Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 17, 2007


Host: Howard Fischer

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Bob Robb - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Howard Fischer:
It's Friday, August 17th, 2007. In the headlines this week, the latest on the new employer sanctions law. Hearings are set to be held around Arizona. We'll take a look at the state of the Republican Party currently and what the governor says about text messaging drivers in Arizona. That's next on "Horizon."

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

Howard Fischer:
Good evening, I'm Howard Fischer, and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Bob Robb of the Arizona Republic, Kathleen Ingley of the Arizona Republic, and Le Templar of the East Valley Tribune.

Howard Fischer:
State house speaker Jim Weiers announced this week public hearings on the new employer sanctions law. Bob, what does Weiers hope to accomplish by doing this?

Bob Robb:
It's easier to describe what he proposes than to decipher what he hopes to accomplish by it. It's a very peculiar approach. Instead of legislative committee holding hearings or providing information as they did on the employer sanctions bill a couple of months ago, it's going to be a committee of business representatives, including those that use the federal verification system and like it and those that are sharp critics of the bill. The ostensible purpose is to identify whether there are improvements to the bill that can be made in its enforcement. Weirs has insisted that he has no interest in seeing the bill weakened. But it's hard to see what this group accomplishes if it's that diverse and if it's representing only one side.

Howard Fischer:
The speaker said he wants to convince some of the businesses this is not a horrible law, an easy law to live with. As Bob points out this is not designed to give information from the business community but get information back from them during the legislative system.

Le Templar:
Part of reason I don't think the committee's going to be too successful if that's the goal is that the key element that scaring a lot of business owners is how will the prosecutors determine it in the law. Do you knowingly hire someone illegally? It seems clear and bar would be pretty high to cross it in order to be charged. A lot of employers are fearful because of pressure in the Maricopa County to deal with the immigration. Certain county prosecutors that have catered to that element are going to be hard charging and you know using a lot to their advantage and putting people out of business quickly. That's the fear and I don't know see how the committee can answer the question unless you get the attorneys involved in the discussion.

Kathleen Ingley:
The idea has been advanced by some people that this would also be a chance--that Weirs would like to mend a few bridges with the business community because some feel it will put Arizona businesses at a disadvantage. This is--as they say--strike two and execution because you lose your business license on the second offense.

Howard Fischer:
Can you really mend fences with the business community? Essentially they believe we were ignored for months and now you want to kiss and make up?

Kathleen Ingley:
Now that it makes no difference?

Bob Robb:
Probably only if there are substantive changes to the law which Weirs says he's not interested in. Although he should be sure to point out that the business community is not united on trying to water down this law or fight it to keep it from going into effect. East Valley Chambers of Commerce supported the law fearful of the stronger penalties and the inability to change an initiative that's waiting in the wings. I'm not sure what part of the business community Weirs is trying to appeal to and the element that is very angry with him is not be appeased with changing the law.

Howard Fischer:
What I find is several of the lawmakers like Jake Flake said afterwards, gee, I was fooled. I didn't know what I was doing. I was drunk at the time. I don't know what it is…

Bob Robb:
I don't think Jake Flake-- [ laughter ] -- would be the least likely.

Howard Fischer:
Filling up things on the farm up there. But I'm wondering how much of this perhaps could be being set up by Weirs who says I don't want change in the law but if suddenly I feel this great draft from my own people, maybe I'll be forced into it.

Le Templar:
I don't think that's the case because there's so much pressure from his wing of the Republican Party to do proactive steps at the state level with illegal immigration. You know, Weirs is one of those people caught between his supporters and community because he raises money privately but he has to win votes, too. He has to win votes with a segment of the state that is really upset over illegal immigration. I think he's trying to provide an outlet for businesses to complain or explain what they think is wrong with the law and perhaps find some areas where everybody can agree it can be approved to make it easier to protect those who are not trying to do anything wrong and only focus on those that are truly the worst of the worst which what the proponents of this law claim we are going after.

Howard Fischer:
It seems like I don't know, Kathleen, you don't have a lot of options. As I understand federal law the only place states can come in is with the state licenser. They can say we'll fine you. Are there options? Is it black and white? There is no middle ground.

Kathleen Ingley:
One could argue there's very little middle ground, there's very little leeway for the state to do much, of course some people would say, that's because the state shouldn't have been here in the first place shouldn't do something the federal government should do. Interestingly I heard from someone today that you're seeing impact in the businesses. There may be heartless people who say what do I care. There's a landscaper who says I can't deal with this and he folds up his company.

Bob Robb:
There's probably no options with the companies and legislature may not be able to. There's room to demonstrate a violation, the interim steps that might take place and additional assurances that you can provide the business community that if they do the right thing, and aren't purposely trying to circumvent the law that they would be less susceptible to a renegade prosecutor trying to run over what the protections are meant to be.

Le Templar:
Law runs over three days. When you use the federal database to check your employee, you only have three days. If it comes back and says it doesn't appear to be a legal worker to resolve the issue, fire them or they have to go to court to fight the issue. New rules the Bush Administration announced a week ago gives 90 days to fire the worker or get it resolved. You can argue that that would imply the state should be given more time once the initial match turns out not being accurate.

Bob Robb:
And the ones governing the use of the system doesn't allow firing that quickly showing that person isn't eligible. They have to have a longer period of time.

Kathleen Ingley:
The sanctions are not to shutdown the company, which is another thing the company's worried about is wait a minute, two mistakes, and-(decapitation movement)

Bob Robb:
Knowingly and intentionally violations…

Howard Fischer:
That's the question. If in fact the standard is knowing, we see this used in criminal law. This isn't somebody oh, gee, I didn't know Lee was here illegally who snuck in from Guatemala or something like that. You have to show the person knew and not using the power program that the person was here illegally. Is that an unfair standard? I don't know.

Kathleen Ingley:
I don't think that's a fair law.

Bob Robb:
The state law says knowingly to be defined in the way it's defined in the federal law. The federal law actually refers to actual knowledge that the person is unauthorized to work. That's a very high standard.

Howard Fischer:
One of the things you covered a little bit, Bob, has to do with this issue being one of the Republican Party shredding on the hearings. Are these hearings going to point out what's been occurring on the party on this issue?

Bob Robb:
I don't think so because I don't think you have that much disagreement among the legislative Republicans. I think while there's a couple of guys that are saying they have buyer's remorse, for the most part I think there's a firm commitment among legislative republicans in favor of this. Certainly the issue has riveted the national Republican Party tremendously. It's probably had an adverse effect of the public approval rating of the U.S. Senators who fought for a reform that was denounced by those who believe we should have a clear enforcement first or an enforcement-only approach. So I don't think these hearings run that danger. I think it's more a matter of can we find something that will make this a little bit more acceptable to the business community? Which is ordinarily a republican constituency group many of which feel angry and alienated from the Republican Party.

Le Templar:
I think you'll see the problem more in 2008 with the elections in the state and federal level in that--immigrations going to be a sharp point for republicans particularly.

Bob Robb:
In the wakeup Arizona group, that group of the business community that's most agitated against this law has threatened to target Weirs and others strongly in support of it. I think they will discover how ineffectual and unimportant they are in republican primaries if they try that.

Kathleen Ingley:
What about the initiative? If the initiative gains tracks that could be--traction that could be extremely divisive because you could have people saying wait a minute, wait a minute, we don't want to go that far because the business license is pulled on the first violation. It's difficult to change on the initiative.


Howard Fischer:
The other side of the equation, Kathleen, are the democrats for years they have been screaming stop picking on the immigrants and go after the employers. Now they say that's not what they have in mind. How do democrats look with people on both sides of the issue?

Kathleen Ingley:
It's a true dilemma. I think if you look back and when they were saying sanctions, sanctions were supposed to be part of the original package. This is why it never worked because you had amnesty and the idea was going to stop the demand side on employers and that never stopped. Many people said wait that's what we were pointing out. Now we have to go back with a comprehensive solution.

Bob Robb:
Sure. I think where Democrats will be on this issue is defined exclusively where governor Napolitano is. She signed the bill and previously called for a rigorous set of employer sanctions. She has identified problems with the bill that she thinks should be addressed preferably in a special session but she doesn't seem to be flinching on the overall approach and doesn't seem to be pushing real hard for a special session rather than addressing those issues in the regular legislative session. I think she, at this point, defines what the democratic position is.

Kathleen Ingley:
Because it's viewed as jew jitsu because bring on the heavy sanctions because that's the only way you can get enough pressure from the people who, wait a minute, the economy is going. This will not work. We have to deal with the people already here. This idea of self-deporting is just insane. You have to look at the number of families, huge number of families where you have a mixed legal and illegal. We think one family member will leave and rest of the family will stay here?

Le Templar:
The other advantage she has is if this thing were to blow up and be a horrible mess, she can point to this was written by Republicans in the legislature. The attorney general and prosecutor is enforcing it. I signed it just as they wanted. I'll fix it but it's not my problem.

Howard Fischer: I like that. Speaking about the governor, this week she went ahead and made hints about the presidential primary. Bob, she said I haven't made a decision yet but I'm not likely to do it before February 5th because that's the earliest we can do without penalizing the parties. With what she has left with her, do we go February 5th with California and everybody else or do we hope and pray there isn't a settled issue by then and get a better play down the road?

Bob Robb: She's apparently headed for February 5th. I think that's the wisest for the state. Florida can get away with defining the political parties because in the final analyst you won't tell Florida their results don't matter. Arizona isn't that big. And assuming that the nominee is chosen effectively on February 5th, being part of that mix will garner us some of attention. We will be one of states whose results will count. If you go after February 5th, you're making a big bet that February 5th will be indecisive and make Arizona a keen maker. She's a cautious politician. Going for the sure influence rather than the big bet I think is her likely action and probably what's best for the State.

Howard Fischer:
Okay, but we have a situation in 2004 when we were one of the few early primaries. We got a lot of attention out here from a lot of candidates, people who wouldn't know where to find Arizona on map. If we are the same day as all the other states, is anybody going to visit Arizona?

Le Templar:
I think they will. It will be different in than 2004. Everybody looks at Arizona to be a billion weather state. We had a wider margin for Kerry than others had. We had it spanning across the country. We are the fastest growing state in the country. I think those things will draw, particularly democrats, I think both parties will draw candidates here to spend time and raise money and would want to pick up Arizona wherever it falls.

Howard Fischer:
Kathleen, how do we put the genie back in the bottle? It was when Kennedy gave the speech and it was June we try to decide a nominee in February. Is it possible to go backwards or are we stuck with this?

Kathleen Ingley:
I would like to think at some point we would say wait a minute, it's Santa Claus vying with the candidates in December. At that point people will say wait a minute, it's turning people off. Maybe ideas of regional primaries that roll out in segments. I find it hard to see how we get the genie back in the bottle. I feel very sad. I was a very little kid. I remember when the conventions meant something and watching them on TV.

Le Templar:
It will take Congress to intervene. That's a high hurl to get over because elections are traditionally state-only purview. The federal has been slowly eroding that with the vote act, I think, of 2004. It brings the genie back. We can mandate when we could hold federal elections.

Bob Robb:
Part of the problem is so many members of congress see themselves as potential presidents. In case they fail at reform, they don't want to earn the undying identity of the would-be king makers of Ohio and New Hampshire. Former congressman from Arizona used to be primary advocate at the national level of regional primaries that would rotate. I'm hoping there's enough members of congress running for president this time who fail which was--which was when he started advocating reform when he failed that we would get traction in the congress that makes sense.

Howard Fischer:
You may be right to get a number that's a majority. I like that. Kathleen, you were telling us when you got here about your joys of negotiating the valley traffic. It seems like we're in a bind here because concrete costs keep going up and we can't pay the valley fast enough. What's the problem? And how do we fix it here?

Kathleen Ingley:
It really is a big problem because we are in competition with china for concrete and construction materials. Something that didn't use to be case. Arizona used to have kind of its own little world and we didn't have to worry. Adot's overall cost went up 47\% in five years. It's just insane. Although it's easy now and gives us breathing room to think about what next. Of course we have a coalition of folks from the business community and legislature and governor's office thinking of a grand plan to raise more money. I think we will roll it back and take a little look at the gas tax. It has 18 cents a gallon and has not changed since 1990. If we kept up with inflation, it would be 29 cents right now. That tells you that money is not buying what it used to.

Howard Fischer:
If you raise the gas tax, Bob, it seems like talking going outside the scoop of users fees, sales tax and else. Do you need a broader pot to make this acceptable to get the hundreds of millions of dollars we need or do you do it by raising the gas tax to a buck 45?

Bob Robb:
Every time I dealt with this issue either in a previous life as consultant and journalist, the thing that's astonishing is how much people hate the gas tax. What you can do with the gas tax is sharply limited politically. If you are going outside traditional user fees, you are probably talking about sales tax we're using it to fund freeway transportation and light rail. I'm anticipating movement beginning to gather on a different form of a user fee which is toll roads. An awful lot of the additional capacity that we need is to connection developed footprints. And for that particular problem, the basic infrastructure is there. You're connecting two underserved areas. Toll roads are a very appropriate and an effective solution. And it may be not the one that people prefer but it may be when you consider the alternatives, it suddenly becomes lovelier.

Kathleen Ingley:
But if Arizonians hate gas taxes--I agree with you it's third rail--boy, they hate the idea of toll roads.

Bob Robb: I
n the survey the Martin institute did there's a surprising degree of support for toll roads. There was a high degree of support for anything to improve transportation. There was a surprising degree of support for toll roads.

Le Templar:
Governor Napolitano strongly opposes toll roads. You would have to have real momentum as that as an answer to convince her to change her mind. We're not seeing it yet. I'm not saying you're wrong. It could be considered, too. We're not seeing that momentum yet.

Kathleen Ingley:
The problem before was if you remember where people want to put toll roads where they get a lot of traffic is where there's the most resistance. People say put a toll road there, there's not enough traffic. By the way, I want to point out your tie kind of looks like it has a toll road on it. It might be a model.

Howard Fischer:
You pass here. You have to pay the toll.

Le Templar:
In which direction?

Howard Fischer:
Both. One more road thing. [ laughter ] Lee, we get bills from the legislature of the use of cell phones and driving while texting and usually get thrown out. Now we have a couple of deaths. Is that what it takes or maybe this is some the newspaper's hyping the issue?

Le Templar:
I don't think the newspaper is hyping the issue. I think it will get momentum to those people who wanted to do it all along of the governor made a good point it's illegal. She can't drive distracted and it's a job of doing a better job police enforcing that part of law.

Howard Fischer:
Do we need a law? If I'm sitting here and doing this while I'm going down the road and talking on horizon obviously--

Kathleen Ingley:
Your obviously not distracted.

Howard Fischer:
Who's here? Do we need a law for that is or is distracting driving against the law?

Kathleen Ingley:
You could make the argument that it is against the law. Why do we have drunk driving laws? That's illegal too. If you think about how prevalent this is becoming. I'm driving and people know I won't be answering my text. If you're a parent, it's easier To say, hey, it's the law. I know your friends are doing it, too bad. It's the law.

Le Templar:
Some states are adding bans on text messages and cell phones on part of the licenses there is for under 18 and who drive.

Kathleen Ingley:
Wait a minute. Over 18 and can drive.

Bob Robb:
It seems to me it's impossible to enforce. Expect in retrospect if there's an accident then you have penalties. Once you try to outlaw distractive behavior when you're driving, where do you stop? I sided with the governor on this one.

Howard Fischer:
You heard it first we've been discussing it all lee, Kathleen, Bob. And we'll be right back.

Larry Lemmons:
A conversation with the third district Congressman John Shaegg on immigration , health care, and congressional dynamics also the issue of employer sanctions as two political types go head to head on our regular segments one on one Monday night at seven on channel eight's Horizon.

Howard Fischer:
Tuesday, Horizon brings you stories on a variety of health topics including one on how to quit smoking. We assume they are talking tobacco. Wednesday, we look at access to health care in Arizona. Thursday, we look at industries in the state.
Friday, we'll be back with another edition of the journalists' roundtable.

Howard Fischer:
Coming up next on "Now," are some insurance companies putting profit before people? That's next on "Now." after that the McLaughlin group and the Statler Brothers final concert. Have an incredibly good weekend. I'm Howard Fischer. Good night.

Content Partner: