Incoming House Speaker Rusty Bowers has removed Rep. David Stringer as chair of the new Sentencing and Recidivism Reform Committee after a series of racist remarks he made to college students were reported by a media outlet.
Bowers on Friday said he asked Stringer, R-Prescott, to step down as chair of the committee, and Stringer agreed.
“Representative Stringer’s comments are vile and won’t be tolerated,” Bowers said in a press statement. “Given the diversity of my own family, I take personal offense to these disgusting comments. I gave Representative Stringer a critical assignment as chair of the Sentencing and Recidivism Reform Committee. These comments render him incapable of performing his duties as chair.”
The Phoenix New Times revealed on Friday that Stringer told students at Arizona State University earlier this month that African-Americans and other non-whites “don’t blend in” with Americans, while white immigrants from European countries do.
“After their second or third generation, everybody looks the same,” Stringer said of whites of European ancestry. “Everybody talks the same. That’s not the case with African-Americans and other racial groups because they don’t melt in. They don’t blend in. They always look different.”
Asked by a student whether it matters what if people look like, Stringer said, “That’s a legitimate question. It doesn’t matter to you. Maybe that’s a good thing. It seems to matter to a lot of people.”
When the student asker Stringer directly if it mattered to him, he replied, “”I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
This isn’t the first time Stringer has come under fire for racist remarks. The New Times reported in June that he told a Yavapai County Republican Men’s Forum that immigration is an “existential threat” to the United States and that there “aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools. Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines called on Stringer to resign after the comments became public, but Stringer remained in his seat and won re-election.
The House Sentencing and Recidivism Reform Committee could play a pivotal role in the 2019 legislative session, given that criminal justice reform advocates are planning major legislation in that area, including reform of Arizona’s “truth in sentencing” laws and loosening the state’s strict marijuana possession laws, including possible decriminalization of the drug. It remains to be seen how Stringer’s removal as chairman will affect such proposals.
Bowers said he doesn’t know yet who will take Stringer’s place as chairman of the committee. Republican Reps. Tony Rivero and Ben Toma, who served with Stringer on the House’s Ad Hoc Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, which Speaker J.D. Mesnard dissolved following the revelations of Stringer’s comments in June, also serve on the committee.
But Bowers was hesitant to appoint either to the chairmanship, saying both have important work ahead of them on other House committees they already chair. Rivero chairs the House State and International Affairs Committee, and Toma chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. Chairmanships usually go to lawmakers who have served at least one term.
Bowers appointed Stringer as chairman of the committee despite the controversy surrounding his comments over the summer. When asked why he gave Stringer the chairmanship, Bowers told the Arizona Mirror, “The earlier comments, what their context was, may have had an explanation. And he got elected. But … with these comments, it makes it untenable for me. I wasn’t there. I gave him a pass. But I’m not giving him a second pass, and I made that very clear. And he accepted it.”
Stringer told the Arizona Mirror that he’s not currently commenting on the situation, though he may have a statement next week.