On this week's episode of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton and Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod size up Sen. John McCain's opposition to allowing President Barack Obama to appoint a new Supreme Court justice; break down the latest in Southern Arizona's congressional races; a few bills at the Arizona Legislature; and the retirement of Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll.
Tune into the show at 8 a.m. Sunday on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. Or listen to it at 5 p.m. Sunday on KXCI community radio, 91.3 FM.
Here's a rush transcript of the show:
(Nintzel) Hello, everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we're here to talk Zona Politics. Joining me on the set today, former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton who is now a Republican strategist and lobbyist at the Arizona Legislature. And Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod, who has worked on the campaigns of Gabby Giffords and Ron Barber, among many others. Thank you both for being here.
(McLeod) Thank you.
(Paton) Good to be here.
(Nintzel) Let's talk about reaction to Justice Scalia's passing last week. John McCain now has joined those who said he would object to any Obama pick. Jonathan, right move for McCain?
(Paton) Well, I think I happen to agree with him, but I think that the real issue is going to be, I think the Democrats right now are going to be making the argument that the president, he obviously has the right to make this appointment, but at the same time the United States Senate has the right to confer and consent to whoever they think is the best person. And I think that this is probably the most important decision that would ever be made in this presidential year, and I really don't think that any of his nominees are going to make it through that process.
(Nintzel) Rodd, your thoughts?
(McLeod) Well, I just think that Republicans feel so strongly that a president in his last year of his term shouldn't nominate a justice they should amend the constitution so that, you know, in the final year of their presidency, the president stops doing that job and maybe plays a lot of golf, goes to the beach. Or is it just a naked power grab?
(Paton) He can nominate anyone he wants. The senate has to confirm them.
(McLeod) He sure can but that's not what they're saying. They're not saying, "We're going to look at who he nominates and if we disagree we're not going to support him."
(Paton) So what's the difference?
(McLeod) That would be fine, but what they're saying is, "Don't even bother, we're not nominating anybody." It's a naked power grab. It's a rejection of the majority of the American people who voted for Obama by ten million votes in 2008, and five million votes in 2012. And these are people who claim to be such big believers in the constitution, which they would wipe their butts with when it suits their political purposes.
(Paton) Here's the truth, that Rodd's clutching pearls over this whole issue and the fact is that if the roles were reversed, we'd be having a very different conversation, and here's why: This is the most important decision that we are faced with as a country. Rodd has very strong opinions on one side of that divide; I have very strong opinions on the other, and the framers knew this was going to happen. which is why we have checks.
(McLeod) But we won the presidency
(Paton) … And we won the United States Senate. We still have the ability to advise and consent, if we want to.
(McLeod) Okay but I mean if people want to. There's no way to compel the United States Senate to confirm a nominee they don't agree with. But they don't know if they agree with it because they haven't seen the nominee, yet, and the fact that they decided, I mean, here's the real question: If Obama shouldn't even nominate someone, why should senators up for reelection in 2016 even have a vote. Why should Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey and Kelly Ayotte? John McCain ... shouldn't go to Washington to get a vote. If he doesn't think the president should do his job in his last year, why should McCain? Take the year off.
(Paton) This is really what this all boils down to, is, how many senators are Republicans going to lose in order to prevent another Elena Kagan from getting on the bench. And that's really what it all boils down to, and my answer to that is probably zero. The voters really don't care about this as an issue. We care about it. We're passionate about it. The voters really don't care that much about it, but it is the most fundamentally important issue, and to say that "Oh, well. There shouldn't be any politics involved in it.” There's absolutely going to be politics involved in it. If this were somebody that was going to change the balance of Roe vs. Wade, I'm sure Rodd would have a very different opinion about it. The fact that he happens to be the beneficiary if the person wins that it's somebody he's going to like he's going to have a different attitude. This is the most significant appointment that the president will make, and it is well within the rights of the United States Senate, to say, “You know what? We don't like that choice; we're not going to choose it.”
(Nintzel) Should they being saying that without even knowing what the choice is?
(Paton) Do you really think that he’ll replace somebody who is Justice Scalia that is anywhere near has the same philosophical bent that Scalia did? And the answer is "no". That's not going to happen.
(Nintzel) But why is that the obligation: Replacing with somebody of Scalia's ...
(Paton) Because voters chose these senators for a philosophical reason, just like voters chose Obama for a philosophical reason. You didn’t vote for Obama because you opposed Roe vs. Wade. You voted for him because you supported it. And the opposite is true with these folks that are in the United States Senate That's the way the process is designed, so I made ....
(talking over each other)
(McLeod) If it's smash mouth football, and that's the way Republicans want to go, and they should say it, and stop pretending it's about the constitution.
(Paton) Well, I think the Democrats should stop pretending they would not be in this doing the same thing, because that's exactly what they did. Look, Chuck Schumer's position was, "We should not confirm someone with extremist views from this extremist president,” referring to President Bush at the time, “in the last year of his term.”
(Nintzel) Right, but he didn't say we wouldn't confirm anybody and that's ...
(Paton) So what? The crux is still the same.
(McLeod) (unintell) Your party's not saying …(unintell) You're saying "We don't even want to hear the president's name. It doesn't matter who it is, they're not getting a vote.”
(Paton) Are you telling me that, what's the difference? If the person doesn't get voted for, what is the difference?
(McLeod) Here's the difference. You've got a bunch, here's the difference. Mark Kirk, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Johnson, Ayotte, a bunch of Republican senators who are up for reelection this year, and are terrified of losing. are going to vote "yes" on a qualified nominee who's in the judicial mainstream, even if they disagree with that philosophy, just like many democrats voted for Republican nominees they didn't .... agree with.
(Nintzel) We'll see how this all plays out.
(Nintzel) I want to know about what are your thoughts on, speaking of consequences, how does Scalia's death affect the cases coming up on the Supreme Court? I'll ask you each to pick one and what you think about how would they get passed.
(McLeod) Well, I would say the I'm going to answer the Friedrich case or Friedrichson, I'm sorry, it's the case about whether or not public employee unions can collect dues from people for whom they bargain for their salary and their benefits, but aren't members of the union. And I think there was in the labor union movement there was a little concern that we were going to lose that case, and I think, now probably it does not get decided, and it just gets referred back to the previous lower-court decision, which is a non-binding precedent, so it's good news for the union movement that the court's constitution has changed.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, how about you. A case that you think is going to be important.
(Paton) It's hard to pick any one. The one that Rodd just mentioned is certainly a huge case. There's EPA cases, there's other ones. I think the one that it's not going to affect, that will be interesting to see what happens with, is the Fisher case, because, Elena Kagan has to recuse herself. She was Solicitor General when that case was going through the first time, so she won't be able to be a part of that decision, so that actually might be decided in a conservative majority vote, but the other ones are all important. It's hard to pick one that is more significant than the others.
(Nintzel) Let's swing back to McCain. Is he concerned about the challenge from Kelli Ward in that Republican primary?
(Paton) You know when you look at all of the incumbents that have received primaries and you divide them up between those who won and those who lost. The ones who lost all kind of share a few traits, and one of the traits is, they didn't take their opponents seriously. I don't think you can say in this case that he doesn't take his opponent seriously. I think he's been pretty aggressive doing fundraising, doing appearances at events, that kind of thing and I think that now that David Schweikert is definitively said he's not going to run for the second time, I don't think that he has as much to worry about, but I do think he takes it pretty seriously.
(Nintzel) I saw Kelli Ward in action here in Tucson last year. Charismatic, she's lively on the stump, but she has raised, I think, she had about a quarter million dollars at the end of the year, so, not a whole lot of money to challenge John McCain.
(McLeod) Right. Well the I mean the X Factor in these situations is always, "What do the outside groups do?" And we know that there are real forces within the Republican party nationally, and here in Arizona, that don't like Senator McCain because of his support for immigration reform, because of his report for common sense gun reform, you know, because sometimes he talks like a reasonable conservative, and other times he talks like what he would call a wacko bird. Like he recently came out against having a supreme court justice nominated by the president So clearly that's an example of him dealing with the challenge coming from the right, and his fear of, less Kelli Ward, than the Republican primary voters, themselves, a number of whom don't like him and so, like Jonathan said, he's worried about them.
(Paton) Well, here's a couple of other factors that may be a difference in this race. One is there's a third candidate as well. And so did we. ...Alex Meluskey who's running in that race. That further stratifies that field to a certain extent. The fact is, that there is precedent for this, in 2010, J.D. Hayworth and his race. A third person took a lot of votes away. As far as the third-party groups, my guess is that the whole reason Schweikert made that decision, in fact he was pretty blunt about it, was that they're not going to be spending a lot of money in this race. So, I think that with those factors, I think if he still is focused on the race, that's probably to his benefit, but I don't know that the reasons for him to worry have left him considerably since, probably, the last over the last two months.
(Nintzel) and what about Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democratic Congresswoman who's challenging John McCain this year, Rodd?
(McLeod) I think she's got a great shot. I mean, first of all, she's well-known, well-liked across the state, in her advertisements she's had to, in her congressional race, she's had to advertise in the Phoenix and Tucson media markets, so most of the voters have seen her. They have a comfort level with her and a familiarity. Recent polling shows that the race is close. There are a lot of voters on the Republican side who might not vote for McCain. If Trump is the nominee and you have a situation where Trump has been so critical of McCain, you know, you'll have cross-currents and, you know, someone who's been focused on Arizona instead of focused on Washington, D.C., will be just what the doctor ordered. I can see Ann Kirkpatrick because she's steady and strong, and not flopping all over the place. I could see Kirkpatrick being a much stronger candidate come November.
(Nintzel) And Jonathan, you ran against Ann Kirkpatrick for Congress, so you know ....
(Paton) I know she could beat Jonathan Paton. I don't know if necessarily she can beat John McCain in a general election. And I think that the problems that she's going to have are, first of all, national security. This is probably going to be a bigger issue in this election cycle than it was four years ago. I think that she's going to have to deal with that as a major issue in this presidential cycle. There's a lot of baggage that she's going to have to contend with from the current administration. That's one of John McCain's strong suits. If this comes down to it, I think that's going to be probably a significant issue. The other issue is that a lot of the other issues that have brought down Democrats statewide in the past. Obamacare, she certainly supported that. There are a lot of things that she's going to have to deal with. Yeah, it's close, but I still think at the end of the day, she's going to go the way .... There is not currently a statewide-elected Democrat in Arizona, and there's a reason for that. And I don't think those reasons have changed. I think they're only going to get worse. I will agree with Rodd that the presidential election does shape these races, but it is such a crazy election cycle, that it is very difficult for either one of us to predict what's going to happen with that.
(Nintzel) And what about this empty seat that Ann Kirkpatrick is leaving? Rodd, you're working on Tom O’Halloran’s campaign. The DCCC announced that he is one of the candidates that they are going to be supporting as they release their maps of targeted districts. I guess he's feeling pretty good about that support.
(McLeod) Absolutely. I mean, you know, Tom's been in Arizona for 25 years. So, somewhat in the background as a Republican who worked bipartisanly in our legislature to pass all-day kindergarten, to reform Child Protective Services, to keep taxes low. He worked as a police officer and homicide detective in Chicago. He's just a great fit for a district, people who are really focused on you know, government to stop the bickering and just get the job done. And I think he really contrasts with, really contrasts well with the kind of ethical apocalypse happening in the other side, where you've got one candidate is covering up for child-abuse and sending out political mailers from the sheriff’s office with public money. The other candidate's a Speaker of the House who's campaigning in a state car. Hired his friend to be the sergeant at arms. I mean I think you have a pretty strong contrast there, just on ethics alone, irrespective of partisanship.
(Nintzel) Jonathan that is the district you ran in before and it does seem like that's a big six-way pile-up going on the Republican side right now.
(Paton) Well, there's quite a few more candidates than what Rodd mentioned. The thing is that this is what we know about that district. The Republican primary, I can tell you, Southern Arizona drives the numbers as far as where Republican voters, primary voters are. So Marana, Oro Valley, SaddleBrooke those areas are going to be significant in determining who wins that primary. The general election, obviously, moves further east and north as a rule. So, if I were one of those candidates, and there's a scrum of them, six of them or so, or more, there are more piling in every other day, it's hard for me to tell you who I think is a) going to emerge, and, b) is going to be challenging Tom O'Halleran. I've got to give credit to the Democrats for having only really one candidate emerging, but, I think the reason we have so many is that it is a very winnable race. This is probably going to be considered one of the top pickups for both of the national Congressional organizations the DCCC and the NRCC, so I think that's going to be a very competitive race, depending on who comes out of that primary. Ken Bennett, Secretary of State, elected statewide in rural Arizona, for example, if he emerges, any one of these guys, it makes it interesting.
(Nintzel) Alright, we're going to have to leave it there. Stay tuned. We'll be right back.
And we're back with Zona Politics. My guests today are Republican strategist Jonathan Paton, and Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod. Let's talk about Congressional District 2. Grijalva. This week Congressman Raul Grijalva endorses Victoria Steele, and that primary between Victoria Steele and Matt Heinz, in the Democratic race to see who will take on Martha McSally in Congressional District 2. Is it a big boost for her, Rodd?
(McLeod) I would say so. He's a very popular figure with the Democratic primary voters in that district, and because of redistricting, you know, there are some precincts where our folks haven't voted for him for years and the line moved, so, I think it does help her. Now, Matt Heinz, Dr. Matt Heinz has really outraised her as a matter of fund raising so I think he's going to have more money to communicate his message but, she's really well-liked in her district, which is a big chunk of the, I think more than half of the primary vote is, you know, Democrats who live in her district and have been represented by her for a few years, so, you know, you'll see a primary there.
(Nintzel) And what do you think of that Grijalva endorsement?
(Paton) I think I've noticed that I never saw that as a prominent feature in a Giffords or Ron Barber campaign, for a good reason, that he is distinctly unpopular in CD 2 and in the general election so, I think that these folks are kind of fighting over who's going to lose to Martha McSally in November, and it really isn't going to help them in the general election. If it did, I think we would have seen it from some of the more able campaigns that Rodd managed, actually. You would have seen it as a prominent role. And we don't see it in this campaign. You won't see it used in the general election, but I think that taints whoever that person is in the general.
(Nintzel) And Rodd, the DCCC did leave this race off the map of targeted districts after saying that they thought Martha McSally was one of the most vulnerable new freshmen in the house.
(McLeod) This is a conspiracy to make me look old, but ten years ago Gabby Giffords announced for Congress this month. I mean the kickoff, and I think that Congressman Grijalva spoke at that kickoff as I remember. And, you know, ten years ago, Gabby Giffords wasn't named to the DCCC’s list of targeted districts. We got the letter in the mail from Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emmanuel in March, and we hit the fundraising numbers, but we didn't get in because there was a primary. So, you know, sometimes they wait. It's very early. I'd just remind you this is a district where Barack Obama, who people would say is not popular in Arizona, 48.2 percent of the vote in 2012. This is going to be a tough district. I mean, he lost by 9 points statewide; he lost by 1.3 or 1.4 points. A Democrat is going to get 47 or 48 percent for starters in this district. Let's see what happens as it goes on. And Martha McSally is someone who voted to defund Planned Parenthood. She's broken campaign finance law, repeatedly. She's someone who's going to have a real, she's going to need all that money she's been raising because she's going to have a lot of things to explain to the voters.
(Paton) And how much money had you raised at this point?
(McLeod) Well, I mean you know, a lot.
(Paton) You've got somebody who's got you know, has $40,000 on hand, or something, or raised that in this last quarter. The fact is this is sort of going to be a repeat of those Kolbe elections that we saw. There's a whole series of people, we can't remember what their names were, that ran in those races against him, and proven to be a formidable candidate, and she's going to win the general election. That's why they were not able to attract top tier talent to run in this district. That's why they've struggled with their fundraising and that's kind of, at the end of the day, it's a fait accompli for anybody who makes it out of that primary.
(McLeod) If it really was so easy, Martha McSally would not be able to raise the money she's raising, because people would say, "Oh, you're not in trouble." They know she's in danger.
(Paton) She just works really hard. There's no doubt about it.
(McLeod) She does.
(Paton) I think she just can't ....
(McLeod) She does work really hard, but Heinz has raised half a million bucks. That's not nothing. It's certainly more than Gabby had raised in her first cycle. As of whatever day it is, February 20th. So ....
(Paton) So who do you predict coming out of that primary?
(McLeod) I mean, I'm not going to put my thumb on the scale, but this is one of the closest districts in the country ...
(Paton) I will agree.
(McLeod) It's very competitive. Martha McSally is out of step with the voters of the district on some really big issues. Is she going to endorse Mr. Trump and come out for torture and ...? I mean she doesn't even, she's to the right of Trump on Planned Parenthood. Let's see what happens.
(Paton) She can talk about helping save the A-10, which is a big deal in this community. As I said, national security is going to be a big issue in this election. She's in charge, now, of an important subcommittee dealing with a lot of this stuff. I think that she's going to win handily.
(Nintzel) Let's talk about the presidential race in Arizona, because I want to remind viewers that if you want to vote in that election, you have to be registered with the Republican or the Democratic party by Monday, so tomorrow is the day to get registered if you're watching this on TV on Sunday. But let's talk about where things are at with this race in Arizona on the Republican side, Jonathan. We haven't had much polling but do you have any sense of who's got a real campaign going on, and do they need a real campaign? Early voting starts next week.
I think that when you look at it, I don't think it's much different than what we were talking about in some other races in some other areas like South Carolina. I think it's still going to be Trump is ahead. I don't know that he has much of an organization. He's got the state treasurer, but I don't know that there's, I don't think there are people out there knocking on doors that I've seen for Trump. I live in Scottsdale and I don't have, you know, door hangers on my door to indicate that there's something like that. I think Cruz probably has the best organization. Rubio's been to the state a few times for fundraising, and there was certainly a group of folks that's growing on his front, a lot of defectors from the Bush campaign as it begins to implode. So what that emerges, I still think at the moment, whether I like this or not, I think it's still, at the moment in our state, I would guess, it's Trump, Cruz, Rubio in that order.
(McLeod) I have to say with the Bush campaign began to implode about a year ago.
(Paton) I agree with him on that.
(McLeod) On our side, I think it's going to be tight. I think Hillary will probably win and I think she will become the nominee.
(Paton) That's an incredible statement in and of itself, I mean the fact is, things are crazy on the Republican side. I think it's also fascinating that it could even possibly close on the Democratic side. And I think that just shows you how fluid this election cycle is going to be.
(Nintzel) And South Carolina will be going to the polls this weekend. We're taping on Thursday. The show will air on Sunday. Your thoughts who's going to win in South Carolina.
(Paton) Well Rodd and I talked about it. There's actually something we agree on. I think it's going to go Trump, Cruz, Rubio, in that order, and ....
(McLeod) I would totally agree. And I think, you know, the question will be, "Does Bush stay in?" to Florida, because, boy, what an embarrassment for his family, for him personally when the former governor of Florida comes in fourth or fifth in his home state. God. It's going to be a sad day at the Bush Headquarters.
(Nintzel) Let's talk a minute about what's going on at the Arizona legislature. The state lawmakers there are moving to declare that the Obama administration's executive actions on guns are unenforceable in Arizona. This mostly involves the move to require more background checks on private sales at gun shows. Do you think, what do you think of this?
(McLeod) I thought Clint Bolick was named to the Supreme Court, that was going to be the signal for the legislature to stop creating work for lawyers by passing laws that would have to go to court to be struck down. Apparently I was wrong about that. This is just, you know, another ridiculous, crazy idea that, you know, the constitution doesn't matter, and Arizona is a, you know, a free sovereign nation floating out in the Pacific Ocean that can do whatever it wants, irrespective of what Federal law says.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, your thoughts?
(Paton) Well, we're not floating anywhere, at least until the big one hits. We're still part of the United States but I do think that, and this goes back to the Kirkpatrick race and the race for CD-1, the state has an interesting history with this. Prop. 122 passed, but it failed in Pima County. It failed in Maricopa County, and won big in rural Arizona.
(Nintzel) This is a proposition that you worked on.
(Nintzel) That basically said that the state's voters or the legislature could refuse to participate in anything they feel is unconstitutional.
(Paton) They could refuse to participate in spending money or resources on certain federal actions. And I think that sentiment is very strong in rural in Arizona. It's not as strong here in Pima County, It's not as strong in Maricopa County but it's certainly strong in rural Arizona and some of these cases that we're talking about at circuit, the EPA cases, the Navajo generating station—all those are potent issues in the state, because there definitely is, and this is true among a lot of different groups, whether it's Republicans or Democrats or Native Americans, there's a big anger at the Federal government and using its powers to tell Arizonans what to do, and I think that in rural Arizona, this is going to be a potent issue in all of these races. I don't know that these actions are going to go anywhere, if they're going to be signed or even make it through the process, but I will tell you, that is a potent issue in Arizona. That election was the first of its kind in which you see the major counties rejecting a measure then winning anyway, because of rural Arizona.
(Nintzel) Speaking of guns, I did a piece in the cover story a couple of weeks ago about a legislation that's been uh sponsored by Congresswoman McSally, and it basically would, it has to do with mental health and improving mental health treatment but it also has an element in it about background checks on guns, and Rodd Gabby and Mark's group, Americans for responsible solutions with you have worked with said that this legislation is going to make it easier for people with mental health problems to have their rights restored to carry firearms and Team McSally says, "No. That's not part of the legislation." Your thoughts? on what's going on?
(McLeod) Well, I mean, it absolutely is part of their legislation. It means that someone who has been institutionalized for severe mental illness and lost their right to go out and buy a gun, gets their rights back automatically and doesn't have to petition a judge. So, I mean, I don't know why you would want someone who has been judged by three medical personnel to be a danger to themselves or others to be able to go buy a gun, but just another thing Martha McSally will have to explain to the voters why she supports that. Obviously the reason why is that the corporate gun lobby told her what to do, and she saluted smartly, because that's what she does when rich people tell her what to do, but um, I just don't think it puts her in the mainstream of anywhere in America.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, your thoughts on this one.
(Paton) I haven't read the story, so I don't know, unfortunately.
(Nintzel) You're breaking my heart.
(Paton) I'm breaking your heart. I do want to take issue with what Rob said about the corporate gun lobby. Really, the NRA is probably the largest grassroots organization in the country, and, um, there's not a lot of rich people that are the ones. It's not about money, that, the reason that organization is so powerful it is that they are well-organized, and there's a lot of them, and they vote. That's just a constant. You can say that about, I can agree with you on fossil fuels. The fossil fuel lobby or these other groups. There's a lot of money that pours into this. I don't think it's the same thing with this group. There is a grassroots people that vote on those issues.
(McLeod) But they don't come up with the $200 million a year, do they?
(Nintzel) Less than a minute left and I wanted to get to Ray Carroll's deciding to step down from the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Jonathan, you've known Ray for many years. Your thoughts on his departure?
(Paton) He's a good friend of mine. He's been in office for an awfully long time. I wish him well. I'm not sure what his next step is going to be. The race to replace him is going to be interesting. It's going to, it seems like it's shaping up to be sort of a Tea Party vs. Establishment kind of a battle and I'm fascinated to see how that's going to turn out.
(Nintzel) That's the last word on that. Sorry, Rodd, but we are out of time. Thanks for watching today Next week we'll be talking with Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik and if you missed any part of today's program you can tune in on zonapolitics.com or catch up with us on Facebook. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.