new governor?

Elvia Diaz:
Terry Goddard. Or Joe Arpaio if he decides to run.

Dennis Welch:
I predict he doesn't run again.

José Cárdenas:
Who will be the Republican candidate?

Elvia Diaz:
Jan Brewer.

José Cárdenas:
Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." It's great to have you here and as I said, this is my favorite show. And that's "Horizonte" for this Thursday evening. I'm José Cárdenas. For all of us here at "Horizonte," have a great evening.

Elvia Diaz:Arizona Republic; Dennis Welch: Arizona Guardian;Valeria Fernandez:Independent journalist;

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