On the eve of a key deadline to turn over documents in an ongoing investigation into two complaints against Rep. David Stringer, State House Speaker Rusty Bowers rejected a requested by the embattled lawmaker to remove the chairman of the House Ethics Committee over allegations of bias.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Stringer, R-Prescott, said comments that Ethics Committee Chairman T.J. Shope made to the Arizona Capitol Times in December show he’s biased and shouldn’t be presiding over the committee’s probe into two complaints against Stringer. He said Shope, R-Coolidge, said Stringer didn’t belong in office because of “my comments on immigration and assimilation,” and that he said he doesn’t care for Stringer personally.
“I can live with him not liking me, but he never disclosed to any of us that he had already reached a decision in his mind before even beginning the House Ethics process,” Stringer wrote. “I don’t believe the House Speaker or House Leadership knew that Shope had already decided I should be removed from office, and as an attorney who is used to dealing with due process and strict ethical rules.”
Carmen Chenal, Stringer’s attorney, sent a letter to Bowers on Tuesday echoing those comments and asking the speaker to remove Shope as Ethics Committee chairman.
Shope did not actually express an opinion about whether the House of Representatives should expel Stringer to the Capitol Times in December. In the wake of racist comments of Stringer’s that came to light, the second time last year that happened, Shope said he didn’t believe Stringer deserves to be in the House of Representatives. But he said that he didn’t believe most lawmakers would be willing to expel Stringer for those comments.
Shope also emphasized that the voters of Legislative District 1 were aware of some of Stringer’s comments, and that they re-elected him anyway.
The interview took place several weeks before Bowers appointed Shope as chairman of the House Ethics Committee, and about two months before Reps. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, and Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, submitted their complaints to the committee.
While one of the two ethics complaints against Stinger includes the racist comments that Shope spoke about in December, the committee’s battles with Stringer have revolved around the other subject of the complaints – revelations by the Phoenix New Times that he faced sex crimes charges, including child pornography, in Maryland in 1983.
Bowers rejected Chenal’s request, and expressed his confidence in Shope as committee chairman.
“I find her claims that the Ethics Chair is biased to be completely without merit, and I have the utmost confidence in Rep. Shope’s ability to fairly investigate the complaints against Rep. Stringer,” Bowers said in an emailed statement provided by a spokesman.
Shope said Stringer did not accurately describe his comments to the Capitol Times. He called Stringer’s allegations “a reach,” and noted that he wasn’t the Ethics Committee chairman at the time.
“We’re letting the process play out in what I consider an extremely fair manner. And I think that the report will bear that out,” Shope said.
Shope set a Wednesday deadline for Stringer to provide the Ethics Committee with documents it requested, and a Friday deadline for him to submit to an in-person interview with the committee’s attorneys. Chenal has said Stringer will only turn over a 1984 letter in which the District of Columbia Bar dismissing an investigation into the Maryland case if the committee keeps it confidential, a request that the committee has rejected.
Stringer has the ability to release the letter, but has said he will not.
Shope declined to comment on what will happen if Stringer misses the deadline.
Chenal could not be reached for comment regarding Bowers’ rejection of her request to remove Shope from the Ethics Committee.