Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 7, 2008


Host:

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - The Arizona Republic
  • Paul Giblin - East Valley Tribune
  • Paul Davenport - Associated Press
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, March 7th, 2008, and in the headlines this week, a big week for Senator John McCain in his bid to become president. We'll take a look at the latest on the employer sanctions law, and the latest challenges with the state's English language program. That's next on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons. And this is the "Journalists Roundtable." Joining me tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl with the "The Arizona Republic," Paul Giblin of "The East Valley Tribune," and Paul Davenport of the Associated Press. Now, John McCain certainly clinched the republican presidential nomination this week. Paul, I guess the only mystery left is who his running mate is going to be?

Paul Giblin:
He will tell you that he hasn't been thinking about it, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. He essentially won the nomination on Super Tuesday, and then he was kind of on cruise control this week, and he picked up Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont. He's had a lot of high-profile people visiting him here in Arizona and elsewhere.

Ted Simons:
It's obviously a long way off, but who? Throw some names out here.

Paul Giblin:
My money would be Chris, the governor in Florida.

Ted Simons:
How about the idea that he doesn't know who he's going to be running against right now? He really does not know who he's going to be running against. How does that dynamic play out?

Paul Giblin:
I don't know. People have talked about that. There's the difference between the woman and the black and the -- to try and offset one or the other. I haven't heard any good answers on that, and it doesn't suit me that that's John McCain's line of thinking, anyway.

Paul Davenport:
If he goes after both, he comes off as very negative. Right now he wants to portray himself as presidential.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
He may not have to, because he might be able to just sit back and comment on the fracas between the democratic nominees as they duke it out, and he can stay above the fray and comment on what they're saying and look rather presidential. But I think the bigger question is, will we even see much of John McCain between now and whenever the democratic nominee is picked.

Paul Giblin:
He's really on cruise control and the democrats spend a lot of money and energy trying to fight each other. He can collect money, regroup, plan out his long-term strategy. It's a good time to be John McCain.

Ted Simons:
As long as the campaign isn't questioned, around the bigger question marks. How is that going along, the idea that he may not have money? You know, the whole thing with the public spending and such. Where are we on that particular argument?

Paul Giblin:
There's a reporting period coming up in a few weeks. But you're right, there is some difficulty because the party was split, they had a lot of candidates, and the thinking is he'll start collecting all the republican money and he'll start evening up with the democrats.

Ted Simons:
It doesn't seem as though Arizonans -- I'm old enough to remember Jimmy Carter in Florida, the entire south was excited about Jimmy Carter, Texas. He was their guy. Are Arizonans excited about John McCain as the republican candidate for president?

Paul Davenport:
He's been the national senator for much of his tenure in congress. He's got that national presence more than the state-level presence on a lot of different political governmental levels. He wasn't fighting in the trenches on certain issues where your focal funding types of matters, and some of the other members of the delegation are more out in front on that.

Ted Simons:
Have you seen that as well, Mary Jo, that he's the United States Senator as opposed to the U.S. Senator from Arizona?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, yes, I think so. There was a poll that Bruce Merrill at Channel 8 did last week that showed that McCain would win because it was his home state. But this is Arizona's big show on the national stage, and they probably felt more so that way about the Super Bowl at this point.

Ted Simons:
English language learners: I know there are numbers flying around, and there's a big disconnect between what the state superintendent of public instruction says and what the school districts say. Paul, let's start with you. What's going on? What does Tom Horne say, 40 million, and the school districts say 300 million?

Paul Davenport:
There is a new state law to revamp the English language learners. It only allows certain new costs to be funded under this program. The districts are saying they've been shortchanged all along, these are the true costs, much bigger than just those new costs.

Ted Simons:
Is that it, Mary Jo, what -- just what you include and what you don't?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, the law is pretty clear about what you have to include. If you're going to make us put these kids in a classroom for four hours a day, we've got to have a classroom in which to put them, so we don't disrupt everybody else. That means more classroom space. That's big bucks. Most of the districts need teachers to handle that load. Superintendent Horne said they even got one request for a karaoke machine, and I can see why that might be a valuable language learning tool, as long as the song isn't La Bamba.

Paul Davenport:
It is interesting that the whole underpinning of that law is still being challenged, is going to be argued in federal court on Monday. The state has missed the deadline to act on funding for that, according to a judge's order from last fall. Like I say, the state's about a week behind, will have been about a week behind that deadline, and they're going to have to appear in federal court on Monday. We've seen big fines imposed, and later erased. There has been talk of cutting off federal highway funding as a sanction for noncompliance.

Ted Simons:
How far are lawmakers willing to go? From this point forward, is this basically a constitutional crisis that they're just going to go to the wall on?

Paul Davenport:
I think they'll jump on the $40 million, even with the budget crisis. It's something they would probably consider affordable considering the alternatives.

Paul Giblin:
I have to say, I really have never understood the background to this. Why has it just been years and years and years of fighting? Why don't they get on with it?

Paul Davenport:
Well that, boils down to money. The folks challenging the system want a lot more money than the legislature has been willing to put into the system.

Ted Simons:
Doesn't it also boil down to the lawmakers not happy with the judiciary telling them what to do?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Correct, the current crop of lawmakers. There was a time about eight years ago when, not the lawmakers, but the state elected officials decided they weren't going to fight this thing anymore. Okay, let's get rolling on making the programs happen. They started to see the costs. A new crop comes in and says, wait a minute, -- wait a minute, we don't think this is right. That's why this is into its 16th year, and the costs keep mounting. We've added up the money spent on attorneys to litigate this, but that's frankly a drop in the bucket compared to what English language instruction will cost under any of these scenarios.

Ted Simons:
Lawmakers want an extension into the middle of next month or so? Is that going to happen?

Paul Davenport:
whether a federal judge will go along with that?

Ted Simons:
Yes.

Paul Davenport:
He has shown some impatience with the legislature and has been willing to set deadlines. The plaintiff's attorney has said two weeks is ample.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And the judge should be weighing in on that -- he'll have a hearing on Monday, and who knows how quickly he'll rule on that, sometime between March 18th and April 18th for the deadline for them to show him the money.

Paul Davenport:
On the bright side for the legislature, they will still be in session, still talking about the budget, so there's ample opportunity for them to deal with it.

Paul Giblin:
Is it really the end of the road for this issue?

Paul Davenport:
No, by no means. The legislature isn't willing to do what the plaintiffs want. So that means the plaintiffs will be attacking what the legislature is willing to do.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And so far the plaintiffs have been prevailing in court. Just two weeks ago the ninth circuit basically disagreed with the lawmakers. The legislative leaders are thinking, do we take it back to the full ninth circuit court or take it to the Supreme Court. And maybe a little bit of hubris but House Speaker Jim Weiers has said, I've had talks with Ken Starr, and he's willing to take it to the Supreme Court if it comes to that.

Paul Giblin:
Kids have started and graduated from high school since this thing started.

Paul Davenport:
A point made in more than one court decision.

Paul Giblin:
Are the Cardinals going to win the Superbowl first, or is this legislation going to happen?

Ted Simons:
We'll take bets on that one.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Depends on the Larry Fitzgerald contract.

Ted Simons:
That's a tough one to figure out. Also tough to figure out is the employer sanctions law, although it sounds as though, Mary Jo, we're a little more focused on some of these things?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They're refining the definition of employer and actually expanding it. There's a bill that got a serious hearing in the legislature this week. It takes the law passed last year, the big controversial law we've been living with since January 1, and makes some changes to it. In some respects it toughens the law on illegal employers. It makes it a little clearer so that employers who are uneasy about this law, it gives them a level of comfort that we're not going to run you out on a rail because of a technical mishap.

Paul Davenport:
It was interesting that this took relatively long to come up in the legislature. There have been a number of bills introduced from the get-go and from various viewpoints. But this hearing last week, almost two months into the session, was the first public airing of the issue, after a big legislative study committee, all last fall.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't think we saw any real airing of employer sanctions last year until about March. This one seems to be on a fast track. They're hoping to get it over to the senate and up to the governor by month's end. I think there's a lot moving behind the scenes on this.

Paul Giblin:
The county attorney had the press conference saying they were going to start launching these investigations.

Paul Davenport:
Now we have an element of uncertainty on that front, because the legislature may be changing the law to apply only to January 1 hires and after. Who knows what the investigations were looking at. Do you want to file charges against somebody for hiring before January 1, if that's not the public policy now under consideration? It could delay things.

Ted Simons:
And that was one of the things that were looked at by lawmakers. The other was to get the idea of anonymous complaints, and if one location is hit, the entire company wasn't penalized.

Paul Davenport:
That's one for the business community and the others are not. They still are going to allow anonymous complaints, but they're going to restrict enforcement to just the one location.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There is a little caveat on that. If you're a business with multiple locations and you're only licensed for the central plant, he would shut the whole place down if somebody out here did something wrong. This is mostly for operators of fast-food chains. This gives a little more certainty to employers. This is a balance, and that's why you haven't seen much talked about on this until this point. It's like trying to defuse a bomb. You just don't want to pull out of wrong pin or kablooey.

Ted Simons:
Is the governor likely to sign what you've seen so far?

Paul Davenport:
We asked her about it during the weekly availability this week. As far as she would go was to say they're on the "right track," but she wouldn't talk details. Details aren't going to be put in concrete for probably about two months, I think.

Ted Simons:
Let's move on. Another concern to lawmakers and the governor and all of us is the budget. Mary Jo, $600 million in state spending just frozen like a tree branch up there?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's like the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Freeze has worked his magic on state funds. That would be cuts to ongoing state agencies, another $340-some million would be special funds sort of sitting around. They are saying don't spend it until we work out a budget deal. We want to have money to move around if necessary.

Paul Davenport:
Or cut.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Because you really can't solve a $1.2 billion budget deficit without cutting.

Paul Davenport:
The Democrats say that's just semantics in effect, cutting it now, because you can't spend it. Agencies are in a box because they can't hire or spend money under their appropriated funding levels.

Ted Simons:
Sounds like an instant veto.

Paul Davenport:
It does, doesn't it?

Paul Davenport:
It's probably going to hit her desk on Monday.

Ted Simons:
First veto, you think?

Paul Davenport:
Good chance.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Majority leader Tom Boone said this is trying to be a spur to get the governor and the do I remembers moving a little more cooperatively on budget talks, which the democrats say, what do you mean, we're not the problem. They're almost into their second month of hind the door budget negotiations. And the republican majority is trying to do something to speed this up and get this moving. Whether it will have that effect or not, I think we may be saying that veto stamp being dusted off --

Paul Davenport:
And the Republicans are frustrated because every day that it goes on, the money they might want to cut is being spent. That's what they're trying to put the brakes on. It's a way to try to put their position forward.

Ted Simons:
Every time we go forward, someone marches up to give an economic forecast or talk about the numbers, they just keep getting worse.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They do. There was a report from the financial advisory committee, three different economists, and it was all doom and gloom. They all walked around looking like they had lost their closest relative in the emergency room. It was just very sad. There is more evidence of that with the city of Phoenix saying, we're going to have a bigger shortfall than we think.

Paul Giblin:
Why is that money disappearing? Is it money that they're not getting in that they were counting on? What is the culprit there?

Paul Davenport:
A lot of it is the sales tax levels are below what they were expected to be.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
With everybody pulling back their consumer tendencies.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned consumers and other municipalities cutting back, cutting back. It would seem to hurt the governor's argument this is not the time to cut, when virtually everyone else is cutting.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
First of all, the governor doesn't -- she's not averse to cutting. It's all a matter of degree. She has conceded that there have to be cuts. She thinks you can minimize that factor by bonding. That's why this is dragging on.

Paul Davenport:
She hasn't yet come forward with some of the cuts that she said she would. There's still a waiting game involved in that, as well.

Ted Simons:
Looks like a long waiting beginning as far as Rick Renzi is concerned. He still is in office, doesn't look like he's going to resign, it sounds like he's going to fight this thing as he sees fit.

Paul Giblin:
He said he didn't want to plead guilty because that would put a shroud of guilt on him. He's going to fight it and continue as long as he can. He's dropped out of all of his committees. There was an interesting power ranking at one of these ranking organizers in Washington, and he was dead last on that baby, out of 400 people.

Paul Davenport:
He's virtually been shunned by colleagues even on the republican side. All he has left are floor votes. No committee work, and that's where a lot of power and work of congress gets done.

Paul Giblin:
And he has no leadership, people are just running away from the guy. So he's dead in the water. But he's going to stay there, he says, until the end of his term.

Ted Simons:
I noticed that Senator McCain is leaving this one very much alone. Is there anyone in the G.O.P. hierarchy, whether local or national or whatever, is there shoving going on here? Is there a little bit of please step back for the picture until you're at the end of the gangplank here?

Paul Davenport:
The house leader gave him a very obvious shoved when the indictment came out. Obviously Mr. Renzi is not inclined to be shoved as of now.

Paul Giblin:
We'd have to have a special election, but they say it's worth it to get rid of him. Republicans aren't arguing that much, either.

Ted Simons:
As far as his successor, who wins and loses with him not only staying in office, but fighting it every step of the way?

Paul Giblin:
It makes it more of an even playing field. If he were to leave now, there would be two elections. There would be the special election favoring the candidates with the most money. With only one election it makes it a little bit more even, there's four democrats out there, probably two republicans who will fight. It brings them all a little more even, having only one election to worry about.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
He's hanging in so everybody can have an equal shot at the seat in the fall?

Paul Giblin:
You would think whoever would win the special election would have a heads-up to win the November election.

Ted Simons:
We started with John McCain, and I want to kind of bring it back to senator John McCain, who has admitted the economy is not his strongest suit or his highest interest. Is that going to hurt him as the campaign, the year goes on? It seems on the democratic side, the more you mention the economy, as Senator Hillary Clinton did, the more attention you get. Let's go around here real quickly. Is the economy going to hurt John McCain?

Paul Giblin:
I agree with you that it's going to help Hillary Clinton. She's back on the Bill Clinton, is the economy, stupid, line, it did real well for her. I don't have a good read on McCain.

Ted Simons:
Is the economy getting to the point where it is of primary interest to most Americans?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think so, and especially just very locally, looking at the reports that came out yesterday to the legislature, things are going to be grim in this state, and we're a high growth state. Grim for the next three or four years. While they were debating the employer sanctions law, which is the pet cause of Representative Russell Pearson, one of his colleagues said, look, Mr. Pearson, six years ago immigration was the biggest thing around here but things have changed. The economy is so important, we need you on the budget. He is the appropriations chairman. It was a plea for him to get on to the knitting of putting out a budget and running the appropriations committee and taking some of this attention off of employer sanctions.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah, the economy, big, big story.

Pau Davenport:
You can't ignore the fact that Mr. McCain is the same party as the sitting president. If the economy is bad, that rubs off big time on the president, for what he actually can do about it. That doesn't help McCain as the standard-bearer of the same party.

Paul Giblin:
There's also that war issue thing that figures into the economy fairly strongly, and that involves the president.

Paul Davenport:
Can you predict what we will be talking about in September and October?

Paul Giblin:
No.

Ted Simons:
I think we can predict the sharing of the stage with president bush and John McCain, the one we saw will be the last one we'll see? Pretty safe to say?

Paul Davenport:
I think they'll be strategically timed. John McCain will be out there raising money.

Ted Simons:
Let's stop it right there. Thank you so much for joining us. That is our show for tonight. Before we head to "now," we want to let you know it's pledge week this week on "horizon." we'll be taking a break until next week's "journalists roundtable." that's it for now. I'm Ted Simons.

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