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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Republicans want Arizona voters focused on the border, not abortion

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

To analyze the new border security measure GOP lawmakers are looking to send to November’s ballot, a new poll on Arizona’s presidential and U.S. Senate races and more, The Show sat down with Matthew Benson of Veridus and Democratic strategist Tony Cani.

Conversation highlights

On legislative Republicans attempting to refer the Secure the Border Act to the ballot after Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed it

MARK BRODIE: So Matt, let me start with you on the Secure the Border Act. The state Senate gave its preliminary OK (Thursday) after putting on what’s called a strike-everything amendment earlier in the week, set to vote on it potentially next week.

It’s not a surprise, I suspect, that Republicans would want to do something on this. It’s been a pretty big talking point. How significant could it be for the November election if this measure were to be on the ballot?

MATTHEW BENSON: It’s very significant. If you’re a Republican, you want to spend your time talking about Joe Biden’s border crisis more than you want to be talking about abortion and the state’s territorial ban.

I think there’s the policy at play here in terms of giving the state more authority and local law enforcement more authority. as it pertains to illegal immigration. And then there’s the politics. And the politics of this make a ton of sense because repeatedly in public polling, border and immigration turn up as the number one issue that voters care about this year.

And so this is Republicans trying to turn out border-minded voters who tend to be conservative-leaning voters and capitalize on this issue. And again, make this be the issue that we’re talking about in November as opposed to other things.

BRODIE: Is this the kind of issue, Matt, that that would drive voters to the polls, the people maybe who wouldn’t show up otherwise?

BENSON: Well, of course. In the same way that the Planned Parenthood abortion measure is going to tend to turn out left-leaning voters that support Democrats, this issue is going to tend to turn out voters who are inclined to support Republicans up and down the ballot.

BRODIE: So Tony, if you’re a Democrat, how concerned should you be that you’re working toward getting the abortion measure on the ballot, but that this one could be there too?

TONY CANI: Well, I think that it’s a dangerous piece of legislation. And that’s why the business community and law enforcement along the border and a bunch of people came out and said, “Hey, this is an unfunded mandate. This is not actually going to solve the problem.” And so I think that it is a serious thing.

It’s probably going to motivate a lot of people to the polls who oppose it, too. So we’ll see how that plays out. But politically, the story is it’s true. This is one of the top issues in the election. And it is so serious that President Biden was able to convince Democrats who otherwise would not have been there to support this bipartisan immigration bill that President Trump himself killed.

There’s a majority of people in Congress — in the House and the Senate — who supported that legislation, which is way more conservative of an immigration piece of legislation than I expected. And we have legislators — Democratic legislators who you might think would be too progressive — who were saying, “Can you please pass this law?”

And so basically Trump is getting what he wanted here, which is for more of the theatrics around this, for there to be more chaos. And I do think that that’s going to be the fight: Whether or not Democrats and, and the people who opposed are able to make the argument that actually the inaction is coming from the Trump wing of the Republican party.

BRODIE: Tony, there has been so much talk about how, for example going back to the abortion measure, that that could really drive Democratic turnout and potentially sway races: legislative races, maybe the Senate race, maybe the presidential race. Does the immigration bill, assuming it makes the ballot, does it have that kind of reverse effect for Republicans?

CANI: I wonder if it’s more of a messaging persuasion benefit for Republicans than a turnout benefit. … If I’m a Republican, I can then say, “Hey look, here’s something that I’m doing on this for people who care a lot about this,” because I think that the majority of voters who are concerned about immigration tend to be voters that are already showing up.

And so I don’t know if it’ll create a surge of voters the way that the abortion initiative for sure will, where there’s going to be younger voters and other voters who otherwise wouldn’t show up.

But either way, this is going to be a high turnout election. And it’s going to be an expensive one. And these are going to be the two top issues people are talking about.

BRODIE: Matt, Tony mentioned the business community. And there was a lot of talk about what the business community would do, how they would come out. They basically have come out mostly in opposition to this, some more strongly than others, some groups. I’m wondering what kind of impact you think that might have, if any, on this bill moving through the process?

BENSON: It’s going to have an impact, but I do think the referral is going to get to the ballot. The business community, I don’t think is of one mind on this issue, but the Arizona Chamber did express a lot of reservations about the referral. I think the biggest thing they’re concerned about is that it just results in boycotts, and they referenced a lot of misinformation regarding the referral in its current language.

And I think that’s something we saw back during SB 1070. We’re going to see again where nationally there’s a lot of people misrepresenting what’s actually in the bill in order to just take shots at Arizona, and that’s bad for business.

At the same time, you know what else is bad for business and bad for Arizona’s reputation? A complete crisis at the border and border agents being overwhelmed and the sort of imagery that we saw earlier this year and that we may see again in the months leading up to the election. That's bad.

It’s bad when you have street releases in border communities that are just totally overwhelmed. So I think you’re going to have competing narratives here. but the bottom line is, this is going to get on the ballot. And then it’s going to be arguably the biggest issue that we’re talking about between now and November.

BRODIE: So do you think that the business community is in opposition? And to your point, they’re not necessarily all of one mind on this. Does that translate to a campaign opposed to the referral, or is it do you see them more sort of in the background on that?

BENSON: I see them in the background. I mean, we have a Democrat governor. I think that’s one of the things that the business community and the Arizona Chamber in particular is mindful of. And there's nothing new under the sun. We saw this dynamic play out under Gov. (Janet) Napolitano — a Democrat, Republican Legislature — and even back then the Arizona Chamber trying to kind of straddle that line.

They can’t afford to have an enemy in the governor’s office, and they also don’t want to have an enemy with the Republican-led Legislature. So they’re going to try to sort of straddle that.

BRODIE: Do you see that as well, Tony, that the business community — assuming, as Matt says, that the referral makes it to the ballot, which it seems like there’s enough support in the legislature to make that happen — do you see the business community playing more of a background role in terms of opposition? Do you see them more out front?

CANI: I think that if the business organizations aren’t willing to spend money, then people are going to be going to business leaders individually to see whether or not they’re able to support a campaign to defeat this. We’ll see how that goes.And aside from the business side of this, there’s a real human impact to this type of legislation when it comes to the potential for racial profiling or for any of these kinds of things.

And so it’s going to be a bunch of different groups that care about this as well. And I suspect that there will be a robust campaign on both sides that is well funded to try and win this thing or defeat it.

BRODIE: Matt, I want to ask you quickly about one provision of this measure that’s gotten a lot of attention, which is a provision allowing — if this passes it and is the subject of litigation, and the attorney general decides not to defend it — that it allows the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, and the minority leaders of those chambers to defend it. There’s been a lot written about that. Is maybe the Republican-led Legislature hedging their bets if they lose the Legislature next year. Do you see it that way?

BENSON: Well, it’s the only way to see it. That is what that provision is about. I think there is ample concern among Republicans that you may lose one or both chambers. And so this sort of covers their bases in the event that that happens.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.