Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 13, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


  • Lccal reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mark Flatten - The East Valley Tribune
  • Dennis Welch - The Arizona Guardian
  • Casey Newton - The Arizona Republic


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me are Mark Flatten of "The East Valley Tribune," Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian,” and Casey Newton of "The Arizona Republic." Sheriff Joe Arpaio is investigated by the Department of Justice. Mark, let's get this going. What's going on here? Why the investigation? Why now?

Mark Flatten:
Well, there have been critics of Arpaio's illegal immigration enforcement for years. A lot of advocacy groups, a lot of Democrats and basically with the new administration, they're getting an ear in Washington. The investigation is -- it's not like it resulted from a series of church burnings or random lynching’s. It resulted from basically political advocacy. So we have the justice department that's going to come in and simultaneously, a house committee that wants to investigate Arpaio. That's not judging whether he's doing anything wrong. It's just saying this is how things got going. We've got Eric Holder who has built a reputation on a lot of these civil rights cases and frankly, the new Obama administration is more receptive to the constituencies that are complaining about the illegal immigration enforcement.

Ted Simons:
Are the feds looking not so much at how the feds deal with illegal immigrants but how those actions wind up affecting U.S. citizens?

Mark Flatten:
I think what they’re looking at is -- if you get to the nub of this, is racial profiling. Whether or not the sheriff's office is conducting arrests, detentions, whatever, identifying people based solely on their race; which you can't do. The sheriff's argument is we're not doing racial profiling; we’re doing crime suppression sweeps if we find illegal immigrants we detain them and notify I.C.E. So the question is really more about tactics than the broader issue of whether or not they should be enforcing immigration laws.

Dennis Welch:
The motive behind how this investigation got started, whether politically motivated or what not. It doesn’t really matter at this point if you're Arpaio; you got to be a little bit nervous. There was a six-part series that the Tribune published that showed overwhelmingly, those pulled over were Hispanic descent and brought some questions to that.

Ted Simons:
As far as the Fed investigation, hasn’t I.C.E. already taken a look at the Sheriff’s operations and said they’re ok with it?

Mark Flatten:
There have been a number of investigations of the Sheriff’s investigation including an I.C.E. investigation, which I think was done last year, and I think the F.B.I. also did an investigation.

Dennis Welch:
Say investigation again! [Laughter]

Mark Flatten:
They haven't really said what the results were. I mean, they still allowed him to do pretty much what he’s been doing so they haven't tried to shut him down. They have not released -- one of the most significant ones was a review -- [Laughter] of whether I.C.E. is properly monitoring, I think its 287G, which basically gives local law enforcement some police powers over illegal immigration. There was a big review of how I.C.E. was monitoring that. They didn't say much about it, but they haven't changed anything really. The concern for Arpaio would be as Dennis said, regardless of the motivation of how it got started. If they do establish the way he's going about enforcing these things violates civil rights laws, then he can have a problem. He's been saying I have been investigated one way and the other, and nobody's found I'm doing anything wrong here.

Dennis Welch:
With regard to I.C.E. and how Arpaio is conducting the sweeps, there was some questions, citing the Tribune story, about whether he was going about this right. Apparently, you're supposed to have this empirical data before you conduct a sweep. And he said we're coming here. Come clean up our area.

Ted Simons:
In the grand scheme of things, how significant is this?

Mark Flatten:
In the grand scheme of things, unless they find a big smoking gun, I think this is just yet another investigation that's probably not going to result in too much. If they can show -- which is actually a fairly high bar -- that they committed rampant civil rights violations, obviously, that's a huge problem. This is a civil investigation, not a criminal investigation. They're not responding to criminal wrongdoing, so it's open ended. I suspect we'll find when this is over you'll find a lot of policy recommendations, I don't know that you're going to see much change here.

Casey Newton:
If you're a critic of Arpaio and hope to see him behind bars, that's not going to happen as a result of this investigation. The worst case based on what I understand is that the Department of Justice tells him to change his tactics.

Ted Simons:
And he probably says, thank you, no.

Casey Newton:
Yeah, he's already said he'll fight all the way to the top of the court system to preserve his tactics.

Mark Flatten:
The one problem where Arpaio could run into, assuming they don't try true civil rights violation, the one problem, if it jeopardizes a 287G status. If the feds come in and say you abused this privilege, we're going to revoke it. There's some question how much that would truly impact his operations because we have laws on the books that give him jurisdiction to do much of the same stuff.

Ted Simons:
Over to Andrew Thomas. Yet another bar -- some of them go way and another comes on. What's this about?

Mark Flatten:
This goes back to the Don Stapley case. He was indicted in November, the indictment announced in December. There's been a series of motions from his lawyers and from the board of supervisors, who are fighting with Thomas, you provide civil legal advice and you can't prosecute him at the same time. The bar isn't exactly saying a lot about what the new complaint is. It's become comical because over the past year, Thomas' office has been the subject of 13 separate bar complaints. All of them have been dismissed. And on the day they announce the final two were dismissed, it turns out, well, lo and behold, there's a brand new bar investigation. Thomas didn't exactly go into a panic when told about that. This one deal was a conflict of interest, presumably, though a -- there are a lot of interesting subplots. The president of the state bar is Ed Novak, the legal advisor to the board of supervisors, including Stapley, in their fights with Thomas. You can't make this stuff up.

Ted Simons:
Before we get to the legislature, one last thing regarding the Stapley case. Stapley himself, was he invited, was he appointed, even requested to be on a taskforce back in Washington? The story seems like it circles. What's going on here?

Mark Flatten:
Stapley, to travel out of state has to get permission from the court. So the lawyer filed a motion, Joe Biden asked him to be on this taskforce of an economic stimulus plan. Now when the White House heard about it they said, “I don't think -- we didn't invite him to be on a taskforce.” Now Stapley's lawyers, well, it was a misunderstanding. He was asked to participate in this group, whatever you want to call it. I suspect what happened was Stapley was asked to participate in a taskforce slash group slash gathering of folk to talk about this, I suspect the White House had absolutely no idea what his local troubles were when they asked him to serve on that. And once they found out, they wanted no part of it.

Ted Simons:
I noted that they wrote a letter to the secret service.

Mark Flatten:
They might want to take any security precautions deemed necessary.

Ted Simons:
Let's get down to the legislature, and it sounds like developmentally disabled folks. We've got restoration of funds here?

Casey Newton:
They won a victory this week. Part of a $1.6 billion fix, cut about $153 million from the department of economic security which is providing services to adults and children who have developmental disabilities. About 30,000 people. A preliminary injunction saying the legislature acted with too much haste. They're not allowed to do this. They have certain obligations under state and federal law. And you can't take the money away like this. And this week, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs and say if you take away this money now, you're going to cause lasting harm and I'm going to issue this preliminary injunction and you're not allow to cut the services.

Mark Flatten:
Is the issue to spend and retract the money or is the issue you have separate mandated to do these things?

Casey Newton:
One is that, yes, the plaintiffs are saying the legislature doesn't have the authority to do what it did. This argument seems somewhat dubious, though, because the legislature, for decades and decades has said we'll set your budget at this, and you decide what cuts and additions you're going to make to the budget. The other argument is what the judge agreed with when he said the state and federal government have certain obligations, you have to follow, and you're not allowed to just yank this money away without following certain procedures.

Ted Simons:
We've got that money returning. We've got childcare subsidies as well. The '09 fix, how much more of a fix does it need?

Dennis Welch:
Shared revenue became an issue. They were going to take the money at first and then there was a deal to not take the money. That was part of the fix. It was an interesting day, I guess, yesterday in the legislature.

Ted Simons:
And federal stimulus money is the big reason -- I know clean water, graduate medical education, all of this returning because of the stimulus package?

Dennis Welch:
They're calculating into this stuff.

Casey Newton:
About $18.2 million will come from the federal stimulus and the legislature acted to make sure that Arizona could accept that money. But the total additional spending from yesterday's bill was about $37 million and that's coming from this $90 million cushion. Hospitals got money. Hospitals that serve a disproportionate amount of uninsured. There were happier people than usual down at the legislature.

Dennis Welch:
There were some unhappy people that work there, because of the behind the scene politics. Fighting among the republicans among their leadership team. Majority Whip Pam Gorman and Senate President Bob Burns, in which she was accused of trying to sabotage the budget deal and trying to call certain members of the legislature to tell them to boycott an appropriations meeting.

Ted Simons:
Was that the city and towns aspect?

Dennis Welch:
It was part of that. She felt that they were breaking a deal that the senate had made with house republicans and shouldn't roll over for this stuff and they should agree to that deal and not bend to what Burns had wanted and ultimately, what the governor wanted.

Ted Simons:
For years you covered the legislature and seen a lot of things, and you're still following. Is this nature taking its course or seeing the lawmakers trying to address something that they haven't had to address this seriously in the past?

Mark Flatten:
When I first went there years and years ago, they were in lean budget times, and that's when it gets ugly. When we start getting into budgets like we've got now and times we've got now, where there are serious fights, that's when personalities really start to fray and you see big conflicts like the Gorman-Burns budget.

Dennis Welch:
I wonder how much term limits play into this. Lean times and there's not many lawmakers around that were at the legislature that had to deal with the budget deficit. Only a handful from 2003.

Mark Flatten:
I think the difference in times like this, better economics times, you have a lot more philosophical arguments and it's easy to sort of be collegial when you're discussing that. They're down to bread and butter. We don't have the money, and that's when things get ugly.

Ted Simons:
Dennis, you wrote about how they're not just down to bread and butter, but the former governor's deals in terms of budget. And never consider the things that the former governor considered but now they're starting to consider.

Dennis Welch:
Governor Napolitano before she left issued a budget proposal which was pretty much roundly rejected by the legislators. Political document is a waste of time and money to put it together. Key parts of the proposal included securitization of the lottery and tobacco settlement money, which would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for the state to plug the deficit. The same republicans like Bob Burns and other people, who rejected this plan are now looking to it and saying, we can use it in lieu of raising taxes, as Jan brewer has proposed. And they're explaining this change in idea because the times have changed.

Ted Simons:
And they are just doing this because the time has changed?

Dennis Welch:
To underscore how bad it is right now. We'd rather borrow money than raise your taxes.

Ted Simons:
What about the equalization rate -- it has so much different names.

Dennis Welch:
Let's call it the $250 million property tax.

Ted Simons:
There you go. It sounds like -- what? -- The governor says ok; give it to me in a complete budget but not until then.

Dennis Welch:
There was talk -- we were talking about this fix of slipping that in and making this $250 million property tax that was suspended three years ago, making that a permanent tax cut. They were going to throw that into the budget deal but apparently, the governor told her -- had told the republicans there's no way. This has to be part of a comprehensive 2010 budget.

Casey Newton:
There was some concern that, ok, we're going to add $18 million back for childcare and take aware $250 million that would otherwise fund those programs. That got taken out of the bill pretty quickly.

Ted Simons:
As far as a vote going to the public on repealing the voter protection act, these ideas, where are we standing with this?

Dennis Welch:
In a holding pattern right now. They've got a lot of technical issues. Whether the property tax is going to raise enough money to fix the problem. Because every day, it seems the problem is getting worse. Are you going to need a billion dollars or more than that?

Ted Simons:
Do they know what kind of tax they're talking about?

Dennis Welch:
The governor said yesterday when she was asked, what kind of tax do you favor, she said she's not ready to say. It could be a property tax, a sales tax. Any kind of tax.

Casey Newton:
In order to protect these programs, you've got to wonder when they're going to come out with details. People are wary of raising taxes during a recession and I think unless the governor's office can come out quickly, this is going to be a tough sell.

Mark Flatten:
Do you think they'll be linked? You've got to pass them both or reject them both? I can see a scenario that they might -- unless you free us from so of these shackles, we're going to have to raise your taxes. I can't see them making the argument unless you free us from the shackles, we're going to raise your taxes and we're going to raise your taxes. I don't see that as a big win for the voters.

Casey Newton:
There's some thinking out there that voters would be more inclined to favor a tax increase than to let the legislature go in and play around with voter-protected funds. They've seen what happens to the funds during tough times. Programs that are popular, like childcare, get swept off the table. We'll see more of that if the voter protection act is tampered with it.

Dennis Welch:
You can bet that any time there's a tax increase, there's a well funded opposition to any kind of campaign like that.

Ted Simons:
And yet the senate president says if it goes to a vote, it wouldn't be fair because those in favor of this would so far outspend the opponents.

Dennis Welch:
President Burns doesn't favor it because he doesn't think the outcomes will come out the way he wants them.

Mark Flatten:
If you link them, you're drawing together the two constituencies and putting them together as one. You would be uniting them and say this is like the worse of all worlds.

Casey Newton:
It's an interesting thought, Mark, and I think there's something to that. From the governor's perspective, the question is can we come up with a proposal that everyone dislikes a little bit but is willing to swallow hard and support. Whether that materializes, we'll have to see.

Ted Simons:
We have to stop it now. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

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