The Arizona House of Representatives on Monday punted on a motion to expel State Representative David Stringer following a Phoenix New Times report that he was charged with multiple sex offenses, including child pornography, when he lived in Baltimore in 1983.
Republicans voted 31-28 in favor of ending the day without deciding Stringer’s fate, while Democrats wanted a vote on the Prescott Republican’s expulsion. Republicans said they preferred to await findings from an ethics committee on claims against Stringer before taking a vote to expel him.
Minority Co-Whip Reginald Bolding, a Democrat from Laveen, introduced the motion to expel Stringer, citing the state representative’s failure to disclose his 1983 charges to the public.
“I don’t know what happened in 1983,” Bolding said on the floor as he explained why he wanted to expel Stringer. “But I can tell you that allegations of a sexual nature that was not disclosed to the body, to our voters. That is not transparency.”
Bolding also cited racist comments made by Stringer last year, including remarks that African-Americans “don’t blend in” and that there “aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona public schools.
“When a little boy reads a paper and sees that a member of the House of Representatives says you don’t blend in, what do you think that 6- or 7-year-old boy feels?” Bolding said. “That’s not okay.”
A court document obtained by New Times shows that a Maryland state court entered a judgment of guilt against Stringer on three sex offenses. The document shows that he was sentenced to probation and instructed to seek treatment at a program for people with sexual disorders.
Stringer claims he was falsely arrested. The Arizona Daily Independent, a conservative news outlet, published a sympathetic story claiming the state representative pleaded to “probation before judgment,” wherein he neither admitted guilt nor received any conviction.
Republicans said the House Ethics Committee, which meets Thursday, should investigate an official complaint against Stringer before taking any action against the representative.
House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, a Republican from Gilbert, said, “The reason members are agreeing on the board. It’s not that people aren’t horrified or people aren’t shocked, but we have a process.”
State Representative Kelly Townsend of Mesa filed the complaint against Stringer. Citing the New Times story, as well as the “conflicting” Arizona Daily Independent story, Townsend’s complaint states Stringer should be given an opportunity to defend himself.
“I cannot tolerate even reports of current or past conduct, that if true, would hold an elected member up to shameful public dishonor and scorn,” Townsend complaint states.
Last year, Townsend was a voice advocating for the expulsion of then-Representative Don Shooter after an investigation substantiated sexual harassment allegations against the lawmaker. At the time, Townsend said if Shooter did not resign within 24 hours, she would move to expel him, going beyond then-Speaker J.D. Mesnard’s call for Shooter’s censure.
Shooter did not resign. He was expelled in a historic 56-3 vote on February 1, 2018.
But on Monday, Townsend expressed regret for the way Shooter’s expulsion played out.
“In retrospect, it was the wrong process. It should have gone through Ethics, as every single one of us deserves to have the opportunity to go through that process of discovery and let Ethics make the recommendation,” Townsend said on the floor.
“If we continue to go straight to expelling a member, one day it might be one of you,” she continued.
Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers also invoked Shooter’s expulsion, arguing that more time is needed for an explanation and an opportunity for Stringer to offer his defense. Shooter’s expulsion “was after months of investigation and much testimony given under penalty of perjury,” Bowers said.
Last year, legislators decided “that in the future, there would be a method to address these issues as they come – heinous, unacceptable, however we might describe them – but there still was a process,” Bowers said.
The speaker said he supported the motion to recess, with the expectation that lawmakers would return to address Bolding’s motion.