Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: McLeod and Paton Look Ahead to 2016

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On this week's episode of Zona Politics: Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod and former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton debate Gov. Doug Ducey's proposal to dig into the state land trust to fund schools over the next decade; weigh whether the Democrats can knock out Congressman Martha McSally; discuss whether the Supreme Court will order a redrawing of Arizona's legislative district; and smoke out the likelihood of voters approving marijuana for recreational use next year.

You can catch the Zona Politics at 8 a.m. Sunday mornings on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. You can also listen to the show at 5 p.m. Sunday on Community Radio KXCI, 91.3 FM.

Here's a transcript of the show:

Hello, everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we're here to talk Zona Politics Today, we're going to look ahead to what we can expect in 2016 as part two of our year-end extravaganza. Joining me today, Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod, and he's come down from Phoenix, as well as Jonathan Paton, a former state lawmaker and Republican strategist. Thank you both for joining me.

(Paton) Thanks.

(Nintzel) One of the big things that happened at the end of 2015 was the special session in which Governor Doug Ducey persuaded the legislature to put a big school-funding proposal on the May ballot to ask voters to dig deeper into the state trust land fund and take care of the education lawsuit in which schools have said they were under-funded. Jonathan, your thoughts on how this package came together and the likelihood of success at the ballot box.

(Paton) Well I think that the obviously, in the first session, you had the state in dire economic straits. They needed to make some fixes. They ended up cutting a lot. Education obviously was one of the items that they still had to deal with because of the lawsuit that was going on. They finally came to an agreement with individual school districts and educators that were suing and you essentially had a group of people come together that really normally do a lot of fighting with one another. They actually came together, and you had an interesting spectacle. I don't think I've ever seen this. You had Doug Ducey, you had Andy Biggs on his right and you had Andrew Morrill, the president of AEA, on his left, and they were both saying good things about each other and they put this item on the ballot. I think it's going to be a slam dunk to pass, and I think it also is going to put the governor in a very unique position in the next election cycle.

(Nintzel) Rodd, your thoughts on how this came together and is it a good strategy?

(McLeod) Well, first of all, I'm glad to hear Jonathan say that six years of leadership of Jan Brewer followed by the election of Doug Ducey left the state in "dire economic straits."

(Paton refers to Janet Napolitano)

(McLeod) Right. But she did it 20 years ago. So the schools need the money. I mean our schools are criminally under-funded. The teachers are paid so poorly in our state that a third of the education workforce, a third of the teachers turn over every year. So it's a real serious problem. And it’s good that the lawsuit, that the state law for underfunding school has been settled. So the governor deserves credit for having settled the lawsuit. Unfortunately, the long-term financing this plan is a little dicey. Ducey sometimes works things out that are dicey. And we've seen, you know, the conservative state treasurer says that it's not a fiscally sound funding model to take money out of the state land trust. But I agree with Jonathan. It will likely pass because the schools do desperately need the money, and then we'll go from being like the 50th worst-funded school system in the nation to about the 49th. So, we still need to have, as Andrew Morrill from the education association has said, a real debate about a serious investment in Arizona schools, and this ballot initiative is the start of that but it is by no means going to solve the problem of half of the high schools in Arizona, when you look at their graduating class five years later, actually half of our high schools, five years later have not had a single graduate go on to graduate from college.

(Nintzel) And Jonathan, what about the educators are saying, "This is a start," but it sounds like state lawmakers feel like they've resolved the problem. Do you think there'll be further debate at the legislature?

(Paton) There's always going to be further debate, but I also would say I've never heard an educator come into my office and say, or they never would say this, whether it was true or not, they would never say, "Well, we have too much money." That, no bureaucrat has ever said that to me. I don't think they've ever said that to any politician ever. So I don't know when that number, what that number will be, and you have the example of Washington, D.C. has had an enormous amount of money spent on it and has one of the worst school systems in the country, so that there isn't necessarily that nexus that Rodd is making, but I will say that probably what you're going to see on tap for next year is going to be a big discussion about higher ed and how to deal with that. They're the ones that took the biggest haircut in the last session. I think that is going to be dealt with as we start to get more of a surplus in the state.

(Nintzel) A hundred million dollars cut from higher ed in the last legislative session.

(McLeod) Well you have a constitutional problem here, because Arizona's constitution says that our public universities should be, these are the exact words, quote "as nearly free as possible." And we've seen tuition jump again and again and again because the legislature has taken money out of the funding of our three excellent state public universities. So, that's a real issue, but you know, the situation with K-12 education is dire. I mean we are in a bad situation. Our schools are not performing the way they should, and I don't think the average person's experience of sending their kid to school or knowing that the teacher is making $32,000 a year and parents have to kick in for school supplies or gosh, if the kids want to play sports after school, parents have to kick in so then, you know, poor kids where the parents don't have any money, they don't even have a sports program—those experiences are not going to change. Those situations are not going to improve just because the governor settled this lawsuit. Good that he settled the lawsuit, but let's remember, it was a lawsuit that the state lost awhile back, so he basically said, "Let's stop fighting about this in court and settle it." Good thing, but it's not enough to actually fix the problems we face.

(Nintzel) What about the concerns of the state treasurer saying Jeff DeWit saying that this does dig too deeply into the state trust. The idea of a state trust was that it would grow in perpetuity and that the interest on it would go towards improving the schools and now you're digging into the principle by almost 7% a year over the next ten years?

(Paton) I have a big trouble, I have a lot of heartburn agreeing with that because, first of all, the Andy Biggs is not exactly a spendthrift liberal that wants to draw down the state trust. He was a big supporter of this. He is actively campaigning on this. He's probably one of the most conservative people I've ever met. He put no stock whatsoever into that argument. I don't think there's a lot of merit to it. You talk to the beneficiaries of the trust, the education community, and they were unanimous in supporting this decision, As were AEA, all the alphabet super-groups that are out there have all said that this is a good plan. It may not be the best plan Neither side really likes it, which probably means it probably is the best plan that they could. come up with. You have both left and right finally agreeing on this one thing. They drew down very little out of the, in previous years because of the state of the economy in the state, so right now they're catching up with where they should have been in the previous years, so I don't think it's going to cause some cataclysmic catastrophe the way the treasurer's talking about and I don't think he has a lot of traction, and the only people that he had traction with really, the treasurer, was with the Democratic caucus, and you have the spectacle of the minority leader saying, well, you know what, I'm probably going to vote against this on the floor, but I'm going to vote for it at the ballot box. A very strange situation.

(McLeod) It's not strange at all. You know, when you're discussing what's the best plan to move forward what's the option you should have, you say, I don't think this is a good option, but if it passes and then, come May, you have a choice, yes or no, are we going to give money to our schools, people who think we need to give money to our schools say "yes.” It might not have been the way they wanted to do it back when they were discussing the full range of options ...

(Paton) ...and the other options, let's talk about the other options. The other option the Democrats came up with was essentially to raid the rainy-day fund and hope that revenues are going to increase. That is not something you can base, I mean you have a structural deficit in our state, you cannot ...

(McLeod) We have a surplus.

(Paton) that surplus is …

(McLeod) We have a surplus right now.

(Paton) and they wanted to spend every penny of it and you have to hope that money is going to continue to come in. You cannot base a system on that. In our state unlike the federal government, we can't print more money. You have to balance the budget every June 30, and you can't raise taxes without a two-thirds vote of the legislature. So, under those circumstances, the Democrats' plan was to raid the rainy-day fund and spend every penny that we have.

(McLeod) Well ...

(Paton) You cannot …

(McLeod) The Rainy Day Fund is not from the surplus. There's a surplus and a rainy day fund

(Paton) Well then they want to raid both of them.

(McLeod) This is the defining difference between our two parties. Republicans say, "Oh, we have a little extra money. Who's rich who wants tax cuts? Let's give some millionaires and billionaires and corporations some tax cuts. The Democrats say, "Let's fund our schools that the courts say we have criminally underfunded. That's a defining difference, and I don’t care what party you're in, voters know the schools are underfunded, and they want more money in the schools.

(Paton) If they know if they really believe that, then why do, why have Democrats consistently, do not occupy one single seat in statewide government in Arizona.

(McLeod) Well, because they've had two state treasurers like Dean Martin, the Republican, who said "This is a fiscally bad plan we shouldn't do it." They had a State Treasurer Jeff DeWit who said, "This is a fiscally bad plan." I mean you've got Republicans who are talking about ...

(Paton) ... The voters who have consistent voted the way they've voted despite what you're saying. So that doesn't hold water.

(Nintzel) Let me ask you this, Rodd, do you think Ducey has managed to position himself as through this plan as someone who really supports education?

(McLeod) Well, he certainly wants to appear that way, and, I mean, basically Ducey's governorship is about creating an appearance. I mean, earlier this week, the sheriffs in Arizona got together and said that his "Border Security Strike Force" is just about appearances. He's not actually spending to fund law enforcement to do the job law enforcement needs to do, he just wants to give a press conference, send out a tweet have a hashtag and be the hashtag governor and create appearances. At the end of the day, I don't think people's experience of sending their kids to underfunded schools is going to change. I don't think the educational outcome is going to change just because the governor gets to go on TV and say, "We're putting more money into schools." This settlement is necessary but it's the bare minimum, and it's less than the court said the state actually owes the school. It's a settlement of a lawsuit. Good that it got settled. It doesn't actually solve the problem.

(Paton) The answer to your question, the honest answer to the question is, yes, he is positioned, he's not going to lose his next race. The democrats are in complete disarray in the House and in the Senate in the Legislature. They did not know what to do. It puts them in an awkward position of disagreeing with the leadership of one of their biggest planks in their base, which is the education community. Like I said, the AEA, they probably spent more money than any other union on legislative races and have spent it in gubernatorial races in the past How do you tell them, how do you call Ducey the anti-education governor when they're standing shoulder to shoulder with him on this proposition. He's going to be campaigning on this throughout the next year. That's going to make it very difficult.

(McLeod) You know the AEA stood shoulder to shoulder to shoulder with Jan Brewer when she wanted to do the one-cent sales tax. Then they …

(Paton) She won as well.

(McLeod) And did they endorse her? No, they did not. And did they even interview her for endorsement? No they did not, because they know that she's not pro-education, and they're not going to …

(Paton) I don't think that Ducey would expect the AEA to go out and campaign for him ...

(McLeod) Of course he wouldn't because he's against them. And just because they agreed on this one thing doesn't mean that they're going to be able to do it the next time. And his numbers are going to flare, and he's going to be in real trouble.

(Paton) And the Democrats do not have a credible opponent to run against him, and he's not going to lose. I said that before the last election. I was right. I'm going to say it again, in this next, obviously some years in the future but, barring something cataclysmic happening in the state I don't think that's going to happen.

(McLeod) The way our schools are funded is a cataclysm every day.

(Paton) Well, and the fact is the voters—I don't believe that's true, but even if it were true, the voters don't agree with you, or at least they have not. They've chosen to send people back who don't agree with you.

(Nintzel) Do you see Ducey putting the extension of the .6-cent sales tax for education—or prop 301—on the ballot for him to run for re-election next time?

(Paton) I think that that's probably the politics that's going on next, is that, that is going, this can be conversation that's going to involve not only K-12, but also involve the universities and the community colleges. It's probably going to be one of the biggest issues. And I think they're going to come up with some kind of compromise at the end of the day. I think it will be extended. But keep in mind that when we created that in the first place, it was a very different political world, and a very different needs that the state had. I think those needs have changed. I think the universities are wanting to become more and more entrepreneurial. They are wanting more and more to do their own thing and cut ties with the state as you've seen all around the country, actually. And I think that you're going to see some of that reflected in the final outcome for the extension of 301.

(Nintzel) Your thoughts on the extension of 301 and will Doug Ducey next campaign alongside that and say that he's for more education funding.

(McLeod) I have no idea. What I hear is that he's going to try to use the extra money in the surplus fund to, you know, cut taxes for wealthy people but, again, you've seen tuition skyrocket in public universities in Arizona because the legislature hasn't done what the constitution calls for it to do and I think you're going to see a real backlash against that.

(Nintzel) Alright, now hold right there. Thank one of our underwriters and we will be right back so stay tuned.

(Nintzel) And we're back with Zona Politics with my guests Rodd McLeod, a Democratic strategist, and Jonathan Paton, a Republican strategist and former state lawmaker, and let's talk about the Congressional District 2. Martha McSally won that race, Rodd, against your candidate, Ron Barber, by 167 votes two years ago or a year and a half ago, now she's solidified herself in that district. Do the Democrats have a candidate who can take out Martha McSally.

(McLeod) Yeah, we have two strong candidates who both know how to win One is Matt Heinz, a doctor, who is a national healthcare policy leader and somebody who goes to work every day, right here in Southern Arizona. He's been taking care of people, trying to solve their medical problems without thinking about politics. The other is state lawmaker Victoria Steele, who's a respected lawmaker a woman who's hardworking, from the middle class and really understands the kind of pressure that middle-class families are under as the American dream has been you know, atrophying, and, you know, I think this race is rated toss-up because it's going to be a tight race, because it's a tough district. Five out of the last six races have been won by Democrats. McSally, as you pointed out, she won by 167 votes, which is under a tenth of a percent, you know, and she just doesn't reflect Southern Arizona. This is someone who's closest adviser is Ted Cruz's campaign manager. She has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Earlier this week, she is such a slave to the NRA that she voted against a bill to just look at the question of making sure people on the terrorism watch list can't buy guns. The NRA wants to make sure that even people on the terrorism watch list can go out and buy guns, and even Martha McSally supports the NRA on that. So, you know, on issue after issue, she's someone who's talked about privatizing Social Security. She just doesn't reflect Southern Arizona values, and I think you're going to see her in real trouble this fall.

(Nintzel) Jonathan, your thoughts on how this thing is shaping up.

(Paton) There are so many things that Rodd brought up that I need to unpack, but I'll just stick with a few. First of all, I agree with him, it's a tough district. I mean, it was gerrymandered that way. It was a great job of gerrymandering it to try to benefit Democrats. But the problem is, they don't really have a very good candidate. Neither one of the candidates that they're running are really, have ever demonstrated they can raise money. Martha McSally is a great candidate, and regardless of what Rodd said, she came close in the first race against Ron Barber, and she won in the second race for a number of reasons. One, she can raise money which is probably one of the top things you have to do in order to get elected in America today. She was probably one of the best fundraisers this state has ever seen, not just in this district but period. Secondly, she has a great biography and she's been able to everybody knows about it throughout the district. They know who she is. She doesn't have to raise her name ID. And, three, she's blessed with a paucity of real opponents. Neither one of the folks that she's running against I think will be able to raise very much money. We'll see how committed the DCCC is in money. And we'll start to see finance reports coming out for either one of these guys. I don't know that we'll see any excitement on their part. And the very fact that they're the best ones they can find, to me says a lot. Nan Walden has been sort of the go-to Mario Cuomo of CD2 for a long time. Why do they keep going back to her? Because they know she'd be a tough opponent to try to go up against Martha McSally. They can't convince her to do it, so they have two others that probably won't be able to raise the money, either.

(McLeod) Well, money, money, money, money ... if I took a shot every time you say the word money in that last answer …

(Paton) It matters!

(McLeod) I wouldn't even be able to speak right now.

(Nintzel) We've got some Whiskey del Bac on the shelf over here …

(Paton talking over both) Well, I'm not even ...

(McLeod) So here's the reality. As we've seen in five or six elections in a row, outside groups are going to spend a ton of money in this district. Most of the money is not going to be spent by a candidate campaign. And while McSally is raising a ton of money, she spent over half a million dollars last quarter. She is not a great fundraiser when you look at how much money she spends just on postage and printing for her direct-mail fundraising. It is, I mean, she raised, I think $770,000 and spent $560,000 of it in the last quarter. So, clearly we need money to win, but both sides are going to have outside groups and committees spending money here. And what it comes down to, what are these voters going to be looking at in terms of talking about the issues that matter to people, and I think on the issues whether it's a woman's right to choose, whether it's how do we get this economy working for middle-class families, I mean Martha McSally is somebody who even voted for predatory lenders staying right around the entrances to military bases, when you've had military brass all over this country say that's wrong. She is one of the biggest walk-through money recipients in Congress. She's just out of step with Southern Arizona in every way.

(Paton) and one of the things that I think is going to be a huge issue is going to be security, which is something that Rodd really didn't mention, and terrorism obviously is a concern in this country. What we've seen happening both in the United States as well as abroad, it's going to be a big issue. That's going to be always as a big issue in this district. We have, Rodd mentioned, the military district. We have in Southern Arizona Fort Huachuca, those folks, Cochise County I think is going to come out strongly for Martha. I think that the values ... He's absolutely right in one thing. I think the values and what people, the voters care about, are going to be paramount on those issues, but I think those issues favor Martha, because of her background of being in the background and the presence she has in Armed Services and elsewhere. I think she's going to be a very difficult candidate to beat. And one last thing on the spending. He is absolutely right that outside groups will spend money, but they usually only see that the candidates themselves can raise some money, that that makes them credible. That's a viability question for them. If they can't raise that money, I don' know that the DCCC will spend a lot of money on them.

(Nintzel) We're going to be talking a lot about this in the year to come, so let's move on, and I wanted to actually bring up something Jonathan you mentioned "gerrymandering" of the CD-2. And that brought up the Supreme Court decision on redistricting. They did say this year that the Independent Redistricting Commission did have the power to draw these congressional districts and that's settled law now, but there is another case going up before them regarding how they drew the state districts, and Rodd, your thoughts on what's going to happen at the Supreme Court this next year.

(McLeod) Well, I think you're going to see a similar decision where it's going to follow the settled law. We've seen three-judge panels rule on this before. Which is going to say, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act there is allowed to be some small deviation in the number of residents So, one district might have 216,000 residents, and one district might have 212,000 residents, and that is going to be okay as long as it was done in service of complying with the Voting Rights Act. And, you know, I don't think the Republicans are going to be able to make the case that they're being disenfranchised. Look, Doug Ducey got, I think, 54 percent of the vote in the election for governor. Jan Brewer got around the same. We've seen Jeff Flake get elected. In competitive statewide races we've seen Republicans get 53%, 54% 55% of the vote. And that’s less than the number of seats in both houses of the legislature, so it would appear that the way the districts are drawn reflects the broader preferences that we've seen in these statewide races, so I think Republicans are going to have a hard time making the case before the Supreme Court that, "Oh, Gosh. We only have 18 of 30 seats in the state senate. We're being disenfranchised. It's a little thin.

(Nintzel) Jonathan?

(Paton) And I, a couple of things. One, the governor has yet to make a, there's a vacancy on the Supreme Court with Rebecca Berch leaving, so that's going to be another replacement, that will possibly affect the outcome of this case.

(Nintzel) This is at the US Supreme Court.

(Paton) Well, but there's also there's, I believe, I could be wrong, but I thought there were also some things happening at the Arizona court, but maybe I'm wrong, so secondly I would say that I do agree with Rodd in that in one sense it almost doesn't matter, because I don't think even if we get more seats you're still going to have a Republican legislature and a Republican governor. But all of that was a defense on Rodd's part of a system that packs a disparate number of voters into different districts, and I don't know how he can make that somehow constitutional. Our system is predicated on one-man-one-vote. You should have equal districts throughout Arizona. That's one of the reasons why we changed our system in the past of how we sent up people from the state senate came from counties. They were considered ... that's why we violated the Voting Rights Act long ago was because of that. It was a similar issue in that case. It's going to be a similar issue now. And I don't know that it's going to make a huge difference on Arizona politics as the outcome, but I think we have a fairly decent chance of winning.

(McLeod) You know, the district is drawn based on the census data that comes out every ten years. And then life happens and people move and you know by the end of, by the time you're running in CD-8 you know, there are a lot more people living in that district and in the district next door ...

(Paton) You can regulate something from the very beginning, though. You have to at least everybody has an equal number to start out with. We have to have a baseline. You can't just say, "Well, you know ...."

(McLeod) You can vary from the baseline by a small margin in order to make sure that the other, I mean, anyway, I'm not a counselor of the law, but this is what other federal judges living with this question have ruled

(Nintzel) And we'll see where that goes. Voters may have a chance to decide whether to deregulate or decriminalize marijuana in the state of Arizona. Rodd do you think the voters will go for it?

(McLeod) I think so. I mean, I think that marijuana is going to be legalized eventually and the question is, is it going to be done under the kind of system that's been proposed here or be highly regulated in terms of who can sell it, what the license requirements are, and who can buy it, and what those requirements are, or is it going to happen more like Colorado where it's looser and more liberal and I think voters are going to realize that you know, when you have a law that lots and lots of people break, and basically doesn't get enforced, It's bad for the law. It's bad for people's respect for the law, and so passing this in a way respect for the law, and so passing this in a way that there'll be a lot of regulation and that will enhance public safety rather than having everyone just ignoring this law just like prohibition is a better way to go about it.

(Nintzel) Jonathan, we've seen it happening in other states, but Ohio went the other other way.

(Paton) And that's why I was since the beginning, a year ago I was with Rodd, that it had a good chance of passing. After I saw what happened in Ohio, I'm not as convinced of it. We do have the voters ruling in election after election on medical marijuana. I think they're satisfied at least that access is out there. It's sort of becoming a back-door way of people purchasing marijuana for other reasons. I do think there are a lot of people also look at Colorado, and they see that state as kind of like the Amsterdam of the United States, although there are other states as well, they're doing this, and they might not want that reputation to happen for our own state. But I really don't know. I don't know where the voters are going to be but I wasn't as certain after what we saw in other states.

(Nintzel) Polling has shown our state about 50-50, so both arguments left to be made by both campaigns in this state.

(McLeod) Well, it also depends on who turns out. I mean the turnout in the off year election in Ohio is a very different kind of electorate than you're going to get on a presidential election where you're going to have a lot more young people, a lot more single people, you know, the Libertarians who might not always participate in the odd-year election might not show up but this time they're going to show up. It's presidential.

(Nintzel) Will that make a difference, Jonathan?

(Paton) Definitely if you have ... that's a nice way of saying there are more Democrats that will turn out in the general election that will vote in favor of pot. I don't know if that's what that means but that's what essentially what he's saying. I don't know if that will matter or not It is a very odd issue that like I said, in previous elections, it, I think there was a sympathy factor on people who were suffering with terminal illness etc., this is a way to manage pain, and to but to now bring that into recreational use, I don't know if people will like that or not.

(Nintzel) All right. We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank both of you guys for coming in and sharing your thoughts. That is our show for this week. If you missed any part of today's episode, you can check us out at zonapolitics.com and be sure to look us up on Facebook. Big thanks to our media partners at the Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media and KXCI-FM, where you can hear the show at 5 p.m., Sunday afternoon Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.

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