Zona Politics: AZ House Speaker Gowan's Disastrous Plan To Require Background Checks for Reporters; Recreational Weed Initiative; Cruz's Plan To Snatch Trump's AZ Delegates and Much More

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On this week's lively episode of Zona Politics: Political strategists Rodd McLeod and Barrett Marson talk about Arizona House Speaker David Gowan's abandoned plan to force reporters to undergo background checks if they wanted access to the floor of the House of Representatives; Gowan's problems with the press; the Congressional District 1 race; the voting problems in the Arizona presidential primary; whether Ted Cruz will snatch Arizona's delegates from Donald Trump at the GOP convention; the recreational marijuana initiative that voters will likely decide in November; and the future of Clean Elections.


You can 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 you can listen to it at 5 p.m. Sunday on Community Radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. Or you can watch online above.

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, Rodd McLeod, a Democratic strategist who has worked for Gabby Giffords, Ron Barber and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, among others, and Barrett Marson, a former reporter who now heads up the communications Firm, Marson Media, and co-hosts the Copper Talk Podcast Thanks to both of you for being here.

(McLeod) Thank you for having us.

(Nintzel) Let's start with a story that everyone's talking about at the capitol this week. We had House Speaker David Gowan's short-lived call for background checks on reporters. Barrett, you're a former legislative reporter, you're a former House communications guy and, as a matter of full disclosure, we should mention that you are among the strategists for Pinal County Sherriff Paul Babeu, who is actually running against David Gowan in the Congressional District 1 race. All that said, what's your take on how this went down for David Gowan.

(Marson) Yeah, I just have never seen something so mismanaged. You know, there's that old adage that you never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel and while newspapers certainly have gone down in influence, almost every single newspaper in the state, Kingman Daily Miner, the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star, everybody editorialized on a what a bad decision this was, and it was short-lived. I can't imagine that they didn't see the complete nightmare that this was going to be, and to decide to still go along with it. I don’t know what the real reasoning was if you weren't going to stick to your guns on this.

(Nintzel) And, Rodd, there's a lot of speculation this was aimed at punishing Arizona Capitol Times reporter Hank Stephenson because he had written stories that had made the speaker unhappy about the speaker using state cars to drive around Congressional District 1 on his campaign effort. And receiving reimbursement for mileage even though he was using a state car. He had to pay the state back $12,000, which came out of his pocketbook. Your thoughts on this?

(McLeod) Well, I mean, it's obvious from all the reporting that's been done that Speaker Gowan's operation has had it in for Hank Stephenson for several months. Someone talked to his boss and tried to get him fired, so this was payback for a journalist doing what journalists are supposed to do, which is to ask tough questions, maybe even, sometimes, rude questions, and hold people accountable. I mean this goes back to some of the very basic ideas about what a constitutional republic and what a democracy is all about. You know, you see these conservative politicians like David Gowan talking about how much they respect the Constitution. When the rubber meets the road, they don't really respect it. They're trying to shut down reporters they don't like, who write stories they don't like. If you look at the U.S. Senate right now, they're not even going to have a vote on the Supreme Court nominee that President Obama has put forward. You know, these are processes and values laid out in the Constitution that some of our Republican office holders don't seem to have very much respect for.

(Marson) You know I think one thing it shows is, Hank is a very good reporter. As a former reporter, I know that if I wrote a great story that angered people and those people came to see my boss to try to get me fired or moved, that's a badge of honor. I think that's great. You know one thing about this they don't really deny the fact, Speaker Gowan had to repay the house $12,000, acknowledging that the story was absolutely correct, so that's tough to say, you know, "Hank is bad but he was right." And that's a bad position to be in if you're a politician trying to take your revenge out on that reporter.

(McLeod) Well I will just say that if you look at that behavior, it is becoming more and more common. You know, Trump was talking about changing the libel laws so that he could sue reporters who wrote things he didn't like. You look at what's going on in Turkey— ten years ago everyone was, like, we have a real democracy in the Middle East. Now they're backsliding, and they tried to close down press outfits on the Erdogan government, saying that, well, they pose some kind of terrorist threat. And the fact that this was the justification that Speaker Gowan used—it's pretty troubling.

(Marson) Your viewers may not be, they probably read Howie Fischer's stuff. I sat next to that guy. He can be pretty dangerous.

(Nintzel) Maybe this whole 9/11 justification was right on target. Rodd, it seems like the end result of this is just really bad publicity for the speaker. A lot of people probably didn't know his name before this, and it brought back all theses stories that Hank had written that maybe people hadn't paid that much attention to.

(McLeod) Well, look. He's in a Republican primary. It's a very busy primary. There's a lot of candidates. If he was in a threat, in a place to do well in that primary, I think Hank's story was going to be used. Barrett can probably tell you a little more about what their plans are in the Babeu campaign, but, there's a lot of ethical problems among the Republican candidates. You've got Ken Bennett who, when he was the Secretary of State, was receiving payment for sitting on a corporate board while he was serving as Secretary of State. We've got Senator Carlyle Begay, who had some residency issues when he was first appointed. Sheriff Babeu has had issues around RICO funds and a $28,000 hotel bill and, you know, I think Republican voters are going to have an interesting choice to make.

(Marson) So far, right now, the Babeu campaign is far and away pulling ahead of people like Carlyle Begay, who is just not well known south of his particular area, or his legislative district, which is on the Navajo nation. David Gowan doesn't live in the district, of course, and doesn't really cover much of the district in his legislative area. So, right now, Babeu is the one who's got to be, aside from Gary Kiene, who is self-funding mostly a pretty good size of money, he'll probably be leading in the money race. aside from self-funder Gary Kiene.

(Nintzel) And do you think this Gowan episode this last week affects the primary in one way or another, Barrett?

(Marson) So far, no. Gowan hasn't been registering much in the polls. For those that had never heard of him, they've now heard of him and only in a negative way. But not a lot of people have really heard of him in that district.

(Nintzel) It may have given him a recognition boost in some sense. Rodd, you're working for the Democrat in this race, Tom O'Halloran. What's your read on the GOP primary?

(McLeod) Well I mean, I've never worked in a GOP primary, so it's hard to say. You know, certainly, Pinal County is the smack center of that district. And there are a bunch of votes there. And I think that gives Sheriff Babeu, geographically speaking, a strong place to start. But Tom O'Halloran put out an ethics plan. He wants to tighten up the ethics in Congress. And people are pretty frustrated with Congress. And, you compare that to the other side, where we have, you know, Gary Kiene saying that cops are jack-booted thugs. We're having so many problems. We just walked through them, I mean, I think all these candidates are going to have a lot to explain. And even Sheriff Babeu, I have to say, recently, his staff told a reporter that he couldn’t cover a public meeting. So, this problem with trying to clamp down on the press, you know, Gowan's not the only one.

(Marson) It wasn't a public meeting. It was a press conference, and he wasn't there for the press conference. He was only there for a campaign thing. So they did keep him out, but they let everyone else in. But I'll say the issue for Tom O'Halloran, I think, is going to be, you know, he ran as an independent against one of the craziest members of the legislature, and there was no Democrat in the race, and he still lost to Sylvia Allen. I wonder how he'll, if he can't get Democrats and independents or Republicans to side with him, against one of the craziest members of the legislature, I'd like to know his path to victory.

(McLeod) Well, if you look that that race, we had obviously bad Democratic turnout in 2014, but he did very well in that district as compared to the Democrat running for Congress. Ann Kirkpatrick did win the district as a whole, but in the areas that overlapped with O’Halloran’s district, he did even better than she did. So Tom O'Halloran is going to do very well. He's very well-known and well-liked in that district. We're going to have a different turnout in a presidential year, and, you know we just have to reveal the fact that Sheriff Babeu is even crazier than Senator Allen.

(Marson) One thing, I don't know what kind of turnout we're going to have, yet. I mean, I think it's too early to say. If Trump is at the top of the ticket, that's one turnout. If it’s Cruz or Rubio, I mean, who knows who's going to be the top of the Republican ticket? I think it's too early to say what kind of turnout we're really going to have. I think it could really go either way.

(Nintzel) That's going to be one of the most-watched races in the country, and we'll have plenty of time to talk about it. But I want to talk about the Arizona presidential primary. Things went relatively smoothly here in Pima County. There was a problem that was statewide, when some people who updated their voter registration via the Department of Motor Vehicles discovered that they had become independents rather than Democrats or Republicans and they couldn't vote. But it was a real mess in Maricopa County. And Barrett, your wife actually wound up testifying in front of the house committee along Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, and it sounded like Purcell really made a bad call by cutting the polling places by 60 locations in Maricopa County.

(Marson) Absolutely, and she has acknowledged that from the get go. Sixty were just too little. You know they planned for about 1,500 voters per station, and, you know, the problem with averages is some get more and some get less. Well, there was a vote center on one of the Indian reservations that you have to have, and that only got 20 people. That’s 1480 people if you will, if you average that to someplace else, some places like Gilbert and South Phoenix, both white and Hispanic areas, both wealthy and poor areas, saw massive turnout, if you will, and just not enough places. She's going to fix that for the upcoming Prop 123 election. Double that number so we shouldn't see those long lines but, you know, I will say that I actually saw some of the registration forms that people of people who complained. And, like there were some people who didn't put Democrat or Republican. They put the "liberal" party. Well in Arizona, there is no "Liberal" party. I'm sure they wanted to be a Democrat, but they could have wanted to be Democrat or Libertarian, so they didn't make that judgment call at the Secretary of State's or the County Recorder's office. They just put them as an Independent because they weren't sure. So there were a couple of those cases where the people filled out the MVDA website incorrectly. Now, there were also some other issues with MVD that they're dealing with. But you know, there were some people who made honest mistakes and that, you know, prevented them from voting

(Nintzel) And, Rodd, there were people who were saying that this was rigged to help Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders, and you're on Team Hillary. Were you behind this whole plot?

(McLeod) No. Barrett was.

(Marson laughs)

(McLeod) Look. We shouldn't kid too much. This is a very serious issue. People's votes are sacred. You know, in my opinion, having more people vote in a state that Hillary won by 15 points would mean she would have done even better, particularly when you look at some of the Latino and African-American areas where she did very well, where folks had trouble voting. But there are a lot of factors that go into this problem. One, the most obvious is, they cut down the number of polling places, which was really foolish. Another problem is, as Barrett pointed out, if you go to change your address on the Service Arizona website, through Motor Vehicles, you are there. Mentally you're thinking "Oh. I'm changing my address, you're not changing your party, but you have to reaffirm that you want to be a Republican. The machine defaults to "other" or "no party member." And that means the presidential primary rolls around and you can't vote. Which is confusing in and of itself, because independents, or "no party" members, can vote in the regular primary. It's just once every four or eight years when your party has a presidential primary that you can't vote. So there are a lot of problems. The DNC has just announced that it's suing, the suit will be joined by Hillary Clinton's campaign. They just want to make sure that the state is looking very carefully to make sure that everyone's vote counts in November.

(Marson) Part of the problem for the long lines, you had independents who stood in those long lines for no good reason. You had thousands of them come out that day, and they just weren't eligible to vote, so that added to the long line, but what I think is important is Helen Purcell has been the County Recorder for a couple of decades up there. This was a bad decision on her part, but there has been no pattern of this. This isn't something that she thought would, you know, that long lines would happen. She wasn't doing that on purpose. She's trying to run the most efficient, cost-effective election that she could, and she thought, she really thought, that the 60 vote centers would be enough.

(Nintzel) Let's talk about the whole question of what's going on with theses delegates that are going off to vote at the Republican convention. It looks like Trump won Arizona but Ted Cruz has done a really terrific job of recruiting delegates to represent him, and so, if on the first round these delegates vote for Trump and there's no victor in that particular race, then on second round, does it look like Ted Cruz has a shot at taking delegates away from Trump?

(Marson) Absolutely. One thing about Ted Cruz is you know, nationwide, he's got a much better ground game than almost any candidate, but, particularly, Donald Trump. And he has hired people here in Arizona who are used to getting out the grassroots. And I'll tell you one thing, I wish I could be a delegate, because I have a feeling I'll be able to golf at Mar Lago in Florida. I'm sure there's some of them that are going to get wined and dined, especially those that aren't truly committed to, say, a Ted Cruz on the second ballot. I think between June 7, the end of the California primary and the the primary season, and the middle of July when the convention starts, you're going to see a lot of people get some serious—not gifts—but travel vouchers and some serious attention I think, from Donald Trump and other candidates to try and woo them into the fold.

(Nintzel) Rodd, this is uncharted territory. The Republican party can pick someone else entirely who hasn't even been in this race. Although don't know how many people are going to be able to accept that particular outcome. Do you think that there's going to be a convention that's going to result in a lot of hard feelings, anger and a split party?

(McLeod) Oh I think they're headed towards tears. I mean I don't think that ... the rules of these conventions are extraordinarily complicated. We haven't had a delegate fight among two candidates since anybody who's voting was a voter. I mean, it's just been decades and decades and decades and there's no way who the folks who supported Donald Trump aren't going to feel cheated, because he's going to go in there with the most delegates, and if he doesn't walk out of there with the nomination people are going to look at the list of delegates and be like, "The guy who came in first didn't get it." And then, just to give you a flavor of how complex it is, every state has different laws about when their delegates are allowed to switch on which ballot. Some states they don't even have to vote for the person they're supposed to be representing on the first ballot. Some states it's the second. Some states it's the fourth and, I mean, this is like a full employment act for Republican election lawyers. It is going to be so complicated, and it's going to get and there's so much a stake, it is going to be ugly.

(Marson) I remember back in 1932, FDR, he had a really tough convention fight. It's going to be a little like that. I remember that very well.

(McLeod) He had prohibition to throw out the window to get people back on his side, too.

(Marson) Now it's marijuana. I will say it is going to potentially be a mess. If Donald Trump doesn't get that 1237, if he gets 1235 I think it is going to be a mess. He will have a great argument to make that, "Look, you know, I've gotten the most votes, I've got the most delegates and I'm so close, but so close doesn't count.

(Nintzel) And the Republican Party establishment is going to say "He's a terrible general election candidate."

(Marson) Absolutely. They're going to. He loses substantially to Hillary in this state and that state, and you'll see something like 1972, only in the reverse all over again. The Republicans will pretty ... You'll have a lot of concerned senators and congressmen and candidates who say, "You know, that's not what we really want right now. Let's go with someone safer, someone who won't anger voters every time he tweets.”

(Nintzel) Barrett, you're the spokesman for the initiative that would allow recreational marijuana use in Arizona. This week you guys announced you've collected more than 200,000 signatures. Break down what the initiative would do and why you think it's a good idea.

(Marson) Essentially the initiative allows adults to use marijuana in their homes, in their private residences; allows for the growing of six plants per person in a house, capped at two people. And it taxes marijuana at 15 percent. Much of that money goes to education, including full-day kindergarten, an expansion of that program. We've had medical marijuana since 2010, passed by about 4,000 votes, a pretty slim margin, and here we expect we're going to be on the ballot. We collected 200,000 signatures. We need about 150,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot, so we're planning a cushion, and we'll be filing fairly soon. So it’s definitely going to be on the ballot. There are a lot of people who are excited about this. It's very easy to collect signatures for this initiative. Not every initiative can say that. We don't have to sell it too much to people. They're excited about this. Many states have now either legalized marijuana or are looking into it. We certainly have, we have a majority of states, now, that have medical marijuana programs. We're seeing marijuana not as the harmful drug that has been portrayed over the last few decades.

(Nintzel) Rodd, polling is showing this is a close race, but neither side is done a lot to make its arguments just yet.

(McLeod) Well, voters aren't really tuned into these things. It hasn't even been settled the ballot yet. My expectation is, given the kind of turnout we normally see in Arizona in a presidential year, it should do well. When medical marijuana passed in 2010, I think there were 1.7 million voters, When you're looking at 2.3 million, 2.4 million in a presidential year, I think should work out pretty good.

(Marson) And again we don't know what turnout's going to be. If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, does that anger Republicans and mobilize Democrats? Do Republicans get mobilized to defeat Hillary? You know, Bill Clinton did win this state in 1996. Does that give Hillary a boost and is Arizona in play? So I don't know that we know the turnout yet. I think that's going to depend on what we see come out of Cleveland in July.

(Nintzel) This week the Arizona Advocacy Network came out with a new initiative to reform the Clean Elections Program, try to create new disclosure rules to find out what some of these so-called "dark money" groups are. Rodd, what do you think of this effort?

(McLeod) Well, I think it's needed. The Clean Elections Act was kind of gutted in 2010 when they took out the matching funds, which were declared by a federal judge to be unconstitutional, so if they create a new constitutionally valid matching-funds provision, I think it could definitely help to make sure that Clean Elections candidates are competitive. I also think that everyone—left, right, center, up and down the ballot, whatever—voters agree that these so-called "nonprofit" corporations that exist only to run television ads in elections and don't have to report until way after the election, if ever, where their money came from, that this is just destructive, it's harmful to democracy, it's not right and that there should be just some basic honesty about who is speaking in our campaign fights and where the money's coming from.

(Marson) You know I work for Clean Elections

(Nintzel) We're talking about all your clients today.

(Marson) Yeah, absolutely. Here's their problem: It is less than three months to go until signatures are due the first week of July. They've got to get 75,000 signatures a month, almost 20,000 signatures a week. Marijuana campaign? We got about 5,000 signatures a week, pretty average. Sometimes we get that Comic-Con in and we get a little bit of a boost there. But that is a Herculean task to get 20,000 signatures per week. That is going to be very difficult, and, you know, what? Rodd may say that Democrats, Republicans independents really care about these dark money groups. I highly disagree. I don't think "dark money" is really on the minds of most Arizonans.

(Nintzel) The signature hurdle? You think they can pull that off?

(McLeod) That's a matter of allocation of resources, how many people you have doing the work. So, it's definitely do-able in two months, if you have the organization and the money. To respond to Barrett about, you know, how much people care, I'm not sure that if you say to people "Do you care about 'dark money' requirements, disclosure in campaigns,” it's the highest, most salient issue in their lives. But if you say to people "Do you think that wealthy special interests that are advertising on TV and trying to buy elections should have to say what they're spending money for?," I think you'll be in like the 80 percent agreement right there. And I think it it's in both parties.

(Nintzel) Is Clean Elections still relevant under its current status, and how do you think it's worked out in Arizona?

(McLeod) I mean I think it's been, it's been mixed. It certainly has allowed people who wouldn't have run for office to run for office, and it has increased public participation which, ultimately, I think is the best thing you could hope for, to have people really engaged and participating in democracy. I think that's been really strong. It certainly hasn't, as its backers claim, quote "gotten big money out" of politics. I mean, the same candidates that run clean elections will raise money from those same special interests into parties or independent expenditures, so there's still plenty of money washing through politics, and I think it worked pretty well, until they got rid of the matching funds, at which point it doesn't work well at all.

(Nintzel) And it does seem like fewer candidates want to use the system and both the legislature and the governor's office are working to prevent the Clean Elections Commission from looking into these "dark money" groups.

(Marson) Well, and, you know, one of the things, there are some fixes that could be made legislatively, increasing the amount of money candidates can spend things like that, but the legislature, generally, even though many of them use it, is generally against Clean Elections and actually improving the system, and so we probably do need to do it at the ballot. So, the question is, did they wait too long to try to fix it?

(Nintzel) What do you think of that campaign finance legislation that passed this year that seems to have made it more difficult for clean elections to look into those "dark money" groups.

(Marson) Well, the problem is, it hasn’t hampered Clean Elections' ability to go after those "dark money" groups because the legislature cannot do something related to Clean Elections unless it furthers the purpose and gets a three-quarters vote neither of which Senate bill 1516 does. So, their ability to continue may not be clear.

(Nintzel) We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank my guests, Rodd McLeod and Barrett Marson for coming down here to talk about politics this week. We'll be right back with some closing thoughts.

That's our show for today. Next week we'll talk with County Attorney Barbara LaWall, as well as Geoff Notkin, a former host of the Discovery Channel’s show Meteorite Men, who will fill us in on how you can go join him for a meteorite hunt next month. My thanks to our media partners at Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media and KXCI 91.3 FM, where you can hear the show at 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. If you missed any part of today's show, you can find it all our episodes at zonapolitics.com, and be sure to follow us on Facebook. I'm Jim Nintzel. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.        

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