Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 27, 2014


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists’ Roundtable

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

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Coming up next on “Arizona Horizon’s” “Journalists’ Roundtable,” state schools chief John Huppenthal makes a tearful apology for his online comments and Republicans running for the Corporation Commission debate here on “Arizona Horizon.” The “Journalists’ Roundtable is next on “Arizona Horizon.”
Good evening, 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 Bob Christie of the Associated Press. Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal makes a tearful apology for posting controversial and at the time anonymous online posts. Mary Jo, this was a hastily called press conference wasn’t it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, the superintendent called it -- scheduled it one hour before a previously scheduled news conference of people who were asking him to resign, condemning his statements. This was a bit of a preemption, but it made for a two-punch news afternoon for journalists. They went to Huppenthal’s then they went to the call for him to resign press conference.

Ted Simons: As for Huppenthal’s press conference, there were tears at the end of this press conference. Surprise? What was the reaction there in the room?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I wasn't there so I'll defer to my colleagues who attended.

Howard Fischer: The fact is up until the end -- Huppenthal, even at his agent will admit, is not a very emotional man. You go ask Huppenthal a question he’ll bring out spreadsheets. That’s just the way he is. He's very analytical in his thinking. And when we were peppering him with questions, he was saying, well, I believe this, I was concerned about balkanization due to language barriers, I was concerned about giving people a hand up versus a handout. It was only when he started talking about the effects his comments and the feedback had on his staff that we saw the piece you had at the top of the show where he had to be led off by one of his assistants in tears. It was only then when he saw the effects his comments had on people he actually knew, as opposed to the vast majority out there who read his comments who he didn't care about.

Bob Christie: I have a little different view. I was sitting literally 3-feet in front of desk, so when he walked up and began the press conference he hesitated for probably 20 seconds. I thought he was going to lose it right there. His face was obviously emotional, his bottom lip was quivering. I didn’t think he was going to be able to start. Once he started, his focus was on two things repudiating the comments, apologizing for the comments. And then he shifted gears as to what he's done for the state as superintendent of schools. It was kind of twofold.

Howard Fischer: It was threefold because he also tried to justify the comments. And that was the thing. If he had said, I was wrong, it was stupid. But then he had to say, let me explain why I called people on welfare lazy pigs. It had to do with his concern that, I believe in opportunity, and perhaps it was poorly expressed. Well, what about the comments where you say no Spanish language television, no Spanish language billboards, no Spanish Mexican restaurant menus.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Maybe.

Ted Simons: Maybe. They softened up on that one.

Howard Fischer: It was good of him to do that. Chimichanga doesn’t translate well to ‘fat fried item.’ But it’s the sort of thing -- he said, well, I was concerned about the balkanization of the country and we need to be the melting pot if we're going to integrate the immigrants. But the problem is it did not fit together.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Doesn't this sort of violate one of the campaign 101 things? Because this is a campaign, he is running for reelection, that you do not repeat the mistake, do not repeat the error. Trying to explain your comments and justify "lazy pigs," et cetera, et cetera, just reinforces that you said these things.

Bob Christie: He talked for almost 30 minutes before he completely lost it. If he had kept to those first two subjects, which is I apologize, this is what I’ve done. Then maybe he would have been able to walk out with a successful news conference. Unfortunately, as Howie said, he tried to justify some of his thoughts. He didn't specifically answer the question, what were you thinking when you did it in the first place.

Ted Simons: As far as his credibility now in office, obviously a lot of schools are out for the summer, but in terms of education in general, the office in particular, what kind of a hit is this?

Howard Fischer: You've got a couple of issues here. This is a man who attacked the Mexican-American studies program at Tucson Unified School District, although that did start with Tom Horne. This is a man who took a certain amount of heat for taking robo-calls, telling parents to use tax dollars to send your child to private and parochial schools. Again, things I think he believes in, but didn't help. But here’s the problem, his foe is a one issue candidate, Diane Douglas, who is running on the issue of no Common Core curriculum. How does she do with this? She's going to get maybe $80,000 in public funding, which for a statewide campaign isn’t much. Now, this has raised her profile and diminished his. So, I don't know if it makes a difference. It may make a difference in December in terms of running against a Democrat.

Bob Christie: There’s some interesting dynamics in this race because of that. Mr. Huppenthal has been attacked because he has supported Common Core. He's gone around the state repeatedly and gone to the Tea Party groups who oppose it so much and said this is why we need it. Now he's got this message that they might -- he might actually win some of those back with some of these off comments.

Ted Simons: But again, as far as education in general is concerned, obviously educators aren't happy. I want to get to this in a second what Lisa Graham Keegan and Jaime Molera former Superintendents of Public Instruction, fellow Republicans saying he's got to go, just the impact -- not good.

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, not good. You mentioned Lisa Graham Keagan. Her point was look your comments about Spanish language. How many kids in our public school system are from Spanish language families and are English language learners? How many of these kids come from low-income families where some public assistance is needed? You have ruined your credibility and ability to work with those kinds of groups, and they constitute a sizeable chunk of your core audience, which is our education community.

Bob Christie: And the education community, they are educated people. They realize these comments are a little bit -- well, they are quite a bit off from mainstream and from factual things. He's going to have to lead an education department, and all the superintendents around the state with this hanging around his neck. It's going to be very difficult, I think.

Howard Fischer: There's one more thing to point out. He was sort of hoping, I believe, that if he did this press conference at 1:30 and Lisa Keegan had hers at 2:30 that she would watch him and see he's really remorseful. She wasn't buying it. She said, I don’t believe it because I talked to the guy just last week and when I asked him about it he was still defending his comments. He just didn't get it. I think that was the part when Lisa comes in -- Jaime was school superintendent, but he was appointed. Lisa was elected. She has a base, she's a political independent, but she's got Republican roots. And when she says, I'm not buying what he’s saying that’s a problem.

Ted Simons: And she did say that he was adamant that there was nothing really wrong with the posts originally, and she comes back and says -- and she's friends with the guy, she obviously has had a relationship with him in terms of education and such -- she said it made her question her own judgment when she found out this story.

Howard Fischer. Well, there are a lot of things. We’ve all been in a situation with a friend and perhaps someone we’ve even had a relationship with, and all of a sudden you learn something about them and you say how could I have missed that? With John Huppenthal, again, he's a very logical man. He was in the legislature for something like 18 years because he went back and forth between the House and Senate to get around the term limits. And he can intellectually work things through and tell you why the funding is going here and how to put more funding there. And he's done things to get a better computer system so school districts aren't spending a lot of money dealing with record-keeping. On an intellectual level, you can say the guy's doing fine. But when you find out not only that he has these views, he didn't have the chutzpah to post them under his own name, then you got to wonder.

Bob Christie: And I asked him that specifically. I said, you know, how do you expect voters to be able to put these two things together. You have this reputation as an intellectual, as a strong thinker, as a very intense intellectual. Then this comes out. How are voters supposed to jibe?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There’s another consequence electorally to this as well. We keep hearing that every year the Latino voting population is going to show up and flex its muscle. Well, comments such as he made with these anonymous blog posts only served to activate that community. If he gets to the general election, and if David Garcia emerges from his primary, because he has a battle over there with Sharon Thomas, you have a guy with an Hispanic name running against Huppenthal. The dynamics of that at this stage in June --

Ted Simons: Last point on this and you mentioned the electoral aspects of it. We had Lisa Graham Keagan, Independent mostly known as Republican, Jaime Molera, Republican. We're not seeing a heck of a lot of other Republicans coming out and saying things. And I wonder if it's because if you're a Republican, you've got Diane Douglas, so adamantly against Common Core, and probably further to the right than John Huppenthal, or you've now got this injured candidate. What's a Republican to do, Howie?

Howard Fischer: And that's the problem. First of all, let's start off –- and you’ll understand where I’m coming from -- the happiest politician in the state this past week is Tom Horne. We've just seen this problem with Tom Horne about what are the Republicans doing. You got a guy who keeps getting wounded by things. Well, what do we do, who do we endorse? Maybe we just sit back. Now they’re in the same situation here. And as you point out, where do you go? If you're the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, if you're the Arizona Chamber who want Common Core, who want many of the things that Huppenthal has wanted, that Jan Brewer has wanted in terms of Medicaid expansion, where do you go? Or do you just sit it out?

Bob Christie: And I asked Lisa Graham Keegan this very question. I said, if he resigns or if he's so damaged that he loses, and Diane Douglas who is farther to the right, who doesn't want Common Core wins, what happens? Aren't you hurting yourself as a Republican or as an independent who supports Republicans? She said it’ll go Democratic. The Democrat will win.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Howard Fischer: But here's the other thing. When it comes down to school superintendent, I'm not sure politics matters that much. It's largely an administrative post. Remember, we have 200 school districts, locally elected school districts, they make certain decisions. We have a State Board of Education that makes policy decisions. The superintendent is more bully pulpit and a leader and that’s what makes his comments so hard --

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'll tell you, if a Democrat were to win, you're not going to have a Democratic superintendent making robo-calla saying, hey, apply for these vouchers.

Bob Christie: And threatening to sue the Tucson School District. For the last -- Tom Horne was superintendent for eight years, and now we’ve had Huppenthal for four years, and this is a politicized office right now.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, it may not be intended to be a politicized office, but there’s a reason he's in there and the people he ran against aren't, and some of those were educators. Okay, let’s move on here. Andrew Thomas qualifies for Clean Election money, and Al Melvin, Howie, drops out of the race. I mean --

Howard Fischer: I want you to know that there were cries of despair from newsrooms across the state, for any people who watched his performance on CNN on Senate Bill 1062, the issue of the religious discrimination. Al –- you know where Al stands. He’s very clear about what he wants: no Common Core, a subject we were just talking about, $8,000 vouchers to send kids to private and parochial schools, slap around Barack Obama. I honestly thought he would get the 4,500 $5 donations because he has a core base of support in Saddlebrooke, which is a community just north of Tucson, largest GOP organization in the state. But what he found out, and what obviously I'm learning, is it's one thing to ask for signatures. He had no problem getting signatures. You ask somebody for $5, it's like going for $500 or $5,000. All of a sudden they say, I don't want to.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Many candidates say that about collecting the $5, especially on a statewide basis. And it does show that if you run with Clean Elections, it's not necessarily just a walk in the park to get the money, it's a lot of work. Al Melvin is now one of the casualties. That brings the GOP field down to six candidates.

Bob Christie: And he had a long time, too. He announced a year ago.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Bob Christie: He's been out collecting fives for a year.

Ted Simons: But has he been? Because there were some concerns -- his campaign manager even said he didn't resign to run, he was too busy fulfilling his obligations as state lawmaker and that hurt him.

Bob Christie: Okay, but he had from the end of the last session until January. So he had six months and weekends during the session.

Howard Fischer: I think what he was doing though was spending the time with the same people over and over again, his base of support. You've gotta be running around the state. Or you need a real core group a la Andrew Thomas. Now Andrew, finally after the second time around, did qualify for his $5 donations. He has a core of supporters who believe he was wrongfully disbarred, wrongfully tossed from office as Maricopa County attorney. And he went out and worked that core. In fact, one of the things he didn’t do is you didn't see him at any gubernatorial forums up until recently because he was actually out working on those $5 donations.

Ted Simons: How big of an impact do you think Andrew Thomas will have on this Republican primary?

Bob Christie: You know, that’s a really good question. We don't have any legitimate polling in the state right at all now. I think he will probably get 5 or 10% and that could be the difference. I don't want to make a prediction. He's probably not going to win. He has $754,000. He's a disgraced, disbarred former county attorney. But he will have a difference. He’ll get 5 or 10% and that could be the difference between Ducey or Jones or Smith winning.

Ted Simons: Alright, we had a Corporation Commission debate here this week, Republicans running for Corporation Commission. I thought moderated expertly, if I might add.

Howard Fischer: Yes, I wonder who could that have been?

Ted Simons: Anyway, Howie you were here. Much talk of Arizona as the solar Mecca, much talk as well as the concept of a tax regarding leased solar equipment. Did we see a lot of –- did we see delineation? There are two teams running. Did we see delineation there?

Howard Fischer: That was the one thing we seemed to -- everyone agreed, solar power is good. All of them agreed that there's a role for coal somewhere, I don't know, clean coal, dirty coal, all the rest of the stuff. Even afterwards, I talked to them, and they all believe there's a role for nuclear power. This is a very bizarre little thing. Seven years ago the legislature said, to encourage solar, if you buy a panel for your roof, we won't add that value to the property of your house and therefore won't increase the taxable value. Well, these are $20,000, $30,000 units. So people have been leasing them instead. All of a sudden, the Department of Revenue perhaps with a little help from utilities said, you know, this isn't really something that belongs to the homeowner. This is a commercial operation by firms like Solar City who are in the business of selling power, that what the homeowner is doing is buying so many kilowatts for so much a month and getting the rest to give away. They say that makes them equally taxable to Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. The legislature tried to change the law to clarify, John McComish, the majority leader, had a bill, couldn't get it out because of the opposition from the utility companies, so now the Department of Revenue has gone ahead and imposed this. Two of the candidates, Vernon Parker and Lucy Mason say it's a mistake, they would like Jan Brewer to lean on her Department of Revenue to get them to change their mind, Jan isn't going anywhere near that. The other two, Tom Forese is sort of all over the board, and Doug Little was saying, wait a second, it was a commercial operation and DOR was just doing what it needed. Given the sensitivity of this, this could be a defining factor in August.

Bob Christie: I watched the debate. I wasn't here, but I did watch it. Forese and Little did not respond when Lucy Mason and Vernon Parker said, we are the ratepayer advocates. They sort of did. But Parker and Mason repeated that over and over again, which is kind of unusual for the Republican Party. It's a Republican primary. But they are out there saying we will defend the ratepayers. Wink and nod, that means the solar panel users. Vernon Parker repeated over and over again -- elderly, churches and schools who have leased power.

Ted Simons: Is the idea -- can those two paint the other two as a pro-APS and not looking out for the ratepayers? Is that going to be something that could define that particular race?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, I think it'll come up. We saw some of those dynamics with APS involvement last fall on the Corporation Commission's decision on what to do about --

Bob Christie: Distributing generation…

Mary Jo Pitzl: Thank you. That sort of gave APS a bit of a black eye. And it also distinguishes these two teams, if you would. If you're against this decision by the Department of Revenue you look like you're against a tax increase. If you support it, you're for a tax increase among churches and seniors.

Howard Fischer: And the fact is, if you're running against APS, whether they are really the bogeyman or not, that helps. I think of the classic Steve Benson cartoon where he's carrying in this large screw off his back from the mailbox, honey, the power bill is here.

Ted Simons: Alright, we had that this week and we have a Secretary of State debate coming up next week as well. The debates are rolling in here on “Arizona Horizon.” What's not rolling in as yet is money for lawmakers, a salary hike. Since 1998, no salary hike for lawmakers. We're going to get a chance to vote on that in November. Any chance at all that's going pass? [laughter]

Mary Jo Pitzl: Given that the last increase was 16 years ago and there have since been two other times it went to the ballot and voters said no, and last time they said really, really, no, it's sort of a steep hill to climb. The commission of elected officials salaries which made this recommendation to the ballot, they were divided 3-2. Even the people who voted to put this on the ballot, were like you know, we know it's tough, but they haven't had a raise in umpteen years and this allows them to keep pace with inflation.

Howard Fischer: And that's the key. Because they say if you took the $24,000 the voters finally granted them in ‘98. There's a dark story behind that and how they promised not to take a per diem, but we won't even get into that. And you carry out for inflation they should be at $35,000. But here’s the thing, go look at the pay raises that those same state lawmakers have given state employees at the same time, I've got news for you, they didn't keep pace with inflation.

Bob Christie: For $24,000 a year, I think we all around this table can realize you can't take off work for five months of the year and make -- and live for $24,000. You just can't do it. I think voters might be a little -- because the number is so small, they might --

Mary Jo Pitzl: But the thing is that nobody is really taking off work for five months and living on that salary. Maybe one or two, which is why we get sometimes the complexion we have in the legislature, where you have a lot of retirees, a lot of people who are perhaps self-employed or they are overseeing an operation and they can hand it off to others or they might have a very generous employer who will just cut them loose for this. Or the small group for whom $24,000 a year is a pay increase.

Ted Simons: The idea, again, is people will say every time this is brought up, it's supposed to be a part-time job. Even if you have to drive in from Window Rock it's supposed to be a part-time job.

Howard Fischer: It’s supposed to be a part-time job. That's one of the issues. Some years it is. Some years we got out of here in 100 days, of course there are special meeting and there are other things. They do get allowance for days they come in. But here’s the other thing working against lawmakers, and it involves our good friend Don Shooter. When the question came up that they have been trying for years to ban lawmakers from taking sporting events and concert tickets from lobbyists. And Don Shooter said, when you give me a raise, I'll stop taking the free tickets. I’m sorry, that doesn't help. Basically, it becomes extortion.

Ted Simons: Well, that doesn’t help. And for many, the idea of worrying about the federal government coming in as jack-booted thugs, or whatever kind of rhetoric you want to use, and things like chemtrails, these sorts of debates. People look at these sorts of things and say, do we really want to give them more money? Speaking of chemtrails, what was going on up there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, Senator Kelli Ward from Lake Havasu City represents a western Arizona district and a lot of her constituents had lots of questions about what they believe are poisonous chemicals released from over-flying aircraft. They call them chemtrails. There's no scientific evidence that shows this. People say you're mistaking the contrails left by airplanes for these poisonous plumes. But she got to the point and said these people are relentless so she got the Department of Environmental Quality to send two staffers out and they did a town hall meeting on Wednesday, which satisfied nobody, really. Because DEQ said, look, it's not our jurisdiction. We can't do anything about it.

Howard Fischer: And the fact is you’re not going to satisfy them. You can make all the arguments in the world. Did you see these trails are coming off the tips of the planes and not out of the engines? Well, that didn’t help. If you were really going to go to the extent -- there are people who believe the earth is some sort of prison planet and the chemicals are being released in the air to keep us all docile. You can see how well that worked. If you were really going to try to keep people docile you wouldn't release chemicals at 35,000 feet and dilute them, you'd put it in the water. But none of these arguments seem to work. There are people who believe that the government is out to get them. It doesn't hurt for some of them, that there is that Kenyan in the White House, from their perspective, and they are always going to see conspiracy.

Bob Christie: And here’s the deal, Kelli Ward has a constituency that she wanted to help. But I don't know if it really helps her reputation with those who aren’t conspiracy theorists when she goes out and panders to them. We sit around this table and we're a little bit shaken that she would actually do something like that. I think it's just odd.

Howard Fischer: It's a tricky balance. On one hand, as Mary Jo says, you want to provide the airing, even though you know it won't satisfy people. On the other hand, this is a woman who is a medical doctor. This a woman who could go to them and say look, I have done blood tests, I have done analysis, I have sat at Lake Havasu airport and I have a jar of what comes out of the tail of these things, this doesn't work. But we don't see people calming fears. By holding these hearings, it just fans them.

Ted Simons: And back to the original point. When the rest of the state hears these hearings and hears about this activity do they say, I think that lawmaker deserves a raise?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, no. But I think some people will say, until we pay them more we're going to get lawmakers like that. That’s sort of the reverse argument. But yes, the point you're making I think resonates.

Howard Fischer: I’m going to actually differ. Most people like their own lawmakers. I think the people in Havasu like Kelli Ward. The people in Yuma may like Don Shooter. It’s the other 87 that they don’t like. It's the same thing with Congress. Do you like members of Congress? No. Do you like your congressmen? Oh, they’re great. If we were only giving a raise to their own lawmakers, I think it would pass –- but the other 87.

Ted Simons: We've got stop it right there. Remember, be a watcher of the skies.

Howard Fischer: Don't inhale.

Ted Simons: Yeah that, too. Thanks so much for joining us, you have a great weekend.

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