Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 24, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Ryan Gabrielson - East Valley Tribune
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
  • Dennis Welch - Arizona Guardian


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me, Ryan Gabrielson of the East Valley Tribune, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, and Dennis Welch of the Arizona Guardian. Talk of a balanced budget or perhaps something -- I don't know -- Mary Jo, is it close, is it just rumors, what's going on here?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, the week started off with the Senate President and House Speaker saying they had agreement on how to put out a balanced budget and were going to start taking it to their members to discuss it. They would not talk about what the broad outlines of it were. And if this is real, it's been a very, very closely guarded secret. Lots of people tried to get the details, including lawmakers who are not sharing it. If they have been briefed, they're very mum on it. Is this a balanced budget? Who knows?

Dennis Welch:
Well, the great thing is when you're not showing anybody the budget, it can be balanced or it can be anything you want it to be. They're keeping it pretty close to the vest. There may be one or two copies out. They don't want it leaked to the public or the lobbyists or anybody who wants to see it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The important thing about this document, it's the Republican budget, since they're in the majority at the legislature, they put out their plans which leaked out again in late March, but there was still a gap. This one closes the deficit and the question is how? What else are you cutting, what gimmicks are being used? The only thing that Bob Burns and Kirk Adams wouldn't rule out is that there is not a tax increase in there.

Ted Simons:
Senate President Bob Burns says it's a proposal, not an agreement, and the Speaker says it's a list of options. Again, is there a there there?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Who knows? These -- those are somewhat different takes on what it is. I think it shows that not everybody is on the same page on how to do this.

Dennis Welch:
If there's a there there, if you've got the votes for something like this, something that's more than an option, you go for it. Tells you there's a lot of work to be done to get support for whatever this might be.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
What raised some hope that something's going to happen, was that they put out agendas hoping to have an appropriations committee hearing on Thursday. Didn't happen. Now there's one scheduled for Tuesday. I don’t know if this is kick the can, you know? Or not, but we're almost at the end.
Dennis Welch:
Got to keep something there just in case.

Ryan Gabrielson:
Well, and is there any indication what the sticking points are?

Dennis Welch:
It's always been, I think the big sticking point is when it comes to the overall proposal. Maybe between the governor and the G.O.P., is the tax stuff out there.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think another sticking point is education. I mean, that's become such -- just such a third rail in this whole budget talk and there are some proposals being floated around of grabbing the carry forward money that school districts have accumulated and using that to balance the budget and that's getting pushback from Republican lawmakers who don't want to harm school districts.

Dennis Welch:
Speaking of education, we had John McComish come out this week and go against what a lot of Republicans say about all-day kindergarten, McComish said he went out and visited a bunch of kindergartens and said he wants to save all-day kindergarten. That throws another wrinkle into it.

Ted Simons:
Democrats had a budget plan a while back and now we've got new numbers. How have they responded?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
When they put out the budget in late March, they acknowledged the numbers will probably shift. We'll adjust and come up with a new plan. We asked them about it this week, they haven't done it yet. We have not yet seen a revised budget plan from the house Democrats.

Ted Simons:
So, it seems like everyone’s waiting. But it does seem like something’s happening, though, doesn’t it? Are we getting close?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There's a lot of meetings, you see a lot of house and senate members walking back and forth across the courtyard and a lot of closed doors and a lot of desperate lobbyists trying to find something that describes this. They are definitely in budget talks. It's just when are they going to come to agreement.

Ted Simons:
There were a couple of stimulus funding requirements that made it through and I believe the Governor late today went ahead and signed these. Real quickly, Mary Jo, what are we talking about here, with Access? Again, this was the registration between the six months and twelve months? Is that correct?

Mary Jo Pitrzl:
There was a law passed that said people on AHCCCS, the state's Medicaid alternative, have to requalify every six months. The idea was this would maybe help the state save money. Getting people off the roll sooner. But if you want the $1.6 billion stimulus money, the feds say you have to do the redetermination every 12 months. So we reversed course and went back to 12 months. The second bill extended unemployment benefits by another 13 weeks, which is something that had been pushed hard by the labor groups and Democrats, and again, this was a pot of money. If we don't spend it, someone else will. It gets more if our unemployment rates climbs I think above 8%.

Ted Simons:
But the Department of Labor did say that once the money was out, the states wouldn't be responsible for -- and that was key, wasn't it?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Very key for this legislature. So it's a stop-gap measure. Once the federal funds run out, unemployment is back to the typical 59 weeks.

Ted Simons:
And Ryan, I want to get to Arpaio. We have a lot of Arpaio stories. But you just won the Pulitzer Prize this week, so sit tight! Don’t go big time on us. I want to get to voter registration numbers before we get to the sheriff and county news. Mary Jo, looking at these numbers, anything seem surprising? Republicans still in front but losing a little. Democrats in second, losing not so much.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The biggest gains seem to be from the smaller parties because they have the smaller base. People are still signing up to vote, even though the big show was back in November. And Arizona now has 3.1 million registered voters which is more than we had in November and given that population growth has slowed down, who knows? Does this signal an abiding interest in electoral politics?

Dennis Welch:
And the other interesting thing, is the continuing story of the rise of the independents out there. It's projected that independents are going to overtake Democrats by 2012 or 2013 and then be more independents than any other party in the state. I found it interesting, but I also think there's a lot of people who like to think of themselves as independents but really identify with one party or the other.

Ryan Gabrielson:
Pima County has been dominated by independents for many, many years, but the voting still seems to go toward the Democrats regardless of how many Is there are.

Ted Simons:
It will be interesting to see, the libertarians, they gain 11%, but it's still a relatively small number. Dennis, we have senate field hearings regarding immigration and I know before we get to that part of it, I thought it interesting, the governor came out and said, you guys are dropping the ball. We want more guard troops on the border.

Dennis Welch:
She had asked earlier for more troops to go and patrol the border and made that case repeatedly at the senate hearings where she told them over and over, we need more boots on the ground down at the border because this is a number one safety issue facing the state. They don't want a lot of cartel violence, drug violence. They don't want that spilling over into Arizona and this is a big deal. So the governor brought that message to this meeting.

Ted Simons:
What else did we get out of these meetings? Some pledging for more money, more attention.

Dennis Welch:
Certainly, and I think it was an opportunity for these lawmakers to get more education, really, from the border states of what's really happening there. Terry Goddard made the case, we need to do more of watching what heads south. There's a lot of cash and stuff that goes down south and that we need to stop because that's the stuff that funds all of the border violence.

Ted Simons:
Sheriff Arpaio provided written testimony but not there personally. Where was he?

Dennis Welch:
He was on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Which I thought was pretty interesting. Arpaio has made immigration his top priority, the Senate committee comes down here and wants to hear from locals about this, and he takes off to go do a TV show.

Ted Simons:
Ryan, did you see the Colbert Report?

Ryan Gabrielson:
I watched it after that fact. I don't stay up that late, I've got an 18-month-old daughter! But it was an interesting segment. He was touting his book. It's a book called "Joe's Law." It turned out to be an interesting interview, where they went over how they could build a border wall out of jails, so illegal immigrants can just climb over the wall and fall right into jail. It was enlightening.

Ted Simons:
Sounds like the Colbert Report. Although, you would expect some fireworks, did we get fireworks?

Dennis Welch:
If I can put my TV critic hat on, I thought it was tame. I was expecting a few more fireworks knowing the sheriff. He was pretty tame, pretty mellow. I did like the fact that Colbert kept asking the sheriff for his identification, just to prove he was a citizen.

Ted Simons:
He also mentioned the fact that, I think for the first time, he had protesters outside the studio. Arpaio protesters, they've gone national.

Ryan Gabrielson:
They have been for a while. There were people protesting outside of Wells Fargo headquarters, I think late last year, because the sheriff's office rents its headquarters out of a Wells Fargo building. It's been national for a while now. But apparently it was particularly interesting to Steven Colbert.

Ted Simons:
We had another crime sweep, this time in the Avondale-ish area. What was accomplished and what happened out there?

Ryan Gabrielson:
I think arrested 15 people. How many of them -- five or ten illegal immigrants. They’re calling them crime suppression sweeps but what's interesting is that in the past seven or eight months, they've really been what are usually called roving patrols, which are nighttime operations on human smuggling routes and stopping suspect vehicles. It's moving away from the type of sweeps that really raised people's concerns and potentially put them on serious problems with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These daytime sweeps they were doing, stopping vehicles in broad daylight. In their reports, they admitted, based on the characteristics of the people in the vehicle. Not based on actual violations of law.

Ted Simons:
As far as the timing of this particular sweep, do you see anything there?

Ryan Gabrielson:
A lot of people say that the sheriff's office launches operations in response to things. They've been talking about an operation for a while. So I don't think it has anything to do with Pulitzer. [Laughter]

Ted Simons:
You had to drop that in there, didn't you? We're going to get to that if you don't keep interrupting us all the time about it. As far as the budget, I know that that impasse seems like -- is there a little bit of movement here now?

Ryan Gabrielson:
Compared to before, they're going at it at 250 miles per hour. They've had numbers and there's actual numbers and they're making agreements to millions of dollars being cut in certain areas. There's technical difficulties on how that's going to be done, particularly on the detention side. And there's questions whether that money will be there. From where they were, it's amazing and David Hendershott, the Chief Deputy, he even used a smiley face in an email to county officials --

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, my gosh!

Ryan Gabrielson:
It was huge progress.

Ted Simons:
You're not just making a Pulitzer Prize winning joke there?

Ryan Gabrielson:
No, I had to stop and highlight it. I didn't believe I'd ever see that.

Ted Simons:
And yet, the sheriff will go ahead and is suing the board of supervisors over their -- what? Delay in getting information to him? He’s requested all these massive amounts of information.

Ryan Gabrielson:
He's requested email and other records from 36 county officials from the top on down as part of his investigation into the Stapley matter and whether there’s obstruction of justice. The county is certainly stalling as well, because the sheriff's office has requested tens if not thousands of pages of records. And the county, I'm not sure it's legal, created a different process for requests from other agencies -- there's nothing in the public records law that says where it comes from. Just that public records will be available for inspection upon request. So the sheriff's office might have a strong argument. What are you creating a separate process for that doesn't treat us as anybody else?

Dennis Welch:
Now, Ryan, I know you've probably requested thousands of pages of documents from the sheriff's office.

Ryan Gabrielson:
[Laughter] I don't know what you're talking about!

Dennis Welch:
I'm wondering if there's irony where the sheriff is suing for public records from the county board of supervisors.

Ryan Gabrielson:
There's tremendous irony. The sheriff's office is selectively difficult to deal with on public records. When they want something out, it goes out right away.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Do you think this whole episode might make him more sensitive to public records requests?

Ryan Gabrielson:
I seriously doubt it. It's a matter of who they're getting what from and whether they want to see it out.

Ted Simons:
The county is saying one request alone would cost $900,000. That's just one request for massive amounts of files.

Ryan Gabrielson:
Perhaps if someone makes $6,000 a hour or something.

Dennis Welch:
How do they get to any of these numbers with public records? It can cost you five cents a page to a dollar page.

Ryan Gabrielson:
In reality, I don't see how the $900,000 number is an accurate representation of what it costs for one single records request.

Ted Simons:
Dennis, it sounds like the Department of Homeland Security Secretary is having a rough time. Stepping in more than one thing. What's going on?

Dennis Welch:
I think former governor Janet Napolitano is getting a lesson in national media 101. She certainly has made some faux pas. First of all with this report that came out that labeled a threat -- right-wing terrorist. Veterans, for all intents and purposes. And there was other wording in the documents where they got rid of terrorism and replaced it with man-made disasters. I'm afraid she's become the whipping girl, I guess, of the new Janet Reno or new Alberto Gonzalez.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
To the point that there's even a website that’s up now called -- recall -- or fire Napolitano dot com.

Ted Simons:
Is she shooting herself in the foot or just increasingly becoming a target out there?

Ryan Gabrielson:
The first one sets up the second one. I mean, she's screwing up and making herself an easy target and it's going to pile on. They smell blood and everyone circles around. By taking her down, they're taking down the administration. That's the goal.

Dennis Welch:
And at this level, you can't get away with some of the stuff she might have gotten away with in Arizona. Everything you say is being scrutinized and looked at every way. You need to have your facts straight. Especially when you make statements about terrorists coming in from Canada.

Ted Simons:
And the confusion between civil and criminal aspects of crossing the border. Mary Jo, you have covered her for a long time. Does this surprise you that this is happening? Or again, is this an indication that no matter what she says, if the comma is in the wrong place, she’s going to get hammered.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think she’s off her stride. When Napolitano was governor here, she didn’t miss too many steps. And she usually had her facts about her. I don't know, it's a subject area she's not totally immersed in. Being an attorney by training, she's usually pretty careful about what she says.

Ryan Gabrielson:
And an attorney general of a state, you would imagine she wouldn’t confuse the civil and criminal elements of crossing the border.

Dennis Welch:
Barring some of those missteps, I think it might be a combination of the two. She hasn't gotten familiar with the issues yet and there are people that are just looking for anything they can to hammer her and this new administration.

Ryan Gabrielson:
It should be noted, it's a miserably difficult job overseeing a sprawling bureaucracy unlike anything else we have in terms of the sheer size of it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There's a thousand things coming at you.

Ryan Gabrielson:
And the responsibility -- keep America safe. No one killed by terrorism or anything, and while also securing every border and port, it's tremendously difficult.

Ted Simons:
I noticed that Senator McCain defended her somewhat. Came to her side, kinda sorta. This as, on the Senator's right flank, we've got Chris Simcox basically saying, I’m going for it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Right, Chris Simcox is the founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps who famously put minutemen down at the Arizona-Mexico border. And he came out to the Capitol this week and announced he's going to run for the senate. He’ll give McCain a run for the GOP nomination next year.

Ted Simons:
Do you think he’s got a shot?

Dennis Welch:
I don't think he’s got much of a shot, but he’s going to have a lot of money, I suspect, with the minuteman stuff from all across the country. There's going to be money pouring into the race.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Not that McCain doesn't have money. As his campaign points out, when he ran, he won the state when he ran for president. Even got Chris Simcox's vote for president.

Ted Simons:
Could a Simcox challenge to McCain, could that hurt McCain enough so that he's vulnerable in the general, provided the general had a strong democratic challenger?

Ryan Gabrielson:
I think Simcox can make a lot of noise and get attention on his issue, but whether puts a dent in McCain, I seriously doubt it.

Dennis Welch:
McCain will serve in the senate as long as he wants to. He's an institution.

Ted Simons:
Let's wrap it up with a Pulitzer Prize going to local reporters, including our very own Ryan Gabrielson right here. You ours for at least this half hour, then you can go back to the Tribune. What surprised you the most in this investigation? Was there anything once you started said -- whoa!

Ryan Gabrielson:
Yes. There were a number of things. The most significant, we got a tip that something bad had happened in the town of El Mirage. They were ramping up the immigration stuff and we put in a request up to El Mirage and they unleashed their files and we find dozens of violent crime cases, including a dozen sex assaults, a lot involving minors, closed without investigation and the last sheet of the page on a lot of those files was from the El Mirage police department, because they were trying to scramble and catch up when they saw the issue. They said this is one of the several cases we received from the Maricopa County sheriff's office that had not been investigated.

Ted Simons:
When this came out in the original series, talk about the response locally.

Ryan Gabrielson:
It was a mixed bag. Which was actually a huge success for us. We sort of geared up for this massive negative reaction. We didn't think anyone would look past the immigration issue. It was a criminal justice investigation of the sheriff's office. But a lot of people did. A lot of them, it was -- you know, not everybody, but a lot of people did. And I remember that first day I got in at 5:45 in the morning, expected an overwhelming backlash. Some people started screaming at me on the phone, by the end they were laughing and agreed to read the article.

Ted Simons:
We did have Paul Giblin and Patty Epler on earlier in the week but you on right now, personally, when you found out, did you yell, scream, faint or all of the above?

Ryan Gabrielson:
I almost -- I felt a little nauseous and lightheaded, certainly, and didn't shout until everybody else was shouting. Once everybody else confirmed it, they see the same on the screen as I did.

Ted Simons:
Your cohorts, they no longer work at the Tribune, one of many casualties in the media right now that doesn't seem to end. Does it concern you at all that this kind of thing you did may become even more rare as cutbacks in the media continue?

Ryan Gabrielson:
Absolutely, I think it's an inevitability. And the series costs tens of thousands of dollars for the Tribune to produce and Paul and I spent a better part of six months doing nothing but this investigation. The number of outlets who can do that is shrinking by the day.

Dennis Welch:
The amount of work he put into that series, I would like to say, it's well deserved and congratulations for the incredible accomplishment.

Ted Simons:
We'll stop it right there. Thank you all for joining us!

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