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March 26, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

New Early Voter Bills

  |   Video
  • Bills that allow a purge of the permanent early voter lists and that would restrict who can turn in ballots for others are said to be aimed at voter suppression. Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez and State Senator Steve Gallardo will discuss the bills.
  • F. Ann Rodriguez - Recorder, Pima County
  • Steve Gallardo - State Senator
Category: Law   |   Keywords: voting, vote, early, law, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Two bills potentially changing election laws in Arizona are getting a lot of attention. One bill would permit county recorders to notify those on the permanent early voting list that they will be dropped from the list if they failed to vote in the past two federal elections. Another bill would prohibit a worker or volunteer for a political group to return another person's ballot to a polling place. Here to talk about the measures are Pima county recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, and state senator Steve Gallardo, who opposes the two bills. Good to have you both here.

F. Ann Rodriguez: Thank you for inviting us.

Ted Simons: let's talk about the voter registration designation. Only a voter designate can turn in another person's ballot. Why would that be necessary?

F. Ann Rodriguez: First of all, thank you for inviting me down here. I'm the Pima counsel city recorder. There's two different bills. The bill that -- Barring someone pick up a ballot, is secretary of state Ken Bennett's bill. He got a representative to sponsor the bill. The reporters happen to support it. What we believe is that no one, and it's always been my policy, no one should be giving their ballot to a stranger no matter what. Before even this bill was implemented. I still feel very strongly that way. I was asked the question in reverse. If somebody came to your front door and it was a total stranger would you give them your voted ballot? And I would not do that. Most people would not do that. We just don't think it's a good public policy for people to going out there, no matter which political party they belong to, which special interest groups they are, or anybody else should be going out there and potentially not turning in a voter's ballot. And our job is to -- As the recorders of the state of Arizona is to preserve the integrity of the voting process.

Ted Simons: Why not limit who can turn in another person's voter?

Steve Gallardo: Who are we to tell a voter what they can do with their ballot? When I receive my ballot I'm able to vote for whoever I want. And at the end of the day I should have the right to give my ballot to whoever I want to. If I want to give my ballot to an organization, to a family member, someone from my church, that's fine. It is my ballot, I should have the right to do whatever I want with our ballot. Why should politicians tell a voter what they can do with their ballot? They should be able to do what they want with their ballot. That is probably the most fundamental right we have as voters, is to be able to vote, and to be able to vote for who we want, and we should be able to give our ballot to whoever we want. If we trust a friend, an organization, we should have that right.

Ted Simons: How do you respond to that in the sense you may not be the wisest thing to do, it may not be wisest thing for you to do, but to take away that right would be wrong.

F. Ann Rodriguez: What the recorders of the state of Arizona -- Remember, the recorders of the state of Arizona are collectively nonpartisan as far as, we represent a diverse group. There are eight of us that are democrat, seven are Republicans. So we came together and decide order some key legislation. Again, this is secretary of state Ken Bennett. She going to be providing some modifications to the bill so far as if you happen to know the person, then you can go ahead and give your ballot to that one. Let's say somebody from your bingo group or church group, and that's going to be a proposal. What we're talking about is somebody that is a total stranger that are paid political people. These are paid political people.

Steve Gallardo: That's not true. That's not true. Not all of them are paid. A lot of these folks are volunteers that volunteer for many different organizations. League of women voters, united here, there's so many different organizations with one purpose -- How do we get folks involved in our election? Many of them are volunteers, they're not paid, perhaps some are paid, but the vast majority are not paid, they are volunteers and they're going out in our community, they're knocking on doors, encouraging people, don't forget to vote, reminding them it's election time, and asking them, would you like us to help you deliver their ballots. Many of them don't trust the post office, many of them perhaps just feel comfortable with giving their ballot. And they should have that right. I think that's important.

Ted Simons: Paid or otherwise, there are some who say this move, this one particular move would help end voter fraud. How do you respond?

Steve Gallardo: Voter fraud has nothing to do with it. The fact is, the question we should be asking ourselves is what are we doing to educate voters? What are we doing to make sure the voters understand that perhaps giving it someone else is not the wisest thing. But the end of the day, this is someone's right, they can do whatever they want with the ballot, they can vote however they want. That is a voter's right and we should respect the voters.

Ted Simons: Are you concerned about voter fraud with this?

F. Ann Rodriguez: Yes, I am. There's the potential of this one. Like I said, I have always been an advocate, and before even this bill was proposed, that nobody should be giving their ballot to a total stranger. We are hearing from our constituents, the recorders, and what we've heard is that they're actually calling and saying they represent the recorder's office, or they're representing somebody which in fact it's not true. And it's not all of them, but all you have the potential of the voter fraud out there, and that's what we're out here to preserve. There's no illegalities going on, and things of that nature. And again, as long as you know that person, we are comfortable with that. Like I said, if you have somebody that's a part of your bridge group, or your neighbor next door, or a relative, that's perfectly OK. Because you know that person, because you entrust them. We're talking about strangers coming to people's door, and asking them for their ballot. That's what we're talking about.

Steve Gallardo: It's a red herring. We're trying to offer an actual distraction to what is at stake here. The fact is, we have organizations we have volunteers, people who are volunteering their time in hundred-degree weather, just to make sure people have the right to vote. Only in Arizona would we make it a felony for someone to help another person to vote. It's unfortunate this type of bill has moved forward. I do commend secretary of state Bennett for coming and trying to negotiate and working on some consensus. We are working with him. However, the current bill the way it stands is unacceptable. We shall let the voters have the right to do whatever they want with their ballot.

Ted Simons: The second bill, the idea of being off a permanent early vote can list if you haven't voted in a federal election for two straight cycles. Why is that necessary?

F. Ann Rodriguez: After the 2012 election, the state of Arizona was taking a very long time to finish the election process. We were on radio stations on TV stations, and the recorders got convened in December and said this is not acceptable. One of the things we need to do to preserve the voting process, to make sure that they run smoother, and what are the problems? So we collectively, remember, this is 15 county recorders, collectively receive 1.5 million votes ourselves. So the voters entrust to us make these decisions. We are the experts. That's what senate bill 1261 does. It is just not -- When we say two federal election cycles, these voters would miss four elections because you have to include the primary elections. These people are not voting through the -- They don't vote that method. That's what we're asking the state legislature to give us permission to send these voters a notification, we're not -- We're not removing them, but send them a notification so they have to reconfirm that they actually want to be on it. It doesn't change their voting status. They're still a registered voter in the state of Arizona, it's just getting them off the list because they don't want to be on the list.

Ted Simons: Why not drop someone or notify you're going to drop someone from a permanent early voting list if they're not a permanent early voter?

Steve Gallardo: This is the one bill that gets to me, because here is the bill that we have some issues with. And I understand the concerns that the county recorders have. We have an opportunity to come to consensus on this particular bill. As we do with any other bill. We get the stakeholders together, we start talking about some type of consensus. We have offered that with the county recorders, all 15. Let's bring the constituency groups together, let's bring the people with disabilities, let's bring the Native American, African-American, Hispanic groups, let's bring in all the advocacy groups, have a stakeholders meeting to have some type of compromise. They rejected that idea. They say they're not interested in compromising, they're pushing this bill forward. However, I do think this is a good bill that can be fixed, it's only if the county recorders and association counties decide to come to the table and negotiate. Biggest frustration on that bill is they're not wanting to come to some type of compromise.

Ted Simons: What is your compromise?

Steve Gallardo: A postcard. Right now under this particular bill, anyone who doesn't vote will receive a postcard and if you don't sign it, date it, and return it back, you will be removed from the permanent early ballot list. Let's have an opt out. Our current system as a voter, you have to sign a form to get on. And in order to get off you have to sign a form to get off. That actual process is working. I don't know about Pima county, Maricopa County, 3,000 people decided to opt out, let's continue that opt-out system, send them a postcard and say are not voting early, so why not opt out? Give them an opportunity to sign and get off.

Ted Simons: Opt out system make sense to you?

F. Ann Rodriguez: Right now we don't think that that system would work. Because these voters, we have sent them a ballot. They have not voted these four ballots for these elections, so we don't think they're going to have a response if they -- We send them notice about opting out. At some point it becomes voter responsibility. In this process. And Steve is, I can't speak for Maricopa County, I can speak for what we have in Pima county, but we, again, have said this is the best method that will work for getting these people off the list. It also was the recorders that came up with the idea of the permanent early voting list, and we came to the legislature to ask permission, we said, the constituents of the state of Arizona are calling the recorders and they want to be on the permanent early voting list. So we created this law. We've been through two federal -- Two presidential elections, and now we're coming back saying we need fine tuning in this process, and this is the best bill we could come forward to keep the integrity of the election process going for the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Critics will say these billings, put them together this, equates to voter suppression at worst, and streamlining at the expense of the ability to vote at best. How do you respond to that?

F. Ann Rodriguez: Well, we don't feel it suppresses anything. We were taken back when the accusation went to the recorders was that we were trying to suppress. The job of the recorders of the state of Arizona is to encouraging voter participation. And like I just said, we are the ones that decided to create the permanent early voting list, and it's a good mechanism, and we want to preserve those voters on the list that are using this method. That's what we want to protect too.

Ted Simons: Do you really see this as voter suppression?

Steve Gallardo: Definitely. The fact is, even in our senate hearing, we had over people weigh in in opposition. These are taxpayers, these are people within throughout the entire state of Arizona that came out in opposition to this particular bill. However, I do believe that the county recorders do need a mechanism. I don't believe this is truly the mechanism that they need in order to remove names. I do believe it does have the unintended consequences of suppressing the actual vote on election day. I understand their concerns. What I'm asking them, come to the table and negotiate a compromise. Let's bring all the groups together, let's have a stakeholders meeting, unfortunately the county recorders failed to want to come to the table to negotiate. That's the sad part.

F. Ann Rodriguez: I also have to say that we, during the senate hearings, we did do a compromise and we did an amendment. Because we agreed we were originally going after just the voter that were on the 2012 elections, and what came out of the hearings is -- In the public, and we heard them. They wanted us to do two federal elections. So the recorders agreed. We did an amendment and went back and said, we will create the list of data that will be receiving this notice for two federal elections, so we went back to the and the 2010 and 2012 election.

Steve Gallardo: And there was a lot of different ideas that were thrown out on actually out there in the senate committee. Unfortunately many of those ideas were dismissed before even given an opportunity to have a full discussion. I even offered amendments in the senate elections committee, they failed to get a hearing, the chair did not want to even discuss them. Some of the ideas were adopted and that's fine, I commend them for that. However there's other issues that need to be addressed, come to the table, let's negotiate, let's come up with a compromise.

F. Ann Rodriguez: I think the recorders of the state of Arizona are willing to continue this process. We're willing to listen to future amendments. But right now we feel this is the best method, so we can straighten out the problems that occurred in the election.

Steve Gallardo: Would you support the idea of coming to the table and negotiating with the advocacy groups and elected officials, the senators?

F. Ann Rodriguez: We --

Steve Gallardo: we offered that invitation and they told us no. They said we will not negotiate.

F. Ann Rodriguez: I'm not sure who "they" is.

Steve Gallardo: The association of counties.

F. Ann Rodriguez: I can speak for myself, you deal with a lot of different lobbyists, I know the recorders will be listening and we are going through a legislative session. What I want to get back to is that we feel that we need to straighten out these things right now for the election and that's why we've proposed senate bill --

Steve Gallardo: we have a whole other session to deal with come 2014. Let's work on an amendment in the interim, and let's come back with another bill in .

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Good to have you both here.

F. Ann Rodriguez: Thank you.

Suntech Solar Power Plant Closed

  |   Video
  • The Suntech Power Holding’s Goodyear solar panel assembly plant has closed. Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal will talk about why the plant has closed and the state of solar power businesses in Arizona.
  • Mike Sunnucks - Phoenix Business Journal
Category: Energy   |   Keywords: arizona, solar, energy, future, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Sun-Tech power holding company is closing its solar panel assembly -- Bankruptcy. Here now to talk about the plant's closure and what it means to the solar industry in Arizona is Mike Sunnucks, who's been covering the story for "The Phoenix Business Journal." Good to see you again. Sun-Tech power holdings. Who are we talking about?

Mike Sunnucks: A huge Chinese company, one of the biggest solar panel manufacturers in the world. It was big fanfare in when they opened the Goodyear plant. They were going to hire 150, 300 people to assemble solar panels, shipped in from China. It was kind of a big linchpin of our solar economic development efforts. Jan Brewer was there, it was a big win for the west valley, which tried to get more high-wage jobs, these were manufacturing production types jobs. All that is gone.

Ted Simons: How many jobs have you lost?

Mike Sunnucks: At the end they had 43 people. They had ramped up a little bit but had cut back, but when they announced the layoffs, and the bankruptcy that's happened, they're shuttering the plant and 43 folks are out of work. But it's a big disappointment, for the solar industry and the region.

Ted Simons: The plant closes what, in a couple weeks?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. They pretty much shutting it down. They made the panels in China, they shipped them here, and they were assembled here. It was to get around the buy American type contracts so they could sell to some public utilities, public entities, school systems, so a lot of government agencies, state localities have a buy American rule, so if they do some of the work here, car companies do the same thing. Do some of the work here, they were able to get around that.

Ted Simons: Get some U.S. fingerprints on it.

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: So why is this plant closing?

Mike Sunnucks: There's a couple of things. Some of it is systematic problems with the solar industry. There's too many producers chasing too few consumers. I think there was a report there's 80 some some major solar producers in the world. They're very reliant on subsidies, tax breaks, incentives, you get a tax break or some kind of incentive from utility for getting a solar water heater, they've done this a lot in Europe, Germany, and Spain have done a lot of subsidies. It's very popular industry, both politically and with the media. So you see these programs that encouraging businesses and consumers to go solar, and do these things. As soon as these things end, it seems like the -- The companies falter. Secondly, Sun-Tech has a lot of problems. A ton of debt, a billion dollars in debt, there's questions how they were managed, they're limiting the CEO back in China from being able to leave the country. There's a lot of questions about Sun-Tech itself. So it's not just the solar issue, it's this company had problems, got caught up in a lot of debt.

Ted Simons: Subsidies are one thing and Sun-Tech having bankruptcy problems and all sorts of weirdness going on in China is another, there's also the idea that we've got tariffs on these imports.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. In the last year the Obama administration imposed I think 27% tariffs on solar panels coming in from China, arguing they were not competing fairly, that they were subsidizing their own companies over there, and then dumping cheap product over here in the U.S. to the detriment of people like first solar, in Tempe. So those went into effect and that was part of Sun-Tech's demise. And obviously it's been a trade problem with China in other areas, but especially solar. And solar is so competitive and the prices are so low at times when the subsidies aren't there the dumping makes it worse. So Sun-Tech got caught in a bad situation.

Ted Simons: It sounds like in China so much is subsidized over there, that there are these little companies popping up all over the place, and there are far more panels than the need -- Than the demand calls for.

Mike Sunnucks: China subsidizes a lot of its industries, including solar. There's currency issues, the way they treat raw materials like aluminum. And solar panels themselves. So, yeah, you've seen these companies pop up over there, so they have some strange subsidized competition over there. And there's a lot of companies doing well over there, but solar energy just has so many problems, maintaining itself when it's not propped up.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about Arizona. That's going on in China. What's going on in Arizona as far as the industry in general, I know the governor is going to announce a job announcements here next couple days or so in the valley with another solar kind of oriented company. How is the state of the solar industry in Arizona?

Mike Sunnucks: It's mixed. We have this great advantage that we're all about sunshine here, and we have first solar, and the obvious sit with solar is here with us. We're close to California, we're one of the top solar producing states in the country along with California and New Jersey. So we're naturally a hub for that. And there's a lot of projects that have come and gone, some have been successful, some haven't. You've seen school systems put a lot of panels in, Universities have done that. So there's a lot of that, and you've had the utilities promote things with consumers and small businesses. It just long term it seems to have a problem catching hold. It doesn't employ a ton of people, about 10,000, that's nothing to sneeze at, those are good jobs. But it's not a huge sector, say like construction or tourism. So there's some success stories, but there's a lot of challenges because these companies just can't seem to make it work competitively without some kind of tax breaks and subsidies and being propped up.

Ted Simons: What are you seeing in the future? Are we seeing more success stories or more Sun-Techs?

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's going to be like any other industry. You'll see things get weeded down to a few major companies that produce these things, I think if you continue to see smart public policy, smart tax breaks, subkiss for consumers and businesses, people will slowly try to adopt solar like you've seen in some cases. So I don't think it's all doom and gloom that the Sun-Tech thing is a decision appointment for everybody involved here in the region because that was a linchpin and was a good promotion thing for folks we have first solar, Sun-Tech, those are big names that helps you attract more folks. So it's disappointing but long-term I don't think it's as gloomy as people think. But it's got to weed itself out and they've got to get the costs to work in a competitive marketplace.

Ted Simons: Is there any indication of anyone assuming the plant operations out there?

Mike Sunnucks: I haven't heard anything about that. They didn't get a lot of tax breaks. You look at these things where the commerce authority and the city and state are involved, you expect boondoggle, it wasn't really like that. They were in line for job training help, just like any other company, but they didn’t really meet the benchmark-- I hope it doesn't discourage other efforts to get solar here, because it's an industry that can pay pretty well, and it's obviously an energy source for the future.

Ted Simons: That brings up my final question. Is the concern that people will see the solar industry as a PANACEA, everybody will be working in solar in the next five to ten years, or are folks starting to take a more realistic viewpoint of solar as just one of many sectors in Arizona and it's not a be all and end all?

Mike Sunnucks: I think you're right. There was a point when construction was down, and people said, what are we going to do with these construction workers? Let's have them install solar panel and build solar farms. Some of the farms got built, and once they're built there's only a few guys there to run them. Solar panels, you see some work for that. But a lot of consumers can't afford that. When you're buying a hot water heater and you're weighing your pennies, usually do you with cost. It's still cheaper in most cases unless have you a big subsidy to build that. Solar is still a promising sector for us, just because of our climate, our proximity to California, and we still have a lot of companies here that do that. But it depends on what path they take in terms of how to prop it up and how long that is.

Ted Simons: It's an active industry, and with every Sun-Tech that leaves you never know who's going to be coming in. We could get an announcement this week of somebody else moving in.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is Sun-Tech -- For investors, especially here, they're used to investing in real estate and land. You pitch a solar company to investors, here or silicon valley, things like Sun-Tech kind of diminish their ability to invest in something like that.

Ted Simons: Mike, good information. Thanks for joining us