Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 9, 2007


Host: Howard Fischer

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local reporters discuss the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Matt Benson - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Howard Fischer:
It's Friday, March 9th, 2007. In the headlines this week, the governor has been on a surprise trip overseas. She made stops in war zones in the Middle East. The senate doesn't want Arizona to be part of the federal ID program, and because it's Friday, we're gonna talk about border issues, once again. That's next on "Horizon".

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Howard Fischer:
Good evening, I'm Howard Fischer and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me tonight to talk about these and other stories are Matt Benson of the Arizona Republic, Mark Brodie of KJZZ, and Mary Jo Pitzl, also of the Arizona Republic. Governor Janet Napolitano has been in the Middle East with the governors of Minnesota and Oklahoma, visiting leaders and National Guard troops. Matt, exactly what did the Governor hope to accomplish over there at 9,000 miles away from home?

Matthew Benson:
Well, that's hard to say, Howie. You know, she did breakfast in Balad, breakfast-- lunch in Tallil. I joked with one of her PIOs [Public Information Officer] that it sounded like a Napolitano's "Taste of Baghdad" tour. But seriously, this is something that three dozen Governors have done. Basically it's about getting over there, seeing for yourself what's going on in Iraq, what your troops are up to, how they're being treated and equipped.

Howard Fischer:
Well, she also got a briefing, I gather, from the Defense Secretary and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Is this all part of some big PR effort by the Feds, by the Bush Administration, to convince the governors to sign on?

Matthew Benson:
Well, it's possible that's part of it. But if that's the truth, that's the whole reason, it hasn't worked for them entirely. As you know, Congresswoman Giffords was over there in February, and she came back from Iraq with some not so good things to say about what's going on. She said she doesn't think the surge [of US troops in Iraq] is gonna work. So, it's hard to say the whole thing is about PR.

Howard Fischer:
Mary Jo, this governor has always been sort of hawkish on the war. In fact, when she talked to us by phone from Kuwait, we asked her about pulling out. She said, "No, I don't think so. We need to stay the course." Yet, the National Democrats seem to be sort of inching away. She's egging right when the rest of the democrats are zagging left?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, it's a little hard to get a strong read on Governor Napolitano. The National Democrats are a little easier to read. She's just not ready to take a position on it yet, and I don't know when we'll get something clarified, or what kind of events might have to happen to clarify her position

Mark Brodie:
You know, I think one of the things that was interesting about that, though, is one of the reasons she said that it wasn't a good idea to pull the troops out was because we spent so much time already in Iraq. We've invested so much, which seems to kind of play into the pragmatic ideas that she tends to favor, that it's not so much politically, or non-politically, that we should stay or we should go. It's that we've already put this much time and effort and sacrifice into it, we should at least continue and try to make something out of it.

Matthew Benson:
And certainly, Napolitano is not among the Withdrawal Democrats. In fact, her statements to this point more closely align with Senator Kyl's.

Mark Brodie:
Exactly.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And what's interesting is just a few weeks ago, Democrats in the State Legislature, many of them signed on to a letter saying we need to get out of Iraq sooner rather than later.

Howard Fischer:
Let me ask a question. As journalists, we've all been dropped into stories sometimes. You know, some editor sends us off and says "I want you to get the definitive piece on this. You've got two days there." How much can you learn from two days in Iraq about the war and the Administration's position?

Mark Brodie:
Well, never having been in the a war zone, I would imagine that to really get a sense of it, you have to go to the places where you're not supposed to be, and the places that are the most dangerous, where they probably wouldn't be taking a lot of elected public officials who are there for a very short amount of time. That said, I think being there probably gives somebody a sense of, "OK, this is at least what we are working with. These are the people-- the faces of the people, who are doing this mission." I would imagine, if nothing else, it helps personalize it and humanize it a little bit.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Mark, don't you work at the State Capitol? I mean, you don't consider that a War Zone?

[Panelists laugh]

Mark Brodie:
Not too many shots being fired too often.

Howard Fischer:
Certainly not. Let me ask you a question, Matt, there're people who have been pitching this trip as somehow we're elevating Janet to the National stage, and somehow this portends a great future. As you pointed out, she's one of three dozen governors. Is this really part of the Janet in '08 or '12 campaign?

Matthew Benson:
Well, that seems doubtful at this point, at least. I mean, this is her first step. Now, if we see her making a habit of this perhaps. But at this point, I don't see really too much of a political back-story to that.

Howard Fischer:
Let me ask one other thing that also came up. The Governor, originally, was supposed to meet with the Republicans this past week, and she decided she's gonna go to Iraq. I mean, is it easier being shot at in Iraq than being shot at by Russell Pearce perhaps?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think when you go to Iraq, you get a bodyguard contingent so perhaps, yeah.

Howard Fischer:
The meeting has been rescheduled for Tuesday. Mary Jo, a lot of the stuff, I'm sure, will come up with budget but also, obviously, border issues, which we'll talk about later. What do you think the Governor hopes to do by meeting with Republicans?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
well, I think she wants to placate them. They asked for a meeting. She initially rebuffed them. And they came back and said, "No, really, we really sincerely want to meet and talk about some of the core issues revolving around the budget". And so, she's going to make good on her word and sit down and talk with them about some of the nuts and bolts of the budget.

Howard Fischer:
So, is this a positive or negative? We'll all be covering this meeting next Tuesday. Is this only something that The Governor can only lose, perhaps? Because I'm sure there'll be some people loaded for bear there?

Mark Brodie:
Not necessarily. I mean, I would imagine that, you know, there are some Republicans who are in line with her on some issues, and I think that they might be more willing to step up and say, "Hey, this might be a good idea," or "Let's hold back on something like this." If nothing else, I think like Mary Jo said, The Governor said she would go down and talk to them. She's going to talk to them. It's tough to get upset when you ask someone to do something and they do it.

Howard Fischer:
Let me change gears here for a little bit. I want to talk about a mandate that drew a lot of attention. The US Congress passed the Real ID Act 2005 and told states that they have to cooperate with their Driver's Licenses. Mary Jo, it seems like the State Senate said, "I don't think so."

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah, I think the State Senate said that pretty clearly in a floor vote on Wednesday. The Senators are not too mad about getting into this program, which is standardized ID nationwide. And the sponsor of the bill, Senator Karen Johnson, says even though the Feds have said we'll back off, and we'll give you another two years to implement this, she has philosophical objections to a nationwide ID system. Primarily that it centralizes all the information and could make it ripe for identity theft.

Howard Fischer:
OK, is she being paranoid, Mark, or is the old saying "Just ‘cause you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you"?

Mark Brodie:
I don't think she's alone in this. I mean, obviously, her colleagues in the Arizona Senate agreed. And there are other states, Maine and some others, that have passed or are debating similar kinds of prohibitions. There's been some talk in Washington DC of maybe scaling back or scrapping Real ID. So, you know, Senator Johnson has, you know, a different view of the federal government, I think, than other people. She is one of the driving forces behind the plan to get Arizona to opt out of No Child Left Behind, the Federal Education Program. So I think that she strongly believes that Real ID is a bad idea. And I think at least so far, her colleagues agree with her.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, what's interesting about this, though, I think the pushback from the states, a lot of it is an effort to try to get the Feds to add in some elements that States feel aren't addressed, such as like "How do we pay for this?". And also, I think it begs a very real question on a perennial topic of border and immigration. If you want to have a system where you can verify that somebody is legally authorized to be in this country working, most folks are arguing you need to have some kind of nationwide standard to tie into that.

Howard Fischer:
Well, privacy clearly was-- obviously a piece of the concern. Yet, the State Senate also first voted for, and then killed legislation about whether Police can keep a database of the cars that are scanned into the system. So, when they had to look at the issue of privacy on one hand and law and order on the other, law and order went out?

Matthew Benson:
Yeah, you know… [Sigh] You're going to have to redo that one.

Howard Fischer:
Well, let me go to you, Mary Jo, you've taken a look at the whole issue of the question of privacy. Where does it begin and end for State Lawmakers?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think it's a somewhat fluid line in this case. Senator Pamela Gorman from Anthem stood up and said she thinks this is where she draws the line. It's too much information in the hands of law enforcement, and nobody is quite sure what they're going to do with it, how long they would hang onto it, and what purpose would that serve. But I think you can look at a number of bills that have come up in this session and past sessions where there's not a firm line. We always look for consistency but that rarely happens.

Howard Fischer:
Well, what's interesting is, I don't know how much you've looked at this, Mark. Essentially, the DPS cars some of them have this camera on the front and can scan the license plates to look for stolen cars, which is fine. But I think what concerns Pam Gorman is you build up a database, and it's linked to a GPS system and a clock where you can say, at 3:00, Mark was here and at 4:00, Mark was there.

Mark Brodie:
I'm driving slowly.

[Mary Jo Pitzl laughs]

Howard Fischer:
Well, and that may be. What's your own personal feeling about, should police be able to track people this way? There are cameras more and more -- you see them almost on every light pole.

Mark Brodie:
Well, there are cameras on, you know, both speed enforcement and red light running cameras all over the Valley, on the 101 and on surface streets. You know, this is not something unique to Arizona. If you go along the East Coast, if you use an E-Z Pass to pay the toll on many of the Interstate Highways in the East Coast, law enforcement can track where you've been, how long it was supposed to take you to get from one exit to another, if you stopped in between and can track you that way. So certainly there is a debate as we saw in the Senate about, is this Big Brother? Is this a good or bad idea? But clearly it's something that other states, other agencies think is okay.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Some make a distinction between if you choose to expose yourself to this kind of scrutiny, such as if you were to pay to be in a Toll Lane or have an E-Z Pass. That's a choice. You don't have to drive in there. You can drive in the clogged up lanes with everybody else. And therefore that's permissible. But a sort of broad-based, broadcast viewing, some members have a real problem with that.

Howard Fischer:
Let me ask philosophical, let me ask all of you, start with you, matt. You choose to drive on the Highway. Given there's no Mass Transit System in this town, that probably isn't an option. Should the Police be able to track you where you go? Does that cause you any concern? Or am I the only Left-Wing Civil Libertarian nut around here?

Matthew Benson:
Well, I would have a problem with them being able to track me anywhere I go. But some of this comes back to-- it's part of our society. They can track you by your Cell Phones. There's cameras everywhere. In some ways this bus has already left the station, and I'm not sure how many of these sorts of Civil Liberties we have left.

Howard Fischer:
One thing that also came up related to privacy this week is there's a problem with people stealing copper, stealing transformers, stealing air conditioners. The legislation that's going through would say if you want to sell scrap metal, you've got to produce an ID, a fingerprint, and a photo. Is that just yet another step toward government intrusion or is that just necessary protection?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, I think that's a debate the legislature will go through. Although since this bill passed very easily, very lop-sidedly, out of the House, I don't know how much debate there will be. But the sponsor of the bill, Representative Jerry Weiers, says, "Look, this is a way to try to-- you can still get money for selling scrap, but we just want to slow down the process, so in case people ripping places off because maybe they're feeding a drug habit, and if you're high on something, you're not gonna wait around to leave fingerprints, show them a Driver's License." But there are those kinds of issues that have come up with some of the scrap dealers as this bill is advancing.

Matthew Benson:
Well, in some ways, this is kind of the issue de jour [issue of the day] right now. We've seen instances of, for a few hundred dollars worth of copper, people getting thousands upon thousands of dollars of damage, getting all the wiring ripped out of their Air Conditioners. Huge, huge problem and it's something the legislature is jumping on quickly.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The question is: if you have these kind of restrictions on selling it, will it stop the tweaker who needs some money from actually going to ripping off the copper, or will they not care? But there's a great story that came out this week, Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne has a commercial property. And he found out last weekend, that somebody had been up there and torn the copper coils out of his Air Conditioning unit. And he says it was about $200 worth of copper. It's going to cost him $20,000 to repair and replace the a/c unit. If this law were in place would that have prevented it? That's debatable.

Howard Fischer:
Well does this become the same tradeoff we were talking about with the last issue, law and order versus privacy. And if it comes down to stopping crime, lawmakers are willing to have you expose some of that privacy?

Mark Brodie:
I think it's similar but in one way different. There is a potential public safety. I mean, you don't often think of stealing, messing up air conditioners as public safety. But if you're in July and it's 115 degrees and somebody isn't able to get out of there house it can become a public safety issue. I think that might be where the dividing line is on this issue.

Howard Fischer:
I want to turn to the subject of ever week here, which has to do with the border and immigration. Let me start off with today, Matt, the I.C.E. made some raids in southern Arizona, picked up some people there in a corporation. We saw issues of Tempe having a raid. Let me come back to you. We have a construction company that's being accused of hiring illegal aliens. Are you shocked to know that there are illegal aliens in the construction industry?

Mark Brodie:
I don't think there are too many people who would be shocked to hear that. It's the one thing that everybody keeps saying. We want employer sanctions, we want employer sanctions but nobody really knows how to make it happen. Late this week, house speaker Jim Weiers said we're going to have an employer sanctions bill in a couple of days. Whether or not that's going to pass or what kind of debate it's going to happen. But again, it's the knowingly part that I think throws a lot of people off. You can't knowingly hire illegal immigrants. How far do businesses have to go, how far can they go in terms of deciding whether or not somebody is legal to work here or not.

Howard Fischer:
Well Mary Jo, you follow this as a business reporter perspective. How far can or should businesses go in determining if somebody is here illegally this.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, businesses can go up to the point that they don't violate someone's civil rights. And then they risk being sued for violation of civil rights by asking, for example, well, I'm singling you out because you look like you might be of Hispanic origin. That can lead to a lawsuit. How far do businesses go? It varies. There's a thing called the basic pilot program that federal Government's had out for several years. The stats elude me at the moment. But there's a fraction of the businesses in the U.S. that use it and a fraction in Arizona. But some that have used it say it's worked just fine for them. It gives them the assurance that they need that their workers are here legally and authorized to work in the U.S. but the complaint about it is that it's not ready for prime time. That's what's been the mantra for the last couple of years.

Howard Fischer:
How much of this do you think is intentional, Matt? Originally the illegals were the people in the fields picking the lettuce. They are, now they're in construction. Is this a question of companies can't get employees or they can't get employees at what they're willing to pay for them?

Matthew Benson:
There may be a little of both. These raids are certainly reminiscent of what we saw last year with the swift meat packing raids in Greeley, Colorado. I think it will be interesting to see whether this signals that federal government is coming down seriously on this problem or whether they're content to just make a few high profile examples of folks.

Howard Fischer:
Does this undermine what the republican legislature is trying to do now? Saying we need state employer sanctions? Because the feds aren't coming in? Does this suddenly take the wind out of their sails?

Matthew Benson:
Like I say, this is one day of raids. I don't see the wind really coming out of those sails anytime soon in terms of acting on this on a state level.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yea and frankly what the legislature is trying to do is, their bill, if it happens, would stop things at the point of employment. So it would be basically any prospective hires. They say well you've got to start there. There are all these people coming into the construction industry. By the way, I think there are still illegals in the agricultural sector as well.

Howard Fischer:
Let me come back and stick with this business aspect of salaries versus employees. We've seen the construction industry. The wages have been sort of depressed. Is this simply a question that if construction companies are willing to pay more for carpenters, maybe we wouldn't have illegals there?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, well, don't you reckon that maybe the laws of supply and demand would work? If you could get paid $50 an hour framing a house, Howie, you might even leave what you do for awhile and pound some nails.

Howard Fischer:
You haven't seen my carpentry skills. So does it simply come done to supply and demand? I mean we have all these republicans saying we don't believe in government regulation. We want the market place to do it. Yet they say, maybe we need some guest workers here to take up the slack. If companies paid more would the problem go away?

Mark Brodie:
Well, if you ask the companies they say no. They say that we can't get these workers, so that's why we have to hire the immigrants to begin with. I mean, it's got to be a supply and demand issue. I mean pretty much everybody admits that it's a supply and demand issue. It's just how you go about meeting the supply with the available demand, I think, that a lot of people are struggling with.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's a little more complex than just hiking the salary. Because there are market limits to how much you can hike someone's pay before it affects the end product of -- the end price of the product. Then you've got a whole macro economic issue.

Matthew Benson:
You have to remember that the nation as well as Arizona are considered at full employment. So there aren't exactly bus loads of citizens just sitting out on bus corners waiting for something to do for work.

Howard Fischer: Well, that's a very nice segue there. The house this week passed a bill dealing with day laborers, people who are hanging around the street corners. Somehow even though the words illegal immigrants are never mentioned, it seems like Representative Cavanaugh thinks this will help get rid of them?

Matthew Benson:
Obviously they're targeting the undocumented workers who gather around these day labor posts. And I don't know of many day labor posts in Fountain Hills where the representative is from. But that's who they're going after. I think everybody understand that. And it will be interesting to see if this kind of bill gets through the process and meets with the governor's signature.

Mark Brodie:
What's interesting about that bill is it's being couched as a public safety issue. Not going after illegal immigrants but after people who impede pedestrian and vehicular traffic that are causing accidents or backups or just causing a public safety issue. And that's how this is being couched, which I this is one of the interesting aspects.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
So the real catch will be if the girl scouts are out there with their table on the sidewalk selling excess boxes of cookies. Could they potentially be prosecuted under this? And also as this is being sold in the legislature is everybody focuses on the worker. But Representative Cavanaugh and other backers of this bill say ah wait, this applies to the person who's going to hire them as well. And the enforcement of that if this were to pass could be very interesting to see how many would-be employers actually would get prosecuted.

Howard Fischer:
Sure, the other big issue obviously at the capitol this week was $10 million to put the National Guard on the border in a primary role. Okay, Mary Jo, what's the chance we're going to be seeing 100 guardsmen on the border in a primary role?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Probably not very likely. And the legislative language is permissive it's up to the governor. If she wants to deploy the National Guard and keep it under her control and keep it free from the federal direction and the legislature tried to sweeten the deal by throwing in $10 million for that as well. But the governor hasn't been a big fan of this. And her argument is that we already have National Guard troops down on the border working under federal laws.

Mark Brodie:
Another tool in the tool box is the catch phrase that keeps being used with bills like those.

Howard Fischer:
Well, part of what brought this up, of course, Mark, is the incident in January where some Tennessee guardsmen who were confronted by some armed men from Mexico decided, well, we need to beat feet out of here. This was a strategic withdrawal. We didn't abandon our post according to the general. I think that that left some bad taste in some lawmakers mouths that somehow armed military people would withdraw from illegal immigrants

Mark Brodie:
It did. And Ward Nichols has said that that incident prompted this bill. That incident was what led to his wanting to do this bill. And one of the interesting things was that there was a lot of debate yesterday about the word "retreat" that is in the bill. A lot of the democrats said that's insulting to the National Guard, you got to take that out. And if you take that out maybe we'll support the bill. Of course they never got a chance to make good on that.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The significance of retreat is that the legislation says the National Guard when deployed by the governor on the border need not retreat. And that is a direct somewhat parenthetical reference to what happened in January.

Howard Fischer:
Now there is one other option. Our good friend Jack Harper has a bill to create the homeland security force, a state militia which would be under the governor's control. If we're not going sending the guard to the border, are we going have the militia down there?

Matthew Benson:
Basically the homeland security force would act in much the same way as the National Guard, called out for emergencies; it can be called out anytime the governor has declared an emergency. He's basically saying, this is backup. Why not do this.

Howard Fischer:
What's the chance that governor is going to agree to create this militia? It's in the constitution we can have one. But she hasn't seemed awfully anxious to have yet another force out there.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
She hasn't. But it's hard to get a read on that one as well. I suppose you could have a militia and they could always be standing by. But they might come in handy the next time there's a big forest fire.

Mark Brodie:
Senator Harper has said at least this week it's not about the border. It's never been about the border. But who knows if it's actually about the border or not.

Howard Fischer:
Of course everything is about the border. Great discussion tonight, thank you very much panelists. Coming up next, are U.S. farm subsidies causing global starvation? That's next on now. And if you have a chance look at David B hair, really see how he covers his bald spot a lot better than I do. After that Washington week in review, the McLaughlin Group. If you're hanging around tomorrow at about 6:00 p.m. Laurence Welk will be on the air. Thanks very much. Have a wonderful weekend. For Capitol Media Services, I'm Howard Fischer. Good night.

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