On a party-line vote, the Senate Ethics Committee on Tuesday threw out a complaint that Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, violated rules when he cut off debate on the last night of the session.
Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, who cast the deciding vote, said Harper, who was presiding over the floor debate, handled the process “very poorly.” But he also noted that Harper apologized — though he never admitted violating the rules.
The vote disappointed Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, who had filed the complaint.
“You have three Republicans,” he said of the panel. “They whitewashed this whole thing.”
Cheuvront also discounted the apology — which came only after the ethics complaint was filed — as meaningless. He said the only message that sends to future lawmakers is they are free to ignore the rules and then be able to escape any retribution by simply apologizing.
Harper, for his part, remained adamant he did nothing wrong. In fact, he said it was Cheuvront and Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, who were breaking Senate rules that night by engaging in a time-wasting question-and-answer session on a tax bill in hopes of delaying a vote on a measure to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.
And Harper said he was justified in shutting off their microphones.
But Harper continued to sidestep questions of why, if he was entitled to cut off debate, he did not rule the pair out of order. Instead, he said at the time, “I clicked on the wrong thing. I clicked on the clear mics” button.
Instead he apologized for “my less-than-stellar acting when the mics were shut off.”
Harper also conceded he did not acknowledge any of calls from the floor for a “point of order” — a parliamentary maneuver designed to call attention to an apparently illegal maneuver. Instead Harper said he was focused on a motion to suspend further debate and “nothing else was coherent to me.”
Tuesday’s vote is the final word on what became a heated dispute the last night of the session over that Senate vote to ask voters to adopt the constitutional amendment on gay marriage.
Cheuvront admitted he and Aboud, both of whom are gay, had purposely slowed up floor action. There was the possibility that one of the 16 senators whose vote was necessary to approve the gay marriage amendment would have to leave.
But Cheuvront charged that Harper acted “in cahoots” with Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, to illegally shut off debate on that tax measure.
Harper admitted under oath Tuesday that he and Verschoor had discussed ways of cutting off debate.
He said, though, that it was clear that Cheuvront and Aboud were not interested in the specifics of the tax bill but only to “keep the marriage amendment from coming to the ballot.” That, said Harper, gave him the legal right to cut off “this charade.”
And if that intent were not crystal clear that night, Harper said Aboud admitted to it just recently in a radio interview.
“My intentions are irrelevant,” Cheuvront said, adding that his right to discuss the tax bill with Aboud for as long as he wants is absolute under Senate rules.
Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, one of the members of the Ethics Committee, said the complaint was sour grapes by foes of the gay marriage amendment who were unable to block a vote.
“Because one group lost and didn’t get their way we find ourselves with an ethics violation,” he said.
Cheuvront responded that he has been on the losing side on various votes on this issue before, all without filing complaints, because everyone followed the rules. He also denied that the complaint was filed to undermine Harper’s bid for reelection and strengthen the campaign of Wickenburg resident John Zerby in the Republican primary.
“Why would I want Sen. Harper gone?’’ Cheuvront said.
“He doesn’t vote with the Republican party,’’ he continued. “He usually votes ‘no.’ ”
And Cheuvront said that, no matter what he would do, a Democrat has virtually no chances of getting elected in that district.
But Zerby has a different philosophy about same-sex marriage than Harper. Zerby said while he personally believes marriage should be between one man and one woman he does not believe the state constitution should be amended to spell that out.