Air date: Jan. 17, 2016.
Democratic congressional candidate Tom O’Halleran, who hopes to win the open seat that U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is giving up to challenge Sen. John McCain, visits the set. The former state lawmaker talks about why he jumped from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, what he thinks of President Barack Obama’s executive action on guns, and his thoughts on immigration.
Then former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton and former Pima County Democratic Party chairman Don Jorgensen unpack Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State; debate whether the state should be investing more in programs to help at-risk kids; assess Ducey’s threat to withhold state-shared revenues from cities and towns that raise the minimum wage or otherwise require businesses to offer benefits to employees; and talk about whether the city of Tucson will move forward with plans to require businesses to offer sick leave to workers.
Here’s a transcript of the show:
(Nintzel) Hello, everyone. I’m Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we’re here to talk Zona Politics. There’s a lot to talk about with the Arizona Legislature getting back to work earlier this week but before we get to our panel, we’ve got a one-on-one interview with Democrat Tom O’Halloran, a former state lawmaker who is now seeking the election to Congressional District 1, a sprawling district that stretches from Oro Valley to Flagstaff and includes much of Eastern rural Arizona. Mr. O’Halleran, welcome to Zona Politics.
(O’Halleran) Good morning, Jim. I really appreciate your opportunity to have me here.
(Nintzel) You served as a Republican in the Arizona Legislature, but now you’re running as a Democrat for Congress. Why?
(O’Halleran) Indeed I am.
(Nintzel) Why did you switch parties?
(O’Halleran) Well, my values haven’ changed much. I worked in a bipartisan process down there all the time I was conservative with issues like education and health care and I just feel that the direction that the party has taken is the wrong direction. So I feel that the Democratic party, as far as those types of important issues for the American public, and our state where they need to be.
(Nintzel) And why did you decide you wanted to run for Congress?
(O’Halleran) Well, it’s always a long-term thought process. I thought in 2008 that I was done with politics. I’d lost a primary and I said, “Okay, my term’s done.” And then Ann Kirkpatrick decided to run for the U.S. Senate, the opportunity came along and people started asking me to run, and I made a decision after a couple months, discussion with family, three grandchildren and three adult children, and I want a better country for them. I want something where people are going to solve problems instead of create problems, and I come from a business background where people sit down and look at a problem and say “We have to solve that or we might go out of business.” I don’t think that’s done enough in government, today. Especially not in Congress. So It works even better here, if you can imagine that, in Arizona, than it does in our U.S. Congress. And so we have to find a way to work together. This is a great country, in spite of what some people want to say It’s a great country. When I grew up it was a great country. We had problems It’s a great country now and we have problems, but the key is always to try to solve your problems and not let them continue, and that’s why I’ve decided to run, to bring people together.
(Nintzel) Some of that was what President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech. What was your impression of the president’s State of the Union?
(O’Halleran) Not only did he say it, but Gov. Nikki Hayley said it. We need to find a way to have a positive influence on the issues facing America. We need to do it in a way that is collaborative. We can’t give up on everything, but you have to compromise in Congress to make sure that you move our country further along in its greatness. I thought his speech overall was good. I think it’s the type of message that we as leaders in the country need to give. You can’t continue to tear down the country and say “Everything’s bad. We’re worse than China.” We aren’t worse than any of these countries. We have a better economy than anybody in the world. The president was right about that. We can do better, though. We’re coming out of a recession that cost $5 trillion in wealth. This is not a normal recession. You’re not going to automatically flow into what we used to have.
(Nintzel) One of the big debates in recent weeks has been about gun violence, and what should be done about background checks, for example. The president had some executive actions that he took. What did you think of the president’s decision to go with these executive actions?
(O’Halleran) I don’t like executive actions in general, but there’s a point in time in life when you have to make decisions, and Congress has failed to address the violence in America. Thirty-thousand people killed through guns. Twenty-thousand by accident. or suicide. Another 10,000-plus killed by murders on our streets, and there are other mechanisms that cause death, too. It’s people who are out there making decisions that are irrational, and so I agree that the people who shouldn’t have guns shouldn’t have guns, and the only way we can find that out is through a background check. And if we don’t want terrorists to have guns when they come into our country, then we have to have background checks online. If we’re really going to fight terrorism, then we have to fight it across the entire spectrum, not a couple of different spectrums. And if we have a violence problem, which we do—I’m a former homicide investigator in the City of Chicago. I’ve seen violence on the streets of our cities for far too long, and in our country for far too long. I’ve been with people as they died from gun violence, and from stabbings or whatever, and we need to clearly study why this is occurring in our country, and do something about it. And I believe one of the steps is to make sure guns are in the hands of the right people. People talk about, “Well it’s not going to stop all these mass murders.” Nothing is going to stop murders when we don’t have a mental healthcare system that’s appropriately funded and get into some of these issues. I believe it’s a step in the right direction, but I wish that it would have been Congress that did it and not an executive action.
(Nintzel) Let’s talk about the immigration issue. Obama also took executive actions on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and undocumented parents. Did you think that was an appropriate step to take?
(O’Halleran) Again, this is why I’m running. Congress has refused to step to the plate. You take a look at Congress today. Almost two years, now, there’s been a Senate passed out a comprehensive bill on immigration, and we are still having a discussion politically of securing our borders That bill would have taken care of it—taken care of the visa system and people coming in and overstaying their visas. That bill would have started the path to taking care of that problem. Dealing with the 11 million, 15 million, however many millions of people are in our country illegally, that bill would have dealt with it. Instead, we’re in a political discussion instead of a discussion on the reality of securing our borders and making our country safer.
(Nintzel) Would you support a path to citizenship for folks who are now undocumented in this country?
(O’Halleran) If it’s a path that includes background checks, that you can’t be a convicted felon, that you have to pay your back taxes. That bill had those types of things in there, and that you’ve had to assimilate into our society, and that means language also.
(Nintzel) The Obama administration is now doing a lot of roundups of the Central American asylum-seekers who have entered the country. Your thoughts on steps the administration is taking.
(O’Halleran) Right now, without enforcement, we have laws on our books. You know, I don’t like to call them roundups. If you’re caught, and you’re here illegally, then we need to take action, and that’s why we have a court system. That’s why they go through a judicial hearing process It’s not a round-up and … if those people want a hearing, they can have a hearing. But, again, these are our partners within the continent. We have to find a way to deal with our neighboring countries.
(Nintzel) The concern is there’s so much violence back in Central America and concern for their lives if they get sent back.
(O’Halleran) There’s violence all over the world today, very sadly, and so we have to make sure that the people coming into this country are not going to do harm to our citizens but we also have a history as a great country to open our arms up to people in need.
(Nintzel) We’re going to have to leave it there, but thank you so much for stopping by Zona Politics — Tom O’Halleran, Democratic candidate for Congressional District 1. Stay tuned, and we’ll be right back with our panel to discuss the week at the Arizona Legislature and a whole lot more.
(Nintzel) And we’re back with Zona Politics. Doug Ducey kicked off the legislative session with the second state of the state earlier this week, and here to talk about the speech, and the upcoming legislative session, is Republican strategist and former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton who will be lobbying lawmakers this year, and Don Jorgenson the former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party. Thank you both for being here on Zona Politics. So, Jonathan, Doug Ducey’s State of the State– What were your impressions and what do you expect Ducey will focus on this legislative session.
(Paton) A good friend of mine, Dan Scarpinato worked on that speech, but the fact is, that a State of the State, or a State of the Union, for that matter, what the president does is one thing, but the budget is something else entirely. They put out what their hopes and dreams and everything, but the reality is what you actually see in the budget and, I think that there were a lot of interesting things that we’ll be talking about on this show, such as the issue about the cities and paid sick leave and those kinds of things, but as a whole I think it was great, it was a great speech, but what really matters is the actual budget that we have to pore over in the next coupld of weeks.
(Nintzel) Don, your thoughts on what you saw.
(Jorgenson) Well it is all about the budget. I look above tone and content within the tone. The Governor seemed to come out pretty combative, pretty partisan, which is contradicted his later comments about wanting to work in a bipartisan fashion so I hope that was just showmanship and not what we’re going to see down the road. In terms of content, the governor’s doubling down on his campaign promises, you could say, to favor again, tax breaks for the wealthy, for big corporations and take that same approach that we have already seen fail in other states, with that same philosophy that we’ve seen in Kansas where the governor there said the same thing, and in fact and cut tax rates, I mean provide tax cuts and tax benefits to the wealthy or large business owners. Five years later, they are lagging in revenues, they’re lagging in job-creation and their credit ratings have dropped. I’m concerned that Governor Ducey’s following that same pattern.
(Nintzel) He did talk about more funding for education in his speech and what not, but he also gave a warning to so-called “big spenders” that he was not going to be increasing spending by a significant amount. What about some of the social programs like the state-subsidized day care or prevention programs for at-risk families to prevent the kinds of troubles that result in people calling into the Department of child safety umbrella.
(Paton) Well, I do want to address something that was just said about talking about the state of Kansas. Well the other state that was mentioned was the state of California in talking about the numbers of people that are leaving California, coming to Arizona because of our growing economy. That was another issue, and part of the problem in California is that rampant spending, rampant regulation around the tax system have driven people out of the state. As far as social services, one of the things I think, in the CPS and DCS issues is very important to me. One of the things I think that really has to be addressed is we have continued to give this agency more and more money and we have not seen the results that we want And one of the things I think that they should be looking at is how they can take the money that they’re receiving and putting it into more effective ways, such as letting contractors many of whom are here in Southern Arizona that can deal with some of the clerical work that has to happen and focus on where the kids need services rather than maybe be being put into foster care. How they can direct that money towards maybe grandparents, that kind of thing There are efficiencies within that system that need to be fixed.
(Nintzel) Don, your thoughts?
(Jorgenson) Coming back on the state issue it’s kind of funny Surprised to hear California mentioned, however California is beating Arizona in terms of job creation, progressive states like Washington they’re all doing much better. The economic growth is happening much quicker. I’m more concerned about the social services and needs. One example is the, I hope that the governor addresses the cuts to the Temporary Aid for Needy Families, TANF, which is looking at kicking 2700 kids off of those services by July 1. That needs to be addressed. So may the issues of child safety needs to be addressed.
(Nintzel) There’s still a backlog of ….
(Jorgenson, interrupting) … Oh, incredible! And nothing’s been done. Monies were approved, I think, in the legislature two years ago to address that issue, but that hasn’t happened. So far all the majority caucus and the governor’s done is shuffle the deck chairs but nothing’s happened. The talk that I’m hearing is the same concern we’ve had many times in the past because we’re seeing the same pattern. Programs like this get starved. Their budgets are cut. They get starved. They’re unable to perform but under-budgeted, under-staffed, and so they’re not able to provide the services needed. Then, the governor comes along and says, “See. they’re not doing their job. Let’s privatize. Let’s give it to some other private contractors that can do better. The result has always been less accountability equal or greater costs of providing the services, and no real benefit. We’ve seen that with prisons. We’ve seen that in parts of the education system. I would hate to see the lives of our children who have the greatest need, those of them neglected and abused, suffer the same fate.
(Paton) Those are contractors. Let’s jut be clear who we’re talking about. We’re talking about contractors like State Senator David Bradley and others that have nonprofits etc., that are handling a lot of the things more effectively than the government does. and so, I don’t think that slamming them is really the solution. It’s not the same as privatizing prizons. It’s not the same kind of thing at all It’s focusing the resources. These programs haven’t been cut. They’ve been dramatically increased in the amount of money that this agency has received.
(Nintzel) DCS itself.
(Paton) And they’re asking for a hundred million dollars It’s a huge portion of the budget, but we’re not getting the results that we want. We have to figure out what’s going on. Are there more efficient ways of figuring out how to use the money that we are spending and there has to be a better way.
(Nintzel) There were prevention programs that were working with nonprofits like Child and Family Services, that can intercede with at-risk hospitals when children were born, they’d go in and check and see if a family was in danger of domestic violence or drugs or anything like that, and then …
(Paton) And in many cases those things were cheaper than pulling a kid out of a home permanently and putting them in say, foster care.
(Nintzel) They are, but those were the programs that were cut, so are we saying those programs going to be restored?
(Paton) I think that you’re going to see re-prioritization of some of that money going into making sure that … you can have contractors do clerical work, too, and also to educate a lot of the families about the services that are already available on either the state or the federal side. That’s completely do-able, and that’s a appropriate use of outside groups. We have a whole network of providers here in Southern Arizona that have been, are ready to take on that challenge.
(Nintzel) Are you down with that?
(Jorgenson) Yeah. One agreement that we have tremendous nonprofit organizations that provide these services, and I’m not talking about those folks. What I am talking about are the layers of bureaucracy in the administration that have been put in with (?) flowing to the government for example. Well, a lot of that money is sucked away in administrative costs, and we’re not getting down to the streets where the nonprofits
(Paton) I think if there’s a way to make them more efficient, that would be better for everybody.
(Jorgenson) We’re talking about what, we’re talking about having a system that maintains a level of oversight and accountability and then, when it goes to private entities that’s lost.
(Nintzel) What about the state-subsidized day care? The idea that if you give a single-mom a stable place to keep her kid then she can get a job. Those programs were cut by the state as well.
(Jorgenson) Well, that’s very progressive thinking, which obviously I support. When you look at prevention, what you’re doing is saving costs down the road, and that’s a little tougher to put a handle on sometimes put a finger on, but we know that the benefit to providing those kids of efforts, whether it’s KidsCare, TANF, these other kinds of efforts or those services, have a tremendous positive benefit on society, on the state budget, on cutting those costs for other services, and I hope that we see that become a priority in the budget. The budget’s not a… it’s a moral document, and it’s also a zero sum game. If the $300 million in the surplus, and I think it might even be higher than that now, is given to high-income people in terms of tax cuts., if it’s shuffled away into corporate special interests, benefits and such, it’s not getting on the street. So I’d like to see the budget prioritize these needs to benefit all Arizonans.
(Nintzel) State-subsidized day care– a good idea to restore the funding for that?
(Paton) One thing doesn’t seem to change, as to the core group of the problem that we see in DCS or CPS or whatever the letters are. The fact is that it’ll all boil down for the most part, the lion’s share of the cases that we’re dealing with have to do with methamphetamines or have to do with what I call the “stung by boyfriend syndrome.” There’s a lot of single moms that have maybe a man in the house that has a negative influence on the kids, either for molestation, that kind of thing, or incest or what ha e you is going on, with the added problems of methamphetamines and other drugs. Substance abuse issues are probably the lion’s share of all the problems that we have in the state as it relates to this. The governor talked about this in the State of the State, saying we need to look at rehabilitation of people, looking at subsidies, problem issues. To me, that is probably one of the most important places to be putting our resources.
(Nintzel) One of the more controversial things that came up was when the governor basically told cities and towns that if they raise the minimum wage, or otherwise require employers to provide sick-leave benefits and such, that he’s going to take away their state share of revenue. Don, your thoughts on that?
(Jorgenson) I’m very heartened to hear Jonathan address addiction treatment in this way, and I hope the governor recognizes that. He did mention Pima County, our community court system as a model for that and, again, I’m hopeful, not necessarily optimistic, but hopeful, that there’s a chance statewide. That would be a tremendous benefit for the state. You mentioned about the governor’s bullying tactics heavy-handed coming down on cities and towns. with regard to raising minimum wage, or even sick leave. Two issues there. There’s a proposition, well, it’s in the Arizona State Constitution, allowing chartered cities to set their own make their own policy decisions. Tucson’s one of those charter cities. They’re allowed to do it Proposition 202 back ten years ago allowed cities to se their own wages, benefits and such. I believe it was last year the attorney general sided with Maricopa County’s Superior Court and agreed that cities had the right to raise minimum wages. So that’s already settled law. And threaten to take away state-shared revenues from cities who want local control, again, is nothing more than kind of a heavy-handed bullying tactic, but I don’t think it’s going to go over well. Now that requires a bill. I haven’t heard that that bill’s been dropped yet. I don’t know if Senate President Biggs is going to do that or not, but there’ll be a lot of backlash to that, particularly on top of the fact that last year, a lot of the expenses for roads and infrastructure were dumped back on the counties, and so it’s kind of a double whammy that we’re seeing in shifting those, ot only shifting costs to cities and counties, but now threatening to take additional money away from them.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, you are close to the business community and they’re not happy about these proposals.
(Paton) The double whammy is not going to be about that. The double whammy is going to be if you have a business, a restaurant in Tucson, you pick up the morning daily, you look in, and you see businesses closing one after the other restaurants closing. If they add this in there, those businesses will close at even a double rate than what they’re closing, now. I’ve talked to multiple businesses. They are pounding on the doors of council members right now, here in the city of Tucson, saying please do not even contemplate doing this. They are desperate because they cannot withstand this. This isn’t large corporations. These are small businesses all throughout Tucson that are folding at an alarming rate. Going back to the California analogy. They do this in California there is a patchwork of regulations on benefits and minimum wage, and it’s very simple. What happens is, they drive people out of the city, and they put them in the other cities or the counties. In this case, that’s exactly what would happen You would see, Oro Valley would explode, and the City of Tucson would suffer because of it. And I think the governor is saying, “We don’t want to have a patchwork of these rules because it’s going to be very complicated for businesses especially if you have multiple businesses in the state. It is a one of the stupidest ideas I can imagine, to just have an island of, essentially, socialism, where you’re going to say, “Well, we’re going to dump a lot of benefits on the backs of employers.” These are small businesses. These are not large corporations. This isn’t Walmart. We’re talking about the corner donut shop.
(Nintzel) And, Don, the City of Tucson council member Regina Romero has proposed this idea, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of appetite among her fellow council members to move forward.
(Jorgenson) There’s a lot of deliberation about it and there should be, but outside of that, employees, or potential employees are not leaving Tucson in droves because there are great benefits … you attract good employees, you attract quality employees by having reasonable wage, reasonable benefits, and we’re not just talking about money, too. We’re talking about equal rights. and the state’s threatening to not allow cities and towns to even propose benefits to same-sex couples if it’s not the same statewide. So that’s the issue. With regard to the sick leave, let’s talk common sense. Do you want to walk into a business, fast food restaurant convenience store where you have folks that are there coughing spreading germs, spreading the flu, because they’re afraid that if they take a day off they might lose their job or lose half their paycheck? We’re not talking about Well here’s what we are talking about: five sick days a year. That’s not unreasonable at all. I think any smart business. I was a small-business owner, had many employees. I’d tell my employees, “If you’re sick call, stay home.”
(Paton) So let’s since we’re talking about reality, let’s talk about reality. There are businesses in California right now You walk in, you’re a dishwasher at a restaurant You walk in two hours late, “Sorry. You have to pay me. I was sick.” You walk in two-days later, and you say “Sorry, you can’t fire me. I was sick. The burden is on the employer to provide documentation about whether that person was really sick or not. They have to pay for that. That is untenable. That’s really what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about Most employers want to work with their employees. They want to keep them around. They want to make them happy, and they want to do what they can within the environment Like I said, these are small businesses. These are your neighbors; these are your neighbors. These are the people that are making this economy survive against all odds, against a terrible economy nationwide, a terrible economy around the world They’re doing their best, their level best to survive, and having a patchwork of rules across the state is insane, and I think that … my honest opinion is I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere in the City of Tucson. I don’t think the council has the appetite to do that. I think people like Steve Kozachik are not going to vote for it at the end of the day. And on the ballot in places like Tucson, if they do it in Tempe, they won’t maybe do it but they’ll do it maybe in places like Flagstaff, that’s going to be a disaster, and it’s going to cause the suburbs to grow as a result of it.
(Nintzel) Are you also hearing the idea of ballot initiative on this issue?
(Jorgenson) I’ve heard it discussed. I haven’t seen any organized effort at this point. I always find it amusing that the Republicans in this state want local control when they’re talking with the feds, but they oppose local control when it comes to cities and towns in Arizona.
(Nintzel) I want to tackle the recent appointment of Clint Bolick to the state supreme court. Jonathan, you were on that committee that advanced those names. What impact do you think Clint Bolick will have on the court? He really does embrace the idea of an activist judiciary What does that mean, do you think?
(Paton) I think he’s one of the smartest people in Arizona, not just in the judicial system. He’s argued before the Arizona Supreme Court but the United States Supreme Court and won cases. He is an extremely sharp guy I think the biggest thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to see a true debate happen on the court on some of these important issues that we’ve been debating. I think there’s going to be multiple voices, now, rather than just a monolithic five – oh, I think there’s going to be, but the other thing is, I don’t think that Clint Bolick is going to be somebody who’s just going to favor conservatives Some of the voices that we heard from on the commission about his nomination were people like David Eichner, who had left the He was a Libertarian. We heard from Mike Piccaretta, who’s kind of the dean of the dean of criminal defense attorneys. He’s a big voice for civil liberties, what regardless of party.
(Nintzel) And we’ve got about 20 seconds, Don.
(Jorgenson) I mean it kind of exposes what we’ve known about Republican appointments for years. Republicans used to rail against activist judges. Now they’re at least open about preferring them. And this is more than an activist this is a political operative who’s bringing in his own agenda. The good news is, he’s only one of five.
(Nintzel) Alright. We are going to have to leave it there. I’d like to thank my guests former lawmaker Jonathan Paton and former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party Don Jorgenson for this conversation. If you missed any part of today’s program, you can catch us up on zonapolitics.com Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll see you next time!