Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 13, 2013


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists’ Roundtable


  • Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, as local reporters recap the big news of the week.
Guests:
  • Jeremy Duda - Arizona Capitol Times
  • Mike Sunnucks - Phoenix Business Journal
  • Hank Stephenson - Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Journalists Roundtable   |   Keywords: roundtable, top stories,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Jeremy Duda of "Arizona Capitol Times," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Hank Stephenson of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Well, a petition was filed this week in an effort to overturn recent changes to Arizona elections. Everything's happening and changing, a lot of folks are not happy about it. Talk to us about the drive now to overturn.

Jeremy Duda: This is a coalition of a bunch of groups led by the Arizona Democratic Party and some of their allies, the Libertarians, the Green Party, there was something in there for pretty much everyone to hate. They banded together to try to refer this to the ballot through the citizen referendum process. They needed 86,405 ballots and they turned in 146,000 they are probably going to get it. They had needed a validity rate of 59%. They will get on there and this puts the whole election bill on hold until the 2014 election.

Ted Simons: When will we find out if the signatures are valid?

Jeremy Duda: The Secretary of State's office will go through them and cross out the ones that are obviously bad and send them to county recorders. They will take 5% samples, check out the validity rate and based on that they will determine how many valid signatures they had.

Ted Simons: Considering the coalition are you surprised they got that many signatures?

Mike Sunnucks: No, no, they had a lot of different folks, the Democrats nationally are talking about Republican voter suppression efforts. That's how they view these things, they think the purging of early voter rolls, changing the rules, making it harder for volunteers to pick up and drop off early ballots for folks, the thresholds on third parties. Democrats nationally are talking about this. They have a lot of national support behind their effort. Yeah, they’ve got a lot of folks going after this and it could be an issue in the Secretary of State's race.

Ted Simons: I wanted to ask you about that. This was Michele Reagan's bill, correct? She initially pushed this and is running for Secretary of State. This could be a factor, couldn't it?

Hank Stephenson: Several of the provisions deal with the permanent early voting list were Senator Reagan's bills to begin with. They got clumped together at the very last moments of session. If this goes down it's hard to see people voting against this bill and voting for its sponsor for the Secretary of State. How much that's going matter might be debatable seeing as how someone has recently gotten into the race with millions and millions behind him.

Mike Sunnucks: Reagan's taken pretty moderate stands, kind of the right wing of the party. On this she could be with the conservatives. It’s the usual kind of partisan shift. The Republicans want a smaller electorate, more rules, more restriction. Democrats say it's going to disenfranchise minority Native American voters.

Jeremy Duda: If this gets on the ballot I would expect to see a lot of national and Democratic groups get involved, the stakes are extremely high for them. This would eliminate Democrat’s ability to go around and collect people's early ballots. You sign people up, sign low efficacy voters up to the permanent voter list. You go to their house, ask them to fill it out and drop it off. This provides a lot of democratic votes and if they are not allowed to do this, that's a lot of votes they are going to lose and both sides realize this.

Ted Simons: That petition drive signatures are in, the campaign will likely begin her shortly. The anti-medicaid expansion drive that, one seems to be adios here. I thought this was the people's video of AHCCCHS expansion.

Hank Stephenson: People's video of Obamacare. They just didn't show up. They had calculated if every Republican precinct committeeman got out there and collected 100 signatures each, there would be enough to put them on the ballot. Not every Republican precinct committeeman is against Medicaid expansion. They ended up coming up with somewhere around 80,000 and 81,000 they say didn't drop off the signatures in the end, just not going to happen. It's really a case study of what a difference $250,000, can make. That's about what the other campaign-

Mike Sunnucks: The other side came in and hired some of the petition gatherers, so they had a lot of money and resources they used to kind of basically block this group from doing this. It's all about money and timing. When you try to collect signatures in Arizona in the summer it's a tough go. We've seen this with local initiatives with the Coyotes. They see the thresholds and oh, we can make this easy. Three weeks later they are not even close.

Ted Simons: This was a grass roots campaign with no fertilizer on it, if you know what I mean. You have to have money, don't you?

Jeremy Duda: They got about $20,000, last week when they were already dead in the water. We heard so much at the start of this month about power of the grass search, they had this big rally at the Capitol, the majority of whom are probably very opposed to Medicaid expansion. Remember these folks all passed resolutions condemning Governor Brewer and all these Republican legislators who voted in favor of this and the organizers, figured these people were all going to come out and collect signatures for this. At the very end when they acknowledged publicly they weren't going to make it, Ron Gould told me that- I asked what he attributed the failure to, he said the P.C.s didn't turn out. It basically showed that being a Republican precinct committee man is worthless. If they are going to oppose this, they are not going to actually do anything about it and this means nothing.

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans have a built-in constituency for things like this. Democrats have unions, civil rights groups, Hispanic groups or minority groups that they can get everything together for their ballot measures. Republicans can get these things on the ballot. The guns, because you have the NRA, or the right to life groups for an abortion thing. But for something like this you don’t really have a natural group to go to. So there's always a challenge for Republicans on these types of issues.

Ted Simons: We keep hearing about the Tea Party, where were they?

Hank Stephenson: They don't have any money. Tea Party groups don't give to candidates for the most part. There are a couple of major groups that will put out money for certain causes. But grass roots is grass roots. It's not establishment, not the business community backing them. The business community was actively fighting this.

Mike Sunnucks: There’s not just one Tea Party group, there's all kinds of different ones so they’re very disjointed.

Ted Simons: But there was so much sound and fury here, Jeremy, you figured you'd get at least the minimum number. I mean we just talked about a referendum initiative drive here that went way over the top. Summertime, same heat, same state, what happened?

Jeremy Duda: The other effort, they had a lot of money and a bunch of volunteers collecting tens of thousands of signatures. On the Medicaid thing, the Tea Party activists are not big dollar groups, they are grass roots groups. They don’t really give a lot of money. But there are national groups that I really- I was surprised didn't really come out to put some money into the national conservative groups. Freedom Works and the club for growth and some of those associate groups. I thought some of them might put in some money. I thought some of them would put in some money at least if they showed the volunteers were doing this.

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans are split on this. If you look at other states there are governors who have taken the money like was done in this state. This isn't like guns or abortion or marriage where conservative Republicans are pretty much one voting block. It's a complicated issue when you get into the weeds like that, it’s hard to collect signatures.

Ted Simons: We know the Goldwater Institute is very much against a deal like this, especially the way it was done. I don't know how long it was after the drive pronounced itself dead in the water, Goldwater Institute files. Talk to us about this lawsuit and what they are claiming.

Hank Stephenson: They are essentially alleging because it didn't pass through both chambers of the legislature with a two thirds majority, it's a tax increase and under prop 105, which was passed a number of years back, any tax increase or increase to state revenues needs to have a two thirds majority through each chamber. It didn't get that, but we've seen a lot of other programs get assessment increases. The ability to raise their own assessment as this is designed to be. This kind of thing happens all the time and there aren't lawsuits brought against it. People are aiming at what they can. It's a prop 108 argument really.

Jeremy Duda: I think the Governor's office and her allies view this as probably the bigger threat, as opposed to the referendum. The argument over whether this is a tax or assessment or fee, it seems like a semantic fight but it has serious ramifications. They call it an assessment of the law. In short we're all going to call it the hospital tax that funds this, and they obviously didn't get two thirds. There's a provision that's always been used to let other agency heads set fees as long as the legislature doesn’t set the amount. But there was another provision in prop 108 that kind of seems to contradict that.

Mike Sunnucks: The folks on the right will say if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. It’s a tax the hospitals agreed to. Now, it could have really far-reaching impact beyond Medicaid areas because the legislature has used these in the past. Do those have to get the super majority, too? We’ll see how far the courts are willing to go or if they allow this kind of gray area and if these fees will count as tax.

Ted Simons: Well, let’s go ahead and define the duck here. AHCCCHS director, allows the director of AHCCCHS to establish and collect this hospital assessment, assessment not tax. Are we really getting down to semantics here?

Hank Stephenson: In a lot of ways, yeah. There are really a lot of definitions as to what a tax and an assessment are. This has to be sorted out by the courts and, I agree, this could have really big ramifications should they decide that this is a tax, they are going to have to say a lot of things were taxes, too.

Ted Simons: So 36/38 lawmakers opposed to expansion named here, Michele Reagan not among those. Again, that statewide office hangs over almost everything she does, huh?

Jeremy Duda: Kind of surprised just because of the statewide campaign. She was opposed to this at the beginning of the session a lot of folks thought she would support it. She was always regarded as one of the most liberal Republicans over there. But, she opposed it besides one vote which she said was kind of a procedural issue. But yeah, she's not on there. Her likely opponent is actually on there, we'll see if that becomes an issue.

Ted Simons: Comes just a few weeks before enrollment for Obamacare begins. One day after the initial drive failed. Meanwhile the governor is going to have a fund-raiser for those who did support her Medicaid expansion. And this is something that I guess is needed because the foes are saying we’re out to get you.

Hank Stephenson: There are a lot of lawmakers that this will be a big issue in their districts. Some, this won't make a difference. They are allowed to do what they want. When you look at Ethan Orr from down in Tucson, who’s in a Democratic leaning district, he's Republican. This makes his Republican’s mad, but if he can get through the primary election in general maybe he doesn't need it. But some of the really staunch districts the whole race is decided in the primary. They are going to need some money

Mike Sunnucks: This is where the business community is trying to draw a line in the sand. They have lost control over the Republican party in the past decade with the social issues and immigration. This was one that the hospitals and the big chambers have sided with the governor on taking the Obamacare money. Worsley did knock off Russell Pearce. I think the business community, they’re having this fundraiser at the hospital near the executive’s house in Paradise Valley, it's in a nice neighborhood. I think you can see them kind of get behind some of these folks and say, look, we want to take the legislature back, part of it, it's taking the Republican caucus back. Here are some folks that support this issue, some of those are against immigration crackdown laws. So I think you’re going to see the health care industry get behind the governor on this one.

Jeremy Duda: Remember, these folks vowed their support during the session when the Republican lawmakers were really under fire from the conservative grass roots. The Governor said she would do what she could to help them out, the Chamber of Commerce, business groups, the hospital groups, all knew that these people would be facing threats, and a lot of them would be facing threats in their primary next year. People would be trying to knock them off and make that a single issue primary, if you have enough money you can overcome a lot.

Ted Simons: We just saw the people's veto kind of take a swan dive down the tubes, how serious is that threat on the Republican side in the primaries?

Hank Stephenson: As far as getting challenged? That's the difference. That's really the line. We’ve already seen people coming in saying I’m going to challenge this lawmaker for voting for Medicaid expansion, but we haven't seen any serious credible candidates coming out and saying, you know, giving a good explanation of why their district Representative shouldn't have voted for Medicaid expansion and offering a viable alternative.

Mike Sunnucks: The turnout is really much smaller, you could have a much smaller block of voters deciding. So there really could be somebody that’s just kind of a wild card, a newcomer. People don’t know but they run on that one issue and the district people are annoyed by that and they knocked a few people off. If they can knock a few people off, some people by bigger names on that list, that sends a message to future candidates.

Ted Simons: We mentioned this fundraising event, this comes after a judge has pretty much okay'd this campaign contribution law, so the money can flow a little more freely at the dinner with the Paradise Valley Health Insurance guys.

Jeremy Duda: If you heard a strange noise, it was thousands of people eliciting very big checks. Our very low contribution limits have gone up. Legislature passed a law during the election which increases the limit from $912 for a statewide candidate to $4,000 per person, a pretty massive increase. The Clean Elections Commission and other folks challenged the court and said this violates the voter protection act. You know the voter protection act doesn’t actually set the voter contribution limits but it has a separate revision that automatically reduces it by %20. This is kind of a back door way about regulating the limits through the clean elections act. They went before the court judge on Tuesday and everyone made their arguments and yesterday the judge said, no dice.

Ted Simons: Apparently they’re saying it violates the clean elections act and the voter protection act and the judge is saying, no, no.

Hank Stephenson: The judge has not given a preliminary- The lawsuit is still continuing.

Jeremy Duda: But based on the ruling the judge put out yesterday, there seems to be very little doubt about what the final outcome of this case will be in his courtroom. You know, he not only said that the clean elections commissions are unlikely to succeed on the mayor openly, he issued a very “eyebrow raising ruling” it really wasn't even brought up during the hearing, the Voter Protection Act and the clean elections act were both passed in 1998. The voter protection act said this will apply to all future ballot measures, anything passed this year. You can't guarantee, that everyone who didn’t vote for one voted for another so there’s no way to know what the voters really wanted. I'm saying that the voter protection act doesn't apply to people this year.

Hank Stephenson: It was a tough hearing to follow. He even referenced game theory in it.

Ted Simons: Glad I didn't get too close to it.

Mike Sunnucks: Business folks love this thing. They have wanted to see the increase so they can contribute more. This benefits the kind of establishment, special interest groups, that increase their influence.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask that. We mentioned the fact that Tea Party members are loud and may not have the finances to back up the noise. It sounds like there’s a lot of money now flowing around there and the noise could even be further drowned out.

Mike Sunnucks: This could help moderate Republicans that used to make up a bigger part of the caucus of legislature that are really almost extinct now. Because the business community has not been able to exert pressure on them on certain issues like health care, like immigration. If there's more money down there maybe their ears will be a little more open.

Jeremy Duda: If you want to see how much some people are looking forward to the limits, just look at the fund-raisers. Two for Doug Ducey, the first two of his campaign. Two for Tom Horne, two for Fred Duvall, the governor’s one for all the legislators. If you see the invites for Tom Horne’s fundraiser, which came out before the judge ruled on this, before the new limits went into effect, it said the new limits are $4,000.

Ted Simons: Quickly, is that $4,000 for a primary, then you get a new $4,000 for general? Or is it a total?

Jeremy Duda: It's split between the two sides of the cycle, which we didn’t used to do before. It’s based on the federal model, where half is for the primary and half is for the general.

Mike Sunnucks: A slow and arduous death for clean elections. First they wanted to reverse it, they couldn't get it on the ballot, and slowly they have taken it limb by limb.

Jeremy Duda: That death may come a lot quicker now.

Ted Simons: Another judicial decision here regarding the number of judicial nominees. The law -- talk to us about this, this was a situation where folks were wanting to get the Governor a few more options. She has three choices regarding judicial nominees. They wanted to make it five. It seems as though the Supreme Court looked at this and very quickly said, what?

Hank Stephenson: Yeah. They didn't even really go into oral arguments on it. It was one of those things where lawmakers were warned in committee very clearly that you know this is unconstitutional, right? And they decided to pass it anyway. It very quickly went down when it went to court.

Ted Simons: The reason being, they wanted to change something that could only be changed through the Constitution by statute.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah. It's in the Constitution that it's three or more so they can still give five nominees if they want. But you can't change that via the statutes. You have to go to the constitution, which requires a vote of people, which they tried in 2012. The proposition failed miserably.

Ted Simons: The people voted this down big-time. The Supreme Court is saying, what are you doing here? Go away with this. Who wants this? Why?

Mike Sunnucks: Some of the more social conservative folks want a bigger pool of judicial nominees because they feel the ones presented to the governor now, the three are usually a Democrat and a couple of moderates and they wanted to expand it to have some more anti-abortion judges that would oppose same-sex marriage. A lot of social conservatives pushed for this, the ideological wing of the Republican Party pushed for this. The ballot measure failed because it was confusing and voters vote no on confusing ballot measures. If they put it up a hundred more times, it would probably fail a hundred more times, unless they get some way to run a bunch of television commercials and craft a simple message. But it’s one of those things that are so complicated, voters, when they’re looking at these measures on these ballots, they’re going to vote no. So it was kind of a no-brainer for the court to rule against this because this is a constitutional matter.

Ted Simons: Are we going to see this pop up again in any different fashion?

Jeremy Duda: I’m sure we will. This has been popping up every year for the last couple of years. The Center for Arizona Policy lobbied to put this on the ballot last year and there really wasn't much of a campaign in favor of it. A lot of supporters figured it was common sense, people vote yes, they want more choices. But there was no campaign it for and there was somewhat of a campaign against it. As you guys mentioned, it was a very confusing thing, and it got completely stomped at the ballot. I’m sure there will be a push for it, but if you put it back on the ballot, I don't know what reason anyone has to believe things are going to turn out any differently.

Mike Sunnucks: If you had some big conservative group spend a bunch of money and say, look we have a bunch of Liberal judges on here, look at these rulings on immigration and social issues, we’re going to be like California. We want a bigger swath of candidates to choose from. Then it could pass, but that’s easier said than done, just like with Medicaid and these other issues.

Hank Stephenson: Or if they even narrowed to it just the nominees. The proposition did a lot more than that. That was kind of a center point of it. It was lot more and really was a confusing proposition.

Ted Simons: Indeed, a very, very busy idea. We had a legalization of marijuana that pushes on for legalizing by 2016. And yet same-sex marriage, another issue that seems to be veering in one direction, that campaign ends. What's going on here?

Jeremy Duda: This thing -- yeah, they closed up shop, I believe this week. They pretty much conceded defeat a few weeks ago; they started pulling their paid signature gatherers off the street. This was a push largely coming from Republicans, and, as it turns out, a lot of the big LGBT groups and Democrats didn't trust them, didn't want to work with them. They had a Republican consultant named Tim Muni working for this thing. He’s historically been involved in a lot of socially conservative causes and now says he’s changed his views. Nobody trusted them, they weren’t getting the support they were hoping to and they pretty much closed up shop.

Mike Sunnucks: It's resources and money like we talked about with these other issues. The gay marriage thing here was a couple of local executives, and the consultant didn’t have a lot of national backing or regional backing behind it. The marijuana thing was the marijuana policy project ran the marijuana things and wants to do these measures in 10 other states, California, Nevada, a bunch of states in the east, Maryland and New England. They have some money and some resources and they know how to run these things. Where the issues are both headed towards a more liberal point nationally, when you get down to the state and ballot measure level, it's all about resources and cash.

Jeremy Duda: And 2014 may not have been the year for this. It wouldn't surprise me if you see another gay marriage thing come up in 2016 for the same reason the marijuana people are going to try to put their thing on the ballot in 2016. It’ll be a Presidential race with higher turnout, more turnout from low-efficacy groups like young voters who generally would be more supportive of gay marriage or marijuana. Next year it's going to be congressional midterms, the turnout will be lower, a lot of folks who are more supportive of these causes will stay home. 2016 is probably the best bet.

Mike Sunnucks: You don't think the young kids will be voting for Tom Horne and Fred Duvall?

Ted Simons: The group behind legalization of marijuana were behind the medical marijuana push in 2010. And yet with the same-sex marriage, sounds like a North-South split between Phoenix and folks from Tucson.

Hank Stephenson: A bit. The campaign originally kind of sprung up there. The co-chair was from Tucson, she was really organizing things there, they got support from a couple of LGBT groups down in Tuscon. But once the Phoenix people, the real power center of the state, let’s be honest, started pushing back, they have recently lost their endorsement from Wingspan, the LGBT center down in Tuscon. It's all started to collapse.

Ted Simons: We will stop it right there. Gentlemen, good to have you here, thanks for joining us. I'm Ted Simons, thanks so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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