Summaries of interviews and documents provided to the House Ethics Committee that were made public Wednesday paint a vivid picture of former Rep. David Stringer as someone who frequently made racist and denigrating comments about minorities and poor people, disliked Mormons and didn’t believe child sex-trafficking either existed or damaged the victims.
The documents also revealed that Stringer had been working in a classroom teaching students at ASU Preparatory Academy, a Phoenix charter school.
Investigators for the committee released 181 pages to the public Wednesday. The document dump includes summaries of interviews, emails and copies of social media posts that witnesses turned over to a private investigator hired by the House of Representatives.
Stringer did not respond to a message from the Mirror.
Stringer resigned from the legislature March 27, but the Ethics Committee has since released information it has gathered. On March 29, the committee released a cache of documents that included a 1983 police report detailing allegations that Stringer repeatedly committed sex crimes against teenage boys, including one who was intellectually diabled. Stringer took a plea deal on those crimes that included probation and treatment at a Johns Hopkins clinic for sex offenders.
One witness, Merissa Hamilton, told the investigator that she spoke with Stringer during and after a Republican Women of Prescott forum in May 2018. During the keynote address by a Border Patrol agent, Stringer opined to Hamilton that he didn’t believe child sex-trafficking was a problem, chalking the issue up to “a lot of 15-year-old prostitutes.” He also questioned whether “there are people having sex with five-year-olds” and said he didn’t like to “demonize” child sex-trafficking.
After the meeting, Hamilton said she and Stringer continued to discuss the issue in the parking lot. During that conversation, she told investigators that Stringer said he didn’t think there was any “damage” caused by child sex-trafficking.
“If an uncle takes his niece or nephew to a playground and they go on the merry-go-round and have some ice cream, and then do their thing, that’s just part of the experience,” Stringer told Hamilton in support of his claim, she told the committee.
Some of Stringer’s comments from during the speech are audible in a video of the event that Hamilton provided to the committee.
Hamilton said she was “shaken up” and “frazzled” by the comments, and left voicemails for his political consultant and the Arizona Young Republican League member who originally put her in contact with Stringer, but never heard back from either.
Nonetheless, Hamilton continued associating with Stringer, telling the committee that she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt due to the brief interaction she’d had with him and because he was highly respected in the community.
Stringer in the classroom
The interviews also disclose that Stringer worked in a classroom at ASU Preparatory Academy in Phoenix. Former teacher and education organizer Rosemary Agneessens told investigators that, during a meeting in the fall of 2017 or early 2018, Stringer discussed his “internship” at the charter school.
Agneessens said Stringer talked about working in a “third- or fourth grade” classroom for English Language Learners, and said he enjoyed the work. Stringer recently obtained a Masters of Education from Arizona State University.
Agneessens also told investigators that Stringer told her and other Prescott education advocates that he “like(s) being a daddy figure for the little girls when they sit on my lap,” referring to his work at ASU Preparatory Academy.
ASU Preparatory Academy did not return a request for comment on Stringer’s work there.
Views on minorities and the poor
Multiple witnesses told the investigators that Stringer voiced prejudice toward poor people and minorities, particularly in the context of education.
Agneesens said that Stringer asserted at a 2017 meeting with Prescott school officials and other elected officials, including fellow Prescott Republican Rep. Noel Campbell, that public schools should be attended only by minority, indigent and special education students “because they don’t contribute to society.”
In another 2017 meeting, Agneesens said Stringer voiced an opinion that school funding should be for “elite students,” while public schools should be for “Mexicans.” He added that “Mexicans” and poor students “should not been educated past the eighth grade, as this was a waste of education funding.”
Mardi Read, the assistant superintendent of the Prescott Unified School District, told investigators about an event in late 2016 or early 2017 at Taylor Hicks School that Stringer attended. During their conversation, she said Stringer asserted that “government schools” were the best place for poor and special education students, while wealthy students should attend charter schools.
Read said she voiced concern that charter schools are creating a “veiled form of segregation” because poor families often can’t afford the costs of transportation, meals and other fees that are often required to attend a charter school. Stringer responded that families who pay more taxes – wealthier families – are entitled to send their kids to charters instead of traditional public schools.
Getting away ‘from diversity’
Witnesses also said Stringer held racist beliefs and lamented the effects of diversity on white people.
After the media published Stringer’s racist remarks about race and education in June 2018, Hamilton said she helped him set up a press conference with a local black community leader. In a meeting with Stringer in advance of that press event, she told investigators that Stringer repeatedly used the term “white flight”. He also “proclaimed that ‘white’ people were… trying to get away from ‘Hispanics,’ ‘African-Americans’ and other minorities,” she said.
Hamilton also said that Stringer “implied that the white culture was superior.”
And Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard recalled a 2015 conversation with Stringer during which Howard sought to persuade Stringer to support an upcoming bond and override election in the district.
He told investigators that Stringer “implied that he had no tolerance for poor people” and said that they were “a drain on society” because they “had a lot of babies” and were “unhealthy.”
Howard also said Stringer told him that he moved to Prescott “to get away from diversity, like many others.” He recalled that Stringer wanted Prescott to “remain a predominantly non-diverse retirement community.
Several ASU students also told investigators about their interaction with Stringer after a November 2018 class at which he was a guest speaker. A portion of that conversation was recorded and published by Phoenix New Times, but the students said before the recording began, Stringer blamed ethnic diversity for “why America was failing.” He also challenged the students to name a “successful multicultural nation.”
Stringer also expressed a distaste for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Alex Vakula, a longtime Prescott attorney, told investigators that he spoke with Stringer in June 2015 and he voiced a desire to find a candidate for Yavapai County Attorney other than Sheila Polk, “because she was a ‘Mormon.’” Polk, a Republican, was first elected to that post in 2000.
Polk is actually Roman Catholic.