Republican members of the Arizona House of Representatives postponed a Democratic push to expel embattled Rep. David Stringer on Monday, saying a newly filed ethics complaint is the proper way to investigate recent revelations that he faced several sex offenses in Maryland in 1983.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, submitted a complaint on Monday with the House Ethics Committee based on a Phoenix New Times article that revealed that Stringer faced several charges, including a child pornography charge that was dropped, while living in Baltimore 35 years ago, as well as an article in the conservative news website Arizona Daily Independent that laid out Stringer’s side of the story.
In her complaint, Townsend wrote that Stringer, R-Prescott, has a “potential criminal history involving child pornography” and was allegedly ordered to seek treatment at a clinic at that specializes in sexual disorders. She noted that the two published accounts of the 1983 case were contradictory, and said the revelations against Stringer demand a formal investigation.
“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 ridicule,” she wrote.
Townsend’s ethics complaint came as Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, was seeking Stringer’s expulsion from the House. After Bolding brought his motion, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, introduced a rival motion to adjourn for the day, thus blocking the vote on Bolding’s motion for expulsion.
Bolding, the House Democratic co-whip, referenced Stringer’s history of racist comments, as well as the more recent revelations, when calling for his ouster. He said Friday’s report in the New Times “shocked everyone in this building.”
“Now, I don’t know what happened in 1983. I can’t speak about it because I wasn’t there. But I can tell you that allegations of a sexual nature that was not disclosed to this body, to our voters, that is not transparency. That is unbecoming of a member of this institution. We are enabling this behavior by voting to recess and not showing leadership,” he said.
Petersen’s motion won, 31-28, on a party-line vote.
Townsend briefly switched her vote, saying she wanted to have the expulsion vote so she could vote against it, because she did not believe it had the 40 votes needed to pass. But she later switched back and voted with the rest of her Republican colleagues.
Last year, Townsend led the charge to expel former Rep. Don Shooter, who overwhelmingly lost an expulsion vote after a report commissioned by then-Speaker J.D. Mesnard detailed extensive sexual harassment allegations against him. Townsend now says she regrets moving to expel Shooter without first going to the House Ethics Committee and letting it make a recommendation, which is traditionally the process for lawmakers accused of wrongdoing.
“In retrospect, it was the wrong process. It should have gone to Ethics, as every single one of us deserves to have an opportunity to go through that process of discovery and let Ethics make a recommendation,” Townsend said on the House floor. “If we continue to go straight to expelling a member, one day it might be one of you. And you would prefer, I would think, to be able to have that opportunity to go through that process of discovery.”
Several other Republican legislators expressed dismay at the possibility of expelling a House member without giving him due process, warning that expulsion without an ethics hearing shouldn’t become the norm, regardless of what happened to Shooter. They said they were voting to delay, not because they didn’t find the allegations against Stringer to be heinous, but because there is a process in place for handling them, and that process should be followed.
For example, in 2012, two lawmakers who faced domestic violence allegations, Republican Sen. Scott Bundgaard and Democratic Rep. Daniel Patterson, went before their respective ethics committees. Both resigned rather than faced expulsion. The last lawmaker to be expelled prior Shooter, Democratic Sen. Carolyn Walker in 1991, also went before an ethics committee. In Patterson and Walker’s cases, the ethics committees recommended that they be expelled, while Bundgaard resigned before the committee reached a conclusion.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, noted on Monday that even though Shooter didn’t get an ethics hearing, there was “months of investigation and much testimony given under penalty of perjury.”
After the House adjourned, Townsend told reporters that even if the case against Stringer was expunged, the allegations need to be investigated.
“At this point, with the information that we have, we need to see exactly what happened. It is of such an egregious nature that it’s something that I feel needs to be done,” she said.
Throughout the debate, Stringer sat silently at his desk near the back of the chamber. He did not comment on either Bolding or Petersen’s motion, and left the chamber as soon as the House adjourned. Stringer has not commented publicly on the New Times article or the allegations it contained.
It is unclear whether Bolding will make another push for Stringer’s expulsion on Tuesday.
The New Times reported on Friday that Stringer was charged in 1983 with five sex offenses while living in Baltimore. One of those charges was for child pornography, though that charge was dismissed. It is unknown what the other charges were.
According to documents obtained by the New Times, Stringer took a deal in which he served five years on probation, performed 208 hours of community service and sought treatment at the Sexual Disorders Clinic at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Stringer’s case was expunged in 1990.
The Arizona Daily Independent reported that Stringer claimed the charges stemmed from allegations made by two prostitutes that he was a client. He said the claims were false, and that a pornography-related charge against him was dropped because no pornography was found when police searched his home. The Daily Independent reported that Stringer was confident about winning at trial, but took a deal involving two of the charges rather than risk conviction. Stringer emphasized in the article that he did not plead guilty to anything. The article did not say what the two charges were.
Even before the New Times published its story, Stringer faced calls for his resignation from Townsend, Gov. Doug Ducey and other prominent Republicans over a series of racist remarks that came to light last year.
In June, video surfaced of Stringer calling immigration an “existential threat” to the United States and saying there “aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools. In late November, Stringer found himself under fire again after telling a group of Arizona State University students that African-Americans “don’t blend in” and saying students who don’t speak English are a “burden.”