Senate Republicans refused Tuesday to remove Scott Bundgaard as their majority leader.
The 21 GOP senators took no vote after about 90 minutes behind closed doors to discuss whether the Peoria Republican should keep his post after a well-publicized fight with his girlfriend two weekends ago in the median of a Phoenix freeway. Bundgaard escaped arrest after invoking legislative immunity; his companion did not.
“I made my case,” said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who led the ouster effort, pausing before adding, “apparently, not well enough.”
Bundgaard, the second-highest-ranking senator, would not discuss the closed-door meeting. But he has had the backing of Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who said that any move to depose Bundgaard is “premature” because police have yet to seek any charges and, when that happens, Bundgaard deserves his day in court.
But Bundgaard’s troubles are not over: Aside from possible criminal charges, Senate Democrats have formally asked for the Ethics Committee to investigate Bundgaard’s actions on the night of Feb. 25.
Gould, who also chairs the Ethics Committee, said he would prefer not to pursue that — at least not yet.
He pointed out lawmakers can be disciplined not only for breaking Senate rules but also any violation of any law or “any improper conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate.” In this case, Gould said, the complaint says Bundgaard “may have committed a domestic violence assault,” which is a crime.
Gould said he thinks it would be wrong for the committee to open its own investigation and force Bundgaard to defend himself until the criminal case is resolved.
“I don’t want to damage Sen. Bundgaard’s defense and I don’t want to damage the prosecution’s case,” he said. Gould said he wants the panel to postpone any action until that criminal case is resolved.
That, however, leaves the question of how fast that can happen.
Phoenix police officer Randall Patterson, who investigated the Feb. 25 incident, said that while Bundgaard could not be arrested at the scene he was recommending that domestic violence charges be brought against the senator when the legislative session ends. That is unlikely before the end of April, with the chance the session could drag on into May or June.
But Bundgaard said Tuesday it doesn’t have to wait that long.
“I’ve waived any immunity,” he told Capitol Media Services.
“I’m confident of the facts and that there won’t be any charges filed,” Bundgaard continued. “And so I don’t want to impede any investigation. I want them to move forward with it.”
But Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, who filed the ethics complaint against Bundgaard, said there is no reason to delay that process while police and prosecutors figure out what to do next.
“I think we need to go forward with that,” said Landrum Taylor, one of two Democrats on the Ethics Committee.
“We don’t know when we will be out of session,” she continued, saying any delay would result in the public believing “that we’re not doing things the appropriate way.”
The Ethics Committee can vote to dismiss the complaint outright. But with Gould interested in pursuing the matter — albeit on a delayed basis — his vote coupled with the two Democrats on the five-member panel would be enough to keep it alive.
Whether there are the votes for a delay, though, remains to be seen.
If and when there is a full investigation, the committee can then vote to dismiss the charges or recommend to the full Senate that Bundgaard be disciplined. That can take the form of a reprimand, a censure or, with a two-thirds vote, expulsion from the Senate.