On this week's episode of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: Meteorite hunter Geoff Notkin, the former host of the Discover Channel's Meteorite Men, talks about his longtime fascination with space rocks and his upcoming meteorite-hunting boot camp; County Attorney Barbara LaWall tells us why she wants a sixth term as Pima County's top prosecutor; and Democrat Courtney Frogge explains why she wants to represent Tucson in the Arizona House of Representatives.
You can watch the show Sunday morning on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. You can also listen to it at 5 p.m. Sunday on Community Radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. Or you can watch it online by just clicking play above.
Here's a rush transcript of the show:
(Nintzel) Hello, everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, your host for Zona Politics. Today, we'll be talking with County Attorney Barbara LaWall, as well as Courtney Frogge, a candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives. But we begin with Geoff Notkin, the former co-host of the Discover Channel's Meteorite Men series and one of the world's foremost, and most entertaining, experts on meteorites. Mr. Notkin makes his home here in Tucson, and will be hosting a three-day boot camp to teach you how to hunt for meteorites, May 1 through 3. Geoff, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Notkin) Thank you! What a fantastic intro!
(Nintzel) So, what got you interested in these space rocks.
(Notkin) It's been a Lifelong fascination, Jim, and I became interested as a very little boy in all things scientific, but particularly astronomy, and anything to do with rock-hounding. So as a little boy growing up in Southern England, I was always out in the quarries and the forests looking for rocks and fossils. And then, my dad was an amateur astronomer. He had his head in the stars. He would wake me up in the middle of the night "Geoffrey, look through this telescope. You can see alien worlds!" And I was dazzled by this concept, that a little boy in England could see bodies in outer space. And then when my parents took me to the geological museum in London as a kid, and I saw meteorites for the first time, that's when it all hit me, and I thought, "Well, these are rocks from outer space!" That's science-fiction, and astronomy and rockhounding and everything cool wrapped up into one. So I was bitten very young by the meteorite bug, and it never let go.
(Nintzel) Tell us about this meteorite right here on our table.
(Notkin) With pleasure. This rather strange looking rock is called Old Camp Wash and it is the most recent meteorite to be discovered here in our home state of Arizona. For me, adopted home state, happily. This is a classic find story. It was found by a rancher. He was out driving around on his property Putting (around) on his ATV, and he was a regular viewer of my Discovery show, Meteorite Men, and he saw this big strange ugly colored rock. He goes, "Hmm. That looks interesting. I'm going to pick that up." So he put it on the ATV, took it home, called us, sent us a little piece, and to the practiced eye, it is most definitely a meteorite. So we went back to the location. We then found some more pieces. This is a smaller piece that's been sectioned to show its interior. And it then went through the rather intricate process of being classified and named by an academic body. So the naming and classification of meteorites is a very precise science, and it has to be done a certain way and it's always a thrill for us, when something that we have found or recognize becomes part of the permanent scientific literature on meteorites.
(Nintzel) And you found your first meteorite here in Arizona.
(Notkin) I did. It's just part of my lifelong love affair with Arizona. That probably just really cemented it.
(Nintzel) How old were you?
(Notkin) I, well, this would have been it was about 22 years ago, so oh we're now giving away my age. I would have been in my early 30s.
(Nintzel) And what brought you out here to look for one?
(Notkin) I've always loved Arizona. I first visited Tucson when I was a kid when I was ten years old, on one of my parents' wacky adventure holidays. We were travelling across the states by car, and let me tell you that growing up in London in the late '60s and early '70s, gray, rainy old London, much as I love it, and then visiting Arizona in the summer, it was such an eye-opener for a little boy who loved adventure. And I was smitten with Arizona at age ten. I never recovered from that. So, in my 30s, I started making trips out here. It's a great area for meteorite hunting. There are old surfaces. Meteorites contain iron, so we might sort of look for the dry areas where they won't decompose. And I went on a mission, and I said, "Geoff, enough's enough! You've been fascinated by meteorites since you were a kid. You're going out to the desert. There'll be no coming home until you find one. And I found one on my first expedition and said, "Well that was easy." It was a complete fluke. I really didn't know what I was doing, then. And it took me two years to find my second one. So that gives an indication of the difficulty.
(Nintzel) And how do we tell the difference between a terrestrial rock and a space rock?
(Notkin) Just ask me.
(Nintzel) So you'll fill in? You'll let us know?
(Notkin) We do assist finders with identification, and we can help register and the classification process, but, seriously, the easy answer would be, look at this piece. This is an iron meteorite. This was once part of the molten core of a large asteroid. It is extremely dense and heavy for its size. And meteorites are typically dark in color. Their surface is burned. They flew through the atmosphere. They will almost always adhere strongly to a magnet, and they're often melted into fantastical shapes. And, I don't know if that's, is that maybe a goat's head there? Or is it a fish? I'm an arts guy, too, so I'm always looking at them for the zoographic angle going no, that one looks like a dog. I actually think it's an owl. There's two eyes there
(Nintzel) There you go.
(Notkin) I could do that all day.
(Nintzel) You're doing a meteorite-hunting boot camp. It starts next weekend. What can we look forward to?
(Notkin) I'm excited! I've been doing this for such a long time and for many years on television, that we have been contacted by thousands or tens of thousands of people who said, "Well, I saw the show or I read one of Geoff's books. I want to learn how to look for meteorites. How do I do that? So, instead of trying to explain it to people one at a time, which would take the rest of my life, I wrote the book. My first book was called Meteor Hunting: How to Find Treasures From Space, which is the nuts and bolts. And that's good. That helps, but I really wanted people to have the one-on-one experience, especially people who watch the show, and have enjoyed our work hunting meteorites, to go out and do it for themselves So we're meteoritebootcamp.com. This is our second camp here, in Arizona, and don't think intense, you know, fitness-training camp. Think adventure, military-style expedition into the wild. And we provide metal detectors, all the equipment, expert training. We're partnered with Minelab, a very prominent and high-tech metal-detector company, so they send an expert out to work with us and our attendees, and it's three days, all-inclusive at the beautiful White Stallion Ranch, northwest of town, which in itself is a very famous building location. I'm so confident that this will be a success, I guarantee all participants will find something, or I will stay out there with them until they do, and, they get to keep what they find.
(Nintzel) Then you've salted the ground with some meteorite samples.
(Notkin) It is exactly the type of place where we would expect to find meteorites, and if I was to take a team of trainees out to a natural site the chances of everyone finding something are virtually zero. But I want people to learn how to do it. It's not so much about finding a meteorite that we have placed in a natural environment as it is teaching the participants all these very arcane skills that they will then be able to take with them for the rest of their lives on their own expeditions. So, there are hundreds of meteorites out there that we put in place.
(Nintzel) And we actually have a promo you brought with you so let's take a look at that.
(Subtitled film-clip runs)
(Nintzel) And that looks like a lots of fun
(Notkin) Are you going to come out and join us? Come On!
(Nintzel) I want to come out and join you. It's a meteoritecamp.com if folks are interested in finding out how come and join the two of us.
(Nintzel) on our meteorite ...
(Notkin) We're based here in Tucson, of course, and interested parties are also welcome to call us at 888-sky-roxx s-k-y-r-o-x-x, and we actually have a few places left. So, there are some very good discounts for locals as well as special deals, because we're local.
(Nintzel) And how did you end up with a TV show hunting meteorites?
(Notkin) Gosh, that's a tale. I started chronicling my adventures as a science writer. And stories about my expeditions around the world were published in many magazines, and I did a lot of interviews for newspapers, and I did a few guest spots on PBS for BBC about meteorites and astronomy, and these got on the radar of a brilliant producer named Ruth Rivin, who was looking to develop new adventure shows. She was with a production company in L.A., and she called me and said, "You guys have come up on my radar a few times and would you be interested in in doing a show about your work?" So, in other words this is absolutely not your typical television story in which people go "Oh! I want to be on TV. How do I do that?" And they work towards it. We're just you know, at the old cracking rocks with sledge hammers and then television calls and goes "We want to film that." I'm simplifying, but, really it was because we had a bit of a following and we had some experience on television and a lot of stories, and I was delighted, and my one caveat which they agreed to enthusiastically, was that the show be real. And I said, I don't want to plant anything. I don't want any fake drama because the people who've watched meteorite men are smart. They know their topic, they know astronomy, they know rocks, and I didn't ever want people to watch the show and go "Oh, that's so fake." So we kept it as real and energetic and funny as we possibly could, and it's still airing around the world.
(Nintzel) A terrific program, and it's still airing around the world. Thank you so much for coming in and joining us here on Zona Politics. Our next guest is Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. Ms. LaWall was first elected county attorney in 1996 and is seeking her sixth term as Pima County's top prosecutor. Barbara, Welcome to Zona Politics.
(LaWall) Well thank you, Jim. Appreciate it.
(Nintzel) You've been doing this 20 years, now. What made you want to be county attorney in 1996, and why do you want another term?
(LaWall) Well, I ran originally in 1996 because I'd been in the office for 20 years before that. My boss had retired and I had a vision for how I wanted the office to be a little bit different than what we had been doing, so in addition to the tough prosecution that we've always done, I wanted to engage the community and forge relationships with neighborhoods and schools and businesses and do more community outreach where the prosecutor's office could intervene in the lives of young people to prevent them from becoming the next generation of offenders that I'd have to prosecute as an adult, and to do some innovative and creative things to fight and prevent crime. And I think I've been very successful in doing that.
(Nintzel) And why you want another term?
(LaWall) Well, I am not done. I am still very much engaged in this office. It is my calling and my passion. I love what I do. I am not ready to retire, and I have a few more ideas that I'd like to bring to the office, and I'm ready to keep on going.
(Nintzel) And you do have a Democratic opponent in this race. That's Joel Feinman. He's a former public defender who says the county needs to shift its priorities away from drug crimes, get tougher on violent criminals. How do you plead to those charges?
(LaWall) Not guilty. I'm going to tell you. We are already doing that, so ... I don't know where he's coming from when he says that. So I just recently looked at the statistics for our drug possession offenses. We file approximately 1,000 of those a year. Half of those folks go into drug court. And then we have a multitude number of other diversion programs, including one that takes drug offenders who are headed to prison and gives them the opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation. So, we're doing that and I'm very proud of the efforts that we have made and the success that we have had in that arena.
(Nintzel) Pima County has historically had a higher trial rate than other counties in Arizona. The rate has come down significantly since you took over the office 20 years ago, but you're still taking more cases to trial on a percentage basis than other counties in Arizona. Critics have said that increases the cost of justice, because trials are expensive. Your thoughts on their criticism.
(LaWall) Well, I'm going to go back and answer the second part of the question before first of all, because 65 percent of our trials are violent offenders. These are people who have committed armed robbery, sexual assault homicide, child-predators, people who are molesting our children, felony drunk drivers ... these are the people that we're targeting for trial. And, yes, I'm very proud of the fact that I have a high trial rate, about 6 percent, but that means that 94 percent of our cases end up in a disposition other than a trial. They either plead guilty, or they go into a diversion program or are not trial-related, so I'm very proud of the fact that we do take so many cases to trial, because they get a full measure of the sentence that's available for the offense that they have committed. And there's nothing wrong with that.
(Nintzel) Except the concerns about the expenses.
(LaWall) Well, there is no real additional expense. Every once in awhile you're going to get a very high profile case like the Gary Triano bombing that occurred that is more expensive than the ordinary case, but, you know, the judges, the defense attorneys, the prosecutors, we're all on salary. We're getting paid regardless of whether we plead a case or we try a case. The court reporters are there, so taking a case to trial, the ordinary, average case that's not high-profile expensive, doesn't really add to the criminal justice system. What drives the cost of the criminal justice system is not the trial rate, it is the number of defendants who are arrested, because every defendant has to have his or her own appointed attorney if they're indigent, and a significant number of the defendants are charged are, in fact, indigent. They get their own attorneys at taxpayer expense, and that drives the cost. More and more people have gotten arrested every year.
(Nintzel) You mentioned earlier one of the programs you're proud of is a program that diverts drug offenders from going to prison, and instead gets them into treatment I think you've had about a 70 percent success rate with that. Talk a little bit about that.
(LaWall) Well this is a far-reaching, unique program, Jim that is being done only in one other jurisdiction in the United States—Brooklyn. We take individuals who are headed to prison because of their prison record, who are not violent, not sex offenders, and they have substance abuse, addiction problems, and we give them the opportunity for treatment instead of going into prison. It saves lives. It saves money, it reduces crime. It costs $9,000 for three years to put an individual into our treatment program versus $30,000 for a bed at the state prison. And seven out of ten individuals, over the course of this program have stayed drug free, clean and sober, they get their families back, they're tax-paying citizens. I consider this program a remarkable success.
(Nintzel) We have about a minute left, but I am wondering, what are your thoughts about private prisons in Arizona?
(LaWall) I despise private prisons. I do not believe that incarceration should be a for-profit venture. It is a government function, and it should remain in the government, because a private prison is concerned about the bottom line, and they're concerned about making profits, so they cut corners and if we continue to expand private prisons, there is a push by our state government to include more and more people in prisons rather than programs like I just talked about, which diverts them from prison, and gets them back into society, because eventually almost everyone comes out of prison, and so what we need to make sure is that when people come out of prison they're prepared to be productive citizens and continue to give back to our community.
(Nintzel) All right We have to leave it there, but I thank you very much for coming down and joining us here on Zona Politics Good luck with your campaign. Barbara La Wall, the Pima County Attorney. And we will be right back with Courtney Frogge, a candidate for the Arizona Legislature.
Joining me now is Democrat Courtney Frogge, who is seeking one of two house seats in Arizona's Legislative District 10, which includes Central and Eastern Tucson. LD 10, which is one of the few competitive districts in the state, is now represented by Democrats Bruce Wheeler and Stephanie Mach, but Representative Wheeler is stepping down, leaving an open seat. Courtney, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Frogge) Thank you for having me, Jim.
(Nintzel) So, who is Courtney Frogge, and why are you running for the legislature?
(Frogge) I am Courtney Frogge, and I'm running for LD 10 state house because I believe that Arizona Families women, children and workers should not be at a disadvantage because they're born or happen to choose to live in our great state of Arizona. Jim, I'm born here in LD 10. I'm a fifth-generation Arizonan and I want to insure that current and future generations are afforded the same opportunities that have been afforded to me and those who have come before me. That's why I'm running.
(Nintzel) Let's talk about Proposition 123. That's the education proposition designed to use money from the state land trust to boost education funding in the state. Do you support the proposition?
(Frogge) Thanks for bringing this up, Jim. It's crucial to the future of our state. To give a bit of broader context, Prop 123 is not a solution to our long-term public education crisis that here in Arizona we find ourselves. What it is voters deciding whether or not we will accept a settlement that is a result of a lawsuit that has come out of the super majority of the legislature and our governor as the treasurer, not fulfilling the will of Arizona voters, and the people, to properly fund education. So, again, this is whether or not we will agree to the settlement. I wholeheartedly believe that our education allies negotiated the absolute best deal for our teachers, for our students, and that they believe that they can get under the current administration, if you will. I'm not alone in that I have long-term concerns between the state land trust, changing our constitution, the economic triggers, but at the end of the day, this is a Band Aid. This does not in any means address our long-term crisis in our public education has found itself in, and the only way to address that is to make sure we have strong voter turnout, educated voter turnout, in August and November, as well as in the special election. As a candidate, I wouldn't want to try to persuade anybody or change their mind from one side or the other. What I do recommend is that we all need to get together with our family, our friends and our loved ones, people we trust most, and do our research. Luckily in 2016 there's social media. You don't have to go to all the forums, do all the research yourself. Both the Yes on 123 and No on 123 campaigns have made this information and research readily available to your viewers at home, whether they're watching on a computer or on a cell phone, I invite you to please open another tab and start doing the research.
(Nintzel) Let's talk about the abortion legislation that's going on at the legislature this year. There's an effort to block Planned Parenthood from getting AHCCCS funds by creating various new regulations in House Bill 2599. Your thoughts on that legislation.
(Frogge) You know, Jim, I think that this is just a continuation of Arizona being in the forefront, ground zero, for anti-woman legislation in the United States. This is nothing new. It is, like I said, a continuation of that. At the end of the day Women on AHCCCS, families who are in need of affordable, quality and accessible healthcare provided by Arizona, they're not going to go anywhere. What we like to say, "Penny wise and pound foolish." If we're not paying for preventative—we're talking contraception. We are speaking about life-saving cancer screening, pap smears, mammograms and the like. If we're not paying for it on the front end, we are going to pay for it in the long end, in terms of taxpayers' insurance liabilities growing up, growing. So this isn't just an economic issue, it's social. But either way it's headed, we're on the wrong side of this, and it's time for our leaders to defend and support women across our state. And the only way to do that, again, is to bring balance back to the legislature. As long as there are 31 votes in the house, 16 in the senate and the signature of the governor, we're going to see this kind of legislation.
(Nintzel) And, about a minute left, but what are your thoughts on the rise of the private prison industry here in Arizona?
(Frogge) You know we need to get to the root of the matter. The fact is, the fact part of it is as long as they keep building them, they're going to keep finding people to fill them with, and in order to keep our economy growing, people working and hold families together, we need to look at the root of the issue, and that is the way of mandatory sentencing. And in order to solve the issue of private prisons, we need to start talking about restorative justice.
(Nintzel) Al right. Just in generaland we've only got about 20 seconds left, should the prison system be on the public end or should it be private.
(Frogge) I whole-heartedly believe it should not be a for profit system. We should not be making money on the backs of our community members.
(Nintzel) All right, we're going to have to leave it there. We are out of time, but Courtney Frogge, thanks so much for coming into Zona politics to talk about your campaign for the legislature.
(Frogge) Thank you so much for having me. And please feel free to visit my website to learn more: froggeforhouse.com
(Nintzel) All right. We will be right back with some closing thoughts.
(Nintzel) That's our show for today. Next week, we'll talk with Joaquin Ruiz, the dean of the U of A College of Science, as well as author Amy Silverman. 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 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.