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Timing of the resignation of Scott Bundgaard

Sen. Scott Bundgaard listens to the proceedings during the ethics trial against him Jan. 5. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

For two days, I watched Scott Bundgaard listen to witness after witness give testimony that contradicted what he said happened during a freeway fight he had with his then-girlfriend in February of last year. But what baffled me, and no doubt many other reporters who covered the ethics investigation into his conduct that night, was not that he ultimately decided to resign his seat.

It’s not only why he waited so long. It’s why he chose to quit at precisely the moment he did.

Up to the time he turned in his resignation letter, Bundgaard showed every indication that he was prepared to fight to the end. True, he didn’t talk to the media once the Senate Ethics Committee decided to pursue the complaint filed against him by a Democrat. But he didn’t need to say anything. His actions showed he was determined. He was facing the biggest political fight of his life, and he wasn’t giving in an inch.

In fact, he fought the inquiry at every turn. He sought to portray the ethics committee as a kangaroo court, made up of members who had all but pronounced him guilty. He tried to have a majority of the panel replaced by other lawmakers, and when that didn’t work, he went to court to block the investigation. He argued that the committee broke its own rules because it failed to try him in a timely manner, thereby exceeding its powers.

When that failed less than 48 hours before the trial was to begin, the timing seemed perfect for him to resign from the Senate and avoid the hearing. On the eve of the ethics trial, there was a rumor circulating at the state Capitol that Bundgaard was, in fact, set to resign. In an email to me, he flatly denied it.

Sure enough, he was seated next to his attorneys the next day when the hearing began. To my mind, the trial was going from bad to worse for Bundgaard. The lawyers who were tasked to investigate him presented a thorough and very strong case against him, but still he endured the hearing – until just before he was supposed to take the witness stand. The committee had taken a lunch break. When it resumed, Bundgaard’s lawyers were present, but he wasn’t. One of his lawyers then made a succinct statement: Events had transpired that would make the ethics inquiry unnecessary.

In a startling turn of events, Bundgaard had resigned, and that brings me back to my first question: Why at that moment? There are a couple of potential explanations. One is Bundgaard saw how strong the case was against him and concluded he can’t win. But then again, he had accused the committee of being biased against him, so his conviction wouldn’t have surprised him.

There’s another explanation, and I admit it’s highly speculative: The trial wasn’t happening in a vacuum. Senators, especially Bundgaard’s fellow Republicans, were closely watching it unfold. Given the way things were going, it was almost certain that the committee would recommend his expulsion, and, once that happened, the spotlight would have shifted to the Republican caucus, whose members would have to decide at the beginning of session whether to agree with the recommendation or toss it out.

In either case, I can’t imagine any Republican lawmaker was looking forward to making that choice. In short, there was tremendous pressure for Bundgaard not to let his party-mates go through the ordeal.

In the meantime, Bundgaard is now a private citizen.

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