Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 24, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Donít miss HORIZONís weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the weekís top stories.
Guests:
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Michael Grant:
It's Friday, February 24, 2006. In the headlines this week, state treasurer David Petersen announces he won't run for re-election after it was disclosed his office is under investigation. The state senate has passed another bill to resolve the stalemate over English Language Learning as fines against the state jump to $1 million a day. And former death row inmate Ray Krone gets an apology from state lawmakers for his wrongful incarceration. That's next on Horizon. Good evening. I'm Michael Grant and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Dennis Welch of the "East Valley Tribune," Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services and Robbie Sherwood of the "Arizona Republic" state treasurer David Petersen has decided he won't run for re-election. That comes after word that his office is under investigation by the Arizona attorney general's office for miss management. Dennis, what is alleged to have happened in the treasurer's office?

Dennis Welch:
According to the AG paperwork filed yesterday or released yesterday, there's allegations of theft of public money, violation of conflict of interest laws, and that kind of general thing. Doesn't sound like it's a real good office to be working in right now.

Michael Grant:
not a real happy face kind of place?

Robbie Sherwood:
I would say there's not one big smoking gun. The largest amount of money was a $1,500 honorary yum that he was warned by the attorney generals not to take. For a speaking engagement. First he directed it to an elementary school and then changed his mind and said send the check to him. But a lot of little stuff. It all revolves around a private, character-based education curriculum company that he has been involved with, reportedly not financially, but at least been involved with for many years as a legislator trying to get character-based education in schools, on license plates. You name it. His relatives work for the company. And it sounds like he was just doing a lot of work for this company allegedly on state time, getting reimbursed for mileage and travel and sort of things while he was talking more about them than the treasury.

Howard Fischer:
But some of it is actually kind of funny. For example, one of the complaints was that every Wednesday all employees had to get together for this character training from the firm called "character first." And the treasurer's office paid for the materials for this. It wasn't a lot of money, 50, 60 bucks. Then there were other things. There was a piece in there which lawyers would call hear say but for us, we're journalists, we can use any of it. There was a trader in the office just got off the phone with city bank, cutting a deal. Minutes later, this woman who was just recently hired gets on the phone to city bank and asks for a donation to this character first program. Just as Robbie said, a lot of little stuff. There's no big smoking gun there but just enough to make you wonder what was the office really all about.

Dennis Welch:
one of the better connections was Michael Milken. It is alleged in there he tried to reimburse the state for travel expenses while he was going to milk en's house in California. Who better to teach character than Michael Milken?

Robbie Sherwood:
Apparently David Peterson. If this stuff rises to the level of a crime and he's indicted or convicted, that will just be the greatest irony of the whole thing is that he's been talking about character for years, and then he is alleged to have had a deficit in that area.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, was most of this triggered by the letter?

Dennis Welch:
Yes, it was triggered by this resignation letter from what I understand is really what tipped them off to start looking into this. However, once the AG's office started looking into this it wasn't long until some of his top aids started turning on him pretty quick.

Robbie Sherwood:
That was really evident from the paperwork. There was a scorching letter from the secretary that had sort of been around the capitol for awhile. But his two top aids, if not calling the attorney generals were certainly showing them around the office once the attorney general started looking around.

Howard Fischer:
Not only showing around the office but when Tony Malay, his chief of staff pulls out a letter from 2003, you know that Tony was keeping a dos yea, that Tony was protected his own derriere should something come back to haunt them about the expenses and everything going on. I think at point the AG's and investigators showed up Tony said, okay. What do you want?

Michael Grant:
Is it being investigated, Howie, of do we know primarily as a problem inside an office of state government, active wrongdoing, or maybe a combination of both?

Howard Fischer:
Well, you've got the question that if in fact you are doing the business, if you will, of this character program on state time, okay. That's one issue. Because as the treasurer, you know, you don't have any set hours. You remember Tony West was lobbying at the same time and had a real estate license. This seems to be a problem with that office, I guess. If you are in fact traveling on state expense, if in fact when you're going around the state to talk supposedly and treasurer's duties and instead giving speeches on this character first program, now you have a different problem. If you were putting you future daughter-in-law on the payroll, as was alleged and this other woman was his campaign finance manager for re-election campaign or now defunct, again it builds up to a question of, are you in fact enriching yourself and your friends through state funds.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, any indication at all in terms of the expected duration time of the investigation, those kind of things?

Dennis Welch:
AG's office is normally pretty tight-lipped about these kinds of things. We don't know how long this will take.

Howard Fischer:
I'll tell you one of the issues. Not only did they seize a bunch of computers but they got backup tapes and you know they're going to be going through there for all sorts of thing, including e-mails, including questions about financial deals, and everything else. Now, you know, one of the things, he had stuff e-mailed to his personal account. Why does anybody doing anything questionable doing stuff on a state computer. What part of computer backup tapes do you not understand?

Michael Grant:
Well, the United States Supreme Court touched briefly on the Jim Irvin case but not a lot this week.

Howard Fischer:
Not a lot. It was like most of the things they do. They say thanks but no thanks. As we've discussed extensively on this show over years, it seems like, Jim Irvin was found guilty by civil federal jury of in essence defrauding and undermining an effort by one company to buy Southwest gas. They awarded $400,000 in compensatory and $6 million in punitive. There was a question at that time whether it would stand. Judge Silver said there might be some justification there was corruption and everything else. The 9th circuit said, generally speaking, we use multipliers to find out what's the punitive. This one where we're talking 120 times the actual damages was clearly going to be in trouble. Now, what happens now gets really interesting. It leaves the plaintiffs, southern union company, in the position of saying, do we want a whole new trial on the issue of damages or do we want to let the judge set it and the other problem with the 9th circuit ruling as upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court says this is too high but it doesn't say what is acceptable. I mean, the court has talked in the past about a ten-time multiplier. But give own there is a public official dealing in his official capacity would they accept 20. There's no guidance on that.

Michael Grant:
The bottom line is it's going back to the federal district judge for re-e valuation and maybe re-e valuation by another trial.

Howard Fischer:
Well, this now becomes up to the plaintiff, becomes up to southern union. Do you want the new trial on the issue of damages, which really is a new trial on everything, or are you willing to let the judge set the damages.

Robbie Sherwood:
What is Irvin up to these days?

Howard Fischer:
He has some family holdings in an armored car company. He sort of dropped off the radar. The interesting thing about this whole 60 million in damages is, he doesn't have it so even if it gets down to 30 I'm not sure what they are planning on checking. The state has maxed out on its insurance. Now remember, there's also one other lawsuit here. Irvin is suing the state when the state stopped paying his defense because they say they should have paid his defense, which would have kept him in office, which would have kept him in this trial. So there's some dominoes in this one.

Michael Grant:
Robbie, not exactly one of the legislature's finest hours when state senator Jack Harper takes the floor of the senate this week.

Robbie Sherwood:
You know, Harper -- not defending him, nobody is -- but he had a cornel of a point. He was criticizing the playoff the "Arizona Republic" story about Jim Petersen's son. It was a weekend story that ran rather small compared to a similar type story of senate president Ken Bennett's son that ran on b 1, occurred in the middle of the week. More staff, that sort of thing. But, you know, you can take your shot. He took it so much further that he has practically everybody else except for a couple of people in the Republican Party turning on it. Because he made it about Jim Petersen's family. He said this arrest of his son for drug and weapons charges, adult son, 24 years old, no longer lives in the family, points to "a culture or corruption within the Petersen household." People instantaneously came unglued at him on the senate floor saying you just don't do that about another person's family no matter where they are politically. He didn't back down at first. He got roasted on right wing talk radio for a couple of days and everybody coming down on him including John Kyle, Petersen's opponent. Then he gave a halfhearted apology.

Howard Fischer:
Well and that was the funny part of the apology. He said, I apologize to Petersen answer wife and his other two children, not to Petersen or the son. The funny thing is he talks about this culture or corruption in the Petersen household. This is an adult son living in his own house. I don't know whether he's guilty of the drug and weapon charges he's been charged with. But again, not living at home. Look, I have a 28-year-old daughter. She's a good kid. If she gets in trouble is that a culture of corruption in the Fischer household? I mean, give me a break here.

Michael Grant:
I could independently vouch for that.

Howard Fischer:
Yes. Nothing to do with my daughter. That just has to do with me being a child of the 60's.

Robbie Sherwood:
Having knuckle headed kids is a bipartisan affliction, I understand. And it puts president Bennett in such a heart position. Because he's up there in the chair. He's had his son arrested this year for alleged child abuse at a summer camp. And if Harper's making the point that there's a culture or corruption and Petersen, what does that say about Bennett? Is there a culture of child abuse in his? Nobody believed that but that was the logic pointing that way.

Michael Grant:
Carolyn Allen and others leapt to their feet.

Dennis Welch:
Even Glenn Duke popped up and said in very diplomatic terms for him to keep it quiet and sit down and end that. It just interested me. Harper has really made a name for him this session. Continually popping up with questions of his ethics as well as other things that he's said.

Howard Fischer:
Here's what gets interesting. Is any press good press? I mean, this is a guy who when the whole discussion of the subpoenas and the districts 20 recap and everything came up, had people in this district coming out and supporting him and saying, look, he's here to protects the integrity of the system.

Robbie Sherwood:
I used to think so but I don't anymore.

Dennis Welch:
Isn't there talk now someone running against him?

Robbie Sherwood:
Exactly my point. There's so much blood in the water now that scaring up candidates against him. A top name right now is former senator Scott Bunguard. He didn't have the problems. He was very outspoken, a little immature, loved the headlines and that sort of thing. It is kind of funny that if Harper's cue rating is so low that they're longing for the days of Scott Bunguard it's really bad for him.

Michael Grant:
Former legislator Slade Mead making his announcement for department of public instruction this week. What did he have to say?

Robbie Sherwood:
I have my $5 contributions for qualification for funding and I have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, which is a very strong indication of the health of his campaign. Doesn't say he's going to win. He's now a democrat running against entrenched republicans. There's more republicans than democrats. People don't pay attention that far in the ballot. It's still not a great chance. But it's a real show of strength for his campaign at this point in the year.

Howard Fischer:
And the question is, is Tom Horne vulnerable. Tom Horne certainly takes a hard line. The English language learner he sides with was republican party we want accountability and only funding for the districts that need it this is a guy who has not signed on to some of the more radical republican initiatives like the 65-cent in the classroom because of the way it's worded. He's somebody who supports getting rid of junk food in schools, things like that. And he's proven, I think, that he is at least if not grown into the job that he understands the issues.

Michael Grant:
Before we leave politics 101, the national rifle association coming to phoenix.

Howard Fischer:
This is a shoot 'em uptown here. This was something being sought by the city. They've got this newly redesigned we don't call it Civic Plaza anymore. It's the Convention Center. They were last year about a here about a decade ago. They like Arizona. It's a very friendly state to them. They're going to come back in 2009 and party it up.

Michael Grant:
All right. Another week has gone by without a resolution to the stalemate over English Language Learning. On Thursday state senate did approve its latest bill. Howie, what's different about this one?

Howard Fischer:
Well, it's 15th time's the charm, maybe. There are some changes to this. The most significant is, this is the first time the republicans are willing to -- couple the issues of the English Language Learners and the question of whether the corporations will be able to divert some of their taxes to organizations that give scholarships to private schools.

Michael Grant:
Interestingly enough, though Howie, when I saw that, it seemed to me that the governor had kind of finally signed on to that as long as it had a cap on it so I wasn't sure that that was really a significant give.

Howard Fischer:
That's the funny part about it what she wants really goes to the heart of the funding. You're right. She probably would take a $5 million, five-year program. What they've done is annoyed some of the members of their own party in the republicans who basically said, you're taking out the one piece of this that could help kids. The problem still comes down to a funding scheme. Now, the other significant change is originally the republican plan said every school has to justify from dollar one what they're going to get for each of the English Language Learners. They agreed to put in a base. The base right now is $355 per student of additional state aid. Going to go up to $432s. But still include the requirements you have to choose a method of teaching structured English immersion. You have to identify the other money you may be spending on other federal programs, including desegregation money, and then come back and get the balance from the state.

Dennis Welch:
Yeah. But the question is, what's going to happen in the house next week when that thing goes over there. I'm hearing it has quite a bit of problems over there.

Howard Fischer:
Well, one of the problems has to do with the wording. These people have been burnt so badly by this governor over and over again. She's always found new ways to veto a bill. They got very surprised as we talked about on this table when she took pay raise bill for state employees and took out the part which changes the merit system, probably an illegal veto. But, as the old saying goes, I only play an attorney on TV. They're afraid because this has specific appropriations in there, she's going to be looking through and say, you know, I could make this bill what I want with very creative little lines, send it to the judge and make it too late.

Robbie Sherwood:
This bill is designed as sort of a -- I'm not sure this is a wise idea -- but sort of almost as a threat to the judge. The funding has a conditional enactment. The judge has to sign off on the plan or there's no funding. The policy around it goes into effect, including like getting rid of what's called the group b way, the special money that goes for the E.L.L. kids because they're going to create a new system for paying them. What happens to the judge says no to this there would be no funding for English Language Learners, not even the funding that we have now. But they're so paranoid that with her line item veto is she can take their bill the way it's written now, mark it up, preserve this year's funding and add more money to it with a few cuts of their pen. They're really trying to rewrite the bill to protect line item veto.

Howard Fischer:
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Dennis Welch:
Now we're paying a million dollars a day in fines because we haven't been able to come up with -- or the state hasn't been able to come up with a solution on this. I mean, $16 million by the end of today.

Howard Fischer:
But there's no pressure because of the fact the money is sequestered from this pot to this pot in the state. Until the judge decides if that money is actually going to go out they figure, hey. Until we get to 40 million which is the price tag on this --

Robbie Sherwood:
That will eventually solve the problem, I predict.

Michael Grant:
Any bets on what the house will do with this thing next week?

Robbie Sherwood:
Rewrite it, attempt to pass it, put it on her desk, get it vetoed again.

Michael Grant:
And we're back to square one.

Robbie Sherwood:
Judge puts the money in the classroom. Constitutional crisis.

Michael Grant:
The usual stuff. What drew state lawmakers attention to Ray Krone this week?

Howard Fischer:
Well, Ray Krone, you may remember, was convicted of a rape and murder of a bar tender based largely on some evidence including that some forensic expert said his teeth which had an unusual snagel tooth matched the marks on her body. He had one trial overturned on a technicality, one death sentence overturned. The second time it he was reconvicted, the judge even then questioned whether he was the person, sentenced him to life in prison. Eventually, they found some DNA and said the guy the DNA matches is already in prison and lived 800 yards from this bar. He has been, since moving back to Pennsylvania he has been sort of an advocate for getting rid of the death penalty. He was in town and several lawmakers heard he was going to be here. And John Huppenthal got up on the floor and said, there was an injustice done here. On behalf of the state of Arizona I want to apologize. Which was kind of a nice act. It was a little late, perhaps, but he did that. Now, the fascinating thing is, I talked to Huppenthal afterwards. I said, look, what you've just said on the floor proofs mistakes happen, prosecutorial discretion goes bad. Witnesses testify wrongly as the case of the dental expert. So are you ready to get rid of the death penalty? His answer was, no, I still think it's appropriate in certain circumstances. I'm not sure what the apology accomplished other than press making ray feel a little better.

Michael Grant:
Well, moving, Dennis, from apologies to transportation, there is no logical segue there. Speed up the funding on widening interstate 17? I take it that's pleasing a lot of people in the east valley.

Dennis Welch:
As far as my readers are concerned they're not going to see a whole lot of that money. The latest bill to appropriate money for widening the interstate, most of that money is going to go to widening I- 17 in the northern part of the valley. I believe it's going to appropriate about $75 million for that. I've heard in the past some lawmakers from that area are really concerned about the esthetics as well of that corridor as you're going out and coming into the valley.

Howard Fischer:
Here's a really interesting thing. Many of the same lawmakers who rant against congress and earmarks, the idea we're going to take the transportation money coming from Washington to Arizona and say we want to spend it on special projects. These are the very same ones who turned around and said, yes, the stays transportation board has come up with a plan, has come with a schedule. We're going to ensure that $118 million goes to these projects.

Dennis Welch:
Come on. You obviously haven't gone to Vegas lately on a weekend. Try getting up there on a Friday to go up there. It's impossible.

Michael Grant:
On the other hand, Robbie, this seems like a lot of growing sentiment for a variety of these projects. I mean, there's been a fair amount of discussion about widening interstate 10 coming into Phoenix. A lot of talk about Pinal County and generally a feeling that the roads are breaking up.

Robbie Sherwood:
It's because we're behind our growth. We're reacting to where the pressure. Is it's too late to plan ahead. We've got situations where on I- 17 with we built anthem so all those people need to go home every night and they can't. Then in Pinal County we've allowed unfettered growth. That's where all the low land is and the housing is. But you have people who moved out there 40 cars back at a stoplight because there's not even a stoplight. Everybody trying to get to work.

Howard Fischer:
Problem is the more we build freeways the more people will move out there. People are to work. If you are stupid enough to move to Ahwatukee -- if you are stupid enough to live in the world's largest cul-de-sac, don't complain when you've got to go from 27th avenue back to 48th street to get out of there. I'm sorry, you moved to Anthem, live with it.

Michael Grant:
Speaking with the general subject of ear marking because we're almost out of time. A House committee ear marking at least 125 additional bucks for teachers?

Howard Fischer:
This is different than it what the governor proposed. She wants a $30,000 starting salary and a boost. This basically says we're going to give every teacher $2,500 and we're going to put it in the base. It was originally a plan to give them a tax credit. The problem with that is, credits come and credits go. Once you put it in the base the pressure will be there on the legislature to keep doing it. Now the flaw in the bill it is, this only has a one-year appropriation. The school board said, don't just put this in for one year. Give us 150 million and force us to pick up the cost from the local taxpayers.

MichaelGranr
All right. That does it. We're out of time, panelists. Thank you very much.

Larry Lemmons:
Legislative leaders join us for discussion of the major issues being considered in the state legislature including the million dollar a day fine related to the English language learner controversy. Also a visit with "Hamilton Jordan," the white house chief of staff for Jimmy Carter and healthcare. Monday night at seven on Channel 8's Horizon.

Michael Grant:
Tuesday we will bring you the results of the latest KAET-ASU poll. It asks what Arizonans among other things think about the port controversy. On Wednesday we'll talk about the issue of the use of photo radar in Scottsdale. And Thursday governor Janet Napolitano will make her monthly visit to Horizon. Thank you very much for joining us on this Friday edition. I'm Michael Grant. Hope you have a great weekend. Good night. ∂∂[Music]∂∂

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