Journalists’ Year In Review

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Local journalists Sandra Haros of KTAR Radio, Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times and Mike Sauceda of EIGHT’s Horizon, KTAR Radio, and Skyview Networks look back at stories and issues that made headlines in 2011.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. This is the annual year in review show. Our journalists are Mike Sauceda for KTAR and Skyview Networks. And Jim Small, editor for "The Arizona Capitol Times" and Sandra Haros, reporter for KTAR. Thank you for joining us, a year that got off to a horrific start with the Giffords shooting in Tucson. Talk about that.

Sandra Haros: I was there two days -- the actual event happening and eight days working, 15-16 hour days getting every angle possible. Ever. It was -- our listeners couldn't get enough about what was happening up in Tucson, and getting to actually be there and covering that story was one of the most difficult and challenging assignments I've ever had in my life, in my career.

José Cárdenas: And it was both the shooting, the investigation and all of the things going on about that.

Sandra Haros: That's correct.

José Cárdenas: And also, the celebration, if you will, a few weeks later with the president coming and -- just very moving presentations.

Sandra Haros: I spoke with people who knew Jared Loughner and knew he was a little bit off. I was at his home all right. He grew up, I was at the Obama event when he was there, trying to give all Arizonans a bit of hope we would get through this together. That was an interesting event to cover, only because it is like a pep rally, almost.

José Cárdenas: Some criticism, the tone of --

Sandra Haros: Right, the tone was bizarre for what was happening. They were in mourning. It was a city saddened by what had happened. It was very, very tragic.

José Cárdenas: The eyes of the nation were on us at that point in time and renewed the intense debate about gun rights.

Mike Sauceda: Not only gun rights but civility within politics. You had people saying we've got to come together and can't make these partisan comments about each other and putting people in gun sight and targeting them.

José Cárdenas: You're referring to the Sarah Palin thing.

Mike Sauceda: There is a lot of talk about civility and get more of that and lasted for a while and then things back to normal.

José Cárdenas: Jim, your beat is particularly focused on the Arizona legislature. What impact did it have there?

Jim Small: It was -- something that was noticed immediately. It happened the Saturday before the regular legislative session began and everyone showed up on Monday and a lot of people who knew congresswoman Giffords and served with her. She had a lot of friends -- had a lot of friends up at the Arizona state capitol and was in shock and it basically up-ended the entire first week of the session.

José Cárdenas: And they even postponed it.

Jim Small: The governor every year has a state of the state speech and was at the capitol practicing when news came down what happened in Tucson. The whole thing got delayed and gave a brief speech but a speech really focused on what had happened and reflecting on it and move past it and learn lessons out of it and -- and a couple weeks later, came back and gave a normal policy speech, here's what I want to accomplish this year but it cost a shadow over the session and like Mike said, people did take things to heart, for a little while and for most of the legislative session you had people who had backed off, if they had been aggressive in comment, saw a lot of them take a deep breath.

José Cárdenas: Changed the tone of discussions and yet we had several gun measures come through the legislature. The governor vetoed them, but do you think it had any impact, Giffords' shooting on how the legislation came forward and what the governor did with it?

Jim Small: I don't think it. One thing you can say about the people who push these gun bills, they see events like what happened in Tucson as a validation why people need to be able to have freer always to guns and be able to carry them more, in order to -- in order that if something like that happens again, they can -- that people can be in a position to defend themselves. They used the Virginia Tech shooting as an example all the time and it's something that we've seen bills since that happened, look, we should be able to allow students and teachers carry guns on college campuses and that was one of the bills that ended up getting rejected.

José Cárdenas: A related aspect had to do with Jared Loughner, you mentioned him, Sandra, and whether the folks at Pima community college should have done something sooner. If there's a Virginia Tech overlay there, because of thoughts that administrators should have been aware of his dangerousness. How did that impact the coverage?

Sandra Haros: The college's stance is that they could do everything they could do, this gentleman was deeply disturbed and needed medical attention, mental health evaluation that is the college couldn't force him to do and I think that's still something being looked at to this day. How can change have been different in order to prevent something like this from happening?

José Cárdenas: Michael, one bright aspect, after that horrible tragedy, the congresswoman seems to be recovering and has had some recent appearances but clearly not running for the senate position that many thought she would. This is having an impact on Arizona politics.

Mike Sauceda: It is. You've got now, on the Republican side, Jeff Flake and Richard Carmona on the Democratic side.

José Cárdenas: Running for senator KYL's seat.

Mike Sauceda: There's questions as to whether she's prepared to do that, she's still legislating and doing things through her staff constituents, but it seemed to dry up the idea of her running for senate.

José Cárdenas: Jim, many thought she could have won that seat. Is that just a sentimental looking back because of all of the adoration or would she have been a serious contender?

Jim Small: She absolutely would have been a serious contender.

José Cárdenas: Even though she had a close contested election.

Jim Small: The reality is she was the strongest contender on the bench, you look at what was around. Statewide, Democrats got swept out. The only two Democrats elected in 2008 on the corporation commission so they didn't win any of those contest, they're in extreme minorities in both chambers of the legislature and they only had a couple of stars, a couple people they could run at in a campaign like that and she was one of them. The fact she had a close race says a lot about certainly the climate last year. And the district and -- but the fact she won in a year where Republicans were overwhelmingly beating Democrats and won in a district that has a Republican registration advantage says a lot and speaks to the middle of the road approach she's taken, that path she's forged for herself in politics and that's exactly why she could have been a strong contender in a statewide race.

José Cárdenas: Another major story was S.B. 1070. In April, the ninth circuit came down with the decision upholding Judge Bolton's decision to enjoin parts of the statute and ending the year with the Supreme Court having decided to take the case up for further review.

Mike Sauceda: That's very interesting. People try to speculate what the court will do and it's all speculation but watch the interview you did with Paul Bender, the ASU law professor, and seems to think it might lean to them saying we're reversing the Ninth Circuit injunctions, but what does that mean? It comes back to Arizona and becomes in force and maybe some kind of case that might evolve from that? That might be the situation. It's hard to tell with the Supreme Court. But interesting they decided to take it.

José Cárdenas: Sandra, ongoing debate about the economic impact on having passed S.B. 1070 with the governor and others citing increased in tourism that the boycott didn't have that much of an impact, others saying it had billions of dollars of impact.

Sandra Haros: Depends on who you ask. I spoke with the Chamber of Commerce, saying it had people leaving in droves out of the state and others saying it had minimum impact. So that's why the boycott was called off. It depends on who you ask, I guess.

José Cárdenas: Jim, the beginning of the legislative session, there were, of course, the election of the leadership. Some reports said senator Russell Pearce made a deal that he would tone down the immigration stuff and that's how he was elected and almost immediately by some accounts backtracking on that and then we had some rather controversial immigration legislation come through. Tell us about that.

Jim Small: Five bills in particular. A package of five bills that dealt with everything from birthright citizenry, or trying to challenge that notion for children of illegal immigrants to having schools keep track of which students couldn't prove that they were American citizens to having hospitals have to report folks who come in who can't prove their citizenship and have to call the immigration service to arrest them and all of them ultimately failed on the floor. In a vote that like you said, a lot of people a year ago were under the impression these bills weren't going to come forward. Because the legislature was going to be focused on jobs and the economy and jumpstarting a state that's lost more than 300,000 job appearance to have them come up was a real shock to people and even a bigger shock, they failed. Even though you have 21 Republican senators and it's a very conservative caucus and you had some folks who were normally extremely conservative and who said I just can't do it, I don't think it's legal or the right thing to do and they voted and we'll see if they come back next year. Whether they get a hearing and are able to get to the floor to have a second life.

José Cárdenas: Some people think the reason for that final vote was the bills community was finally flexing its muscle and stepping in on the issue. There was the letter sent and made public. Your thoughts on that.

Jim Small: I think the impact of the business community in as much as that letter, they sent a letter to lawmakers and a lot of people held it up and said, see, a lot of business people weighed in. The folks who voted against it, if they did it on grounds it was bad for the economy or the state's business climate they already knew that and were already going to vote that way. The letter I don't think swung any votes from the conversations we've had, I think the folks were going to oppose it from the beginning.

Sandra Haros: I think it's hard to decide -- or, determine what kind of economical impact sick Senate Bill will have. Seems that the effects ran parallel with the recession. People losing jobs and the housing market crashed. I've spoken to a lot of people who say that not having a job has nothing do with illegal immigration. It's because they can't find work because of the housing market. What what's to blame, the housing market or S.B. 1070?

José Cárdenas: Alabama seems to be supplanting Arizona as the focal point on immigration issues and passed one of the toughest anti-immigrant bills in the country and seem to be regretting it.

Mike Sauceda: Some has gone into effect and used by law enforcement and I think when I have saw that, when they detained an executive from Mercedes-Benz and Honda, under that law, that -- the law -- it makes it hard to determine what the economic impact is because it really didn't go into effect -- fully into effect and like Sandra said, we had the recession going on at the same time, so --

José Cárdenas: Switching gears, Andrew Thomas, lost his -- Andrew Thomas lost his election to Tom Horne and found himself embroiled in actions by the state bar of Arizona to strip him of his license to practice law.

Sandra Haros: I think -- I think his reputation is in question now and I think that could have ties to, you know, his relationship with MCSO, Maricopa County sheriff's office. I think he might be regretting his close connections and friendships and alliances he's created there.

José Cárdenas: Lots of testimony on that point with respect to sheriff's deputy, some expressing concern, doubts about proceeding on some cases. In the sense they felt they were being pushed by one of Thomas' deputies, to do things they didn't think were right and again, a lot of attention. Any surprises coming out of the hearings for you, Mike or Jim?

Mike Sauceda: I don't know if surprises, but it was very interesting. It was almost like a soap opera at times, the fight again the county and in-fighting with the county and the testimony to me was just -- I don't know if fun was the right word. But it was definitely interesting to watch and see some of that come out. I think maybe it's over. The sheriff got his bust. That might be the peace offering.

Sandra Haros: It's concerning when there's so much in-fighting and controversy and complaining and pointing fingers. Seems like something needs to be done to get the house in order.

José Cárdenas: Jim made the point that Thomas may have regretted his connections to the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office may be feeling the same way about Thomas for the reasons we've talked about and other turnover, turmoil in the office. Hendershott's gone, the investigation is under way and the federal government is still looking at that. Describe the kind of atmosphere we've had for the last several months.

Jim Small: It's been an interesting transition to see things go from a sheriff's office -- Arpaio made his bones with the chain gangs and the tent cities and the things designed to get media attention and give the appearance he was being tough on crime but not -- necessarily things that were overly controversy and over the past -- controversial and you've seen it veer into the in-fighting, challenging the entire court system and all of these people conspiring in order to -- the whole thing, every week, what are they going to do to up this now? And to see, you know, them cleaning house in MCSO and getting rid of Hendershott and administrative people, you're seeing Arpaio take a step back and really almost take on the persona he had eight or 10 years ago.

José Cárdenas: Sandra, we don't have a decision on the ethics hearing, in a way, some relief from the revelations from the sheriff's office. On the other hand, now he's a subject of intense criticism for the handling of child sex abuse allegations.

Sandra Haros: Where you have girls raped and children with STDs and little follow-up done when the allegations were brought forth under the watch of MCSO. Once El Mirage brought on their own police department, they started looking at old files and cases and turns out that little was done to even determine if there were actual crimes being committed which is unfortunate because they're our victims.

José Cárdenas: And Mike, perhaps the most troubling aspect of this is it wasn't necessarily a lack of manpower or just sloppiness. There seemed to be some real bias that played a role in how the sheriff's office handled these investigations.

Mike Sauceda: Well, you had Bill Lewis, the ex-assistant police chief saying we looked at these cases and took a random sampling and realized they were doing nothing about it. One quote, they basically knew the contract was ending and put their feet up on the desk and found that a lot of these, according to Bill Lewis, again, were the children of illegal immigrants. And that might have been a factor because they thought, well, they're not going to complain and so that's coming from a law enforcement professional.

José Cárdenas: And a law enforcement professional who through -- threw his weight behind Russell Pearce doesn't seem to have helped Russell in the recall election, he lost. How big of a factor do you think that was?

Jim Small: Arpaio's backing of Pearce, probably more the whole cult, personality, that is Russell Pearce, he's the kind of guy who there are few people who are undecided on him. Who were in the middle and could go either way. Either you love him 100% or you despise him and I think that was the dynamic you saw at play in that recall. And certainly, Arpaio's endorsement, for the folks who don't like Russell Pearce project didn't do him favors but at the same time, there are so few people in the middle on him, I don't know how much it actually did play a role.

José Cárdenas: It was a stunning relate, earlier in the year, nobody thought that the recall would actually occur, and then once it did thought it would be a cakewalk for Pearce. What happened?

Jim Small: There was a perfect storm in a lot of ways, him running essentially in a general election. No Democrats or liberal candidates, two people who were conservative Republican who is agreed probably on 95% of the issues and throw in the Fiesta Bowl scandal and Russell Pearce being singled out as the person who took the most amount of gifts and donations and took trips across the country over a period of a decade and his family took trips and really, the knockout blow, the whole Olivia Cortes thing and what appeared to be linked to Russell Pearce's campaign and whether the links existed but perception is reality at a certain point and there was a perception that Russell Pearce and his backers put up this woman who knew nothing and whose sole purpose was to siphon vote away. And that leaves a bad taste in people's mouth and one of the aspects of politics that people really don't like.

José Cárdenas: We could devote the whole show not postmortem of the Russell Pearce recall. But a huge national story, and that was the Fiesta Bowl scandal.

Mike Sauceda: Yeah, that certainly didn't help him. But again, what Jim says, it was the perfect storm. To me, that was just one part. I don't think -- the thing that made it go over. It was a whole combination.

José Cárdenas: For Arizona, the scandal, the Fiesta Bowl, the attention it got, the attention it drew to all of the bowls was another big black mark for Arizona.

Sandra Haros: A big black eye. Money talks and it was a more -- more evident than in that entire Fiesta Bowl scandal. Corruption is prevalent in sports and I think people already knew that, however, to have Arizona tainted in that way was really unfortunate.

José Cárdenas: Lots of other things happening in Arizona, redistricting, got ugly. Most recently with the governor removing the chair of the commission and told by the Arizona Supreme Court she couldn't do that.

Jim Small: Yeah, the whole redistricts thing is fascinating. It's a once a decade process and to see it unfold was interesting because it's such a rare occurrence and to see the way this thing went it, turned into a circus, it really has. And -- and to see all of the infighting and the problems that Republicans have had particularly with the independent chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, a couple of the Democrats and the maps, I don't think anyone two months ago would have said there was much of a chance that the governor would entertain the idea of moving ahead with removing her and it seemed that decision happened overnight.

José Cárdenas: And hurt the governor, according to polls.

Jim Small: Yeah, there was a poll that came out that showed that most Arizonans disapproved of that tactic.

José Cárdenas: Your prediction for 2012, Michael.

Mike Sauceda: Well, ties into elections and this redistricting. Oh! I would say we need to get new chairs. That's my prediction. [Laughter] My prediction is that we're going to see the open primary ballot measure make it to the ballot.

José Cárdenas: Jim, your prediction?

Jim Small: I think Russell Pearce is going to run again for the senate and I think there's -- I'd say he wins and gets reelected to the senate in 2012.

José Cárdenas: And his opponent would be Jerry Lewis?

Jim Small: Could be, or Rich Crandall. Could be both.

José Cárdenas: Sandra?

Sandra Haros: Housing market and the economy, I see signs of progress, light, but it's going to be a marathon, rather than a sprint. To the very end. So I think good things are coming, it's going to take a bit. We were hit really hard, but we're making strides.
José Cárdenas: On that note we are going to have to end what is my favorite show for the year, I am José Cárdenas, thanks for joining us.

Sandra Haros:KTAR Radio; Jim Small:Arizona Capitol Times; Mike Sauceda:EIGHT's Horizon, KTAR Radio, and Skyview Networks;

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