PHOENIX (AP) - Former Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce was sworn in Wednesday to replace Republican Rep. David Stringer, whose resignation amid scrutiny of decades-old sex crimes charges had halted action in the state house.
Pierce took the oath of office hours after he was selected by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors. His return to the Capitol restores the GOP’s governing majority in the House, which had not voted on legislation since Stringer’s resignation last week.
The vacancy in Legislative District 1 left the GOP with 30 of the 60 House seats, one vote short of the number required to pass legislation without support from Democrats.
Stringer stepped down a week ago when confronted with a Baltimore police report showing he was investigated in the early 1980s for allegedly sexually abusing two teenage boys. He denied the charges, noting he was never convicted through a deal with prosecutors.
Democrats seized on the Stringer scandal to demand that the GOP-led Legislature adopt a code of conduct for lawmakers. Rep. Charlene Fernandez, the top House Democrat, said Republicans promised last year that a committee would develop a code but it has not met. The House voted instead to charge the Ethics Committee with writing a code of conduct.
Last year’s promise came in the midst of another scandal that led the House to expel Republican Don Shooter for a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct.
“We need these rules now more than ever,” Fernandez said in a news conference. “Scandal must no longer plague our Legislature.”
The Board of Supervisors - the county’s elected governing body - chose Pierce in a 4-1 vote over former Secretary of State Ken Bennett and GOP organizer Steven Sensmeier.
Pierce is a longtime lawmaker who said he’ll finish Stringer’s term but won’t run for the seat in 2020. Pierce, a rancher, served in the Legislature eight years and led the state Senate for the 2012 legislative session. He was among a group of Republican lawmakers who took heat from conservatives for working in 2013 with then-Gov. Jan Brewer to expand Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“I appreciate this very much,” Pierce told board members after he was selected during a meeting in Prescott. “I’ll do the best I can down there.”
Stringer’s resignation came after national attention over a series of stories. Last June, his comments on race and immigration led the then-GOP chairman and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to demand his resignation. He refused and was re-elected in November. A few weeks later, he faced further scrutiny for more racist remarks to a Republican group at Arizona State University.
In January, the Phoenix New Times published the summary of a 1983 court case in Baltimore indicating Stringer was charged with sex crimes. The case was later expunged, and a Maryland judiciary official said the summary should not have been released. Stringer was the subject of ethics complaints filed by two House colleagues, one from each party, but aggressively fought to keep records in the probe secret until he abruptly quit.
Two days later, the House Ethics Committee released a copy of the 1983 police report obtained from a private investigator showing a teenage boy told detectives Stringer approached him and another boy in a park, took them to his apartment and paid them $10 apiece for engaging in sex acts. The boy said he met “Mr. Dave” at least 10 additional times and was asked to engage in sex acts. Stringer surrendered to police on sex crimes charges on Sept. 15, 1983, when he was 36 years old.
He wrote on Facebook early Saturday morning that the charges “had no basis in fact.”
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