Wanted in Arizona

I can’t imagine this being interesting to more than four or five people, but when I was in Arizona two weeks ago, I spent around an hour in the mostly-empty media section of the Arizona House of Representatives. Some local reporters were confused; as a reporter told me from the press row, one of their colleagues had been tossed recently because she forgot her badge. Mary Jo Pitzl reports on the controversy.

There was no evidence the safety of the 60 House members was imperiled by the presence of Slate magazine reporter Dave Weigel. But it did raise questions about how the policy was being enforced – tightly for local reporters, but very loosely for national media?

Weigel, in an e-mail, said he was escorted onto the floor by a lawmaker and was later asked for his credentials by a security officer. He showed him his congressional periodical media badge, and all was well.

House PIO Rey Torres, who’s done the media tossing of late, said it was an oversight – he wasn’t aware of Weigel’s presence and would look into the lapse.

Here’s what happened: I was shadowing Rep. Ruben Gallego. He led me into the lounge outside the House floor, where reporters and lobbyists can hobnob with members. As I talked to a few other members, Gallego and a colleague went to find Torres and get a temporary floor pass for me. Alas, Torres wasn’t in town. I was perfectly happy to stay in the lounge, or in the gallery, but toward the end of the day, a Democratic member encouraged me to come on and grab a seat. After 20 or so minutes, the sargeant-at-arms approached and asked me if I had a media pass; I explained the situation and showed my periodical badge (which you have be approved for, year to year). Situation, over. So I wonder about the spirit of the law. If it’s to keep access to the floor limited to reporters, there are a number of ways to do that without embarrassing the people who cover the legislature.