Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 17, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters discuss the week's top stories
Guests:
  • Dennis Welch - Arizona Guardian
  • Doug MacEachern - Arizona Republic
  • Mike Sunnucks - Business Journal
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon" -- A top aide to Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls for an investigation of the sheriff's second in command, chief deputy David Hendershott. We'll discuss this week's debate between candidates for superintendent of public instruction. That debate hosted here on "Horizon." And we'll talk about contested green party candidates on November's ballot. The Journalists' Roundtable is next, on "Horizon."

Announcer: "Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Doug MacEachern of "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal" and Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." Allegations of serious misconduct within the Maricopa County sheriff's department now coming from -- the Maricopa County sheriff's department. What's going on with this memo?

Doug MacEachern:
This is really the first signal in this entire episode of controversy involving the sheriff's office that there's turmoil within the sheriff's office. Up until now we've had this impression that whatever the issues going on, whatever the controversies going on on the outside, the sheriff's office itself is a monolithic structure and impregnable fortress. It's not, as it turns out. A high-ranking official, Frank Munnell has written a long, 63 –page memo to his superior, to Joe Arpaio, telling him point by point of the controversies involved -- the supervisors, the courts, the campaign slush fund and everything we've been reading about for the last 18-24 months has involved bad behavior within the department itself. Most of it focusing on Arpaio's top aide, Chief Hendershott.

Ted Siomns:
What do you make of this coming out and coming out now?

Mike Sunnucks:
It appears everything is being blamed on Hendershott. He seems to be the bad guy, the bully. Whether it's personal conduct toward subordinates or other staff and interaction with the supervisors, it doesn’t seem to touch the Sheriff at all, it’s all on Hendershott’s shoulders. And people have been talking about the trip to Honduras. And worry in the election season and there's a couple of grand juries looking into the sheriff's office and one on civil rights and the other on the abuse of power. It kind of smells like Hendershott could be the fall guy here, the person who gets blamed on everything.

Dennis Welch:
Yeah, and we've seen this a lot in politics. It's always someone who falls on the sword for their boss. Which will be interesting in this case, according to the allegations, Sheriff Joe Arpaio ceded day-to-day operations over to Hendershott, I mean Sheriff Joe’s going to be culpable for this at the end of the day. It's his administration, and he needs to know what's going on and if he didn't know what’s going on, does that mean Joe Arpaios’s incompetent?

Mike Sunnics:
And there’s a lot of questions about what kind of decision making he actually does there. Obviously, he's front guy, talking to the media and how much of the management he does, or it's folks like Hendershott that calls shots.

Ted Siomns:
And Doug, we’re talking words like bully, threats, retaliation.

Doug MacEachern:
Machine gun.

Ted Simons:
We’re gonna machine gun their rear-ends. It seems like a litany, we know people who don't get along with their supervisors. This is a litany of actions and allegations that has everyone's attention now.

Doug MacEachern:
It really does. And it’s not as though we haven't been aware that chief Hendershott has serve issues. We just simply didn't have a sense within the department there was a reaction to them and there was a fear of them. And -- and it actually is not surprising to see this happen. We know there's two and probably more federal investigations going on. DPS is looking into the department and there's a noose tightening around it and so it shouldn't be surprising that people are noticing and saying I'm not going down with the ship for his sake.

Ted Siomns:
I was going to say, people saying it's a problem and needs to be taken care of, sheriff, your legacy, or I'm not going to get tied down with this thing. I got to make sure people know I was against what is going to wind up in a criminal action.

Mike Sunnucks:
There's folks who are professional law enforcement, everyone is not political. There's a lot of professional folks over there. Maybe you're seeing an outing of the political folks, like Hendershott, who have taken this kind of bulldog approach to everything. Again, it kind of goes back to how does this hit Arpaio, is he above all of this or is he the person who is handing off the investigation to the Pinal county sheriff or does he get blamed because he was not manning the wheel.

Ted Simons:
Talk about passing the investigation off to Babeu in Pinal county, considered an Arpaio ally.

Dennis Welch:
They've gotten pretty close, but to give you another perspective, sheriff Babeu has grander political ambition, if you watch who he's working with and who he's been affiliated with. He has to walk the line between his allies and his -- his allies or – if he handles it badly, it could damage his career.

Mike Sunnucks:
Absolutely, but if he handles himself well, if he shows himself to be fair and a truth teller to Arpaio it could propel him to governor or U.S. senate. It's raised his profile. These are the cases where who do you pick? The FBI, or the attorney general’s office, the Republicans are going to question that because those are Democrats. Independent counsel usually work better in these because it's usually somebody that people respect. It’s kind of interesting that he picked a partisan figure.

Doug MacEachern:
Ted, I'm sorry this has evolved so quickly. That Babeu has been assigned the job of investigating all of these allegations so quickly. It says that the sheriff isn't taking them seriously, the fact that he immediately jumped into it and said my ally over here will take care of everything. Is just like what he’s been doing for the past several years, shunting everything off to Hendershott. Now he's just going to someone else and says he's not taking these as serious as he really must.

Ted Siomns:
We're talking about in this memo, Munnell, I'm not sure the story is that fresh, saying things that Hendershott was up to the point of obstruction of justice. All sorts of things. Tampering with a witness. This isn't fooling around business. This is serious stuff and it’s all out there for the world to see. All 63 pages of this memo. What happens to -- the sheriff obviously has been immune to almost every criticism and allegation against him. Does he continue to fly above all of in this?

Mike Sunnucks:
I think it depends on how deep this goes and what kind of light is shown on him in the end. A lot of these things in this memo is stuff in The New Times and the press and the critics of Arpaio has been saying for years about Hendershott about the office about the obstruction of justice and intimidation of folks inside and outside and it confirms everything they’ve been saying. So maybe it gives their claims more legitimacy in the public sphere. Arpaio just seems above everything. The voters out there view him as this kind of vanguard on the issues, especially illegal immigration, so I don't know if that happens, but if it starts to show that he's not competent leading that office, then it starts to take away.

Dennis Welch:
Well everything stopping short of Arpaio, what you’re seeing. The memo is about Hendershott, it's not about the sheriff so much, it's about Dave Hendershott acting like a bully. You can certainly see if this investigation with Babeu comes out that he Hendershott did all of this stuff without the sheriff’s knowing about it and protecting the sheriff.

Mike Sunnucks:
I don’t think there’s anything in the memo, correct me if I'm wrong that says Arpaio knew about this and was involved, it's all on Hendershott.

Dennis Welch:
He's such an iconic figure, I think he still flies above all of this stuff.

Ted Simons:
The abuse of power probes, these investigations, the impact of this on that, A, and B, if this has been going on for all of this time and the feds have been looking at this department for all of this time, what are they missing?

Doug MacEachern:
That's a good question. I really don't know to what -- what they have -- what they've been missing, if anything. I'm not so sure they have. I think this memo is an illustration of what they seem to be focusing on of last question:

Ted Simons:
Does the public care about this?

Doug MacEachern:
I think this is one of the more rivetting stories involving the sheriff's office in years. I think they're consumed with it.

Ted Simons:
What do you think?

Mike Sunnucks:
I think it needs to be more salient to people. Being a jerk is not against the law and a lot of this is saying Hendershott is a bully. If you look at the financial management and the use of money and contracts, and you start showing impropriety there, then people care.

Dennis Welch:
I would disagree on that, a little bit, when it comes to Arpaio, the public cares and they read about him and want to know what he's up. The people who don't like the sheriff, want to know what's going on and people who love him want to know what is threatening him. Yes, the public cares.

Doug MacEachern:
Let me put it in context. I do believe the public is keenly aware and interested, but not necessarily from the point of view that perhaps all of us may think. I think consistently Arpaio is viewed as the defender of the border, of anti-illegal immigration, and I mean, he's a national icon in that respect and all of these issues we've been focusing on so much are completely alien, I think, to most of the public that idolizes him.
Dennis Welch:
You can easily see where supporters of Arpaio would read this story on Hendershott and say there it is again. Attacking the sheriff again. Trying to bring him down.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think there's a little fatigue with just the coverage of the county infighting. The Romley-Thomas. I think people sometimes see those stories and think they’re all the same stories. This is all new stuff. I think people at first glance get a little fatigued.

Ted Simons:
Ok, let's move on to a debate we had on "Horizon" this week. Superintendent of public instruction. Penny Kotterman and John Huppenthal. We had divergent ideas regarding education.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think it's a typical debate between Democrats and Republicans throughout the country for perhaps the last 10 years. The democrat talked about we need to invest more on schools. The Republican talking about standardized tests and holding people responsible, merit pay. Not, that funding didn't matter as much. It was a debate that's been going on for a number of years. Both did ok but not great.

Ted Siomons:
What do you think?

Dennis Welch:
I think stylistic point, penny Kotterman came across a lot better than Huppenthal. I think Huppenthal can come off as clinical and academic and I thought he kind of was a lackluster performance on his part.

Ted Siomns:
What do you think?

Douc MacEachern:
You cannot find in the state of Arizona two people steeped in understanding of education issues than these two and they come at it from mirror image points of view. Penny's from the AEA teachers' point of view and Huppenthal from a more Republican point of view, yes, but a more technocratic point of view. He’s a more nuts and bolts kind of guy that wants to fix things like a car.

Ted Simons:
What's the mood of the electorate? Is it do the nuts and bolts kind of thing or get back and let teachers run the classroom? Time for change?

Mike Sunnucks:
I think it depends on the letter next to their name. It's such a Republican year that that's an advantage for Huppenthal. People will see an R and vote for that. Teachers' unions aren't that popular. She makes arguments about we aren't investing enough and maybe do more on that.

Dennis Welch:
I couldn’t agree more with that. When you get down into those races they're going to look at party affiliations. Both trailing their opponents by big numbers and by the time it rolls around in November, I think Democrats are not going to come out and vote.

Ted Simons:
Alright, the concern about green party voters coming out and voting was a major story here the last week or so. Describe the controversy. What's going on with these quote/unquote sham candidates?

Dennis Welch:
Democrats are upset because a group of Republicans went out and recruited homeless kids from downtown Tempe and other parts of the valley to run as green party write-in candidates with the thought that it will siphon votes away from Democrats. Some folks were pretty upset about that, went to court and the judge ruled that these folks so stay on the ballot but he had unkind words for the Republicans who participated in this scheme.

Doug MacEachern:
And he made a point of saying had this one candidate, Campbell, I believe it was, stayed on the ballot, he would have kicked him off, because the comments made it apparent to the judge that you really are a sham candidate and your only intention in being on the ballot is to screw things up for Democrats. Which gets awfully dangerously close, I think, to a judge making I think inappropriate judgments about what constitutes a candidate and what shouldn't. I don't think the law -- the law isn't specific at all. But when the judge -- when judges start making decisions about, well, what are your motivations to be a candidate and how much of a party affiliation do you really have, that's getting –

Mike Sunnucks:
There's a lot of serious candidates who run sham campaigns every cycle.
Yeah, I totally agree with you, judges shouldn't have that -- that shouldn't be the decision of the judge. Somebody wants to run, they can run in whatever race they want. Is that going to impact that many races? I don't know how many bush v. Gore –

Dennis Welch:
Maybe problem isn’t so much is whether it impacts on Democrats or the races. It feeds into the cynicism of the voters when they read about this kind of stuff. These shenanigans, here we go again we got these slick politicians trying to game the system.

Mike Sunnucks:
You have both parties do these gotcha things, and this is underhanded what the Republicans did. And these are the bad guys because they're doing this and Dennis is right, it turns people off.

Ted Siomns:
And we had Steve May involved in this controversy, himself dropping out after the DUI -- a super-DUI.

Doug MacEachern:
That was -- that was a shock. Steve May used to be a really prominent political figure and all of a sudden, all of this stuff came out and he tumbled off the landscape.

Dennis Welch:
And this comes, remember, this comes a few days he's running around telling the newspapers and the media, I'm going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own money and takes a weekend to think about it and-

Ted Simons:
His apology was interesting. He basically said he apologized for political rhetoric and activity that is -- made -- that were beneath him and didn't mention the DUI business but do we take him as saying, geez, maybe I should get off my Segway and stop -- recruiting homeless kids.

Mike Sunnucks:
It’s very Nixonian, this type of stuff that he was doing. It harkens back to creep and the Watergate area.

Ted Siomns:
We've got a couple of stories that harken back to the Watergate area. You were mentioning earlier in the show about the mood of the electorate. We had an institute poll, lots of angry Arizonans.

Dennis Welch:
Big numbers are thoroughly fed up with the way the state leaders are handling the budget and once again it looks like we're facing big budget deficits for the coming year. And they blame the legislature. And it’s interesting that in the same poll, Arizonans think that Governor Jan Brewer has done a great job. That's interesting, they're blaming the legislature but not the governor.

Mike Sunnucks:
Well, she’s stopping the beheadings in the desert. It's all about 1070. That's the issue people associate her with and she's above this and maybe she gets credit from the voters for backing the sales tax increase. She bucked the party on that, or orthodoxy on that. And maybe gets credit for that.

Ted Simons:
Do you think people realize the budget crunch this state is facing once the stimulus money goes away next fiscal year?

Doug MacEachern:
Well, no, I don't think they have -- the ramifications has enveloped people and we spent the last two years, delaying that impact and something we always knew would come along. Eventually, the federal money would go away and there would be a gaping hole we have to fill up. And I think, no, I don't think people have any idea just yet of just what -- what we're going to have to dig ourselves out of.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think people are worried about their own deficits. Houses underwater and jobs tough to get and economy not recovering. And a few years before that. And that's part of the frustration people have with politics. We're talking about sham party, green party people. Talking about 1070 and these other things and not talking about the housing market and jobs as much as maybe people would like.

Ted Simons:
A lot of people talking about the governor and her son. He had a very troubled past. Doug, I want to start with you, because the Republic is very much involved in this story. Talk about the story. Give us background and why the newspaper went the way it did on the story.

Doug MacEachern:
The governor's oldest son, Ronald has had a long history, self decades of problems with mental illness and it became about 20 years ago, he committed a crime, a very violent crime, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and then committed to the state mental hospital where he still resides. That is an enormously difficult issue for the governor to deal with. Explicitly. On the other hand, she deals with it, in some ways heroically, by having made herself a champion over the years of mental health issues even when she was a county supervisor and days in the state legislature, she was known pretty roundly as an advocate for the mentally ill. Very few people understood why. And she never talked about it directly. She becomes governor in 2009 and January of that year, Ronald, through his attorneys and with the help of the family, moved to get his records sealed. That attracted the attention of the media, including "The Arizona Republic" and we went to court to get it open, not because there was any reason to -- that we knew of to write a story, but because when something like that suddenly happens, the media has a great curiosity why.

Ted Simons:
And we're again talking criminal records here, not mental health records?

Doug MacEachern:
Yes.


Ted Simons:
Talk about the public reaction. The judge says public's right to know outweighs the family's right to privacy. How does it impact the governor's campaign?

Mike Sunnucks:
I think people look sympathetically on her on this one. It's an interesting story but what kind of privacy a public official gets. It’s certainly relevant to her stance on mental health but she doesn't bring her family on the campaign, her husband, her family. When you see others using their family in postcards and maybe they're not as fair game, because she has kept it private. It's an interesting debate how she bases her decision and how much privacy someone in public life gets. And we complain about the type of people we get running for office. And this is why a lot of people don't run for office.

Dennis Welch:
It doesn't affect her campaign so much because she successively has turned this debate about her son. What kind of rights should we have to privacy. To me, the bottom line, the story here was why did this judge seal up the 20-year old records on the eve of her taking over the governor's office. The guardian did a story on this a couple of weeks ago too. We talked to criminal judges who never heard of a decision like this. Never heard of something like this where you went back, retroactively and sealed up all the records. Not been done to anyone’s knowledge. And I think the republic mentioned that in the legal brief that they never heard of anything like that. That's the story.

Ted Simons:
We're heading into Watergate territory. It's not so much the story, it's the coverup of the story.

Doug MacEachern:
I hate to say it because I know how much it wounds the governor to bring it up. But if the family had not acted to seal them, I personally don’t believe it would have become a story at all.

Dennis Welch:
It wasn't a secret amongst the media or anybody, as Doug correctly pointed out. We knew about it, we weren't going to write about it all of a sudden and the action they took on the eve of her taking over the governor's office is what prompted it.

Mike Sunnucks:
It’s interesting because you hear stuff and know stuff and some never gets reported on. It's an interesting dynamic to see what actions promise these things. You're right, the court action prompted this. It's relevant because she has been a mental health advocate and people in public life give up some privacy but if you want someone to run for office from the business world, from the private sector -- that's not a career politician, which is what people want, this is a discouraging notice for them.

Ted Simons:
We'll stop it right there. Thanks for joining us.

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