Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 29, 2008


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 - The Business Journal
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, February 29th, 2008. And headlines this week call for Arizona congressman Rick Renzi to resign. the U.S. supreme court has asked to get involved in the state's English language learners case, and a new Cronkite/eight poll finds that Arizonans think about a number of issues from guns in schools to the presidential candidates. Those stories next on horizon.

Ted Simons:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons. This is the journalist's roundtable. Joining me, Mike Sunnucks of the "The Business Journal," Daniel Scarpinato of "The Arizona Daily Star" and Howard Fisher of Capitol Media Services. The Governor is not being shy in letting indicted congress and Rick Renzi know her feelings, she wants him gone. Mike, he's not going, is he.

Mike Sunnucks:
Renzi says he's staying, going to fight the charges, says he's innocent, indicted on 35 counts related to a land deal and shenanigans down in the insurance agency in southern Arizona. The Governor, a democrat, and a lot of democrats are calling for him to step down, Renzi's a Republican, and he's probably going to stick it out. The F.B.I. raided his insurance offices last year in southern Arizona, a grand jury, pretty obvious what was going on. If he didn't step down then, he can probably serve the rest of the term.

Ted Simons:
The interesting thing is probably the charges on which there's really more evidence are the things unrelated to the things we find interesting politically, which has to do with whether he extorted somebody to buy a piece of property from his former business partner. The insurance fraud stuff he was running an insurance agency in Virginia and said I'm placing your liability policies with this company, but instead used the money to in fact get himself elected.

Mike Sunnucks:
Getting these guys on tax evasion, obstruction of justice, he had a lot of real estate and businesses, he was moving money around between him, and his wife had some businesses in her name. She wasn't indicted. Two business partners were, and he got in trouble with the feds too and had to pay some fines.

Ted Simmons:
But as Howie was saying, you're talking prison time here.

Daniel Scarpinato:
What plays into all this, re-election hopes? Republicans want to keep the seat and democrats want to win it and in the press conference where governor Napolitano said he should resign, she was very careful. You saw her pause for a while. Both sides are being careful because when he resigns will affect when we have an election and when candidates start getting in and neither side is sure.

Howard Fisher:
But no, see, there's no appointment. That's the real issue of this thing. If he resigns by May 4th, then there's a special election to fill it through November. If he resigns after May 4th, the seat sits vacant. This isn't like the U.S. senate where in fact the Governor gets to fill in. the House of Representatives is governed under a whole different set of rules, so you've got a question. Do we have a real quick election and put somebody in there who might or might not want to run again in November, or what. So the rules are interesting in materials of getting a head start.

Mike Sunnucks:
I don't think he's going to go anywhere. He has staff, offices, and some resources there. He's not on any committees. So basically he can focus on his defense and still serve as a member of congress and you get perks, you have a staff to help you with various things so I don't think there's any reason from his perspective to leave.

Howard Fisher:
Except if the ethics committee gets involved in this thing, going back to what we talked about using the money for his first campaign in 2001, shoot of misuse of his office --

Mike Sunnucks:
But look at how slow these 4 ethics committees are on the hill, very slow, haven't gone after Jefferson, the democrat, who has the money in his freezer, indicted also. They're very slow and we're already in March. He's only got until the end of the year and they're going to worry about re-election campaigns. It's good for the democrats if he stays in there, because he's sitting there waving in the wind a symbol of corruption the democrats can bring up.

Daniel Scarpinato:
And essentially they can run against him even though he's not running and if he resigns, it may minimize that issue a little bit.

Ted Simons:
I was going to ask that. What do republicans and what do democrats want to see Rick Renzi do?

Howard Fisher:
I think they all would like to see him quit. Republicans can't say that. They have to say I'm sure he'll do the right thing. That's the standard line from republicans.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Some have said.

Howard Fisher:
A few have said it but you've got to be tricky because of the 11th commandment, thou shalt not speak ill of other republicans.

Mike Sunnucks:
Unless it's John McCain. That's a key thing here, democrats when the indictment first went hot and heavy after McCain's links to him, co-chair on McCain's presidential committee, McCain sent out emails and robo call for Renzi and did appearances with Renzi and democrats are quick to jump on that. McCain could be the one to 5 pushes him out. Other republicans in the state it doesn't matter to them.

Ted Simons:
The governor's making a point that with all these troubles, Rick Renzi isn't necessarily representing his district all that well, if at all. Does that gain any speed?

Daniel Scarpinato:
I don't know, if you guys have put in a call to his office lately, but I haven't gotten any response in a very long time. You just go straight to voice mail. So the republic did a story a while back, called him an idle congressman, and to the extent that he has to kind of stay out of the limelight, there may be some --

Mike Sunnucks:
If he's voted with democrats on some issues, energy issues, he's criticized oil companies and he's actually not been toeing the republican line and been independent.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Part of that is the Democratic district, which is why the democrats feel they can get it back.

Ted Simons:
All right. Let's move on here. E.L.L., March 4 deadline to fund E.L.L. approacheth and the legislature wants what, six more weeks?

Howard Fisher:
Well, I feel like Groundhog Day, you come up and look and see your shadow, six more weeks of winter. The problem is tom horn is not going to present the actual cost figures from the school district until Monday. The deadline Rainer Collins set to actually fund is Tuesday. Not going to happen. How much more time does the legislature need no hard to say, 6 Tim Hogan says ill give you two weeks. But the real problem is that even if he gives them the additional time, lawmakers still don't believe that Rainer Collins' order on how to fund it is legal. They're going to the Supreme Court, just dancing for time here. They recognize that at some point Rainer may try to impose fines but they're counting on the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturning whatever Rainer did, that the ninth circuit also, you know, took up and said they found nothing wrong and they're counting on winning ultimately. In Fact, One of the things the senate majority leader told me, you know, Howie, it's cheaper for us to spend the legal fees if we ultimately win than to actually pay for the kids to get the English language instruction.

Ted Simons:
There are also fines involved. I know a couple of years ago those came and went, off in the ether somewhere. What happens to the money now if the fines start up again?

Howard Fisher:
Well, the fines interestingly enough, last time were put into an escrow account and what the judge said is if the state is ultimately liable for the fines, you'll use it to fund English learners, so there was no loss there. Went from pocket a to pocket b of the state. Turned out the ninth circuit overturned the last set of fines and sent it back to Rainer. If they impose new fines, will they be used to have the state 7 do what it should have done, or will Tim Hogan say no, these are punitive fines and you should actually hurt the state. Now, where that money comes from I don't know. We just got the latest revenue figures from the joint legislative budget committee. We're $620 million below where we should be on this date. I don't know, maybe we'll write out a check it will be as good as the ones I used to write in college.

Mike Sunnucks:
Any kind of this proposal out of the governor or anybody else that's going to try to run out the clock on this?

Howard Fisher:
I think they're just going to try to run out the clock. I think if there's an interim funding proposal it will comply with Rainer Collins' order. No two-year limit on English learners or federal offset to dollars, that's the law of the land until it's overturned.

Ted Simons:
I find this interesting that the panel had those two points specifically almost like here, just focus on these. Just do this little bit and maybe something will happen.

Howard Fisher:
Exactly. And it's the exact same thing Rainer told them at a hearing last august. It's real simple. I will take your funding form la. I will allow you to have these English language models. I will allow you to have school districts request the money. Obviously you have to fund them. There are two problems, a, the evidence is not all kids can learn English in two years. Take out that. That's actually the smaller problem because tom horn says I think we can do it in two years so that won't cost us money. The bigger problem is do you tell a school district before you get extra money from the state we want you to take federal money and apply that to your costs. now that creates a real interesting problem for the simple reason that federal law says you can't use federal funds to supplant state funds and it endangers not just those funds but other federal aid to schools.

Mike Sunnucks:
Interesting how far we've gotten away from the original intent of the lawsuit, was to improve language instruction for immigrant children. and this is so far away from the legislature doesn't want to do anything, the courts don't seem to be expediting anything, and there's no real guarantee that's throwing more money at this is ever going to solve this. I mean, there's plenty of evidence out there just spending more money on various education programs isn't always the answer to it. And this court case shows what's wrong with politics and the separation of power.

Ted Simons:
Speaking of money, at the capitol with all the budget concerns that grow every time another projection comes out, it -- do people understand down there wa kind of money you're talking about with the E.L.L., the entire situation?

Daniel Scarpinato:
Well, that's a good question, and with the issue having become so politicized at this point, even if you wanted to do something, how do you get everybody to agree?

Howard Fisher:
And, you know, how much money of course is in the eye of the beholder? Tom horn's figures I'm guessing will come back somewhere between 40 and 50 million maximum. Now, he's reading the law in a way that says we give you just the minimum you need to teach. The schools have come in with like 200 to $300 million worth of requests. We need more classrooms, more teachers, and more instructional supplies. He's going to disallow that. So we have a whole nother lawsuit brewing here above and beyond the whole funding scheme as to what even the 2006 law requires the state to fund.

Mike Sunnucks:
You really don't have any big constituencies behind this, this is an old case, inside baseball case, I bet most parents don't know what this case is out in the suburbs and they don't know what's going on. So there's no grass roots ground swell for this anymore.

Howard Fisher:
And another half is it's gotten involved in the whole illegal immigration spat. A good percentage of -- there's about 130,000 kids in the state schools that are English language learners, not proficient. possibly a third of those are themselves illegal and possibly another third are U.S. citizens but would not have been here except for the fact that their parents came here illegally. And so that gets involved in the whole politics of the thing.

Ted Simons:
All right. Let's move on here. We got C.P.S. reform obviously a major interest in the legislature this week. Daniel, I know you covered this extensively. It sounds bipartisan at least to a point. Am I getting that right?

Daniel Scarpinato:
Yeah, it didn't start off that way. this whole thing started off there was -- there were deaths of three children in southern Arizona that led to some legislators sitting down and saying what could we need to do, what can we do to try to prevent this from happening and it began to get caught up in a partisan dialogue about are we trying to embarrass C.P.S. and the governor, and eventually democrats and republicans were able to come together and agree on some things. You know, will these changes result in an overhaul of C.P.S. that prevents some of the things that happened in these cases? We don't know. And we don't know yet what's going to happen with these bills. But opening up the files of employees, presuming that files on dead children should be opened, presuming that court cases should be opened to create some more transparency; those are the kind of things legislators are looking at.

Mike Sunnucks:
This is one of the first challenges Napolitano faced when she came to office, something she worked on and promised changes there and I think there's a lot of questions about how much improvement is there. Some of the same problems she inherited that other governors have had with that agency are still there. They're still not open when these cases go on, still not responsive, and their communication with law enforcement and prosecutors is still lacking in these extreme cases.

Howard Fisher:
But you've got an even deeper problem. You talk about how many governors, this goes back.

>> It's in every state, every city.

Howard Fisher:
The real problem is the pendulum swings back and forth, is the role of C.P.S. to reunite the family or keep them together and provide services, or is it to always err on the smallest possibility the child will be injured and take the child, whether temporarily or permanently. And we've seen this go back and forth. And this is underlying the whole issue here because how aggressive do you want C.P.S. to be depends on your viewpoint. Now, you see a dead child, you say C.P.S. should have acted. Then of course C.P.S. takes the child and they say why did you take it away from the mother and put it into foster care where they were injured this is the problem.

Mike Sunnucks:
Some cases C.P.S. would go out and the parents would disappear for a long period of time and C.P.S. has obviously a big work load and it's hard to follow up. They run into problems, they're not cooperative with the media and law enforcement and they're secretive and seem self-interested at times. 12

Ted Simons:
Daniel I get the impression there are some lawmakers who are more concerned with C.P.S. breaking up a family than keeping a child from getting injured.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Well, Howie pointed to that very thing to what has characterized this whole discussion, and the other real issue here that is characterized is are these policy issues or funding issues, and there's some who would say we need to pay C.P.S. workers more because how can you pay someone a starting salary of between 30 and 40,000 a year and expect them to go into these really tough situations and break up families.

Mike sunnucks:
I don't think it's going to improve until we get to the focus where they need to protect the children first and worry second about protecting -- keeping families together. But you have some conservatives down there that question whether the government should be in this at all. They think it's more of a community type thing.

Daniel Scarpinato:
That's not even a partisan thing.

Howard Fisher:
That's the thing. But Mike, you know, you make it sound easy. We always err on the side of protecting the children. Kid comes to school with a smack mark across his face which may or may not be innocent. Should the first thing we do take the child and then a week later give them --

Mike Sunnucks:
I think that would be a good guiding principle for an agency called children's protective services is to protect the child first, always.


Howard Fisher:
But the problem becomes that so you take the child, we have the obvious constitutional right of parents how to raise their children. You have differences in should you hit a child, you know, what about this, what about, you know, gee my mom sends me to bed without dinner.

Daniel Scarpinato:
What about when the kid wants to stay with the parent? That's a whole nother issue.

Ted Simons:
Quickly as far as what happened at the legislature this week, obviously the horror stories we -- stories we all know, did anyone step in front of the microphone and say I was removed by C.P.S. and it was the worst thing that ever hand to me.

Howard Fisher:
We have seen that in the past where they were very quick to take folks out so there are horrors stories on all sides on this.

Mike Sunnucks:
The horror stories on the children dying are much worse than the horror stories on maybe C.P.S. being overaggressive about taking child out of an abusive situation.

Ted Simons:
Lesser horror story, the employer sanctions law, I know Howie you got a date in San Francisco soon.

Howard Fisher:
Counting on it.

Ted Simons:
Ninth circuit refuses the emergency stay.

Mike Sunnucks:
Business and Hispanic groups against the sanctions law keep chugging away, suing it, so the judge turned town their case, they appealed, won an injunction to stop it from being enforced, ninth circuit in san Francisco said no. So to go into effect, they'll have a hearing in May, next few weeks, months, to look at the merits of the case, but it's some kind of emergency stoppage.

Howard Fisher:
Here's the real interesting thing. while Neil wake was considering it, he got a promise from counties not to bring any charges before march 1st. that's tomorrow, now that we know there will be no ruling you could have situations that there will be trials against companies before the legality of the law has openly decided and that's going to be interesting.

Mike Sunnucks:
Andrew Thomas said it's going to take a long time to put this some of these cases together. It isn't like the feds saying where your Ids here is the illegals and they arrest the restaurant owner. They got to prove knowingly and sensibly and have a big paper trail to get a lot of subpoenas and documents so it could take a while.

Howard Fisher:
But you know Andy Thomas wants to be the first in the state to file this because it's real important to him. Does he want a bullet proof case? You bet. That will be the case for another elements wake didn't deal with.

Mike Sunnucks:
You don't want a case where they're going after a main street business just made a mistake, they want to go after a lot of scofflaws out there, go by the home depot and pick people up all the time.

Ted Simons:
Cronkite/eight poll release there'd week, a number of issues touched on, two quickly here, the support for the marriage 15 Amendment.

Howard Fisher:
Not surprised.

Ted Simons:
Not much, but it's there, but the opposition to guns in schools very much there.

Howard Fisher:
The marriage one is not surprising. The measure on the ballot last year dealt with gay marriage but also said cities and governments cannot off are domestic partner benefits, cannot recognize civil unions. The in a brilliant move they made it all about heterosexual couples, and people turned it down. even the foes acknowledge that the only issue on the ballot if it had been putting into the constitution what's already in statute, marriage between one man and one woman, they wouldn't fight it and lose.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Now the tricky sick they're in because those quotes have all come back so these same people have been questioned. So what are you going to do now, and at least yet they don't have an answer. Are they going to campaign against this or not?

Mike Sunnucks:
I think you'll see this is more of a, you know, liberals are on the -- they support same-sex marriage, having some kind of right to it, conservatives obviously against it. It's such a democratic year right now in politics that if they come out very hard against the ban, it could mobilize conservatives more than they want. So I could see them taking a more subtle approach.

Daniel Scarpinato:
But the other tact is that I've heard is that there are folks who don't want to waste their money campaigning against something, rather than spending on congressional campaign.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think this issue's had its day. The republicans used it to get out the base in the past couple elections and I think it's fated. I don't think it's the energizing issue it was.

Howard Fisher:
You can see how well it worked in Arizona in 2006. We have four members of the house rather than two. The other issue is fascinating in terms of guns on campus and here we are at channel 8 and I won't tell you what I'm packing. But you've got an interesting question. in light of columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois university, the question is if somebody bursts into this studio now, if we're unarmed we cannot protect ourselves, and the argument of Karen Johnson that resonates with people, if you have people with concealed weapon carry permits, which means they've been through a background check, classes, been fingerprinted, they understand the laws, is that the best thing.

Mike Sunnucks:
You don't think having more guns on a campus or mall is going to encourage more gun violence? More guns tend to encourage more violence. We have more violence in this country than Japan or Europe because we have more guns.

Howard Fisher:
You're missing part of the point. They're already allowed in malls and everywhere else. We have not seen blood in the streets because people can now bring guns into shopping malls and everywhere else. We're talking about campuses.

Daniel Scarpinato:
And is someone who is looking to create a massacre on a campus, are they going to observe a sign or a rule that they can't bring a gun on? At least not yet they haven't.

Mike Sunnucks:
The countries with less guns have less violence and I personally do not want Howie to be able to bring a gun in here.

Ted Simons:
With that sobering thought, that will do it for this edition of the journalist's roundtable. Thanks, guys, appreciate it. That is our show for tonight. But before we head to now we want to let you know its pledge week here on eight. So please stay with us as we invite you to show your support for Horizon, it's your support that makes this program possible. Thank You. Pledge week coming up next week, but remember next Friday we are back with another edition of the journalist's roundtable. Thanks for joining us. I'm Ted Simons. Have a great evening.

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