Democratic Rep. Jesus Rubalcava publicly apologized April 13 for his comments a week before on social media that he wanted to punch a Republican colleague, Sen. Debbie Lesko, “in the throat.”
The apology came only after the Gila Bend Democrat had initially declined to express any regret about the post, which created a firestorm of criticism from political observers on social media and his House colleagues.
Rubalcava had originally defended the comment as merely rhetorical anger in response to the Peoria senator “prancing around” the House after the passage of her legislation to vastly expand the state’s school voucher program.
“Last Thursday, during our debate and voting on the voucher bill, I made an inappropriate post on Facebook. I just wanted this body to know that I was raised for a significant part of my life by a single parent home. And violence was not tolerated, and definitely not accepted against a woman,” he said during the House floor session.
He said the comment was “unprofessional” and “unacceptable” and that he had already apologized to Lesko personally.
Rubalcava received a round of applause from his colleagues in the House after the apology.
But the comments had already made waves at the Capitol, where members of his caucus and Republicans alike condemned his throat punching comment.
And after initially brushing off the comments when asked about them April 12, Lesko told The Arizona Republic that after having some time to reflect on the Democrat’s comment, she was becoming more and more concerned about it.
“I don’t know if the guy has violent tendencies, or what … The more I think about it, it is rather disturbing that someone would comment like that,” she said in a voicemail message to Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez.
On April 13, Lesko also wrote a statement to the newspaper.
“As a survivor of domestic violence from a previous marriage, Representative Rubalcava’s Facebook post saying ‘I wanted to punch her in the throat’ was very disturbing and totally inappropriate especially since he is an elementary school teacher and legislator. I hope in the future that he debates issues based on their merit in a civil manner,” Lesko wrote.
Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs of Phoenix also condemned Rubalcava’s comments on the Senate floor April 13, saying that as a woman who has dedicated her life to protecting women from domestic violence, she found his comments unacceptable.
Hobbs apologized to Lesko on behalf of herself and the entire Democratic caucus.
And a pair of Republican lawmakers each issued scathing statements about Rubalcava’s statements.
Republican Rep. Maria Syms of Paradise Valley wrote in a statement that on behalf of herself “and all the women and victims of violence: Apology not accepted. Mr. Rubalcava is showing himself unfit for public office.”
Syms said the issue went above partisan politics.
“It takes a small man to fantasize about violence against women on social media, and nothing less than zero tolerance is acceptable,” Syms wrote.
She said he should resign from the Legislature and “seek help.”
Republican Rep. Anthony Kern of Peoria wrote that “words matter, and these words create a culture of violence at the Capitol that will not be tolerated.”
Kern said the debate over policy should stick to policy, and not get into threats.
He said in an interview he didn’t know what kind of punishment would be appropriate.
“I’d leave it between him and his caucus. I don’t know if that rises to the level of expulsion. But between that and his ongoing Clean Elections investigation, it rises to the level of serious concern,” Kern said.
Rubalcava is facing an ongoing audit from the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission for his spending of public money during his 2016 campaign for office.
Rubalcava also earned the ire of Republic columnist Laurie Roberts, who noted that news of Rubalcava’s “obnoxious comment” came the day after House Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios’ husband was arrested for a domestic violence assault against her.