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April 15, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Around Arizona: Forest Thinning Report

  |   Video
  • We tell you about a new report on forest thinning. The Nature Conservancy and Arizona State University have teamed up on the report that shows how to create a sustainable, economically viable method for thinning small diameter trees. Dan O’Neill, general manager of S-3, a consulting service offered by ASU’s Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, and Patrick Graham, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Arizona, talk about the report.
  • Dan O’Neill - General Manager, S-3
  • Patrick Graham - State Director, Nature Conservancy in Arizona
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: sustainability, forest, thinning, report, asu, nature, conservancy,

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Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on sustainability looks at forest thinning in Arizona. ASU and the Nature Conservancy teamed up to study ways to create sustainable, economically viable methods for thinning small diameter trees. Dan O'Neill is with ASU's Walton sustainability solutions initiatives, and Patrick Graham is state director of the Nature Conservancy in Arizona. Good to see you both here. Good to talk about this, because it feels like we've talked about this in the past with the forest initiative, what exactly did your study look at?

Dan O’Neill: We were asked by the Nature Conservancy to look at the economic viability of creating an industry around small diameter wood. The forest products industry kind of died in Arizona a number of years ago, and this is about the rebirth of such an industry.

Ted Simons: How small in diameter are we talking about?

Dan O’Neill: Up to inches in general.

Ted Simons: And as far as the impact on the forest health, getting rid of these smaller trees, it's a biggie isn't it?

Patrick Graham: Yeah. We've lost a million acres, a quarter of our forests to fire in a decade. And it's not only impacting the wildlife in the forest, but it also impacts our water supplies.

Ted Simons: And again, these things which may not have been there in the past because low-grade fires would have knocked them out, they're all over the place.

Patrick Graham: We really -- We had historically a mature ponderosa forest might have 40-50 trees an acre and today we have hundreds up to a thousand trees per acre.

Ted Simons: Who wants these small trees? One of the problems I know from doing stories on this over the years, loggers, folks in the business, wood business, they don't want the little ones, and they want the big trees. What are we doing here?

Dan O’Neill: Big aspect of building a new industry cluster around small-diameter wood is market development. There's a variety of different uses of small-diameter wood. What needs to happen is building more markets for that kind of product. One example is post and pole. That's a niche that some manufacturers or some log processors have found in the southwest for small-diameter wood.

Ted Simons: And processed woods, saw dust, that kind of thing?

Dan O’Neill: There's a wide variety of uses, and in fact forest products industry has been -- Always been good at using the whole log, everything from the log, so it ranges from everything from the lumber that comes from the small-diameter wood down to the slash that comes from the cutting process that can be used in things like energy generation processes.

Ted Simons: And mentioned the four forest initiative, it seemed like it stalled out in mid-flight, now it's getting -- Is this similar to that initiative? Compare and contrast.

Patrick Graham: This is a piece of that. There was a period where it was uncertain whether or not this is going to be economically viable. Without industry, the four forested initiative would not be able to move forward because government would have to pay potentially hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. So we wanted to move forward and verify that in fact this is economic -- Can be done economically viable, and that's why we went to the school of sustainability.

Ted Simons: So how is it economically viable? What has changed? Where is the market and why aren't they doing it now?

Dan O’Neill: As a matter of fact, they are beginning to do it now. What's needed is a cluster approach. Where you have a variety of different uses for log, and you can realize value from everything from the larger log down to the slash that results from -- So the key is building a cluster, and there are a couple of clusters that we modeled that are emerging along the rim now.

Ted Simons: I guess the idea is the goal is to get business in there to replace -- We pay -- The forest service pays folks to do this kind of business, right?

Dan O’Neill: Yeah. They have paid several dollars a ton to help clear the forest, but what we saw from modeling it was that it's viable, it's possible to actually eliminate subsidy from the forest service.

Ted Simons: Is it viable? Is it possible to get these these small-diameter trees out of there and not damage the forest with roads, A, and B not take out a bunch of big trees in the process?

Patrick Graham: Yes, I think clearly the study supported the fact that we can do this without subsidies, and -- Which is going to be essential. We need -- The four forest initiative is proposing to do up to a million acres. It's really the largest project of its kind in the nation. And not only is it challenging from an economic perspective, but we also have to maintain the public trust in order to be able to move this forward. So there are a lot of other creative things that are going on, and maybe we can talk about that on another program. Yeah, there's no question that this can move forward. The environmental impact statement should be wrapped up this summer, and with that the companies should be able to move forward with their investments and get this going.

Ted Simons: A few seconds left. Response so far from this?

Dan O’Neill: It's been a lot of interest. People -- It's a hopeful kind of message, and people are intrigued by it. They've been watching their forests burn for a few years, and would like to see that end.

Ted Simons: We'll see where the study takes us. It's good to have you both here.

Campaign Finance Laws

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  • An administrative law judge recommended charges of violating campaign finance laws filed against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne be dropped. Local attorney Lee Miller talks about laws Horne is accused of violating.
  • Lee Miller - Attorney
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, campaign, finance, laws, violating, law, arizona,

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Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. An administrative law judge ruled yesterday that prosecutors failed to prove alleged campaign finance violations by attorney general Tom Horne and an aide, Kathleen Winn. Local attorney Lee Miller is here to talk about the case and the judge's ruling. Good to see you again.

Lee Miller: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: They were accused of illegal coordination between a candidate and an independent campaign committee. Correct?

Lee Miller: Correct.

Ted Simons: And what did the judge say yesterday?

Lee Miller: That there was a lot of communication between Mr. Horne and the chairwoman of the independent expenditure committee, but the government didn't prove that it was more likely than not that that communication involved politics and the attorney general's race, and therefore she decided that no laws had been violated.

Ted Simons: And she wrote that the prosecutors failed to establish preponderance of evidence. What constitutes a preponderance of evidence?

Lee Miller: Preponderance of the evidence is the lowest standard of proof that the law uses. It's most commonly described as more likely than not or 51% -- Whatever side gets 51% of the equation has achieved a preponderance.

Ted Simons: So compare it to, like a grand jury indictment?

Lee Miller: Indictments, you have to have a reasonable belief that an individual committed a crime. To convict somebody of a crime you have to use the highest standard of proof, beyond a shadow of a doubt, which means there can be no alternative explanation other than guilt.

Ted Simons: This one really is the lowest possible bar.

Lee Miller: It is. It's an administrative action, there's no criminal punishment involved, and it's really the lowest hurdle the government has to try and get over.

Ted Simons: With all of these records of phone calls and emails, the timing of the phone calls, the timing of the emails, the judge said not enough?

Lee Miller: Not enough, because Mr. Horne and Ms. Winn and folks working with them and for them provided what the judge felt were reasonable alternative explanations for all the communication back and forth.

Ted Simons: And reasonable means that, I'm going to give you four instances. Horne calls Winn, two minutes later she calls add director with script change. Winn calls Horne, two minutes later she e-mailed ad director. Horne attempts to send email chain to Winn regarding the campaign. Those are just four of the things that were mentioned in this particular case. Judge says it's plausible in each case the campaign was not part of the conversation.

Lee Miller: Yes. Because the lawyers for Mr. Horne and Ms. Winn also established that at the same time all of this communication was going on, Mr. Horne was trying to close a complicated real estate transaction, Ms. Winn was a very experienced real estate professional who was helping him with that transaction, and as anybody who's tried to close a real estate deal knows, it's not surprising that there's lots of small issues that require quick phone call.

Ted Simons: And it sounds like the administrative law judge said the prosecutor's case is plausible, but it sounds like more slightly more plausible are the sayings.

Lee Miller: Right. In the way our justice system is supposed to work, the government has to win. The government doesn't get the benefit of a tie. It has to get over the hurdle, not just on top of the hurdle, and here the judge said close but not enough.

Ted Simons: So she vacates the order to repay the donors $400,000. And what about the idea of a $1.2 million fine?

Lee Miller: Well, if they don't find inappropriate illegal coordination between the candidate committee and the independent expenditure committee, then you can't get to the punitive part of the statute. So that just fades away on its own.

Ted Simons: Does the county attorney, does she still have options? I understand she can accept, reject, or modify. How do you modify something like this?

Lee Miller: In this particular case it's unlikely she's going to modify the judge's holding. Modify is sort of a standard boilerplate part of the conversation in an administrative hearing. She may simply agree with the administrative law judge, or she may just completely disagree. She's -- County attorney Polk is perfectly entitled to say, the ALJ got it wrong, my folks got it right, and I'm ordering the fines to be reinstated.

Ted Simons: We have a few minutes left here. Would you be surprised if this case were pursued?

Lee Miller: You have to balance -- I think county attorney Polk's balancing -- Trying to do justice here, and efficiency and politics, Mr. Horne and Ms. Winn have been fighting this case for coming on up three years and amazingly enough that puts us very close to an election, and maybe it might not be easier for the voters to settle the matter.

Ted Simons: Last question -- Were you surprised by this decision?

Lee Miller: Yes. The government generally can get to a place where folks are better offsetling, better off freeing that, maybe we didn't do it as well as we could. Mr. Horne and Ms. Winn to their credit fought it to the end, and were successful. But that was a big challenge for them, and --

Ted Simons: A little surprising.

Lee Miller: A little surprising.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here.

Lee Miller: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Democratic Legislative Leadership

  |   Video
  • The Legislature’s session is nearing its end. Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar and House Minority Leader Chad Campbell will give us their take on the session.
  • Anna Tovar - Senate Minority Leader
  • Chad Campbell - House Minority Leader
Category: Legislature   |   Keywords: legislature, session, democratic, legislative, leadership,

View Transcript

Ted Simons: Things are moving fast at the state capitol as lawmakers try to wrap up the session by powering through a number of bills. Joining us now to update what's going on is senate minority leader Anna Tovar, and house minority leader Chad Campbell. Good to see you both again. Thank you so much. What's happening down there right now?

Anna Tovar: Wow. There's a lot of bills that are being Rodrigues rented. Some of us call them zombie bills because we know a bill is not dead until we sine die, so we're seeing some particular bills that are concerning to Arizonans.

Ted Simons: Which ones?

Anna Tovar: In particular one we were able to defeat today on the floor was the Grand Canyon University, and that gives a particular tax credit to this private University, at the same time we're struggling the fund our public Universities here in the state of Arizona. So it's a bit disconcerting that we have a bill that's going to be moving forward are that gives a tax credit, but places the burden on middle class and lower class families that live around Grand Canyon University.

Ted Simons: Indeed, reclassifies the property tax would save Grand Canyon $, a year. Were you surprised it came back to life? I thought rules, the attorneys were saying this can't go.

Chad Campbell: Yeah. They did. But that doesn't stop bad ideas from moving forward. Again. A lot of times you see them pushing for something regardless of whether it's legal. We rush these last two weeks of session, we run through hundreds of bills and a lot of times this is where mistakes are made and we have could come back the next year and fix it. We have to fix this process; it's detrimental to the public.

Ted Simons: How many bills are being considered this week in the house, and are you able to read all of these things and get input?

Chad Campbell: It's tough. Today, for instance, we probably did about 60 plus bills. Between third read and final passage. And that's a lot of bills in one day. We were on the floor today for about 6 1/2 hours, and we do our best. We read the bills, but when you're getting the agenda late the night before, sometimes you get bills thrown on the day of the floor hearing, and you don't have time to look at it, and so we're doing the best job we can. But this process could be fixed if the majority wanted to fix it, and it needs to be fixed. It is not efficient.

Ted Simons: How would it be fixed?

Chad Campbell: We could put in time lines, make the session longer if we have to, the best thing is to limit the number of bills each legislator can introduce to or lower, that will solve this problem.

Ted Simons: That makes sense to you?

Anna Tovar: Absolutely. The issue of transparency is huge. In these last remaining days of the legislature, there's so much that is going to be introduced as we saw last year the voter suppression bill was ran through in the middle of the night, had mistakes, we're currently still trying to fix those mistakes with happened with bills like that. It's frustrating, but the issue of transparency is nonexistent right now for the public and that's something they should be truly concerned about.

Ted Simons: How many bills is the nature looking at?

Anna Tovar: We're about equal to the house in the amount of bills we're discussing on a daily basis and also third reading. So the process in other states, the budget is done with great care and transparency and here you see that it is just the opposite here in the state of Arizona. Republican-led legislature uses these bills, you know, to make sure that they get the budget passed that they want, and then they addressed bills.

Ted Simons: I know you call it the voter suppression bill, we'll call it the election law changes. Is there any chance of any of that returning here in the last waning days?

Anna Tovar: We're already -- We're ready, and we anticipate. Last year it was at the 11th hour. So we're very vigilant and we have our ear and making sure we're listening to all the amendments. But this is an issue that is truly concerning and it's something we'll be proactive in making sure that voter suppression, amendments do not see light of day.

Ted Simons: Aspects of that bill, anything you see likely to return, threatening to return?

Chad Campbell: I would hope not. I think the public outcry last year, and the referendum and everything else, woke up the majority party to the fact that people are starting to pay attention to what is going on down there. And I think people don't want their rights taken away, especially when it comes to voting, and see tee the value of having a transparent process. And a fairly easy process to participate in democracy. I'm hoping the attacks on voter rights are put to bed. But as senator Tovar pointed out, nothing dies until we sine die.

Ted Simons: What about the voucher system, the empowerment scholarship accounts as they call them, others call them vouchers. This thing was debated and the idea to expand to almost half the students in Arizona. Where is that stand?

Anna Tovar: It's currently in the process. We did -- One of the bills today, but essentially what the ESA bills do, it's a detriment to public education. I asked for an amount of how much they're currently being -- What their accounts are. It took about 7 1/2 weeks to get that information from the department of education. But since we had the information, there's over $2 million in the ESA accounts that are being essentially tax giveaways to our parents that go unaccounted for, they are not held to the same standards as their public school system. There's an additional up to about 2,400 students that have applied for the ESA scholarships, and next year it would be up to $4 million, general -- A hit to the general fund of $4 million, and that's money that's not going to our public education.

Ted Simons: Yet supporters will say that is money that goes to parents and families allowing them to make a choice for what's best for their kids.

Anna Tovar: They can make the choice, but it's not held to the same standards. Anyone can hire a person off the street and have them become a teacher. They're not held to the same standards as taxpayers would assume that our money would be spent wisely. But there's no accountability for these funds.

Ted Simons: Is this bill likely to return?

Chad Campbell: Probably. I mean, yes, I think it will. And I think it's a deeper attack and a deeper agenda as Anna pointed out on the public school system in the state, and we've seen it with the ESA accounts, the student tuition organization program we have in the state. This is a philosophical battle, no doubt about that. I think the majority party; at least the leadership of the majority party and the people elected on the Republican side at the capitol really truly do not seem to value the public school system. And I think they are going to keep chipping away at that school system and keep shifting public dollars away from that traditional model to these unproven charter schools to private schools, whatever it may be, but there's no trend that's changed over the past five or six years. They're continuing to attack public schools on an almost daily basis.

Ted Simons: I read in the "Arizona Capitol Times," this program that superintendent Huppenthal was involved in, the robo-calls to get people sign up for these vouchers proved to be a mild if not big success. Parents were interested in this program.

Chad Campbell: If you think that's a success in terms of shifting people through the schools, yes. But again, the problem we have in this state is it's twofold. First of all, you have the superintendent of public instruction promoting schools that aren't under his purview, which is contradictory to his role. But secondly, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy that parents are going to look for other alternatives from the traditional school that's failing when the people down there aren't going to support schools that are failing and give them money they need. So they're making sure these schools fail so parents have no other alternative except to look for other options. This is an agenda.

Anna Tovar: We're talking about $3 billion that have been cut for public education since 2008. We've seen our class sizes balloon, we've seen our infrastructure needs at our schools crumbling, essentially we're -- The public schools are crying out for help. And essentially what is happening as representative Campbell said is correct, that money is being funneled to private schools, ignoring the needs and wants of our public school education system. If we want a world class economy, that's going to involve an investment in our public education system. Our kids deserve better essentially, but then what is being given to them right now.

Ted Simons: Before we go, we just talked about the administrative law judge ruling on Tom Horne. I know there's a bill that would get clean elections out of the idea of having authority over privately funded candidates. Your thoughts on that?

Anna Tovar: Well, essentially there's much work to be done on the clean election system as well. So there's a lot of work to be done on that issue, and I'm hopeful we can roll up our sleeves and come to a solution. But it doesn't look like anything will happen in this session.

Chad Campbell: And to that issue in particular, I think that was the get out of jail free pass for Tom Horne, period. That's what that was.

Ted Simons: We got the decision by the judge; we don't know what the prosecutor will do. Does this particular piece of legislation have much of a shot?

Chad Campbell: Oh, yeah, it does. That's something we're hoping to stop. But again, we see this at the end of session, in this case Tom Horne and other cases it deals with actual institutions or entities out there. You see all of the special legislation being shoved through at the end in the middle of the night that benefit one person or a small group of people, and it's not doing any benefit for the state. It is truly special interest legislation, period.

Ted Simons: Last question as far as the budget, everything this session so far, how much input did democrats have?

Anna Tovar: We had input and we give -- We gave our list of priorities. And we feel that the budget that was passed by the brewer Republicans short changes the state of Arizona, our children, our economy, and it in no way invests in our economy to move Arizona forward. So it definitely is sad to see that they moved a budget that doesn't address the vital needs of the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Not much input at all, if that's the case how do you change that?

Chad Campbell: Well, people need to vote and start putting moderate Republicans and democrats back in charge. We actually spent time today debating on the floor of the house about the ranchers in Nevada and what patriots they R. the people who said they would put women in the front of the guns; we have Republicans defending these people during our debates today. First this isn't Nevada, second that's not our issue. We need to focus on the real issues, and I hope the people of the state are starting to pay attention to what's going on. We have extremists in charge that has to change.

Ted Simons: It's good to see you both again. Thank you both for joining us.

Both: Thank you.