Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 24, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don’t miss HORIZON’s weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week’s top stories.
Guests:
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Michael Grant:
It's Friday, March 24, 2006. In the headlines this week, thousands of people filled the streets of phoenix today in a protest for humane immigration legislation. Superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne has filed an appeal of a federal court order regarding the distribution of fines paid by the state over the English Language Learning, and state lawmakers filing a lawsuit challenging Governor Napolitano's use of a line item veto earlier this year. That's next on Horizon.

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Michael Grant:
Good evening and welcome to the Journalist's Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Dennis Welch of the East Valley Tribune, Howie Fischer of capitol media services and Chip Scutari of the "Arizona Republic." Thousands of people took to the streets of Phoenix today to march for humane immigration reform. They marched up 24th street to Senator Jon Kyl's office. Dennis, you were in the midst of that chaos. What did you see?

Dennis Welch:
Well, according to police about 10 to 20,000 people showed up to protest a congressional bill making its way in Washington that would increase the penalties for being an illegal immigrant, among the things. They're saying fear drove a lot of these people out to the streets today.

Howard Fischer:
A lot of what was in the bill that I think drove people over the edge was for example there's a provision that essentially says if you are good Samaritan and you provide aid and assistance to somebody here not legally. It's not really clear. What does that mean? If you grant them water if they're in the desert or something like that. I think a lot of it was just pent up frustration. We've got all these bills coming forward this year. There seems to be a belief this is going to be the year congress is going to do something. And I think on the part of the organizers they wanted to remind people, look. We're here. We are doing your jobs. It's not just that there are 6 or 7 of us--

Michael Grant:
Right.

Howard Fischer:
But that we're here and we're a force to be reckoned with.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, from a logistical standpoint it is not easy to get 10 to 20,000 people to collect at the same spot at roughly the same time this. Was on nobody's radar screen.

Dennis Welch:
No. Even the organizers had only anticipated about 3,000 people showing up. So they didn't even bother to get a permit because they thought they were going to be marching down the sidewalks. You don't need a permit for that. What happens when 15, 20,000 people show up and they start spilling out in the streets? Next thing you know police have to shut down almost every street--

Michael Grant:
Tied up a huge amount of traffic in northeast phoenix.

Howard Fischer:
And that's the interesting thing. I've been struggling all afternoon with the idea, you know, what's the reaction from, if you will, Joe six-pack? On one hand there's a child of the 60's. The idea of protest, the idea of showing force, opposition to something the government is doing is sort of close to my heart. On the other hand, given even the reaction starting with Mayor Gordon and working down from there and a lot of people who were stuck in traffic, you know, the feeling is sort of a kickback. Number one, I'm stuck in traffic because of them and they don't belong here. And number two, I think a certain amount of fear that all of a sudden if 20,000 people who are not here legally can show up on a moment's notice, there's a certain amount of fear. They could beat us up in our beds.

Michael Grant:
Chip, obviously it's not breaking political news that we thought 2006 immigration-- illegal immigration was going to be a key issue, probably central to a lot of campaigns including but not limited to the U.S. Senate campaign. Several ballot issues. Do you think this kicks this up a notch?

Chip Scutari:
Yeah. And I'm not really surprised that marches like this are going to happen throughout the course of the year. I think the closer we get to election day, first a primary in September and then the general election in November, I think the rhetoric is going to continually get cranked up by both sides. Like you said, Jon Kyl running against Pederson for the U.S. Senate is going to be a huge issue here. It's going to be a huge race for the Colby seat in Tucson, it's going to be a huge issue in the governor's race where it looks like the republican candidate might be a guy like Len Munsell, he's going to have to pound away at the governor for looking soft on illegal immigration. Has she done enough to secure the borders? Now the problem is for a guy like Jim Pederson is, he doesn't really have a consistent message on illegal immigration. He keeps saying we need a comprehensive package. He's going to, you know, criticize Jon Kyl for whatever he does. But so far he hasn't been able to score points having that one great sound by the to knock Kyl after his game.

Michael Grant:
And Kyl has probably one of the strongest proposed pieces of legislation on this, very tough on border security, increasing border patrol. He's been resisting a guest worker-type program, although I think that's going to be factored and compromised down perhaps by Arlen Spectre, the chair of the judiciary committee. So at least at this point in time he does have a focused message and I think probably has a leg up on this thing.

Chip Scutari:
Well, we have to be honest about both democrats and republicans. Up until this year, which is an election year, they've all been really Johnny come latelies on this issue. Jon Kyl wasn't talking about this four years, Janet Napolitano who is a democrat wasn't talking about this four years ago. J. D. Hayworth, the congressman from east valley just wrote a hard-hitting book about border security so everyone wants to get to the forefront of this issue.

Michael Grant:
Sure. It's just an issue of who gets to the fore front the first with the most.

Chip Scutari:
And it's such a complex issue. Great sound bites, we have to secure the border but there are no easy solutions.

Howard Fischer:
That's part of the issue coming back to chip's point. For years the republicans avoided the issue because they're business people. The people who make a lot of money hiring cheap labor said, we can't have this. The democrats avoided it if figuring they didn't want to offend the Hispanic constituencies. Nobody wanted it. So it's nice to say we're for a comprehensive proposal and we need to secure our borders post 9/11. But beyond that, what does this all mean? We have over 450,000 illegal in Arizona and 12 million in the United States. They're here, they're doing work. Much of the state's economy and much of the nation's economy is built on it. And nobody really knows other than the rhetoric what to do.

Michael Grant:
Going back to the actual protest March, Dennis, did you get much of a feel for what the crowd mix was, how many were illegal aliens?

Dennis Welch:
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get too close to the march because of the issue of traffic. So I was kind of stuck back with the police officers. But the people I did talk to were making their way from the rally who claimed they were attending it. Yes, it was mainly Hispanic, it was mainly non-English-speaking Hispanics.

Chip Scutari:
Was there a consistent message out there? Or was there one thing they were shouting? Or was there one message they were trying to get across?

Dennis Welch:
I think the message they were trying to get across is they feel they're Americans, too, that they're contributing something to society.

Howard Fischer:
And that's really the key. I heard some of the interviews. They're saying, look, we're here; we're working. We're part of the American dream, we're part of the American economy. And you can demonize us all you want, but we are part of what is the U.S. economy.

Dennis Welch:
But why fly the Mexican flag, then?

Howard Fischer:
And that's the key. And to the extent you fly the Mexican flag and speak in Spanish, you know, we've got the issue coming up on-"Si se puede", "Yes we can", you know, those kinds of things scare people. If you want to consider the lily-white voter who gets scared over brown people in their neighborhood, this scares people.

Chip Scutari:
One other thing. If it were similar to the many immigration type rallies in the capitol, like touching on a little bit what Howie was saying, you see the signs. They're in Spanish. They're chanting in Spanish. So a lot of people just walk by and they don't really pay attention. So they're not drawing more people to their cause. I'm sure they're drawing a lot of Spanish speaking immigrants to the cause. But to the moderate voter who may have some sympathy for the issue they're just saying, I can't really understand what you're saying.

Howard Fischer:
Let me go a step beyond this. And this is a lesson from the 60's. Where the Vietnam protesters went wrong was burning the flag and attacking the soldiers. What the Vietnam protesters should have done is wrapped themselves in the flag and say, we support America and we shouldn't be there. And I think to the extent that the Latino community sees-you know, flies a red, white and green flag, people say, you're foreigners. If you want to convince people you are here and you see yourself as Americans then you ought to be flying the stars and stripes.

Chip Scutari:
I have learned something here tonight, though. I always thought Howie was a child of the 30's so I'm glad I know he's a child of the 60's now. So I'm glad we all know that and the audience knows that.

Howard Fischer:
For somebody who has as little hair as you do, I wouldn't talk.

Michael Grant:
A couple of high profile legal actions taken at the state's capitol this week. Lawmakers filing suit against Governor Janet Napolitano over her use of the line item veto. Superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne, filing an appeal with the 9th circuit over the distribution of fines paid by the state over the English Language Learning dispute. Chip, let's start with the Horne appeal. What does he want the 9th circuit to do?

Chip Scutari:
Well, we'll say one thing for Tom Horne if nothing else he's persistent. He wants Judge Rainier Collins in Tucson wanted the 21 million in fines to go to each school district on a per pupil basis. Horne's saying, no, let's do it on a more systematic, scientific way. He's not saying he's being insensitive to these English-learner students. He wants it do the right way. And there's a big dispute between him and Governor Napolitano, who's a democrat. She's saying it's a sad state of affairs that the superintendent of public instruction would fight money going into the classroom. She said that at a weekly press briefing. Didn't make any bones about it. He came back saying, that's not true. I've always been a passionate advocate of getting more funds in the classroom. So this is a huge legal battle contained within the legislative and political battle over English Language Learners, which like our first segment comes under the umbrella of illegal immigration.

Howard Fischer:
And part of Tom's issue is quite frankly legal that to the extent he challenges judge Collins' authority to even levy the fines in the first place, if you give out the money to the school districts at $136.30 for English Language Learner, you can't get it back if the 9th circuit eventually agrees with him that the fines never should have been levied. So he says, leave it in a holding pattern. Do I understand the governor's frustration that while we're arguing other kids are getting through without funding? Certainly. But there are ways around that.

Michael Grant:
And Howie, back to the case in chief, the federal court has I think set up a hearing date on it.

Howard Fischer:
April 3rd there will be a hearing on the underlying plan that is whether what the legislature adopted, what the governor allowed to become law and then basically spat on as she sent it over to the judge meets the court order. I mean, it comes down to, does it comply with federal law, which makes the state responsible for ensuring that students learn English and does it comply with the underlying court order.

Chip Scutari:
The interesting thing about this whole English Learner issue, which we call the Flores case has consumed so much time for lawmakers down at the capitol, it's consumed a lot of time for reporters like ourselves but it's really making a small dent in the public conscience. Which KAET had a poll which shows most people don't know what the Flores case is or English Language Learners are. So while it's a big deal for 150,000 students and the parents and teachers and educators it really hasn't sunk in with the public.

Howard Fischer:
And they don't know whom to blame. Which says who do you blame? And 65\% said, I don't know.

Michael Grant:
And the people who did want to blame somebody, it was fairly partisan. Republicans blame the governor and democrats blame the legislature.

Howard Fischer:
I blame the media, personally.

Michael Grant:
Well, if the legislature is in session, Chip, that means that they must be filing suit against the governor.

Chip Scutari:
Of course. And let me some brief background why they're so annoyed with Governor Napolitano. Her first week, she had an executive order on prescription drug plan for seniors. And at the time house leadership was fit to be tied. They said it was an overreaching of her power. She's really seized the executive power of the governorship in Arizona. So this latest lawsuit, they lost-- they didn't lose it. The Supreme Court refused to take the case back in 2003 over a budget issue, an issue over a pay raise. You know, the legislature worked fast to get state employees a decent pay package that they haven't had in awhile. She signed it but she line item vetoed out a part. And most people don't even know what that part is. But they know that it's her versus the legislature again. And it might not even be a partisan issue. Pete Rios, veteran House and Senate democrat, one-time Senate president, said on the House floor, you know, I can't really say I'm with you but I won't mind if you win this lawsuit.

Howard Fischer:
And what's really crucial here is the constitution says, unlike at the federal level, the governor has a line item veto over "items of appropriation." So the question is what's appropriation. Clearly the entire bill which went up which had a pay raise for state employees was an appropriation. The five lines in the bill said that people hired beginning next year above pay grade 24, which is near the top, will no longer have the protections of the merit system. So if they're disciplined or demoted or fired they have no place to appeal. She excised them saying it's an appropriation under the very stretched, tortured logic that people who are hired outside the personnel system accumulate leave fast in the people in the personnel system. Therefore it had a--

Michael Grant:
Budget consequence, someplace maybe down the road.

Howard Fischer:
Yes. Now, the problem with the logic is, virtually everything done, you go from a class 5 felony to a class 4 felony for certain people arrested on a certain crime, I can predict for you given the number of people convicted of the crime how much longer they're going to be in jail, you appropriated more money. And if you allow her veto to stand it basically means she's the dictator.

Dennis Welch:
Well that's why a lot of people down at the capitol think that this may be the most important issue this session down here because how far it expands executive power down there.

Michael Grant:
And Chip, I like your point. Because sometimes on these kinds of issues it breaks away from party lines and it moves more to branch lines, the legislature versus the governor.

Chip Scutari:
And it seemed like an odd battle for the governor to get into with the legislature. She's beating them on the Flores thing. The judge has pretty much ruled her way. She usually gets her way in the budget and all day kindergarten. It's almost like she's poking them in the eye, like kind of rubbing it in a little.

Howard Fischer:
Well, here's the deal. Remember, it was the labor unions that helped get her the $5 donations last time that helped get her elected. She figures that by line item vetoing it, she's currying favor with the unions, even though there's no union people at grade 24 and above. And even though she's overturned she's curried favor with the unions. She's put herself in a win/win situation politically if not legally.

Michael Grant:
And I just wonder, Chip, if this is the kind of issue-- let's just say hypothetically she were to lose this suit in oh, the September or October time frame, is this the kind of issue that plays in a November general election?

Chip Scutari:
I don't think so. I don't think Joe six-pack knows, you know, executive or legislative. But it would be a big deal to the republican leadership. We finally got her on something. It would be like Wiley Coyote finally catching the roadrunner.

Howard Fischer:
But it was the same group of people; remember the bumper sticker, she lied and that sort of stuff? They think, now we've got here. Now people care. Does anybody care?

Michael Grant:
Does the republican leadership care about the, and for that matter does the democratic leadership care about the state budget? Are we making any progress on that?

Dennis Welch:
We're making tons of progress on that. I mean, this next week is sign or die week. We're all going to be done. Everybody's going to go home. Not too much progress on the budget. I mean, it's shaping up that it's going to be some battles down there down the road over certain issues.

Michael Grant:
One of the major battles may be, gosh, we're kind of flush with money. How do we give this back to people?

Chip Scutari:
The whole property tax versus income tax. How are we going to structure that? Another thing we were talking about is road construction. How can they expedite different freeways to make it so people just aren't upset every time they get in the car on I- 17 or in the west valley and they want to front that money and get those highways going.

Howard Fischer:
Of course part of the issue there is we don't know how much this billion-dollar surplus is repeatable. In other words, if you're going to give tax cuts you give it over something year after year you have excess revenues. If you have one-time money, then you pay for the entire East valley and of course Dean Martin's district going up to Anthem.

Chip Scutari:
It's this thing about tax cuts, though. In the 90s, tax cuts were the winning card for republicans. When we talked to republican consultants and, you know, hard-core tax cut guys, they're not as enthusiastic as they were in the 90s. It's almost like it's passé and they'd rather do something else like doing road construction.

Dennis Welch:
They're talking about a half a billion-dollar surplus because the surplus keeps growing month after month.

Michael Grant:
It keeps moving up.

Dennis Welch:
Yeah.

Michael Grant:
108 million bucks for the-- speaking of the East valley, for the ASU East campus?

Dennis Welch:
It's the ASU polytechnic campus.

Michael Grant:
I'm Sorry. I keep calling it the wrong thing.

Dennis Welch:
Yeah. They want three new buildings out there. I mean, as of right now, it hasn't changed a whole lot from the old Williams Air Force Base it used to be. They're still using these old dilapidated buildings out there. They're asking for $108 million and the republican leaders are throwing their weight behind it and trying to get them that money.

Michael Grant:
So Howie, no timeline on the budget at this point?

Howard Fischer:
Oh, I think the timeline has long since passed. I think part of the problem is, leadership has been meeting almost daily. I think when they come up with something they think they can sell to members they'll dump it out. But at this point they don't have consensus among themselves.

Michael Grant:
Okay. Revolving door continuing at the Arizona state legislature this session. Senator Harry Mitchell has become the latest lawmaker to leave office. He announced his resignation Thursday to run for congress against J.D. Heyworth. Howie, he didn't have to quit. So why did he?

Howard Fischer:
Well, I can give you three basic reasons. Number one is money. You need to raise it. And part of the problem when you're a legislature is you cannot collect money as a legislature in the legislative session while you're there, even if you're running for another office. Number two is the issue of building the base of support. In other words, you've got to be on the campaign trail. You've got to be out speaking, doing things. If you're stuck there wrestling over budget cuts-- and number three, quite frankly is, Harry didn't have any particular reason to stay. You know, there are people who get the daily ink at the legislature just by being there and standing up on the floor. Russell Pearce, if you will, even Senate President Ken Bennett. Harry was a nonentity there. I mean, in the entire time I've probably quoted the man five times. And so staying there does not give him the publicity and visibility he needed.

Dennis Welch:
You know, he's a democrat. It's a republican-controlled legislature. A lot of his bills didn't even get a committee hearing out there. I mean, in particular this year, he had a battle of the bulge bill that he wanted to- a memorial for battle of the bulge and he couldn't even get a hearing on that.

Howard Fischer:
But here is a guy who's the number two democrat in the Senate. Linda Getty knows how to stand up and make the floor speeches and somehow make her way into our stories. If part of what this battle is, part of the game we all play down there is getting your name in the paper, you've got to stand up, you've got to make the floor speeches, you've got to make the position statements, you've got to do the stuff in committee. Harry is just a very quiet person.

Chip Scutari:
That's the difference. When he was the long-time mayor of Tempe he did all his work behind the scenes. When it came to a council meeting they had the vote and it was done and the state Senate is completely different, like Howie mentioned.

Michael Grant:
A couple of aftermath questions. He is chair of democratic state party. So what happens there?

Chip Scutari:
He's going to step down in the near future. And I think what they're eventually going to do is for a month or so have an interim party chairmanship and then have David Wade who's executive director do executive director and be party chairman just to have some continuity throughout the cycle.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, should it be interesting in terms of his replacement?

Dennis Welch:
Yeah, it could be interesting. I mean, party officials- democrat party officials will say, hey, Meg Burton Cahill is a shoe-in. Just move her over from the House over to the Senate. She'd announced she wanted to run for that seat anyway since Harry wasn't running because he was turned down. But I am sort of hearing that the county board of supervisors, there may be some problems there. They don't necessarily like Meg. And this border has shown very recently they're willing to play politics on this.

Howard Fischer:
And that's the interesting thing. On one hand they're constrained because they have to choose from three people chosen by the democratic committee people-

Michael Grant:
And it has to be a democrat.

Howard Fischer:
And it has to be a democrat pursue to the state law and state constitution. They would like to probably, being a republican board, find the weakest of the three democrats thinking Laura Kanaprik, also from the district of republican wants to go over to the Senate and do they really want to have Meg Burton Cahill with the benefits of incumbency?

Dennis Welch:
It's a context. I mean, recently after Marilyn Jarrett passed away when they were looking for a replacement the consensus was Chuck Gray. Well, you know, coming up before that all of a sudden, you know, Max Wilson had a problem with Chuck Gray's eminent domain bills. He had a problem with how Chuck had voted in the house on the issues dealing with Luke Air Force Base. He said, there's no way I'm supporting this. I'm supporting Gary Pearce. It took Gary Pearce to withdraw his name from consideration to get Chuck in there. And this has happened a couple of weeks ago.

Chip Scutari:
The one thing democrats will do if they are smart they'll nominate Meg Cahill, nominate two up and comers who may run for the house eventually. So you know, I think that it could be a win/win situation if they play it right.

Dennis Welch:
I think he ran for the House last time and he's running again this time.

Michael Grant:
Anybody wounded down in Tucson?

Chip Scutari:
No. Dick Cheney our vice-president was down there for U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, raised about $500,000. Kyl has amassed a huge war chest. And anticipating Jim Pederson has very deep pockets going on the air and having a many month long TV airway battle. But as of now it's almost April and Jim Pederson hasn't gone on the air yet. So I think Kyl's campaign, every month that Jim Pederson doesn't go on the air, they're kind of breathing a sigh of relief.

Michael Grant:
$500,000 for Tucson is pretty good for a republican fundraising.

Howard Fischer:
Oh, not bad. I mean, Tucson you have to remember while it's a number two city there aren't a lot of people there. Number one, there aren't many republicans south of the Gila, either. So it's really not bad. And so as you say, you know, they disarmed them at the border and life was good.

Michael Grant:
All right. And almost out of time but Skip Rimsky kicking off the campaign for secretary of state.

Chip Scutari:
And he's going to fly his own plane around. He has his own Cessna twin-engine plane. We're hoping he names it Remza or Juan or something. The interesting thing about Skip Remza running against Jan Brewer is a huge underdog; he wants to expand the office to deal with transportation and economic development.

Michael Grant:
Guys we haven't heard that since the last election cycle on secretary of state. Panelists we're out of time. Thank you very much.

Larry Lemmons:
The Phoenix water supply is good despite the effects of a long, long-term drought but conservation should still be top of mind. A healthcare conference in the valley attracts professionals from across the country and an update on a Phoenix government housing project Monday night at 7 on Channel 8's Horizon.

Michael Grant:
Tuesday, the April 17th tax deadline is fast approaching. Representatives from the IRS and the Arizona department of revenue will give us the latest on filing your taxes. Wednesday, there's a bill in the legislature that would allow voters to decide whether English should be the official language in Arizona. Thank you very much for joining us on the Friday's edition Journalist's Roundtable tonight. I'm Michael Grant. I hope you have a good night.

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