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Scottsdale lawmaker criticizes Arizona House for expelling Chandler legislator

Kolodin: It makes Harris a 'martyr'

Posted 4/12/23

PHOENIX – A Scottsdale lawmaker said the Arizona House went too far Wednesday when it decided to expel Chandler lawmaker Liz Harris for ethics violations.

House lawmakers accepted the …

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Scottsdale lawmaker criticizes Arizona House for expelling Chandler legislator

Kolodin: It makes Harris a 'martyr'


PHOENIX – A Scottsdale lawmaker said the Arizona House went too far Wednesday when it decided to expel Chandler lawmaker Liz Harris for ethics violations.

House lawmakers accepted the findings of the Ethics Committee with their 46-13 vote that Harris knew that someone she had invited to testify at a joint hearing on election integrity was going to present false accusations against lawmakers, judges and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accusing them of being involved in a criminal scheme to rig elections and other crimes.

The committee also concluded that Harris was not truthful with them about what she knew ahead of time about what Scottsdale insurance agent Jacqueline Breger was going to say.

It takes 40 votes to oust a sitting representative.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said the House went too far.

"Liz Harris made an error in judgment,'' he said. "She did something she shouldn't have done.''

And Kolodin said Harris "played shell games,'' hiding from House leadership what Breger intended to say despite rules to the contrary.

"But expulsion sets a bad precedent,'' he said.

What's worse, said Kolodin, is that the grounds for expelling Harris is that her conduct damaged "the institutional integrity of the House.'' But he said the people who sent Harris to the Capitol - people who wanted her to "rock the boat'' - will not see the situation that way.

"They will perceive that they don't have a true voice in this body because when they elect somebody to rock the boat and she does it, albeit in a wrong way, a way that should have been better considered, that member will be expelled,'' Kolodin said.

And he argued it makes Harris a "martyr.''

Harris, a first-term lawmaker, said nothing in her defense during the vote.

Afterwards, in the House parking lot, she said "the report is a lie.'' Harris also said the votes from Republican colleagues to oust her was political.

"You need to toe the line,'' she said. "If you don't toe the line, this is what happens.''

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said the issue must be seen from a larger perspective.

"This comes down to the integrity, in my opinion, of this institution and us as leaders,'' he said. "This is not personal.''

This is the first expulsion since 2018 when Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, was accused of violating a House policy against sexual harassment.

What the ouster vote came down to was what did Harris know about the testimony that Breger was going to present at the February joint House-Senate hearing on election issues, when did she know it - and did she hide what she knew from House leadership so they didn't pull the plug ahead of time.

Breger, armed with handouts, made a 40-minute presentation of what she said were her findings of an investigation that showed alleged criminal schemes within Arizona, including money laundering, drug trafficking and sales, public corruption, bribing of public officials and election fraud.

She also named names, implicating other lawmakers, including House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Gov. Katie Hobbs, as well as charging that these activities had been overseen by the LDS Church.

"Harris knew or was aware that Ms. Breger would present these criminal allegations at the joint hearing,'' the five-member bipartisan Ethics Committee concluded.

Kolodin, however, said that's no reason to oust an elected lawmaker.

"It sets a bad precedent because we don't want to expel members (of the House) for what members of the public say,'' he told colleagues. And Kolodin said it also assumes that because Harris knew some of what was going to be presented that she knew it all.

But that was only part of the problem.

The report, adopted by the full House, said House rules required Harris, who was the primary organizer of the joint hearing, to present what Breger intended to present to leadership. She did not do so.

Kolodin was not convinced.

"It sets a bad precedent because it says we're going to expel members for playing shell games and hiding the ball,'' he said. "Well, if we start expelling members for that, there would only be a few occupied seats down here.''

Kolodin also said that by expelling Harris over Breger's presentation "gives credit to these awful allegations and makes her a martyr for them.''

While Harris did not comment during Wednesday's vote, Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, who chairs the Ethics Committee, said she was given "due process'' and "an opportunity to tell her side of the story'' to the panel.

And in its report, the panel rejected Harris' contention during that hearing that she did not know what Breger was going to say. Committee members said there were text messages and meetings between Harris and Breger which undermined her claim of ignorance of the planned testimony.

The Ethics Committee probe was triggered when Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, asked the House to censure Harris following what happened at that election hearing. That proposal was voted down by the Republican majority.

But Stahl Hamilton followed through with a formal request for an investigation by the Ethics Committee, the report that led to Wednesday's expulsion vote.

"It is a sad and somber day for our institution,'' House Minority Leader Andres Cano, D-Tucson, said of Wednesday's vote. But he called it "necessary.''

"There has been real and lasting damage to the lives and the reputations of people who did not deserve it,'' Cano said. "Most importantly, the integrity of this House has been jeopardized.''

Wednesday's action sets in motion a procedure where the elected precinct committeemen in her legislative district have to meet within five days and nominate three Republicans, like Harris, to fill her seat. The final decision is up to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Until that happens, Republicans may be unable to advance certain parts of their legislative agenda absent Democratic support. That's because the vacancy leaves them with only 30 votes, with 31 needed for final approval of any measure.

Shooter's 2018 expulsion, by a 56-3 vote, came after fellow lawmakers said he had a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct that included propositioning a female lawmaker and making inappropriate comments to multiple other women.

The expulsion was the first for lawmakers across the nation after the #MeToo movement of women who said they had been harassed and assaulted by powerful figures emerged the prior year. Shooter acknowledged that he had acted inappropriately but said he deserved to be punished but not expelled.

In 2019, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, who coincidentally was one of only two lawmakers besides Shooter who voted against the expulsion, resigned amid a similar move to expel him.

That came after an Ethics Committee investigation prompted by newspaper reports that he had been charged with sex crimes with a minor in 1983. That probe also was looking into comments he made on race and immigration that were widely denounced as racist.

Bob Christie of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.