Arizona Journalists Weigh In With 'State Of State'

Oct 16, 2013
Originally published on October 10, 2013 3:43 pm

Arizona this week briefly became the first state to stop paying out welfare benefits during the government shutdown. But under pressure from state lawmakers, Republican Jan Brewer reversed that.

Unlike neighboring California, where undocumented immigrants can now obtain drivers’ licenses, Arizona is one of the few states making it tougher for people in the state illegally to legally drive. And the once-bust housing market in Phoenix is once again booming.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson is in Phoenix and speaks with KJZZ news director Peter O’Dowd and senior field correspondent Jude Joffe-Block.


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It's HERE AND NOW, and now to Phoenix, where Jeremy Hobson has taken up brief residence. Hi Jeremy.


Hi Robin, very brief, just a couple days. But we're here at HERE AND NOW contributing station KJZZ, and we're here to get a sense of how some of the national stories that we cover each day are being felt here in Phoenix and also hear about some of the stories that don't make the headlines around the country.

Joining me here in the studio is Peter O'Dowd, who is the news director here at KJZZ. Welcome, Peter.


HOBSON: And we're also joined by Jude Joffe-Block, senior reporter here at KJZZ. Welcome to you, as well.


YOUNG: Well let's start with you, Peter, and let's talk about the government shutdown that we just heard about on the program. Arizona briefly became the first state to stop paying out welfare benefits during the shutdown. The governor, Jan Brewer, reversed that decision. How has the state felt the shutdown so far?

O'DOWD: Well, we felt a lot of the same problems that other states have felt, but we're also home to the Grand Canyon National Park, which I think has been our story in a lot of ways. Twenty-two hundred people work at the Grand Canyon. They've been furloughed. It's also a really huge problem for the towns that are around the Grand Canyon.

There's a place called Tusayan that is at the gate of the south rim of the canyon, and it is almost completely dependent on this tourism. This has been a crippling for tour companies, local restaurants. But I think the most interesting story related to the Grand Canyon that shut down this week, a food bank in Phoenix was sending 600 emergency food box to the employees of the Grand Canyon who had been furloughed. Word was that they weren't able to afford to buy food.

HOBSON: And people are very frustrated by this, even the people that I was speaking to yesterday as I was traveling around Phoenix, very frustrated at what's going on.

O'DOWD: Extremely frustrated. I mean, we've seen protests up in the town Tusayan that I mentioned. I think we're going to see some possibly in Phoenix today, as well, from federal workers. Incredibly frustrated.

HOBSON: Well, I'm glad that you mentioned protests because that's where I want to go next with you, Jude. There were some rallies over the weekend all around the country. There was one in Phoenix, and this was about immigration reform, which is of course one of the big issues that has been sidelined by the shutdown and the gridlock in Washington.

You spoke with one participant at that rally, law student Vicente Reed(ph). Let's listen.

VICENTE REED: Just because the government is shut down doesn't mean that the people stop working. In fact, I think that this is a time that we need the people to start coming together and telling the government listen, we need to unify together as a nation, we need to stop breaking apart, and there has to be serious reform.

HOBSON: So Jude Joffe-Block, are those voices being heard? Because it sure looks like immigration reform has been put on the back burner.

JOFFE-BLOCK: That's right. I mean, everything we're saying about what's happening in Washington certainly suggests that it's going to be a really tough fight to get anything through this year. And the advocates know that, and so what you're seeing now is an effort to kind of put the issue back in front and center.

So we saw a couple days ago eight members of Congress joining those getting arrested in civil disobedience, including one of our representatives here from Arizona. We have sort of new tactics that we're seeing some of the activists coming up with to try to draw attention to the issue.

Next week there'll be an effort here in Phoenix to shut down the ICE station, the local ICE office here, that's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, through civil disobedience, at least that's what the advocates are pledging that they're going to try to do.

HOBSON: And of course this was the state that - famous for SB1070, the show-me-your-papers law. There was a lot of talk about a boycott of the state of Arizona. Has that happened?

JOFFE-BLOCK: I mean yeah, in the aftermath of 2010, when the law passed, there was a lot of activity, a lot of announced boycotts. Some of those only, you know, were done in advance, especially in the conventions. So, I mean, in the convention industry, a lot of times you book many years in advance. So sometimes that fallout was felt even a couple years later.

And so what we're seeing is that across the board, the - given the recession, the convention industry has suffered everywhere but that the recovery here in Phoenix has been a little bit slower, probably many people believe because of SB1070.

HOBSON: Although I have to say, Peter O'Dowd, looking at the housing market, it doesn't seem like a slow recovery at all. Prices have really bounced back here. Tell me about how the economy is doing here in Phoenix.

O'DOWD: Well, we do gauge how the economy is doing often on whether or not there are sticks going into the ground, they say, whether new homes are being built, and that is happening. There is no doubt that we're recovering after the crash, but we're leading the list nationally for job growth in some areas.

Things do feel more stable, but there's a big question among economists here about whether or not the jobs that are coming into this state are the jobs that can sustain long-term growth. So if you look at the projections over the next couple of years, the biggest growth sectors we're seeing, hospitality industry, the service sector, construction. These are jobs that are relatively low-paying, don't always require a college degree, and so some people say that could be a problem.

HOBSON: We're speaking with Peter O'Dowd and Jude Joffe-Block here at KJZZ in Phoenix, and you're listening to HERE AND NOW.

And Peter O'Dowd, are people being left behind, out of the jobs recovery here?

O'DOWD: I think that there's a big concern about whether or not our educational system is strong enough, is good enough to get these high-wage jobs that we need. You know, when Amazon makes an announcement that there's going to be a fulfillment center that gives 2,000 people a job, it makes big news, but again, you know, who's getting those jobs, and are we - are we falling behind in the higher - like the biotechnology, the solar energy industry.

Are we developing, you know, cross-border trade with Mexico as well as we could be? In those ways I think some people would say we might be falling behind.

HOBSON: Jude Joffe-Block, I know you've been covering immigration and also the man they call America's toughest sheriff, some people think of that as a good thing, some people think of that as a bad thing, we're talking about Joe Arpaio. He is now going to be monitored for discrimination.

JOFFE-BLOCK: That's right. This is the outcome of a six-year lawsuit that's been pending for a long time. So last May a federal judge decided that the sheriff's office had in fact discriminated against Latino motorists here in Maricopa County, and that means that there's going to be sweeping changes now coming to that office.

So in addition to the monitor, there's going to be cameras, there's going to be new protocols for how officers record stops and why they're making those stops, and so this is a pretty big deal here and a change that we're going to be watching closely.

HOBSON: All right, so those are some of the stories that we cover on a national level and we know that are happening here in Arizona. I want to hear from you both about stories that we might be missing, and I'll start with you, Jude.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Well, I think we would be remiss if we didn't mention the heat here in Phoenix. I mean, it's...

HOBSON: It's not that hot today.

JOFFE-BLOCK: It's not that hot today, but we did have one of our hottest summers on record that we just survived here, and actually a new study came out from Nature magazine yesterday that had some kind of grim projections about off-the-chart temperatures that we're going to be seeing across the globe, but here in Phoenix actually will be the first American city to experience some of these really extreme temperatures in just about 30 years, according to that one article.

HOBSON: Peter, what about you, a story that we're missing?

O'DOWD: Well, I mean I think that's it. In fact in Phoenix there are already a lot of people wondering when it's going to be when we don't get lower than 100 degrees as our low temperature. I mean, that's coming, and we're getting closer and closer to that, it seems, each and every year.

So there's big discussion, you know, maybe in the academic world about what we should do. Should we build differently? Should we paint our streets and rooftops white? Should we have dense urban cores that create wind tunnels and shaded streets? That's a big change for Phoenix. But also of course we have the Colorado River, which we're - projections say it could be getting much lower.

HOBSON: A lot of questions about water, and even just today I was offered a bottle of water. I said oh, no, I'm OK. And he said, well, you know, this is Phoenix, 10 percent humidity, you might want to take it.

O'DOWD: Stay hydrated.

HOBSON: Peter O'Dowd, news director here at KJZZ; and Jude Joffe-Block, a senior reporter at KJZZ, thanks so much to both of you.

O'DOWD: Thank you.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Thank you.

HOBSON: And we'll send it back to you in Boston, Robin.

YOUNG: And yes, Jeremy, hydrate.


YOUNG: Jeremy will be out and about in Phoenix. Later he's going to do a little house hunting, see how things have been since the housing bust. Latest news is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.