Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

December 21, 2007


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

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

View Transcript

>>>Ted Simons:
It's Friday, December 21st, 2007. In the headlines this week, the spotlight again on immigration. The ruling is in on the latest efforts to block the employer sanctions law. Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon and the chief of police disagree on the law. And will we see airborne jellyfish in Downtown Phoenix? That's next, on "Horizon."

>>>Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons, and this is the journalists' roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mary Jo Pitzl of The Arizona Republic, Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal, and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. lots of stories in the immigration front. We'll start with the employer sanctions bill. Mary Jo, not too long ago you got a ruling in court.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
The judge denied the restraining order request made by the business and Hispanic civil rights groups. The employer sanctions law is cleared to go into effect on January 1. But there will most likely be an appeal filed with the ninth circuit court next week.

>>Ted Simons:
What were his reasons?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
The judge said they didn't meet the balance of harm test necessary to give a temporary restraining order. He said the public would be more harmed by not letting this law go into effect than any business would be by not having it go into effect.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
He said something about poor workers, that they would be harmed because they have to compete with undocumented illegal immigrants for these jobs. I thought that was very interesting.

>>Howard Fischer:
And that's critical. The hardship that the employers were claiming was not so much that they were going to get prosecuted. The county attorneys said there's no way we can prosecute anybody before February 1, because it takes a while to investigate. The other part of the law requires employers to use what they call the e-verify system to check the status of workers. Oh, my god, we'll have to purchase computers and get on the internet; the judge was skeptical that most large businesses don't have computers.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
And we're going to have to reorient our hiring practices, do some training for our hr people, all of which the judge waved away saying, that's really a minimal investment compared to the folks, sort of the lower class workers, lower meaning economic class workers, who the judge said you could always be outbid by illegal labor.

>>Howard Fischer:
One of the interesting things the judge did is said, look, there is a debate of whether the benefits of having undocumented workers here, cheaper labor, people trying to benefit themselves, outweighs this. The judge says it's not for me to decide, it's for the lawmakers. The legislature just this past year passed their own law and very clearly said, the detrimental effects of illegal immigration prevail over all who benefit from unauthorized alien labor. So he made it very clear that again, getting back to Mary Jo's point that the balance means a need for a restraining order, oh, my god, we'll have to pay higher salaries -- that doesn't cut it.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
That law states to go after business licenses. The state isn't going in there and superseding federal law. They're not determining who's here legally and illegally, and just interpreting on the licensing front.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Getting into that argument, you're starting to move into some of the arguments that presumably we will hear next month when a January 16th hearing convenes, where they really will talk about the merits of the case. A lot of the back-and-forth on the lawsuits to date have been more on procedural motions. They haven't really gotten down to talking about the guts of the law, the merits. That will happen on January 16th.

>>Howard Fischer:
The judge has already telegraphed what he thinks, particularly of this issue of federal preemption. The leaders in the case said, yeah, you can take away their license if they're found guilty by a federal hearing officer. The judge said, that ain't in the law, you're just making this up out of whole cloth. I think it's very clear that when we have the January 16th hearing you will have a couple of days of arguments. He might -- might -- do something about the e-verify part of it. But he's telegraphed that he doesn't find this law to be a violation of the constitution.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
He pretty much shot down every business argument on the bigger case. He said there were some due process and some business protections. I don't think there's really much question on how he's going to rule when it comes up again.

>>Ted Simons:
The appeals process how is this going to work and what kind of a timetable are we looking at here?

>>Howard Fischer:
I've got news for you. Before midnight tonight the ninth circuit could issue its own restraining order, allowing them to hold the law in place until they at least get a chance to do it. I'm not sure they're going to do that. We know that January 16th there's a hearing here. Unless the ninth circuit stays the law, January 1 employers will start using e-verify. Beyond that you can run out the clock and say, what's next here? I've got news for you; the full ninth circuit will decide this. Eventually there will be a petition reviewed by the US Supreme Court. Sometime in 2009, we'll get a final ruling.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Somebody I talked to said that's likely to happen in the next couple of weeks. It has all the trappings of a death sentence appeal. I look at it more akin waiting to when Santa is going to arrive.

>>Ted Simons:
You mentioned e-verify, and just the employer sanctions law in general. There is increasing debate on who exactly is affected here. Is this a recent hire? Does it deal with people already under the employ? The language here --

>>Howard Fischer:
The answer is yes. And the problem becomes, at the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, what is, is. The law clearly states you shall not employ, knowingly employ, an undocumented workers after January 1, 2008. Now, does employ mean, Ted, you're hired, I have just employed you on that date? Or more likely does employ mean something different than the word hire? And the consensus seems to be that it means you may have been in my employ on December 28th, and also on January 2nd. Therefore you are employed by me when the new law takes effect. Complicating matters is the use of this e-verify system to check new hires. You cannot, under federal government regulations, use e-verify to check the employees already on your payroll. The people already there sort of put the employer at risk, particularly if they didn't do a real good job on their I-9 verification.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
It's knowingly hiring an illegal. It's knowingly, so they have that. And Andrew Thomas, the person most likely to be the most aggressive in enforcing the law, says he believes it's new hires, existing laws, you're employed. If you're employed, you're employed. So it's a past, present, and future. He's one of the people that's going to decide this.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Obviously this is something that, if it gets disputed, it's going to have to be resolved by a court. Russell Pearce, the author of this, has sort of been all over the map. The governor said, I think the intent was just new hires. Thomas says, I'm sort of with Russell Pearce. So this will go back and forth. The practical effect is that, if somebody has an illegal worker on their staff, hired in 2005, and somebody comes after them in 2008, if they can show the proper paperwork, if they did what the law required of them at that time, they're going to have a bit of a shield.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Companies open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits from workers. If you keep asking them over and over again to prove that they're legally here, you're going to be sued for that.

>>Howard Fischer:
That's the whole issue and the business community is correct on this. You need a national solution. A usable, accurate national database. And perhaps you may need a national ID card, which gets us back into the whole driver's license thing and whether you want to be tracked with that.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
I think that's the way this is going to be enforced. The guys are out there totally working under the table, not paying any taxes or health insurance, paying workers maybe less than they deserve. If they start going after a company for paperwork mistakes or somebody they hired back a few years ago, if they're going to go after every single company in this town that might have an undocumented worker versus the big offenders, I think --

>>Howard Fischer:
You said paying the workers less than they deserve and not treating them well: how long have you been in journalism?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
They treat me great over there.

>>Andrew Thomas:
To that end, does it sound like Andrew Thomas is softening a bit here, when he says it does look like only new hires and it's going to take a while to get going?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Thomas wants to go after both. But he did say he was going to wait until February to go after it. Maybe the New Times incident softened him a bit. There was going to be some procedures in place.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think everybody sees Thomas as this lion waiting to get out of his cage. I think what we're hearing from his statements, he's going to proceed on this with good caution. The first prosecution out of this, you don't want it to be a bust. You want this to be rock solid. You're going to have a better chance of success if you proceed cautiously and dot all your i's and cross all your t's.

>>Ted Simons:
Let's talk about the 100-person march we had here this week. I guess things have gone past the point of being counterproductive. What happened this week and what was accomplished?

>>Howard Fischer:
You're missing a side point to the whole thing. It's fine to say it was a 100-person march and it was a bust. When you have the sheriff's department looking for people perhaps whose cry may be "walking while brown," that's going to chill a lot of ardor even by people who are here legally. There are those suggesting that the sheriff's special integration laws, the sheriff admitted his people busted people with this thing. How did he get these illegals? They were jaywalking and blocking traffic. So there's a certain fear in the community.

>>Ted Simons:
Granted. And the fact is, 100 people showed up. So the question is, has this gone beyond the point of being productive?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
It's just kind of a circus atmosphere. You've got extremes on both sides, not a lot of credible folks out there. I don't think it helps the immigration debate; it's a very complicated issue. You need serious answers and solutions and serious folks talking about it. It's just kind of the cookfest on both sides.

>>Ted Simons:
Does it sound like the protest at Pruitt's will end any time soon?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
The permit expires soon, and what transpires after that remains to be seen. It may depend on what happens at city hall as Mayor Gordon is trying to broker some kind of peace.

>>Howard Fischer:
Neither side wants to move first. He says, I will stop picketing when the owner of Pruitt's stops hiring sheriff's deputies.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
They're not interested in solving anything, they like the cameras being out there, groups like mothers against illegal aliens, I believe they're called. Obviously the sheriff likes the media attention.

>>Howard Fischer:
Not our sheriff.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Maybe a little bit.

>>Ted Simons:
That's breaking news. Police enforcement suit? Talk about this, Howie.

>>Howard Fischer:
As I mentioned, the owner of Pruitt's went to court to get a mandamus, a court order to enforce an existing city ordinance that says it is illegal to stand around to solicit work or money on or near a city street. Well, that's what day laborers in fact are doing. Roger says his contention is that Jack Harris has issued an order, for all intents and purposes, do not enforce this law. The problem is the court of appeals said that may be true, but police officers have discretion when to enforce laws. Issues of resources, what else there is to do, their own concerns about the constitutionality of a statute. Therefore we're not going to order him to do that. His attorney says, no, there's a difference between the discretion of an individual officer and a police chief basically voiding a law. So this is going to go to the state supreme court.

>>Ted Simons:
Anything more to add on that?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Basically the police had the discussion, like people jaywalk all the time. Police don't have to go and arrest and give everybody a ticket for that. The bigger point is this could be a department wide, positively not enforcing laws.

>>Howard Fischer:
That's the question. If the chief were to say, using your example, we will not enforce the jaywalking statute; does he have the power to do that? Well, whether he has the power to do that or not, take it to the city council. They set the policy. If they don't like what the chief is doing, they'll fire him.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
They want to enforce minor laws. It's jaywalking, loitering, those types of things.

>>Ted Simons:
We had a developer settlement this week, a record settlement as far as development is concerned. George Johnson.

>>Howard Fischer:
Yes. This goes back to an incident about five years ago now. George owns a couple of thousand acres north of Marana. He wanted to blade it for the -- what was supposed to be a new city. First of all, he didn't get the permits, allegedly, because this is an assessment he allegedly didn't get the permits. He killed some native plants, diverted some streams. More importantly, the company he hired to do the blading went about 270 acres into state trust lands up next to the ironwood national preserve, wiping out ironwood trees, and then also introducing domestic sheep to this area. The state law says you can't have domestic sheep within nine miles of bighorn sheep. They carry domestic diseases. The bighorns went blind and became easy prey. The blading also destroyed a number of Hohokam archeological sites dating back to 750 A.D. So George was fighting this. In fact, he countersued terry for libeling him. Punitives are not paid by your insurance company. All of a sudden, George decided, I'm going to settle. He's paying seven million, the grading company is paying five million, and then others are paying a few thousand dollars. This is the largest environmental settlement in the history of the state.

>>Ted Simons:
Was this an especially egregious case?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah, I think so. First of all, the ranch was massive. It was going to be like Tucson stuck between Tucson and Phoenix. So the scale was huge. A lot of the damage to waterways, very fragile desert environments, yeah, it was huge. The damage to the bighorn sheep population, and they have rebounded somewhat. I remember seeing some photos of the damage, and it was just pathetic.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
The mountain lions seemed to benefit from this. Now they're going to have to get their game going again.

>>Ted Simons:
The dreamy draw decision, Mary Jo, this is a community that thought they had a nice hiking trail where I guess the court was, we can walk our dogs and bury our cats, and all of a sudden they find out that a homeowners association sold it to a developer for peanuts years ago?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
This was a chunk of land up in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve left over from a development. It was deeded to a homeowners association. Everybody thought, okay, it's open space, it's wonderful. The homeowner association sold it to a developer. He has a piece of land up against the mountains, and proposes a development. And everything hits the fan. And there's a lot of protests from the neighbors of the subdivision saying we didn't know and we want our open space, and back and forth. Long story short, this week the developer says, you know what, I'm done. He deeded the land to the city and it will remain part of the open space. If you bury a cat out there, I'm going to come after you.

>>Ted Simons:
Developer gets good press on this too. This is kind of rare, isn't it?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Look at the preceding story we were just talking about.

>>Ted Simons:
There you go. At this time, it's very interesting that you had a developer and we had an editorial in the magazine saying we've got a guy doing the right thing here. Let's talk about a union suggest that Bashas' is not doing the right thing. What is this all about?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Bashas' announced that they were suing the workers for defamation, trespassing, all these cases. They have been wanting to unionize Bashas' every since. It's been kind of going back and forth. The union and another group claimed that Bashas' and food city had some kind of outdated formula on their shelves and made a big stink about this. They claim the union planted some of the outdated formula, and the union denies that. It's interesting, Eddie Bashas is a big democrat, but they're not unionized. They're fighting with a labor union that's also a big democratic constituent.

>>Howard Fischer:
First of all, that other group called hungry for respect was actually formed by the union. The other political angle is that there are two individual defendants in there. One is Alfredo Guiterrez, who is a commentator on radio camposina. The other is the general manager, and they are claiming that the radio station has in fact maligned Bashas', so they're trying to gag them also through this, what's called a restraining order. They're trying to get damages and stop them from saying negative things about the grocery chain. This is going to be one of the more ugly fights you're going to see.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
And the union is going after Wal-mart and other non-unionized chains, and they've been very aggressive on these campaigns.

>>Howard Fischer:
And that's why they want Bashas'; Wal-mart is too big. Bashas' is an Arizona company. They believe that with enough pressure they can bring Bashas' to their knees. They need the store to hold off the Wal-mart stores. Desperation has really set in here.

>>Ted Simons:
We'll keep an eye on that one. Also keeping an eye on the 9/11 memorial, sounds like a plan to change that ever-contentious place.

>>Howard Fischer:
Remember, this is a ring-shaped monument, with a piece of the original World Trade Center there. Carved into the ring are 54 different sayings. Some of them deal with events of the day, some of them are a little more controversial, for example, you don't fight terrorism with more bombs. One statement that talked about how Osama Bin Laden addressed the American people. This has been controversial since it was dedicated in 2006. Finally today it was agreed to accept it. You can wander out to the park across from 17th from the capitol and not know what this thing is. It doesn't explain the context or what happened on 9/11. This is designed to explain the context. If you think this is the end of that battle, you're also wrong. Representative John Cavanaugh from Fountain Hills said he's going to try to get the legislature to tear down that entire ring and replace it with a time line. If the legislature won't do it, he says it may wind up on the November ballot.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
We're going to have a very crowded November ballot. I would question, if he does run a bill, if it were to pass, where would you get the money to pay for that? Probably cooler heads would say there are bigger priorities. This most likely would run into the veto pen.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
I don't even know how many people have gone out to see the thing.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I've passed it regularly, and there are not people there.

>>Ted Simons:
This will be other final conversation point here, the huge jellyfish in the sky over Downtown Phoenix. Mary Jo, this is going to happen, isn't it?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think it's going to happen after the staff initially pulled the water out of the aquarium, or whatever metaphor you wanted to use, they were going to deep six this thing. There was an outcry, and after reconsideration -- and it's not a jellyfish, it's supposed to evoke a cactus flower. It's supposed to float over a park in Downtown Phoenix.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
It's at Central and Van Buren, and they're going to spend $2.5 million on this baby. We need restaurants, some bars, why not give that money to the people that can actually generate some tax revenue?

>>Howard Fischer:
One of the people who talked, I think it was a show that I hosted about how we don't need more government subsidies for private people.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Give to it something that's going to have a long-term benefit, rather than something that's going to get washed away during the first monsoon.

>>Howard Fischer:
By the controversy they create, they bring people down to see things. Look in downtown Chicago, the jellybean down there.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
I think more headquarters and businesses and restaurants and bars bring more people than a floating jellyfish.

>>Ted Simons:
With that holiday greeting, I think we're done with this edition of the journalists' roundtable. Thank you so much.

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