Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 16, 2014


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists’ Roundtable

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  • Join us as reporters bring us up to date on the latest news in the Journalists’ Roundtable.
Guests:
  • Howard Fischer - Journalist, Capitol Media Services
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Journalist, Arizona Republic
  • Luige del Puerto - Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Journalists Roundtable   |   Keywords: roundtable, top stories ,

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," a top aide to Attorney General Tom Horne resigns amid a variety of cases and complaints against the AG's Office. And the state education chief warns of barbarians at the gate in an effort to preserve Common Core standards. “The Journalists’ Roundtable” is next on "Arizona Horizon."

>> "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Good evening, and welcome to “Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic,” Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Luige del Puerto of "Arizona Capitol Times." An eventful week for Attorney General Tom Horne who now is fighting a variety of accusations that he's using state personnel and resources to run his reelection campaign during work hours. Where do we begin? How about the finance case, let’s start with Sheila Polk up in Yavapai County. Administrative law judge says do this. And she says something else?

Mary Jo Pitzl: And County Attorney Polk disagreed with the finding that was made last month by an administrative law judge. The Judge said, I do not see clear and convincing evidence that Tom Horne illegally coordinated messages on his 2010 campaign. It went back to Polk who said, I disagree, think there's a good case to be made. It's circumstantial. There’s no smoking gun or someone on tape or in a memo saying, do this, I am Tom Horne and I am directing this independent campaign to do this. But Polk believes there is enough evidence to suggest there was coordination.

Howard Fischer: To understand the process here, Polk made that finding in October. Horne and Kathleen Wynne, the woman running the supposedly independent committee, asked for a hearing, which is their right, and it went to an administrative law judge, a hearing officer. Now, it’s always been that this is simply a recommendation back to the agency. Normally, it's something like DEQ finds you guilty of something or the Department of Health goes back to the H.C. chief. Well, normally, the agency would be the attorney general, but obviously he had to be farmed out. There was no requirement for Polk to honor the recommendation, number one. Number two is she said, look, the standard for this stuff is what they call a preponderance of the evidence, sort of a 51-49 thing. She said based on my examination of the credibility of the witnesses, I believe that the testimony of Horne and Wynn that we weren’t discussing anything other than a real estate deal is not credible. So, she gets to pursue it.

Luige del Puerto: Yeah, and clearly, even her opinion on the order, the enforcement order she had sent out, you know, she used the phrase inference, a very strong inference that this happened. She looked into phone calls made between Kathleen Wynn and Tom Horne. In addition to that, the timing when those were made, then the emails went out between Kathleen Wynn and a consultant that was making an ad against Rotellini at that time. She said, look at the timing of these phone calls, look at how many minutes after this phone call when Tom Horne and Kathleen Wynn was made, and then you see this email going out to this consultant. If you look at all these things, the totality of the evidence, there’s a very strong inference here that there was coordination.

Howard Fischer: And what's interesting of course is the question, again, of credibility. And Horne's argument is, look, the hearing officer got to hear all the witnesses; she gets to judge the credibility of the witnesses. Horne in sort of a brushoff to Polk said, she doesn't even know these people, how she can judge credibility. This is going to get real interesting. The next step is superior court for Horne, which also means it drags right on through the August primary.

Ted Simons: Again, I understand Sheila Polk said it is more probable than not that there was some coordination. Yet the administrative law judge, who again doesn’t have to make a hard and fast ruling, just say whether or not it is 51-49 on one side or the other, found 51 on Tom Horne's side. So we have two folks seeing two different things.

Mary Jo Pitzl: We do, and Tom Horne is going to point to that administrative law judge as he has already in the last two days. Look, we had this judge who examined all the evidence, an independent party, and nonpolitical, et cetera, and this is what she found. So you either take her word or this county attorney, who, what was the term, a political –

Howard Fischer: She's just a local politician, somehow she doesn't matter.

Ted Simons: Actually, she called her a county politician, which is probably even worse in terms of state (inaudible). Was this a surprise that Sheila Polk went ahead with this?

Luige del Puerto: No, there were only two ways she could go about this. Either accept the recommendation of the ALJ and pursue the case, which was the conclusion she had reached last year. And if I am not mistaken, I could completely be wrong here. But if I'm not mistaken, when this case is appealed before the superior court, I do not think the superior court will retry the merits of the case. If I’m not mistaken, the superior court judge would look at whether the agency, the county attorney, had made a capricious judgment in still pursuing this case. It's a higher bar. I don't think it's a retrial of the merits of the case.

Howard Fischer: This is where it also gets interesting, to come back to your question. I was a little bit surprised. If this had been Bill Montgomery, who seems to have sort of some visceral dislike of Horne, I don't know how best to express it on family TV here, I would have expected this. I don't know that Polk has that -- anything in it for her. So I thought maybe she would just decide, okay, I got the hearing officer's recommendation, it's a close call. Voters will get to decide. All of this evidence will be in the front of the voters in August in terms of the primary and, if he survives the primary, again in the November.

Ted Simons: The timing of that decision with Sarah Beattie, an ex-staffer at the Attorney General's Office, coming out and filing a claim with the Secretary of State, clean elections, anyone who will take the claim, saying that basically Tom Horne was running his reelection campaign right out of the Attorney General’s Office during work hours. Was it a coincidence? I think not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, it's hard to -- I doubt that County Attorney Polk was waiting for Sarah Beatties’ filing before issuing her opinion. But you could sort of look at this and say, isn't this interesting, all of this what appears to be piling on. And I believe that today one of the attorney general's staffers that was named in Beatties’ deposition also handed in his resignation to the Attorney General's Office. So, it mounts, and you do wonder where it’s going to end.

Howard Fischer: You get into some interesting stuff here, because all of these people, they are not people who clock in and clock out. So the argument is well, you know, during your lunch hour or your break you can look at your personal emails, you can look at other stuff. Well, when it's being done in the office there, there's a question of whether it meets the legal test, does it meet the smell test. How do you parse out from 8:05 to 8:10 I was on state business, from 8:10 to 8:12 I was on personal business, from 8:12 to 8:15…? It really gets tricky.

Ted Simons: Well, it gets tricky, but you're the attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer of the state. Do you really want folks that are that close to your campaign that close to you all day long? I mean, the temptation alone would seem to be pretty strong.

Luige del Puerto: And, you know, this is not the first time that Tom Horne's office has been accused of using his staffers to help out in his campaign. We know that some of his staffers have spoken for his campaign before. When we reached him on the phone, they would always say I’m on break, I’m on lunch, I’m at the doctor's office, I’m on my way home from work. They would always say that before they interview and create this impression or at least let the reporter know, yeah, I'm not violating any law here. But you are right. Like I said, this is not a first time this has happened. And so whether to add credence to what Sarah Beattie is saying, that remains to be seen.

Ted Simons: The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is looking at this aspect of it now, too? Is that true?

Howard Fischer: Well, basically, Tom Ryan was the attorney figured the shotgun approach is best. You give it to the Secretary of State, you give it to the Clean Elections Commission, you give it to the FBI, because we know they have followed him before, and you give it to the County Attorney's office. And see, somebody will find something. And what's interesting, again, with the issue, Secretary of State and Clean Elections are dealing with is it a campaign violation, the use of public resources. Now, it's in terms of using public resources, and now maybe you're starting to get into the criminal area.

Ted Simons: Yes, and we should mention Garrett Archer, who was a top aide to Tom Horne, named in the complaint, named in the deposition, decides it’s what? Spend more time with the family? The Attorney General's Office said this was in development for quite a while; he wants to change his career direction.

Howard Fischer: And we wish him success in his future endeavors. Look, the problem with any of these things, how do we look at changes in the Governor's office or any other state agency? We're sure this is always in the works, and it's just coincidental it's coming now. The voters are going to get a very good chance August 26th to decide who they will believe.

Ted Simons: How is all this playing out? Are people paying attention to this? Is this something --? How much does this hurt Tom Horne in the primary? Because he’s facing a Republican primary challenge.

Luige del Puerto: I think it is damaging to him in the primary. The question is to what extent. Really the other part of the equation, Mark Burnovich can he raise money to get his message out that Tom Horne should be taken out. Because in any campaign, the narrative making is very important. And you can only do that narrative making, if you have the money.

Howard Fischer: There’s something else going on. There's a group called the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance. It’s a 501(c)(4), which means we are doing “educational campaigning.” Which means, we don't tell you where our money's coming from, we don’t tell you where it’s going, which is going on the air this weekend with some ads saying the guy is an ethical pygmy and if he doesn’t quit, we are going to suggest impeachment. That's where the message gets made, and it doesn't have to be the money that Mark Burnovich has because there are others and they skate under the law because technically they are not saying vote for or vote against. They are “educating voters.”

Mary Jo Pitzl: We'll see how far that reaches. The other thing you gotta keep in mind is that Horne still has a pretty strong base of support with a very conservative wing of the party. There was a group that labeled him as a known conservative in their candidate ratings. And I don't know if actions disclosed of late make any difference on that.

Ted Simons: Has that changed? I thought they didn't like Tom Horne when he first came up in the Education Department?

Howard Fischer: It depends on the issue. Remember, he started as a Democrat. He has never been particularly anti-abortion. The fact is when his office has to handle it he usually has the Solicitor General do it. There are a lot of folks who question, you know, where his real heart is on the issue. But he has defended the law, despite even criticism from the governor. He's defended 1070, defended immigration. He's done the necessary things. For them, their question is do you take Tom Horne, who you know, to take on Felecia, because he’s beaten Felecia, albeit in a different situation, or do you assume that Brnovich, who’s an unknown with a name that needs a few vowels to spell, is gonna do it.

Luige del Puerto: I'm curious to know how the Rotellini campaign is preparing for all this. I am presupposing they would be very happy if Tom Horne wins the primary. Then they will have someone with lots of baggage. They have prepared all their commercials probably, right now as we speak preparing them, against him. And the question is what happens if Mark Brnovich wins the primary. How does that change the tone of the campaign? Obviously, Felicia is going to have lots of money. She’s going to have lots of support. And the fact is that she already lost to Tom Horne in the last election cycle.

Ted Simons: If Brnovich were to beat Horne in a primary, do Horne supporters, these conservatives that you mentioned, do they decide they are going to jump on the Brnovich bandwagon or are they going to sit this one out?

Howard Fischer: I think there is certainly a situation there. It depends on how ugly it is. If Brnovich gets personal then there's a lot of hurt feelings. I mean, we have a long history of this in the Republican Party in the state. You know, Steiger versus Conlan, which led to Dennis Deconcini. If it doesn’t get personal, they say, okay here are my choices. I got Mark Brnovich: clearly conservative credentials, Goldwater Institute, pro-life, pro-private business. And I've got this Democratic woman, heaven forbid. Then they have to stay with the party.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I do sort of want to take exception to your objection of Mr. Brnovich’s name, as someone who also has shortage of vowels in her name, I don't think that really hurts you.

Howard Fischer: When you announce for public office, we'll see how many votes you get.

Ted Simons: Alright! Let's keep it moving here. The Super Intendant of Public Instruction, who a bunch of letters in his last name as well, has decided to attack foes of Common Core and he is calling them barbarians.

Luige del Puerto: Barbarians at the gate. We have what we call a Morning (inaudible). It’s an "Arizona Capitol Times" event. We invite people to talk about a whole lot of issues. A few days ago the issue was Education. John Huppenthal, who is a very passionate guy and has turned out to be one of the fiercest defenders of Common Core, the controversial education benchmarks. And he said, I'm probably staking my whole career on the line by defending these standards. And he is trying to keep the barbarians at the gate, referring to the folks who oppose Common Core. Of course, that set off all sort of criticisms against him. There's a conservative figure, Michelle Bachman, who tweeted about it to her, what? Seven hundred thousand or so followers? Vote for this guys opponent.

Ted Simons: What are the barbarians saying about this?

Howard Fischer: Well, the barbarians have always distrusted him on this issue. He and the Governor both, and the business community have said look, here's the deal. If you want people trained to 21st Century jobs, get into 21st colleges, you need to know what they know and you need to be able to measure them against other states. There are a lot of folks who see it as Obamacore. It's Washington taking over. And it is the same sort of anti-federal stuff…never mind it was the National Association of Governors that came up with it and everything else.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, what these so-called “barbarians” what they are saying in response to Huppenthal’s comments is we’re taking the high road. They’re saying, look, we can disagree on this policy; you don't need to do name-calling, you don’t need to get down in the gutter slinging these kinds of terms around. And yeah, we don't think Common Core is a good idea. And we got Diane Douglas as our candidate and she is going to run on a platform to dismantle Common Core.

Ted Simons: And she wants to dismantle it, again, it's a federal plot or what?

Mary Jo Pitzl: To go back then to what Howie was saying, not so much a plot, but it's all handed down from the federal government. They believe it takes out any kind of local control. It's one size fits all. Never mind that this idea, as Howie said, came from the National Governor's Association, that the concept pre-dated the Obama administration. But it's tightly tied to the Obama administration and lot of its negatives.

Howard Fischer: The other things Huppenthal has going in his favor, and we’ve talked about it on this show, is he certainly has the conservative credentials. The guy cuts a robo call for vouchers and gets criticized. So it’s not like all of a sudden he’s a left-wing liberal here. So that buys him a certain amount of leeway.

Luige del Puerto: He's also considered a fiscal conservative. When he was in the legislature, he was espousing all sorts of tax cuts. At one point, if I’m not mistaken, he even was working on something similar to a flat income tax This guy's conservative, very conservative, socially conservative, fiscally conservative, but on this issue, he simply disagrees with the Tea Party base.

Ted Simons: So, let’s take this issue and let's take the fact that he does have a primary opponent on the other side of the issue. A “barbarian,” if you will. Does he survive a primary?

Howard Fischer: Oh, I think so. I think his opponent has failed to raise money, show any signs of political life, and she comes out at legislative hearings and testifies. Look, she will get, out of Republicans, she may get 33%, 37% of the vote, maybe even higher. But the fact is that Huppenthal, who’s been around, who was in the legislature far longer than term limits because he figured out how to play that game between the House and the Senate. He’s been around. He’s got name-ID. He's got the street cred he needs.

Luige: And I don't know how many more Republicans who are against Common Core will be persuaded to now support his opponent just because of his comments. The fact is that his position is very well-known in the party. At one point there was a legislative hearing, and he was the only guy on the panel who was defending Common Core. And he’s not afraid. He’s been barnstorming the state defending this measure. So it’s not something new. The Republican Party and the base of the Republican Party and even the Independents and the Democrats know exactly where he stands. He’s for the Common Core

Howard Fischer: And the other thing is that he's also, however, protected the other flank. There’s this ongoing fight over the school funding and the money that was withheld in inflation, and he actually said, let’s put that behind us. Let’s rebase what the school should be. So it’s not like he’s there trying to gut public schools either. So he’s tried to be a fair arbiter on these issues.

Ted Simons: Could it be possible that we could see an Independent at the state legislature next session?

Mary Jo Pitzl: You mean an Independent who actually gets elected as one?

Ted Simons: Not hanging around the legislature, actually working at the legislature, yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, you know, possibly. This week former state Senator Tom O'Halleran, a Republican, reregistered as an Independent and filed papers to run for the Senate as an Independent, which means he’s not going to be on the ballot until November. And he's going for the seat that Chester Crandell, a Republican from Heber currently holds. There’s also a Democrat who opened a committee that I’m told is not going to pursue that. So if that holds, we'll have an Independent who's known in large parts of the district versus a Republican incumbent. That would be very interesting if Mr. O’Halleran clears all the hurdles to even get on the ballot.

Ted Simons: And those hurdles are relatively high for an Independent, aren’t they?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Guess who wrote the rules? The Republicans and Democrats wrote the rules, and Independents are not favored. I think O'Halleran in his case has more than three times the amount of signature requirement than his Republican foe, and six times as much as the Democrat. By law, anybody who's an Independent, their name is always listed last on the ballot. You don't have access to the party machinery; therefore, you don’t have access to the cut-rate postage for mailing. So there are a lot of hurdles that are sort of baked into the cake. O’Halleran, who again I think served a total of 8 years in the legislature, you know, has a reputation, has some name-ID. He can overcome those disadvantages.

Howard Fischer: It's going to be interesting because he's a very nice guy, moderate, which may be a dirty word in the Republican primary, but he doesn't have to run in that. The question becomes does he -- he needs to come out attacking because needs to overcome the fact that there are people who will go into that booth in November and strictly vote the party line no matter who is on there, so he has to get out there, he has to get above the fray. And he’s not the kind of guy who yells and screams and pounds the table, which may be what is needed because certainly the guy he's running against is a guy who runs and screams and pounds the table.

Ted Simons Talk about O'Halleran and, again, Chester Crandell the legacy of both of these guys down there at the Capitol.

Luige del Puerto: I’ve spoken with Tom O’Halleran. I said so, what's your path to victory here? It is a Republican district. I think he mentioned the Republicans have a 12 point voter registration advantage in that district, that’s a high hurdle. He said, look, the district I represented before is a huge chunk of this new district, and therefore, I am known in this district. I mean, he's known in places like Sedona and Flagstaff. He believes that if he can get enough Republicans -- and he said look at my record, it’s a Republican record –- and if he can get just enough Republicans, Democrats, and maybe even if they split the Independents, maybe he wins or he believes he can win that election. What's even more interesting, assuming for example that he wins the -- I'm sorry -- the general election against Senator Crandell, the question is: where does the caucus win? So I asked him that question. He said, well, you have to be invited by the two parties to caucus with them, in order for you to caucus with them, so that would be interesting.
Howard Fischer: But look, you’ve been down there the caucuses involved staffers explaining bills. For example, if you watch the House Republican caucus, not so much the Senate because of the different dynamics, there’s five of the Republicans in there listening and the rest are watching on their TV and it’s just having the bills explained to you. The only reason the caucus matters is for who do you choose for leadership, and if somehow he gets elected and there’s a tight fight for leadership, there will be a lot of people –- he’s going to be everybody’s new best friend.

Luige del Puerto: Exactly, and it’s also the majority caucus who decides who get to be chairman. And, hey, that would be an interesting scenario there.

Ted Simons: Does redistricting affect this race at all?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, yeah. Before the current map, O'Halleran represented a district with big parts of Prescott, parts a little farther northwest. Those are not in the district he now represents. He’s based in Sedona, that district dipped down in there, picks up a lot of Flagstaff where Democrats are a little more in preponderance. And from what I’ve been told, the Democrats up there are saying We've got some Tea Party types and we want to get rid of them.

Ted Simons: And I was going to ask you that. Is this the kind of thing where Democrats could come out and say, they may not be a Democrat, but I’m pushing for them?

Howard Fischer: Oh yeah. I think sometimes you take –- you know, particularly if there’s no Democrat in the race or even if there is, they say look, why do that? It becomes much more like a recall, like the Russell Pearce situation, where everybody is sort of voting on the same thing and saying, who's best for us? And certainly, you know, he picks up enough Democrats there and, as Luige said, enough Independents, you know, he could be an independent.

Ted Simons: Thirty seconds here. Is this the start of a trend or a unique situation?

Luige del Puerto: I think it's a unique situation. It's still very hard to win as an Independent in this state.

Ted Simons: Alright, good stuff guys. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Monday on Arizona Horizon, a mid-term review of the more notable cases being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. And we’ll hear about a new study on the link between outside temperature increases and air conditioning indoors. That’s Monday evening at 5:30 and 10 on Arizona Horizon. Tuesday: hear from the attorney representing a former state employee who claims that campaign work for Tom Horne is being done on state time. Wednesday: see how teenagers are helping educate others in using technology. Thursday: a local company’s efforts to fight complications of diabetes. And Friday, it’s another edition of the “Journalists’ Roundtable.”
That is it for now, I am Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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