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January 7, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Congressman Harry Mitchell

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  • Congressman Mitchell talks about the latest issues facing Congress, including health care reform and security issues.
  • Harry Mitchell - U.S. Congressman

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Ted Simons: Healthcare reform is one of the big issues before congress right now. The house and senate have both passed their versions of reform and work on a compromise bill is underway. Also, there's talk of a comprehensive immigration bill coming up this year. Joining us to talk about that and other congressional issues is Arizona democratic congressman Harry Mitchell.

Harry Mitchell: Good to see you. And Happy New Year.

Ted Simons: You voted for the healthcare reform bill. Why?

Harry Mitchell:I voted for it because I wanted to make sure we kept this ball rolling. It's been 50 years or more that we've been talking about healthcare reform. I knew the bill wasn't perfect and knew the bill I voted on wouldn't be the final version, but I thought it important to keep it moving. Because the status quo just wasn't acceptable. People were losing health insurance, paying higher deductibles, paying high co-pays, they were losing insurance. Healthcare is one of the most expensive items we have in this country. Not to government, but to individual budgets, so the status quo wasn't acceptable and I voted to make sure that we kept this ball rolling.

Ted Simons: Critics say that getting the ball rolling means it's going to head into worse areas. Can you do more harm than good?

Harry Mitchell: No, I don't think so. I think there are a lot of good things about this bill. For example, people who have preexisting conditions under this bill, you would -- would not be denied coverage. You couldn't be dropped from coverage or have your insurance rates go up because you have an illness. These were things that I think are really important. Put a cap, for example, on out-of-pocket expenses that you have to pay either annually or yearly -- not yearly, but in a lifetime. These were important. 60% of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical costs. So we just couldn't continue on the way we were doing.

Ted Simons: How do you see reconciliation? I’ve read where it might be the senate bill is the base and the house comes in and out with amendments.

Harry Mitchell: Well I’m not sure how that’s going to work. I do know that was main bill was passed by the house and the senate, their version was really an amendment to the house. So it's going to go back and forth. I think it's important that there be transparency in making sure that what is finally presented to the house and senate can people with a good idea and grasp for.

Ted Simons: I want to get to transparency here in a minute but before that, the -- the governor says that the senate bill is going to wallop the state with Medicaid costs. Is that a valid concern?

Harry Mitchell: I have the same concerns. I served in the state legislature and the city council of Tempe and as mayor. In both of those governments, you had to have by law, a balanced budget. This is the first level of government where you don’t have to have a balanced budget. So I understand the financial pain, the state and cities are going through. I have that concern and I wanted to make sure that Arizona residents and citizens are protected from an overburden of regulation and costs.

Ted Simons: Does that mean states with looser eligibility, like Arizona, do you see a credit of some kind down the line?

Harry Mitchell: I'm not sure how it's going to be worked out. But I was on a conference call that talked about that. And there were lots of concerns, not just by people from Arizona, but California and New York and lots of other states who have the same kind of concerns that we have here. We want to make sure we're treated fairly.

Ted Simons: Let me go back to transparency. The idea of protecting consumers, the financial regulatory oversight bill. You voted against that. Included in there is transparency as far as credit ratings. A variety of things that the president himself said were necessary in terms of revamping the financial industry. Was the president wrong?

Harry Mitchell: I voted against it for one reason. There was going to be another level of government that is going to be placed on all of the other regulatory agency that are there. I believe we have the laws necessary. We have the regulatory agencies necessary. The important thing is to make sure they enforce the law and these agencies have the resources. I don't think creating another level, another layer was going to help us at all. It might -- from what I heard, the input I was getting, would just confuse things. We have the regulators in place. We just need to make sure. That's an important job of congress. I know that congress’ main job is to pass laws. But up there next to that is oversight. And congress needs to do a better job to make sure these agencies are doing what they were intended to do.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about oversight regarding national security concerns. President is out with the Christmas bomber report. Took responsibility. But do you think heads should roll because of this?

Harry Mitchell: I was outraged when I heard and read what happened and I sent a letter to both the chairman of the intelligence committee as well as homeland security committee saying we need investigations. We need to have hearings to find out what went wrong. The important thing I believe in all of this, we learn from these mistakes. The president did say, there was a screw-up in intelligence gathering and in our equipment, and technology. This -- and even with cooperating with foreign countries. This needs to stop. And I applaud the president for -- for taking credit for this, or taking blame or whatever you want to call it. But I think what is important we learn from this and don't allow this to happen again.

Ted Simons: Lots of missed warning signs. What the heck happened?

Harry Mitchell: Exactly, and we need to find out where were these agencies that had some role to play in this? Where was our intelligence? Where was our equipment? This is important.

Ted Simons: A lot of criticism of homeland security chief Janet Napolitano. People saying she was out of touch, the system worked -- valid criticism?

Harry Mitchell: What happened was a surprise to all of us and I think the president rightly said that we have -- we screwed up. And I think that's -- you know, after he looked at this, studied it and looked at -- looked at the reports, I'm sure in congress we'll have investigation and oversight hearings to find out what went wrong and correct the mistakes.

Ted Simons: In general, did the Obama administration play down terrorism too much? Did it seem like there wasn't enough attention regardless of the result of the Christmas day bombing incident, or near incident. There wasn't enough of the administration looking at terrorism, critics say.

Harry Mitchell: There's a lot going on and the fact that we did screw up, we had some information that wasn't passed on, I think those are valid criticisms that our homeland security agency, all of those involved, intelligence, those who carry out these responsibilities and pass on the information, they didn't do the job that should have been done and I don't know if heads will roll or not. I think the president is not far from doing some of that.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Comprehensive immigration reform, sounds like it might happen this year, yet we’re also wondering, it's an election year and there are some political watchers saying Democrats in control don't want to touch it during election year. What’s going on here?

Harry Mitchell: Arizona plays a disproportionate role in this. More immigrants come in illegally through Arizona than any other state. What happens with immigration, without any control that we have. We have drugs, guns, kidnappings and all kinds of crimes committed with this. The federal government has a responsibility and I think they've just been kicking the immigration problem down the road. Arizona needs relief. This nation needs relief. We need to know who is coming across the border. I saw today, recently, that Arizona again, submitted a bill to help pay for all of those illegal immigrants incarcerated. We're paying a heavy price in Arizona.

Ted Simons: The feds should pay that bill?

Harry Mitchell: Absolutely. The federal government has abdicated their responsibility in guarding our borders. We need to strengthen and make sure we know who is coming across.

Ted Simons: But are you and/or fellow Democrats ready to take the lead on that in an election year, and especially when you have a lot of political watchers, thinking that Hispanic support could be lost by stalling on immigration reform or going in the wrong direction?

Harry Mitchell: Immigration reform has to be comprehensive. And include a stricter and more secure borders. But we also have to take a look at the needs of businesses. The employment. It's got to be a comprehensive plan and I think most people realize what we end up having are a hodgepodge of people enforcing immigration laws. Different sheriffs, different police chiefs, different states and different cities and that's because the federal government has failed in its responsibility of immigration. So I think that we have a responsibility to keep from -- keep this thing from going down the road over and over to deal with this.

Ted Simons: Alright, closer to home--South mountain freeway, what's the latest on that? I know you've been very much in favor of going through tribal land and sounds like starting to talk on it.

Harry Mitchell: I think it's important that we talk with the tribal and the tribal government on this. And I think that there's a movement, it's a difficult situation. The tribe needs to say here's what we would like to you do and the state has to respond. But I think there's real movement and with both people being sensitive to each other's needs that we can come to an agreement and I think that agreement will hopefully will put that freeway on tribal land. Where not only the Ahwatukee area benefits and all of those east of that, but also the tribes and their economic development and what we can do to help the tribes.

Ted Simons: So if a federal land swap has to happen, let it happen?

Harry Mitchell: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Recent polls have come out and show that you're somewhat vulnerable. Depends on the poll, depends on the number depends on who is doing the poll as well.

Harry Mitchell: Sure.

Ted Simons: But there has to be some concern there.

Harry Mitchell: I've read 17 different elections and every election as a democrat I've been in the minority. That's why I come home every weekend to find out what it is the constituents are concerned with and report back to Washington D.C. and I could never have been successful without getting the support of independents and Republicans. And I was raised in this district. I taught school in this district. Lived in the same house for 45 years. I have a pretty good feel for the district. So I take every election very, very seriously. We're prepared for this and the fact what I've been doing, we're going to win it.

Ted Simons: Ok. Ok, we'll stop it right there. Congressman, thank you for joining us.

Harry Mitchell: Thank you very much, Ted.

Supervisor Don Stapley

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  • Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley talks about issues facing Maricopa County.
  • Don Stapley - Maricopa County Supervisor

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Ted Simons: If you've been paying attention to Maricopa County politics, you've heard the name Don Stapley in regards to, among other things, criminal indictments handed down by the county sheriff and attorney. Today Stapley got some better news. He was named chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors. I'll talk to Don Stapley in a moment, but first, some comments from Stapley after his swearing in ceremony this morning.

Don Stapley: I'll fight for what is right, but not just fight. We have had enough of fighting. If all we do is fight, then we will be left too weary and too divided to make progress on broad challenges we face. I seek to set policy, to solve problems by bringing people together, not to settle scores. I pledge not to do anything to aggravate or prolong the bitterness and mistrust that has soured Maricopa County in recent months. I will meet regularly with all county elected officers and listen with respect to their concerns and their ideas. I will focus my efforts as chairman on three areas that I feel will have the greatest impact. The fiscal challenges that we face ahead, energy conservation and green government initiatives, and updating our strategic plan that will guide our future.

Ted Simons: Joining me now is chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Don Stapley. Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Don Stapley: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: New chairman of the board of supervisors. Why you? You've got things going on in your life and career. Why do you think you?

Don Stapley: Well, I'm not new to the board of supervisors. I'm in my fifth term. 16th year. I've served previously three different calendar years as chairman and also served as the president of the national association of counties just recently. And during that one-year term as president of NACo, the national association of counties, the first indictment came down. That went away, through a series of what I believe were proper rulings by the justice system, the criminal justice system. I have every confidence that the current charges will go away also, and I believe I have the confidence of my colleagues on the board of supervisors who voted for me unanimously to chair the board this year and it's an important year for Maricopa County and for the state of Arizona, and I'm very, very humbled to have this opportunity.

Ted Simons: The confidence of fellow board members but some look at this and say this is the board of supervisors sending a message, showing solidarity or trying to find something to poke at the county attorney and the sheriff. How would you respond?

Don Stapley: I don't believe that's the case. I do believe that this is about good government, this is about providing leadership for the county. I think I have some good ideas about how the future problems that we have with our fiscal and economic recession we're in, how we can continue to hold the line and continue to provide leadership and good government for the citizens of Maricopa County.

Ted Simons: How much has good government been hurt by the infighting in the county?

Don Stapley: It's been very expensive for the taxpayers to pay the cost. It's been extremely expense for me, personally, because I've had to defend myself out of my own pocket. As will other -- or as are other members of the board of supervisors who have been indicted, it is distracting and it is challenging. I believe we're up to the task. I believe that the board and the administration -- you know, we -- we've had disagreements with elected officials at county in the past. Other elected officials and been able to resolve them without going to court.

Ted Simons: I wanted to ask you this, how did things get this bad? What happened?

Don Stapley: I think things are getting better. We're no longer fighting with the treasurer, we’ve made peace, we’ve resolved every issue with the treasurer, as well as the superintendent of schools, and treasurer. And every other official. The clerk of the courts, who is running for election this year, Michael Jeans is -- got along fabulously with the board. The assessor, Keith Russell has done a great job. So we're -- we get along very well with our fellow elected colleagues with the exception of two.

Ted Simons: How did it get so bad with those two?

Don Stapley: They keep suing us. You know? And unfortunately, instead of talking first, they have resorted to the courts and that -- in my way of thinking, that's a very poor way to work with people who are part -- supposedly part of a team.

Ted Simons: And yet the sheriff and county attorney are saying we're just doing our jobs. Is that a valid comment? If they think they need to sue and take these kind of actions at what point do you say go ahead, I understand this. Or is it just not understandable from where you're coming from?

Don Stapley: I don't understand it. My colleagues on the board have a hard time understanding it. We've tried very hard to communicate with the sheriff and county attorney. And it has failed miserably in the last year.

Ted Simons: I want to ask the same question in a different way. Something happen there. I mean, it wasn't like this a few years ago. It's like this now. Whether it's getting better or not, we'll find out. What happened? And they're suing, I understand that, but where did that relationship go?

Don Stapley: Let me point out that they’ve not sued us once but they've sued us many, many times in the last year and lost every suit. And I don't think it's appropriate to get into a debate of the merits of the various cases. But suffice it to say, anyone who disagrees with them gets sued. And they're abusing the trust, in my opinion and the power that they have as both prosecutorial and police power. That's my opinion and pretty much the general consensus of anyone who looks at it seriously and unbiasedly.

Ted Simons: If the county attorney wants to look into a relationship between a supervisor and a developer, should he be able to do that? She he be able to investigate what he sees as a problem there?

Don Stapley: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: No conflict of interest there?

Don Stapley: No.

Ted Simons: Then --

Don Stapley: Look into -- far cry from looking into to going to a grand jury and seeking an indictment.

Ted Simons: What he have done otherwise? If he had concerns regarding your relationship with the developer, what should he have done otherwise?

Don Stapley: Previously, the county attorneys would come and talk to us and point out concerns of conflict. In fact, I went to the county attorney, including the current county attorneys, who were assigned to the board and asked about conflict of interests and actually got written documents explaining there was no conflict or that there was a conflict, depending on the issue. So we've always had a good relationship. Just in the last year it has completely fallen apart.

Ted Simons: So when he says he wants to do this investigation but can't because of a conflict of interest, he wants to get a special prosecutor or two, he can't do that because the board won't authorize it. He says he's bottled up at every turn. How do you respond?

Don Stapley: His request is illegal, his request to use out-of-state attorney, statutorily are prohibited by state law and there are a variety of other legal issues that prohibit him from doing that, in the opinion of our legal counsel. So we didn't have any choice in whether we put it on the agenda or not, because it's against the law for the board to put it on the agenda.

Ted Simons: What seems to be at the bottom of this -- Well, there's a lot, but one of the things down there seems to be an assumption or an allegation of quid pro quo between county officials, supervisors and the judiciary regarding a court tower. Were there any quid pro quos here?

Don Stapley: Absolutely not.

Ted Simons: Not even close?

Don Stapley: Not even close. That's the most bizarre accusation coming out of the blue that I had heard or the rest of the board had heard. Totally surprised because these two elected officials you're talking about, had been working very closely with the board for years. Not months, not weeks, but for years in the planning of this facility. And it's an important facility and in the infrastructure of the county's criminal justice system and benefit the sheriff and county attorney enormously and it's necessary to keep the system operating the way it needs to operate.

Ted Simons: When the county attorney says I see deep-seated corruption within county government, you say?

Don Stapley: Show me where. I haven't seen any. It's the cleanest project I've ever seen as far as contracting. The county attorney signed off on every architect, every engineer, every step of the way. They meet weekly and never ever once brought up a problem. Completely approved every step of the way until a year ago.

Ted Simons: Personal issue here, regarding the campaign money that the county attorney seems to be targeting. And the campaign forms, as well. Go back to that as well. Could you have been more careful on both counts? Can you see where he's coming from? Can you see where he might have raised an eyebrow or two?

Don Stapley: Ted, I can't get into the details of that. That's been driven into my brain by my legal counsel, so I can't go there.

Ted Simons: Apart from that, you were arrested in the parking garage. Talk to us about that. How surprised were you when this happened?

Don Stapley: I was shocked. I felt abused by -- and I felt like it was done in an illegal fashion. And that proved to be the case as within hours a judge released me. There was no prosecutor involved. It was just a brutal abusive payback on the heels of a judge throwing out 116 count -- a prosecutor dropping the counts that the judge had not yet thrown out and I think it was a visceral reaction by the sheriff’s department.

Ted Simons: The critics of the sheriff and the county attorney say they're doing these things to you and to others to simply embarrass you, to get you out there and intimidate and embarrass.

Don Stapley: I have not broken any laws or committed any crime and I'm going to do the job that the voters elected me to do.

Ted Simons: And last question, chairman now of the board of supervisors, doing that job, how can you do it when you've got this relationship going on?

Don Stapley: My door is open and you may have heard today, I plan to meet with the elected officials and listen to them, show them the respect that is due them on a regular basis. Every other week at least. Throughout my year as chairman of the board. They -- they are welcome to attend those meetings and welcome to speak directly to me and to my colleagues also. But individually, to me, in these -- in these meetings that are designed to take their input, take their perspective and make sure that we respect their positions and elected officials and we work better with them and I think we're making great progress as I said with the treasurer and superintendent of schools. We're doing well. If the other two choose to come on board, they're welcome.

Ted Simons: Supervisor, thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Don Stapley: Thank you very much.