Several Democratic senators on Monday called on Senate Majority Leader Scott Bundgaard to resign from the Legislature because of an alleged domestic violence incident, and they said they want an ethics investigation if he doesn’t.
Some Senate Republicans have called for Bundgaard to at least step down from his leadership position.
Bundgaard, the second-ranking Republican in the GOP-led Senate, said in a press release Monday that he will neither resign from the Senate nor from his leadership position.
The Democrats said they are troubled by what they read in a police report about the Peoria Republican’s conduct during the Feb. 25 altercation with his now former girlfriend. They said they’re also troubled that Bundgaard reportedly invoked a partial temporary legislative immunity to avoid being arrested while his companion was booked into jail overnight.
Sen. Linda Lopez of Tucson said remaining silent would amount to condoning domestic violence. And Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor of Phoenix said an ethics investigation is appropriate because of the immunity issue and the serious nature of the incident.
“What we’re asking for is a higher level of concern for the institution,” said Sen. Paula Aboud of Tucson. “That’s what we’re asking for Sen. Bundgaard to do — to step down.”
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City and chairman of the Ethics Committee, is weighing his next move very carefully.
He said he has no interest in protecting Bundgaard from prosecution.
“(But) I’m not sure that that’s the proper role of the Ethics Committee,” he said.
Gould said he also has never held an Ethics Committee hearing so he needs to talk with counsel to see what his committee’s actual powers are. Since there is a pending criminal investigation, Gould said he doesn’t want to “bias that investigation with the actions of the Ethics Committee.”
But Gould wants Bundgaard to step down from the majority leadership.
“I am calling for Senator Bundgaard to step down as majority leader of the Republicans in the Senate,” Gould said. Gould said voters expect their senators to behave like gentlemen and ladies. “Getting in a brawl on the side of a freeway is unbecoming of a senator,” he said.
Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa also said Bundgaard should step down as majority leader so he isn’t distracted by his personal situation.
Bundgaard previously has denied invoking the constitutional immunity that generally bars arrests of legislators during sessions, and he has said he didn’t do anything wrong.
According to a police report, Bundgaard, 43, and Aubry Ballard, 34, said they argued while driving home after a charity event, but they offered conflicting accounts on what else happened on state Route 51 in north Phoenix.
Phoenix police briefly handcuffed Bundgaard when they questioned him and Ballard about what happened before and after the couple pulled over on the side of a freeway. They had been driving home in Bundgaard’s gold Mercedes after leaving a celebrity dancing charity event.
While speaking with officers at the scene, Bundgaard invoked the temporary and partial immunity from arrest, police said.
Bundgaard said during a Feb. 28 floor speech to the Senate that he waived any immunity, thought police could have arrested him if they believed he had done something wrong, and didn’t contend he was “above the law.”
The constitutional immunity, legally called a “privilege” from arrest, states that Arizona legislators cannot be arrested during or immediately before legislative sessions in cases other than treason, felony and breach of the peace. It does not bar prosecutions after a session.
Ballard was arrested on suspicion of assault, but the charge was later dropped in a manner that allows it to be refiled.
The report said Bundgaard had a bruised right eye, a small cut underneath it and a swollen lip. Ballard had bruising on her chest, a cut on her right knee and a scrape on her right hand, the report said.
An off-duty police officer who witnessed part of the incident told investigating officers he saw a man pushing or pulling a woman next to the passenger door of a car and that the woman fell to the ground while the man had his hands on her.
Arizona Capitol Times reporter Luige del Puerto contributed to this story.