House Republicans today bypassed a motion to expel Rep. David Stringer in favor of an ethics investigation of recent allegations against their colleague.
Rep. Reginald Bolding made the motion to expel Stringer, citing the Prescott Republican’s past racist comments – words unbecoming of a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Bolding said – and a report by the Phoenix New Times about charges for sex offenses in Stringer’s past.
Though Bolding, D-Laveen, acknowledged he did not know what had happened in 1983 that led to Stringer’s indictment on five sex offenses, Stringer had not been transparent with the House or voters about the allegations, Bolding said.
Instead of taking a vote on Bolding’s motion for expulsion, Republican lawmakers sidestepped the issue by voting to leave the floor of the House, a motion to recess. House Majority Leader Warren Petersen said that while even those representatives who voted to recess were horrified and shocked by the New Times report, the matter should be investigated by the Ethics Committee before members take action.
“There’s a lot of really horrible things that we’ve heard about, but there are also other sides of this story,” said Petersen, R-Gilbert.
Petersen’s motion passed by 31-28 party line vote over the protest of Bolding.
“We are enabling this behavior by voting to recess,” Bolding said. “We have the ability to move on to the pressing issues that matter in this state and get back to regular order.”
The ethics process has already begun.
Rep. Kelly Townsend filed an ethics complaint this afternoon, citing the report by the New Times, as well as an earlier report by the Arizona Daily Independent, as evidence that Stringer “has a potential criminal history involving child pornography.”
“By this conduct, if true, Representative Stringer has engaged in conduct that compromises the character of himself, members of the House and indeed holds the entire legislature up to contempt and condemnation,” Townsend, R-Mesa wrote in her complaint.
Townsend initially voted against Petersen’s effort to avoid an expulsion vote – it would’ve failed anyway, she said, since Bolding lacked the necessary two-thirds majority vote needed to oust Stringer.
She ultimately sided with her fellow Republicans after Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, urged her to reconsider.
In any case, Townsend stood against expulsion before allowing the Ethics Committee to investigate, and she expressed regret for having voted for the expulsion of former Rep. Don Shooter nearly one year ago before going through that process.
“I don’t want to continue to set the precedent… that if there’s something we don’t like about a member, it’s up to us to expel,” she said.
It was Townsend, then majority whip, who threatened to seek Shooter’s expulsion herself if he did not resign.
“In retrospect, it was the wrong process,” she said. “It should have gone through Ethics.”
Townsend said there are still questions, particularly regarding whether Stringer was required to disclose the charges while running for office, and the ethics investigation would give Stringer the time to make his case.
“[The allegations are] of such an egregious nature that it’s something that I feel needs to be known,” she said. “Whether it was expunged or not, whether it was a plea deal or not, I think… that it rises to the level that it needs to be referred to the Ethics Committee where these things need to go.”
This may not be the last time the House is faced with a motion to expel Stringer, though.
Bolding did not immediately return a request for comment regarding if and when he might attempt to bring his motion back to his colleagues.