Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 5, 2007


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mike Sunnucks - Business Journal
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, October 5th, 2007. In the headlines this week, local reaction to the President's veto of the Children's Health Insurance Bill. The governor has a new plan for Arizona's economy. And how to finance roads in the state. That's next on Horizon.

Announcer:
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Ted Simons:
Good evening. I'm Ted Simons and this is the Journalists Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mike Sunnucks of the "Business Journal," Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona Republic," and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. The fight between the County Attorney and Superior Court judges heats up, Mike. A lot of hub bub going on here. What's going on with this?

Mike Sunnucks:
Thomas, Andy Thomas, the County Attorney, wants Maricopa County judge Timothy Ryan taken off criminal cases, saying he's biased against his office. It stems from Thomas' ongoing fight with judges over bail for illegal immigrants and Prop 100. He's also upset with another judge, Granville, over a ruling related to a child abuse case. That seemed to be related to a typo in the transcript. I think that's been cleared up. But Thomas, like Arpaio, has been really hard line on immigration and continues to go after some of these judges who he doesn't like his rulings.

Howard Fischer:
Let's come down to the bottom line here. Andy Thomas figures if he's filed a motion the judge should just accept it. He believes he's right and everyone else is wrong. The fact that he admitted that he had not appealed some of these controversial decisions, he won't say whether he's filed a complaint with the Commission on Judiciary Conduct. Suggests this may be more about publicity than actually a legal error perhaps made by the judge.

Mike Sunnucks:
Thomas has obviously been taking that Arpaio line in publicity too. He puts out a lot of press releases, a lot of press conferences. Really going after this immigration issue because it's a hot button issue.

Ted Simons:
Didn't the Granville issue deal with a typographical error, even then the county attorney is saying, "I'm glad the judge agrees with me now."

Mike Sunnucks:
There was a typo. It was related to a child abuse case and they need to find a translator for an African language. They can re-file the charges. There was a typo saying they might not be able to re-file the charges. Thomas holds this press conference, the judge points out that it'sjust a typo. We fixed it. Thomas then takes credit for the press conference changing the ruling.

Ted Simons:
Are these major cases where he's upset with the rulings? Is it the general nature of the cases?

Howard Fischer:
It's the nature of the cases. Many are immigration cases, they're bail cases. It took awhile, quite frankly, for the Superior Court judges to get in line with what voters approved in Prop 100. In fact, it took a State Supreme Court order to make them do that. You still, however, have a little bit of squish room in terms of when bail is or is not denied. Or more specifically proving that somebody is or is not there illegally. Obviously from Andy's perspective, is we've said they are and therefore they're here illegally.

Mike Sunnuck:
These are for violent charges, serious crime charges where they're not supposed to give bail. And some of the judges weren't going along with it.

Ted Simons:
How far does this go? I know there's supposed to be a hearing, Thomas doesn't want any Superior Court judges here to be taking part in this hearing. Where does this go? How far does it for go?

Howard Fischer:
This could go all the way to the State Supreme Court. Let's assume they get a Coconino County judge to hear the case. The Coconino County judge says, "No, I'm sorry Mr. Thomas, you're full of something and it is not law it." It goes to the Court of Appeals, it goes to the State Supreme Court. We still have the options to go to the Commission on Judiciary Conduct. Andy doesn't let this kind of stuff drop.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It might not drop if it goes the other way, either. I think everyone has put their marks down on this and this is war.

Mike Sunnucks:
Politically, Thomas can make some points here. Makes him look tough on immigration. He's going against judges he can portray as weak on the immigration. I think that's politically where the state is now.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to the airport death here real quickly. This seems to be capturing the imagination of everyone. And it's a difficult story. Someone lost their life here, okay? So it's nothing to fool around with. And yet there are so many question marks. A lot of folks are looking at this saying, what exactly happened? Let's start, Mike, with you. The story is this woman from New York from a prominent family back there, flying to Tucson, stops over in Phoenix, winds up never leaving Sky Harbor because she's late for her connecting flight, something along these lines. Do we know what happened after she, I guess, pitched a fit and got the police involved?

Mike Sunnucks:
The Phoenix Police released the videotape yesterday, kind of showing, without any audio, kind of what was going on. You could tell she was visibly upset, some T.S.A. people approaching her and police approaching her. They eventually took her down to the ground. I wouldn't say it was a Rodney King type rough thing but obviously physical. She ended up in the holding cell where she strangled herself probably with her handcuffs.

Howard Fischer:
There's no videotape. That's one place where there is no videotape. That becomes part of the issue. We also obviously heard the husband was calling the airport perhaps because he couldn't get a hold of his wife after she threw her cell phone down. But it leaves a big question that I think all of us have in their minds: if my wife is suicidal and I'm sending her or she's going for treatment in another state after a five-hour flight, you would have her travel alone? You would have her travel unescorted? I mean, I'm not saying, look, I'm not saying the Phoenix police are blameless or that she's blameless, but somewhere the family has some responsibility. The same reason you wouldn't send a 4-year-old with behavior problems on a flight, you don't send somebody who's got mental problems on a flight.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There do seem to be some questions about why she was traveling unaccompanied. Supposedly she was supposed to meet with local friends, friends locally. That connection never happened. But we've not seen anything that explains why that connection didn't happen. I mean, don't people have cell phones, ways to communicate? And even if she weren't suicidal by her family's attorney's own admission, when people are ready to go into recovery it's a very fragile state. To expect that somebody could travel cross-country, switch planes, get themselves to a treatment facility all on her own without anybody to hold your hand it, breaks your heart.

Mike Sunnucks:
The police do have questions to answer. Procedures for her being in the holding cell by herself and kind of what happened there. There was nobody keeping an eye on her.

Ted Simons:
They say if you're not a clear and present danger to yourself and others, they don't need to keep an eye on you.

Mike Sunnucks:
Obviously she was. The other thing is, airlines and the T.S.A., and the security at airports are very quick on the trigger now. They kick people off flights very quickly. And I think that played a role in it. And the fact that a lot of law enforcement, not saying this case, has a hard time dealing with folks with mental illness and in some of these fragile cases sometimes.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Mostly you have to wait and let cooler heads prevail. Let's see what the autopsy shows. But there was another death of a person in Phoenix after an encounter with police. So you get what is it, three cases and you've got a pattern there. We've got two in a row.

Ted Simons:
You've also got Michael Manning representing the family here. He has a history here in town especially with jail deaths and other high profile cases. This is big time here.

Mike Sunnucks:
He's one of our top attorneys. He goes after Arpaio and Tent City a lot. He's certainly one of our top guys.

Ted Simons:
Does it seem, though, there's not a lot of sympathy for the family? I think the woman, you know, you feel bad. But considering airport situation and you got the family and you kind of look at going, what are you doing letting this person fly cross-country by themselves?

Howard Fischer:
You hit it on the head. Had this been a different situation where there was no history of problems, where she was out here to visit her dying aunt and somehow missed her flight and got upset. Look, I've had them close the door on me. And I'm lucky I didn't wind up in a holding cell. Because you do get a little crazy. But given -- they knew her situation. The family knew her situation. And again, I'm like Mike. I'm not minimizing the tragedy. But if you know somebody is in a fragile situation you take the precautions. The issue of connecting with someone else, you can't get to gates anymore. So if she flies to another gate, it's not like the old days where the family can be there at the gate. So you're going to have misconnections. Things are going to go wrong.

Mike Sunnucks:
The toxicology reports are coming back so we'll see if something was in her system and if something played a role there. Obviously we need to find out what went on in the holding cell from the time they arrested her and took her there if there was something physical that happened to her there. And I think that airlines need to look at their service policies on serving alcohol to folks. I don't know how many drinks she had on the plane and stuff. But obviously she was agitated. There was concerns about that.

Ted Simons:
That's another question. Obviously she was agitated, I guess. No one had any complaints on the five hour flight out here, no one had complaints when she landed. The complaints happened when she couldn't get her flight to Tucson and it was overbooked and all of a sudden you know what breaks loose. Boy, what a brouhaha. S-CHIP, State Children's Health Insurance program. President decides he doesn't want to go ahead with the growth. Howie, how does this directly affect Arizona?

Howard Fischer:
Well, immediately not at all. Here's the deal. S-CHIP, State Children's Health Insurance Program, is a federal program, goes back to the 90's. It says that federal government will provide $3 for every dollar of state. And you can insure kids up to 250\% of the federal poverty level. Now, understand what we have here. Medicaid covers all families up to 100\% of federal poverty level. About 20,000 a year for a family of four. This covers that notch group working poor what they call it for the children. States can go up to 350\% with waivers. Arizona is a 200\%. The government wanted to go to 300. That didn't go anywhere. So we're not affected now. But here's the problem. According to the congressional budget office, just to keep the program operating as is will take $14 billion over the next five years. Bush offered 5 billion. What that means is, until they get something else and since we're only on a continuing resolution, just having the number of kids who would normally enroll, we're going to hit a cap at some point where the federal funds will run out and children otherwise eligible even under Arizona standards will not get enrolled.

Mike Sunnucks:
The Democratic bill wanted to allow states to go farther, up to 80,000 a year at the high end. That's middle class folks. They wanted to raise federal cigarette tobacco taxes to pay for it. Bush's thing was, we need to cover the poor kids first and wants to limit state's ability to cover working class, lower-middle class, and middle class kids.

Howard Fischer:
It gets to the heart of the issue in the presidential campaign which is, is healthcare a right or a privilege and do we move in the direction of universal healthcare. We have in Arizona, you know, perhaps 40\% of Arizonans are without insurance. Many of them by choice, but some of them because they can't afford it. Employers are providing less coverage now. So the question becomes, what's the role of government. I think from the governor's perspective and I think a lot of the Democrats, government should be doing more, covering more of the quote unquote middle class. I think from the President's perspective is at what point do you have a responsibility and this comes back to Mike's point. If you're at 40\% of the federal poverty level you're making over $80,000 a year for a family of four, what's your responsibility at that point to provide at least some coverage for your own child?

Ted Simons:
And I think Senator Kyl and Representative Shadegg both made that point. They don't see this necessarily as numbers, whatever. They see this as a move towards government healthcare.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There's a philosophical issue involved but this is also happening against the backdrop of the President's increased funding for the war. That's an easy sound bite. Geez, we're not going to provide healthcare for kids but we're going to keep funding a very unpopular war?

Mike Sunnucks:
The Democrats have the advantage on this just from people's gut reactions like Mary Jo said.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They might have the advantage politically but I don't think they'll get that veto overridden.

Ted Simons:
No. But again politically it's important right now. You have a lot of Republicans out there thinking the White House isn't helping us too much right now. Now you go ahead and it looks like we're bashing kids.

Mike Sunnucks:
Moderate Republicans in Iowa and a few others voted for it in Arizona.

Howard Fischer:
I think what's going to happen is you'll see the compromise. The President got his veto of the $35 billion plan. It's going to have to be more than 5. So we may end up somewhere between the 14 billion to keep it alive and perhaps 20 billion. So each side got to claim some victory. I think like you say we're on a continuing resolution. This program is literally day-to-day right now. So at some point I think cooler heads will prevail and there will be some compromise to continue the program for the next five years.

Ted Simons:
As far as health initiatives here in the state, I know a couple of health insurance ideas are being popped around here. -- but the idea of if nothing else, allowing for choice if universal healthcare hits.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Last week, Dr. Jeff Singer petitions took out petitions to start circulating a measure for the '08 ballot that would say, regardless of whatever else might pass and be in state law, this will enshrine everybody's right to choose their healthcare coverage. He sees this as a defensive action so that no kind of state-run, mandatory health insurance can be forced upon anybody in Arizona.

Mike Sunnuck:
That's the thing with universal. Everybody likes the idea of universal. They want poor kids to be covered. But people start peeling off when you question, what's going to happen to my health insurance if I have a decent health plan through my work? What's going to happen to me? That's the biggest barrier for a universal plan is people that are insured.

Ted Simons:
But are there right now proposals for universal healthcare that would take away that choice?

Howard Fischer:
So in essence there are some things, you mentioned Mark Oselow, a Tucson physician. His group called Healthy Arizona these are the people who got the Medicaid standard at100\% of federal poverty level. Now they're looking at something to expand that, to provide -- they don't use the term universal healthcare. They talk about everybody being covered one way or another, whether in business or something else. So we haven't seen it yet. But with that in mind, this other group is saying, well, we don't want to force anything down anyone else's throats.

Mike Sunnuck:
It's also whether they mandate individuals to have healthcare like you see in Massachusetts. Everybody has to have healthcare, either via your employer or yourself or you go through the state. Employers that don't offer it pay an extra tax or fee towards the state to pay for that. But that's where we're headed is towards some kind of mandate where we all have to have some kind of coverage.

Ted Simons:
But again right now this is a solution in search of a problem?

Howard Fischer:
It's a solution -- you're right. The problem isn't there yet but it will be. Look. We know the Governor is going to have some sort of healthcare plan for January since as we mentioned before the legislature killed her 300\% of poverty level for kids care. We know that Healthy Arizona is coming back with an initiative. We know there's a second group out there looking at some sort of expansion of healthcare. This proposal is a constitutional amendment, which would override anything else that's passed statutorily and say, if you have a constitutional right to choice. So if you don't want to purchase healthcare or if you want something else which has different coverage than what's being provided, what's being mandated, you're entitled to it. It's going to be the hot issue. It is the hot issue in the presidential campaign and it's going to be the hot issue on the ballot.

Mike Sunnuck:
The problem is nobody likes the for-profit system that we have. There's price gouging. It hurts seniors, hurts the working poor. But then people really don't trust the government to handle it. So we need to find something kind of in between that.

Howard Fischer:
I personally think journalists should control the system.

Mike Sunnuck:
I agree.

Ted Simons:
Holy mackerel. Alright, let's move on. Let's go down to Rocky Point, beautiful Porta Puerto Penasco. Where they can't stop building high-rises and condos.

Howard Fischer:
And you can find a screaming deal on one down there right now.

Ted Simons:
Yes, you can. The governor borders conference down there. Howie, you were there for this con fab. Did anything of any substance come out of it?

Howard Fischer:
Well, you don't come up with major pronouncements. A lot of the stuff, the spade work is done ahead of time. They knew they were all going to agree to cooperate on meth trade. We've got an interesting situation where meth, as you know, or I can get you the formula, is made from Sudafed. Mexico cut the import -- cut importation levels of Sudafed which mainly comes from China. So what's happening is the Sudafed is being imported from China into the United States, trans-shipped to Mexico, being made to meth there and then coming back.

Mike Sunnuck:
Free Trade at it's best.

Howard Fischer:
The Free Trade Organization is just rolling here. They want some additional cooperation on that. Everyone recognizes that what happens is it doesn't hurt just the United States in terms of the drugs, but what happens is money and guns go across the border that way. So they all recognize that. In terms of major pronouncements, not a lot of ideas allowing greater importation from prescription drugs from Mexico, things like that. The most interesting --

Mary Jo Pitzl:
What about the border?

Howard Fischer:
This is where it got interested. Felipe Calderon is the President of Mexico and gave a speech the first day to the delegates and said, "We have a right to go to the United States. In fact, it's good for the United States. In fact, the best Mexicans are the ones that go to the United States because they're willing to risk life and limb for their families." Now, he acknowledges he has a role to create more jobs down there. But he basically said, you know, we have a right to come. And that obviously got a lot of attention.

Mike Sunnuck:
I think there's a good argument there that it's good for the United States. Our vegetables and fruits are cheap because Mexican folk come and pick it. Our prices on things are low because Mexican folks come and take jobs that Americans won't take. And I think he does have a point there.

Ted Simons:
It's that word "right."

Howard Fischer:
But here's the issue. The jobs "Americans won't take." When they come after your job, you know, when all of a sudden the people in business said, we could hire somebody at half what we're paying Mike. The problem becomes this isn't just picking vegetables.

Mike Sunnuck:
This is history, Howie. This is every economy through the history. Employers always go after cheap labor whether here or there. People need work and people in Mexico are dirt poor. Those people need work and they're going to migrate here. You're fighting the reality of economics and history here.

Howard Fischer:
Well, sure. And if employers didn't have to pay the minimum wage they wouldn't do, that either. That doesn't make it right. But we're not just talking about "jobs Americans won't take" we're talking about carpenters, roofers, and it simply comes down to the fact that developers say, I don't want to have to pay $20-an-hour to a carpenter. I can get this guy from Mexico for $9-an-hour. [overlapping speakers]

Mike Sunnuck:
Another part of it is that they like the work ethic and reliability that immigrants bring to their jobs. Not just cheap labor. They do a good job. They're recognized as doing a good job all the time.

Howard Fischer:
Of course they are. Because the moment they don't the employer calls immigration and says come down and get Jose.

Ted Simons:
Let's get back to the idea of security at the border which didn't seem like it got much attention down there.

Howard Fischer:
Both sides agree it's a federal problem. Now again, that's a problem you have four U.S. governors, six Mexican governors all saying we need something and none of them can do anything about it. Now, where they did get into an interesting discussion is if you've been to Nogales or down to Tijuana, try driving back across the border. Hours and hours, even back through Loopville. Because you've got a port of entry that was built in the 70's. As you mention there are all the condos down there, it can take you seven hours to get across. The governor said the federal governments need to do something. I had an interview with Mike Chertoff, head of Homeland Security he said, we recognize our role. But we have bridges collapsing and high waste. He said, maybe the businesses should kick in some money. He said it actually happen in Texas where some Texas communities wanted increase border crossings so they went in and kicked in the money. That's privatization at its best.

Mike Sunnuck:
They're the ones that benefit from it. Why don't they pay for it?

Howard Fischer:
This border crossing brought to you by Pepsi-Cola.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Or Taco Bell.

Ted Simons:
And speaking about transportation. Mary Jo, toll rode seems like this concept will be back before the legislature next session. Private toll roads and sales tax as well. Any momentum going here?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think the momentum is starting. No question everybody agrees the state has big transportation needs. The question is how do you pay for it? Proponents of privatization, such as Senator Ron Goulde, say look, it's a lot cheaper. Let's build the toll roads. Let the users pay for that. Private entities can run them. We won't compete, we wont turn an existing road into a toll road. These will only be new roads. That will be a better deal for the taxpayer than raising the sales tax. At the same time, you have the counterpart in the House starting to talk about, well, maybe we need to raise the state sales tax a bit.

Mike Sunnuck:
We always want to raise the sales tax here. Phoenix did it, the county did it, Glendale does it. Because there's no special interests fighting against it. Because it's consumers and it basically hits poor people, it doesn't hit manufacturers or real estate developers.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And people might say, why not raise the gas tax? The problem with that, it's 18 cents. It's been parked at 18 cents as the state tax for years. But it won't raise enough money unless they double it.

Howard Fischer:
Exactly, a penny on the gas tax raises $37 million. That builds about a mile and a half of freeway. The problem with the toll road proposal for an overall solution is, you can't convert existing roads. Politically, can't convert existing roads to toll roads. So that means maybe a new bypass around Tucson or Phoenix. The problem we've got is in the urban areas. Maybe you can build express lanes on I-17 as toll lanes. The problem is in the urban areas. You can't build new private toll roads through the urban areas. You're going to need some solution.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't know how far toll roads will go but it certainly will be discussed as soon as they look at revenue options. This will cycle into the next legislative session. I'm sure lawmakers will refer something to the ballot in '08.

Mike Sunnuck:
This is how anti-tax we are in this state except for sales taxes and those are okay because they're consumption taxes, kinda seen as user fees and there's no constituency fighting against it.

Ted Simons:
Money issues as well, Mary Jo budget problems obviously. The shortfalls aren't going away. Governor's Office, lawmakers, are they talking?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, they're talking and then they're talking past each other and they had a meeting this week to start talking about how can they start to bridge over this perceived $600 million deficit in the state budget. But each side is trying to smoke the other out and show us your cards, exactly how are you going to reach this before we show you how we think we should achieve these cuts. And it's going to go on like that for awhile.

Howard Fischer:
Smoke and mirrors. Even the Governor's 100 million that she's willing to cut, a lot is deferred expenses. We'll put off hiring until next year, we'll put off buying supplies.

Mike Sunnuck:
We'll put off buying copy paper and office equipment.

Howard Fischer:
Exactly. The question is, you still have a structural deficit. I know the governor hates that term. But here's the fact: we are taking in the 12 months from July 1st to June 30 less than we are sending that same 12-month period. That's a structural deficit no matter how you cut it.

Ted Simons:
Already. Before we go we have a baseball playoff series going down at Chase Field. I forget what they're calling it these days. I want a prediction. Howie I know you're a big sports fans. Diamondbacks. This time next week will the Diamondbacks be on to the next round of the playoffs?

Howard Fischer:
I think they will. I admit I don't go as crazy as this over everyone else. I don't believe we're not a city unless we have five major league teams. But I think they'll get through this one. Look what happened the next two games. Going to Chicago and playing Chicago and Chicago is always an issue. But even assuming they lose the next, two they get the fifth game and they get it. Against the Rockies, assuming Rockies are there, it gets a little trickier. You know, I'm not willing to go out on a limb in terms of making a World Series prediction at this point.

Ted Simons:
We have a way to go. Mary Jo, think they'll move on to the next round?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It looks like it.

Ted Simons:
And you Mike?

Mike Sunnuck:
They'll move on but they'll lose to the Rockies. Go Yankees.

Ted Simons:
Go Yankees? What is the matter with you? All right, guys. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Ted Simons:
Monday and Tuesday, Horizon will be off for special programming. Wednesday, we'll look at the cost of educating English Language Learners. Thursday, a discussion with a group to end wage discrimination against women. And Friday, we'll be back with another edition of the Journalists Roundtable. Coming up, how we age. A look at changes from childhood to adulthood. That's next on Now. I'm Ted Simons. Have a good weekend.

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