Republicans huddled into a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for Bundgaard, R-Peoria, to relinquish his position as Majority Leader.
And while some colleagues felt strongly that he should step down, the caucus did not take a vote to replace him.
When asked by reporters after the meeting if he were still the Majority Leader, Bundgaard said, “Yes, thankfully.”
Senate President Russell Pearce confirmed that Bundgaard was the subject of today’s executive meeting.
“It was clear that all the information was not in, as supplemental reports are pending,” Pearce said, referring to the Feb. 25 incident.
“We decided the media will not drive us to rush to judgment. Even a state Senator has a right to justice, and all the facts must be in before a decision can be made, and not tried and convicted by the media,” he also said, adding, “There was a consensus in the caucus that action at this time would be premature and unfair.”
In his statement, Pearce said Bundgaard was “willing to step down” but the decision was made to wait for additional information.
Sen. Ron Gould, the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee who yesterday asked for Bundgaard’s resignation, said after the meeting that he was disappointed it didn’t happen.
“I made my case. Apparently not well enough though,” Gould said, adding, “If I had the numbers, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Republicans are expectedly tightlipped about the meeting, but several sources who spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the issue said the conversation was candid and respectful.
Some, as expected, argued for Bundgaard’s resignation, saying the situation is a distraction and reflects badly not just on the majority party, but also on the entire chamber, the sources said.
Bundgaard said not all facts have surfaced yet, sources said, adding that Bundgaard shared with the caucus some of that information.
At the end of the day, the sentiment was to “wait and see,” a source who is privy to the discussion in caucus told the Arizona Capitol Times.
The possibility of replacing Bundgaard came into sharp caucus this week, when several Democrats and a handful of Republicans asked that he give up his leadership role.
His replacement, had it happened today, would have been a major shake up, coming at a crucial period when lawmakers are in the thick of discussions about how to deal with hundreds of millions of dollars in budget deficit.
The job of the Senate Majority Leader includes rounding up the votes for crucial majority-sponsored legislation, such as the budget.
Meanwhile, Gould is still mulling the mechanics of a potential Ethics Committee hearing into the incident.
Since Democrats have officially asked for an investigation, Gould would have to decide what to do with their complaint.
But Gould is reluctant to hold the ethics investigation before any criminal prosecution against Bundgaard, assuming one actually takes place. To date, Bundgaard hasn’t been charged with any offense.
The object of an ethics investigation would be to decide whether Bundgaard violated the Senate’s code of ethics.
“But we’re not really an investigatory body. So I don’t want to damage Senator Bundgaard’s defense, and I don’t want to damage the prosecution’s case, which is why I’m concerned about how we operate that,” Gould said.
Pressure has been mounting against Bundgaard since the Feb. 25 physical altercation with his then-girlfriend, Aubrey Ballard, on the shoulder of a major freeway in the Valley. Ballard was booked but Bundgaard, who has immunity as a legislator, wasn’t charged. The two had since parted ways.
But it wasn’t until this week that Republicans joined the calls for him to resign his leadership role.
“Getting in a brawl on the side of a freeway is unbecoming of a senator,” said Sen. Ron Gould, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee.
It also wasn’t until this Monday when Democrats demanded that he resign from the Legislature and officially submitted a letter asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate what happened.
Democrats argued that the police report departed markedly from how Bundgaard characterized what happened that night.
At the very least, he should resign his post as majority leader, they also said.
But Bundgaard rejected Democratic demands for his resignation and suggested these calls may be politically motivated.
“Last week I apologized for being involved in an incident that generated criticism of our Capitol institutions and me. I reiterate my apology again today,” he said.
“I will clear my name as this issue works through the process, and as more information comes out. And I will do so in the face of the politics that have now been injected into this issue,” he added.
Pearce said the Senate’s business will go on as usual. He also commended Bundgaard for “doing an excellent job as Majority Leader.”