Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 2, 2007


Host: Howard Fischer

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Matthew Benson - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Howard Fischer:
It's Friday February 2, 2007. In the headlines this week state lawmakers are working to ensure the safety of National Guard members patrolling the border following a recent confrontation with several armed men from Mexico. The city of Scottsdale has decided to turn on the Loop 101 Freeway photo radar cameras later this month and Randy Pullen has been elected as the new chair of the Arizona Republican Party. All that next on "Horizon."

Announcer:
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Howard Fischer:
Good evening, I'm Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services." Joining me to discuss these and other stories are: Matthew Benson of the "Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of the "East Valley Tribune" and Mike Sunnucks of the "Business Journal." The issue of the Arizona National Guard along the border with Mexico was front and center this week at the state legislature. Lawmakers learned new details of an incident last month in which guard troops were confronted by gunmen from Mexico. Matt, the commander of the National Guard was there. What have we learned or what are we learning?

Matthew Benson:
Howie, we seem to know less and less all the time actually. This story began January 3 with an incident along the border where four guardsmen were approached by gunmen who had come up from Mexico, were actually moving back toward the border, moving south. The controversy arises because the guardsmen rather than apprehending these gunmen basically stood down, called for border patrol and moved out of their observation post. By the time border patrol arrived they were gone.

Howard Fischer:
Let me ask a question to that point. The general made it very clear in the testimony that these guardsmen had not abandoned their post.

Matthew Benson:
True.

Howard Fischer:
But they left their post. So tell me the difference between abandoning and strategic withdrawal if you will.

Matthew Benson:
Call it what you will. I've heard you mention that it's something like advancing toward the rear. Basically they were doing what they were told to do. They're in a secondary role at the border. They're not supposed to confront anybody. They're supposed to merely report what they see and that's what they did in this instance. Now, while everyone understood going into this arrangement as part of Operation Jumpstart that they were in a secondary role, but a lot of people didn't understand that would actually mean letting gunmen continue across American soil.

Mike Sunnucks:
That's a big problem. It's gone on for awhile. The Border Patrol doesn't have enough resources so when called to an area or alerted to something, by the time they get there a lot of times people are gone. If you're going to have guard at the border they should at least be able to monitor things and not just run away.
Matthew Benson: As we know with these two guardsmen two of them are fresh back from Iraq, battle-hardened individuals, armed with M-16's certainly capable of taking care of themselves.

Howard Fischer:
That becomes the question. Dennis you spent a lot of time down at the capitol. How well did the idea of guardsmen letting Mexicans with armed weapons just pass by?

Dennis Welch:
It depends on who you talk to down there. Obviously the majority of Republicans down there really aren't comfortable with the idea of national guardsmen kind of abandoning their poster advancing towards the rear, however you want to call. It this week we had Gilbert Republican Warren Nichols introduce some legislation that would provide nearly $10 million of funding for the governor to put more troops down at the border to play a more primary role down there, as well as protect them from any pending lawsuits.

Mike Sunnucks:
The governor is in a tough spot. She wants to look tough on the border, she took some steps last year endorsing Bush's plan and sending guard down in a secondary role but then she doesn't want to annoy Hispanics and folks on the left who worry about the border worrying being overly militarized.

Howard Fischer:
Well tell me more about Nichols' bill, 10 million which I understand it would provide for 100 soldiers for one year or 200 soldiers for half a year or 50,000 soldiers for about ten minutes the way you figure it, exactly what would be the difference in what they would be doing in a primary role or what the 2,200 guardsmen are doing now.

Mike Sunnucks:
The current role, they support, they help out with civil engineering, building roads and they do a little bit of monitoring and stuff right at the ports of entry. This would allow them to actually kind of enforce and be border patrol agents. The governor likes them in the secondary role. She still argues it's a federal responsibility and there's an argument for that.

Matthew Benson:
What's pushing this is the governor of Texas; Governor Perry has put the National Guard on the border paid for with Texas state dollars. They're in more of a primary role that they travel with border patrol and they are confronting and apprehending as they deem fit.

Mike Sunnucks:
And bringing it back to Arizona a little bit, too, after Nichols trots this out in a press conference out there at the legislative mall, Democratic Steve Gallardo gives an impromptu response out there and says this bill is designed to do nothing more than embarrass the governor. But however, when we asked him how does this embarrass the governor he really didn't have much of an answer for that.

Howard Fischer:
Let me get into, that particularly talking to you, Matt, on this one. Because the governor, it seems like the last couple of years, has been sort of behind the curve on the issue of National Guard. Three years ago she didn't want the guard on the border and the feds came and paid for it. Now it's great. We've got the guard on the border. Now she doesn't want them there in a primary role is. Is she behind the curve on this? What do you think the public's thinking is about the idea of the guard walking away from armed gunmen and would they like the guard on the border and is the governor just out of touch?

Matthew Benson:
Certainly the governor's political calculus on this at the time is that people are willing to wait on the congress a little while. You have a new Democratic congress. She wants to wait and see what they can come up with the president in terms of what she calls a comprehensive immigration solution. Are people willing to wait very long? I don't know. Polls show this issue remains consistently the top issue among Arizona voters. People want even the state to step up on this issue.

Mike Sunnucks:
Every time it's gone to the ballot the voters have taken the get tough approach. They didn't hold it against the governor, though, in her re-election. She seemed to do enough the last year to where it wasn't a big campaign issue for her.

Howard Fischer:
Of course you could also make the argument she didn't exactly have a republican who had a fighting chance.

Mike Sunnucks:
The Republicans had made that a big issue last session. We have three ballot questions. It didn't really show up as that salient issue they had thought. I think you have a conservative core, populist core that wants to get tough on the border but they don't blame the governor for it.

Dennis Welch:
You can argue the top republican in this country, George Bush helped help out with her plan which is almost exactly like Janet Napolitano's proposal.

Howard Fischer:
One of the other pieces Warren Nichols trotted out was this issue of immunity, that if a guard member injures or kills someone, something happens that they're personally immune. Dennis, how do you think that's going to go over in terms of the legislature?

Dennis Welch:
Well, that could be one of those contentious issues out there. Obviously speaking to Steve Gallardo, he doesn't like that idea. We pressed him a little bit on that during a press conference earlier this week. And it remains to be seen. There may be some revisions on that.

Mike Sunnucks:
Has there been any lawsuits, any liability against any guard down there? They've been down there for a number of years working on drug type cases and custom cases.

Howard Fischer:
I believe there was an incident, and Matt you may know about this, in terms of a Texas marine who was put in a situation where he actually shot somebody down there and there was some liability.

Matthew Benson:
I believe there's being a case involving two guardsmen if I'm not mistaken in Texas involved in a shooting. It certainly has come up. It could come up again. I have a hard time believing the governor going to go along with the civil immunity piece of this package. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see her sign the funding for the National Guard. It's a permissive bill. It allows her to sign it and not do anything until she deems fit. You could see her signing this and then sit on the money and wait until some later date.

Dennis Welch:
That's kind of the rub though, isn't it? That would be the trap I mean politically for her to fall into. If she signs this and doesn't do anything about this you can bet republicans will be reminding about this every day.

Howard Fischer:
Let me change the subject but also dealing with the issue of immigration, the house committee this week put out a bill to criminalize statewide people hanging around street corners looking for work. Tell me a little bit about that.

Mike Sunnucks:
They would make it easier for them to get arrested for trespassing and increase the penalties on that. It's Cavanaugh from Fountain Hills in Scottsdale who's pushing this. And I think you know you have folks that are here to work standing outside Home Depots, mostly, home improvement type stores and looking for landscaping and day labor jobs and construction jobs. It seems to kind of fly in the face of the American dream. I want to get a job and I'm going to stand out here. I'm here to work but I could get arrested for that.

Howard Fischer:
But I suppose the other side of the issue, and you seen this a little bit in the east valley Dennis and down in chandler they have the same problem where you have large groups of men. Every time somebody drives into home depot suddenly approaching the pickup trucks and such. Where's the line in terms of public safety versus the right to say "we'll work for food."

Dennis Welch:
That's a hard question to answer. Is it public safety when you drive up? Is there an issue there when you drive up to a home depot or Lowe's to go hire some people to do work for you.

Mike Sunnucks:
They're usually congregated in an area where you can kind of tell. I mean there's guys there in work boots and in flannel shirts and hats and they look like workmen and landscapers and they're ready to work and they are not really bothering your every day customers. The ones I've seen have been off to the side where the contractors can find them.

Howard Fischer:
There's one other related issue that came up with week, Representative Lujan introduced a bill to essentially put prop 300 back on the ballot , at least part of it. - Now is the measure that outlawed the issue of adult education for illegals outlawed the issue of subsidized childcare and made out of state residents pay full tuition. They want to revisit, that Dennis?

Dennis Welch:
Well I don't know. Speak of being out of touch, prop 300 passed overwhelmingly a few years ago, now democrats want to go ahead and start repealing something that was elected by such a wide majority? I don't know if that's a smart thing to do.

Mike Sunnucks:
The argument there is, when it affects the children. They didn't make the choice to come into this country, their parents did. So maybe why should they be penalized for that? So you can make that argument on the other side.

Howard Fischer:
It's an interesting question. If you par-sat that out, Representative Lujan's argument is that if the only issue on the ballot were illegals going to the universities at in state rates that would hold separately then say subsidize childcare. Do you think it would make any difference in terms of what happened with prop 300?

Matthew Benson:
That's hard to say. This is an issue that may be the issue certainly passed on the ballot. Lujan's measure may be unpopular with the public as a whole but it may be popular within his district and his constituency.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think voters look at the title. It says illegal immigration and you want to deny certain government services to illegals. And they seem to back that.

Howard Fischer:
Fair enough. Speeders along loop 101 in Scottsdale will soon have to worry again about being caught on photo radar. Dennis, are the cameras back on? Or when are they going to be on?

Dennis Welch:
They will be on by the end of February again. The city council voted last week, or earlier this week, I'm sorry, to turn these things back on. But the interesting thing is also what's happening down at the legislature where you have the head of the senate transportation committee who wants to take this issue to the voters. Which I think is really the most interesting aspect of this whole debate. Are people going to vote to allow these cameras to police them?

Howard Fischer:
And the interesting philosophical question just in terms of full disclosure we had a full discussion before the show and everyone on this table hats been cited for photo radar. So understand where we're starting. Let me then go to you, Matt, as the scoff law that you are. What do you think the public attitude is about having speeding tickets enforced by a truck or camera on a pole versus being pulled over by an officer?

Matthew Benson:
You know, that's difficult to measure. Certainly anyone who's gotten a ticket may feel a little bit of, boy, that wasn't fair. I didn't see it. And certainly the opponents of photo radar are very noisy. But as a whole, they're generally effective. The studies have shown that they've reduced accidents, reduced speeding. And whether this went the ballot would do with voters statewide it might well pass.

Mike Sunnucks:
Good revenue, too, for the state or city who's running them. That's big cash. Somebody whose paid a Paradise valley fined for going 37 in a 25, it's big money. And so I think you see a lot of city governments go after that.

Howard Fischer:
Well let me talk about that money question. Kirk Adams has a bill to say if we're going to do photo radar statewide the money should go to constructing freeways. Does that make it more palatable for folks that the money will go to something other than reline the city council Scottsdale chambers with new carpeting?

Dennis Welch:
It may make it more palatable but I don't know how much of an effect it's going to have. We talked with Representative Adams. He even admitted. It's not going to be a whole lot of money in terms of being able to help with the state's transportation woes which we're far behind. We're hundreds of millions of dollars behind. And this is only going to generate maybe tens of millions at most.

Mike Sunnucks:
And to be honest guys, we don't have enough ballot questions each year so why not have another one on there?

Howard Fischer:
We only had 19 last time. Well let's stick with the issue of freeway funding. The governor had trotted out her idea of 30-year bonds versus 20-year. It was an idea in terms of raiding the rainy day fund. Now we're starting to see toll roads. Dennis, look into your crystal ball here. Where's that $400 million going to come from to make sure we pave the valley from the east side to the west side?

Dennis Welch:
First of all, most legislatures will probably correct you on the use of toll roads. They're very sensitive to when you bring that up. They like to use other terminology out there. But as far as the fight over where of the 400 million is going to come from, really who knows? It's so early in the budget process right now. I mean, they barely even had any discussions.

Mike Sunnucks:
Don't you guys think we'll see kind of a combination, a hybrid of longer bonds? The governor's plan, a lot of the business folks kind of like that. And then maybe for the 450 or 400, maybe 200 million from the rainy day fund or one time money?

Matthew Benson:
I have a hard time envisioning toll roads actually becoming reality as part of this package. Toll roads generally prove unpopular in the west. As the governor said herself if she wanted to drive on toll roads she world live in New Jersey. I don't see it happening.

Howard Fischer:
But is part of the question there the concept of if you were in New Jersey toll roads usually involve stopping and throwing the quarter in the bin? The idea of the riverside freeway for example in California has what they call hot lanes. These are high occupancy vehicle lanes but you can use them by yourself if you want to pay a toll and they have an easy pass system, transponder and it just transmits your license plate number and bills you. Would that be more acceptable perhaps?

Matthew Benson:
Certainly perhaps. They are called hot lanes. Lexus lanes, is another term that goes around. Basically if you can afford them you can drive on those lanes. The other thing in they way of this debate is do you want to have lanes that aren't carrying the maximum amount of traffic? Ultimately this is about reducing congestion. Do you want to have lane or two lanes on the I-10 that aren't carrying even half as much traffic as they should?

Dennis Welch:
The argument is, this is a way to relieve the congestion on the freeways without spending any money. I mean, and that's a pretty powerful argument.

Mike Sunnucks:
And then the user fees. Just like the gasoline tax. The user fee, you pay the toll. It goes toward that highway.

Dennis Welch:
Fees go up and down depending upon the congestion of that lane correct? My question is, how do you police this?

Howard Fischer:
Well, as I understand it from back east they take a picture of your license, we're back to photo radar again.

Dennis Welch:
Which brings us back to Ron Gould who hates the idea of photo radar for speeders but admits that might be the only way to police these hot lanes which he fully supports.

Howard Fischer:
There are other options. We have an 18-cent gas tax which has been 18 cents when gas was a buck a gallon and then it went up to 3 bucks. Any sentiment out there of maybe saying if gas prices rise maybe gas taxes should rise?

Dennis Welch:
Man, the lawmakers I've talked to they're really hesitant to increase the taxes on gas. That's just a tax increase.

Mike Sunnucks:
You have these republicans that have taken these no tax pledges so it's not going to go anywhere there. I think you'll see some of the business folks maybe look at taking that to the ballot. And 18 cents is a little low. Other states in the west that are up around 20, 25 cents. We could raise it a penny or two pennies and get I think about 25 million a year.

Howard Fischer:
Another half of the equation, of course, everybody keeps dancing around is mass transit, whether you're talking intercity rail, more buses. What do you think, Matt? Do you think people are willing to spend money for trains so you can get from Tucson to Phoenix faster?

Matthew Benson:
Perhaps. Obviously light rail is moving full steam ahead here in the Phoenix downtown area. There's talk of commuter trains from Tucson to Phoenix and vice versa, perhaps to Flagstaff. Certainly at some point I think you're going to see that. Are you going to see it in a year where revenue is up just slightly and budget is tight? I don't think so. A year like last year would have been the time to really start putting aside money for right-of-way and moving ahead. This year looks a lot bleaker.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think you'll see some interest in the northwest valley those cities because they have the rail line come down Grand in goes to central Phoenix and there could be the capacity to do something fairly quickly. But back to Matt's point, we decided to cut taxes instead of investing the money.

Dennis Welch:
Where's the money going to come?

Howard Fischer:
Well let me ask the other half of the question, assuming you build it will they come? Are you going to get Arizonans out of their cars, Dennis?

Dennis Welch:
That really is a tough question. I mean, are you going to get them out of their cars to go spend how much time using public transportation? I don't know. First you really would have to increase the access to it. There are too many places in the valley where you wait too long.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think the question is congestion. If it takes you an hour and half to get from Glendale to downtown Phoenix and it cost you to park, it's free to park a lot of places right now when it gets to be that kind of pricing thing then you'll see maybe people get on the train.

Howard Fischer:
So that's it. The answer is higher parking fees downtown. You heard it here first, folks.

Howard Fischer:
The Arizona Republican Party now has a new chairman and a few new vacancies at the party's headquarters. Mike, well who got elected and what's been the impact?

Mike Sunnucks:
The Republicans met at beautiful sunny slope high school on Saturday, one of the best venues in the state. It was Lisa James who is a public relations and political consultant, she ran Bush's 2004 campaign against Randy Pullen, who ran for mayor unsuccessfully and is kind of out there on the right wing on immigration, been very critical of President Bush and Mel Martinez, the new RNC chair. And Pullen won by a whopping four votes in a very tight race. It saw James get the support from kind of the moderates, the business types, the congressional delegations where the folks with the pitch fork the minutemen, backed Pullen. And so the result was a lot of folks leaving the party Matt Salmon had hired.

Dennis Welch:
You saw that coming. I mean the folks I was talking to at party for months now have been saying if Pullen gets elected we probably got to jump ship.

Howard Fischer:
Let me ask you a question, to put it in your parlance, the pitch fork wing of the party versus the moderates, were does McCain fit into this and what does the election of randy Pullen mean as far as McCain's strengths or lack thereof in the party?

Matthew Benson:
At first blush this would appear that this was a loss for McCain. Pullen is someone who has been very critical of McCain; the people supporting Pullen have been some of McCain's biggest critics. But at the same time how much does this really matter, how much does the state G.O.P. really matter? I would look for money from the republican national committee. If they're not happy with the state party and Randy Pullen's leadership, look for their funding that typically has gone through the state party to go through other channels. It's going to find its way to the candidates just the same. Is it going to matter to Joe voter where the money comes from as long as it gets to the candidate? Probably not.

Howard Fischer:
Well, you raise an interesting question about money. You've got a couple of party people who quit, the last person out the door maybe turn off the lights. If you don't have the people there to raise the money, and the moderates who tend to contribute aren't contributing to the state party, what does that mean two years from now in terms of legislative races in terms of the party being able to do the things that they need to do to get out the vote and things that the legislature republican had.

Matthew Benson:
The key issue will be whether some of the G.O.P.'s big donors - and the congressional delegation for that matter come on board with Randy Pullen. Some of these folks before the race said we don't support Pullen we support Lisa James. Now that race is over can they unify and come together and raise money for him. That's the first thing to look for out of the gate.

Mike Sunnucks:
That shows two things about McCain. First he doesn't really pay attention to what's going on here all the time. I think he was at Davos at the World Economic Forum recently. There were some McCain folks at the meeting, But not a lot. So he kind of ignores his home state. It's kind of an embarrassment that he's running for president. He should at least be able to keep your home town guys in check. And also there's still concerns on the right wing about him. They just don't like John McCain.

Howard Fischer:
After going and visiting with Jerry Falwell the right wing doesn't trust him?

Mike Sunnucks:
They still don't.

Dennis Welch:
Apparently McCain is not even the popular politician in Arizona anymore according to the latest poll from Earl DeBurg's folks. I mean Janet Napolitano now is the most popular, isn't she?

Howard Fischer:
Well that raises an interesting question there. Let me turn just briefly to the issue -- this proposal at the legislature by Bill Konopnicki to try to let some non-violent inmates out of prison a little early. It's also caused a little heart burn to Andy Thomas. What can you tell us about that?

Mike Sunnucks:
The bill would essentially allow the corrections department greater latitude in determining six months before a convicted felon is let out of prison. Currently it's just limited to non-violent drug offenders. It would expand that definition. Andy Thomas thinks it will allow the state to release more prisoners, more criminals out on the street. He put out a press release on that criticizing the governor on this. The governor's folks, you know, say that Thomas is a little misguided on this.

Howard Fischer:
Do you think -- it was pretty funny because Andy Thomas says it's the governor's fault yet Bill Konopnicki is the sponsor. I mean is Bill Konopnicki the governor's love slave?

Dennis Welch:
I don't think Konopnicki would agree with that assessment. I think he would flatly deny that.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think it shows Thomas is the republican that is stepping forward this session. He's probably looking to run for governor this time. He seems to be reaching out for the spotlight.

Howard Fischer:
Okay. One more thing I do have to talk about. It is Groundhog Day. Like every Friday on Horizon we talk about U.S. Air's efforts to acquire Delta. Mike, is this time last week we have to talk about that?

Mike Sunnucks:
The last one for awhile. They put $10 billion in the pot and Delta's creditors Delta's management didn't want. To they want to come out of bankruptcy on their own. The day before the deadline Doug Parker took his chips and went home. They're still looking for other merger opportunities in kind of a turbulent sector but that's it for Delta for now.

Howard Fischer:
Why do you think it fell apart?

Mike Sunnucks:
The Delta management and the creditors wanted to come out of bankruptcy on their own. Airlines are doing better than they have in the past two years. U.S. Airways turned a profit. I think Delta feels they can do it on their own.

Howard Fischer:
Fair enough. Great. What do you think in terms of the future of U.S. Air? I mean, it was America West for years, became U.S. Air. I mean, are they going to be the size they are? Or are they going to stay, you know, going to go looking for someone else, Dennis?

Dennis Welch:
Well, since it is Groundhog Day I guess it would depend if they woke up and saw their shadow today. I guess I don't really know. It's really hard to tell when you talk about the direction of a company like this, these mergers. The big question is whether they're going to stick around the valley, I guess.

Mike Sunnucks:
That was the big question with the merger. They could have moved to Atlanta and moved all those 11,000 jobs out of here or brought them there. Now none of that's going to happen.

Howard Fischer:
Fair enough. Well, gentlemen, thank you very much. It's been a very interesting show. We'll talk to you next week.

Larry Lemmons:
A bill currently being considered by the state legislature would create a homeland security force to be used by the governor if the National Guard is commandeered by the federal government. And the 2007 farm bill is passed by congress would allow almost $8 billion for conservation. Monday night at 7:00 on channel eight's "Horizon."

Howard Fischer:
Tuesday we look at controversy surrounding Arizona's new minimum wage law and the disabled community. Wednesday we'll tell you about South American art. Have an incredible weekend for the rest of Groundhog Day. Talk to you soon. Bye.

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