Former Senate president takes David Stringer's State House Seat

PHOENIX (AP/FOX 10) - The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday picked former state Senate President Steve Pierce to replace Republican Rep. David Stringer, whose resignation amid scrutiny of 1983 sex crimes charges has halted action in the state House.

Pierce took the oath of office on Wednesday, and will finish out the term of former State Rep. Stringer. It's an unusual circumstance, but Pierce is looking ahead.

"We have a job to do for the people of Arizona, and for my constituents in LD 1," said State Rep. Pierce.

The now-filled vacancy in Legislative District 1 left the GOP with 30 of the 60 House seats, which was 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 for allegedly sexually abusing two teenage boys. He denied the charges, noting he was never convicted through a deal with prosecutors.

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.

The supervisors said Pierce and Bennett, both former lawmakers, are respected in the county and could hit the ground running, but some worried that Bennett has a strained relationship with Gov. Doug Ducey, whom he challenged in last year's GOP primary.

"I see this position as being a reset for Yavapai County," said Randy Garrison, the board chairman and the lone vote for Bennett. "It's time we get back some of our reputation that seems to have been soiled."

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."

Bennett is also a former state Senate president who later was elected secretary of state. He ran for governor in 2014 and 2018 and for Congress in 2016 but lost in the primary each time.

Stringer quit March 27 following 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."

Meanwhile, Democrats have seen two GOP state lawmakers, Stringer and Don Shooter, come and go in the last year, and they are frustrated that there is still no Code of Conduct policy in place.

"Phoenix has a Code of Conduct, Mesa has a Code of Conduct," said State Rep. Charlene Fernandez. "If these Arizona cities can hold their elected officials accountable, certainly, so can we."

"We could not have said what he said on the House floor, because that would be impuning another member, so how is it that he can say that in public and not be held accountable?" said State Rep. Diego Rodriguez.

"I don't think speech alone is worthy of being removed from this office," said House Speaker Rusty Bowers

Republican leaders are trying to funnel future conduct concerns through the House Ethics Committee.

"We already have rules in place that determine that the Ethics Committee can look into these types of things," said State Rep. TJ Shope.

"We are in violation of our own rules and I certainly don't think any member of the public is going to say we don't need this." State Rep. Fernandez.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.