State Rep. David Stringer said he won’t resign from the Legislature, rejecting calls from numerous Republicans who want him to step down over racist comments that came to light recently.
Stringer was defiant Thursday evening at Prescott Valley Town Council meeting, where he, Rep. Noel Campbell and Sen. Karen Fann, who all represent the Yavapai County-based Legislative District 1, were on hand to discuss legislative issues.
Early in the meeting, Councilman Martin Grossman said Stringer’s widely publicized comments have compromised his ability to represent his district, and that he should resign so someone can do the job more effectively can take his place.
“Your effectiveness as a representative of this area is zero. In fact, it’s minus zero. We cannot have a representative saying the things you’re saying. You can have those personal opinions. But the fact that you’re a state representative and you’re supposed to represent all of the people, those comments are totally wrong and they should not be said, especially in public,” said Grossman, whose call for Stringer’s resignation was met with applause.
But Stringer, R-Prescott, who has declined public comment since his comments were first made public a week ago, made it clear that he’s not going anywhere. He emphasized that he won his re-election overwhelmingly, and that the 67,023 votes he received was the second-highest total of any House of Representatives candidate in the state.
“I am not going to disenfranchise the thousands and thousands of people who just returned me to office a month ago,” Stringer said.
“I know there’s a lot of controversy going on right now. But I will say to you folks that, when I decided to run for political office and when I got elected to the state Legislature, I didn’t forfeit my First Amendment rights to free speech,” he said.
“I believe that everything I‘ve said, if you look at what I actually said, is defensible, that it is truthful, that it is factually accurate, that it can be supported by academic research.”
And Stringer disputed Grossman’s claim that he can no longer be an effective representative for his district. Given that Republicans hold a slim 31-29 majority over Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives, Stringer noted that his vote alone – or the votes of any other Republican, for that matter – is enough to sink legislation.
“I am a 31st vote for the governor’s agenda, for the agenda of the leadership of the House of Representatives. Every legislator in the state House of Representatives is going to be consequential. And for that reason I think I’m going to be able to continue to be an effective legislator for my district,” he told the council.
Several other Prescott Valley Town Council members criticized Stringer, both for his recent comments and for a remark he made at the beginning of the meeting expressing thanks that the voters rejected a bond issue for the Humboldt Unified School District. Some council members called him to step down from office, while others criticized him without urging his resignation.
Campbell rose to his seatmate’s defense, saying Stringer isn’t a racist. He said the media had sensationalized Stringer’s comments, and urged people to read the transcript.
“I’m not here to defend what Rep. Stringer says. But I sure as hell am here to defend his right to say it and not be ostracized about it. That offends me as an American,” Campbell said.
Like Stringer, Campbell noted that roughly 67,000 voters had chosen to re-elect him. And he pointed out that the voters did so, despite a previous controversy over other remarks Stringer made over the summer in which he said immigration was an “existential threat” to the United States, warned that immigration will “irrevocably change” America’s demographics, and said there “aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools.
The more recent controversy began after the Phoenix New Times released audio recordings of Stringer telling students who attended a seminar at Arizona State University that blacks and other non-white people “don’t blend in” to America, unlike the descendants of European immigrants. When asked whether that was important, he said he didn’t know.
“Now, I know what he said was racially insensitive. But it’s not racist, in my opinion,” Campbell said.
No Republican member of the House of Representatives has called for Stringer’s resignation, but a host of other prominent Republicans has, including Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, and his seatmate Fann, who is the incoming president of the Arizona Senate.
Incoming House Speaker Rusty Bowers hasn’t called for Stringer to resign, but stripped him of most committee assignments, including his vice chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee and his chairmanship of the House Recidivism and Sentencing Reform Committee, which Bowers subsequently dissolved.
Stringer said at the Prescott Valley Town Council meeting that criminal justice reform will be one of his top priorities of the upcoming session, along with expanding school choice and enacting some kind of tax cut. He specifically pointed to proposed legislation that would reduce marijuana possession from a felony offense to a misdemeanor, subject only to a fine or community service for first- or second-time offenders, though he said decriminalization is not in the works.
Bowers has said that criminal justice reform issues will now go before the House Judiciary Committee.