State Senator representing Pinal County files ethics complaint over Democratic lawmaker's absences

Jeremy Beren

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Shope (right) speaking with attendees at the 2022 Update from Capitol Hill hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.Gage Skidmore/Flickr

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Phoenix) — State Senator T.J. Shope, who represents Arizona's 8th Legislative District, drew criticism on Thursday for demanding the legislative body open an ethics investigation into fellow senator Juan Mendez for "excessive absences."

"It is my belief that our current Senator representing District 26 (Mendez), which covers north Tempe, northwest Mesa, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, and parts of south Phoenix, is taking advantage of the system," Sen. Shope said in a Senate press release. "Missing 63 days and counting from the legislature, while collecting a legislative salary of $24,000 on top of more than $4,000 so far in per diem payments, is completely unacceptable for the taxpayers who are footing the bill without any representation on matters important (to) them."

Sen. Mendez and wife Athena Salman, a Democrat representing LD 26 in the State House of Representatives, welcomed their first child in January. Since their daughter's birth, neither lawmaker has spent much time at the State Capitol — which began lifting many coronavirus mitigation protocols months ago.

"Elected leaders are sent to the Capitol to work and do the job we pay them to do," former Apache Junction City Councilman Braden Biggs tweeted. "If you can’t do that, then get out. I’d be fired for not showing up to my job."

In the press release and a corresponding letter sent to Senate Ethics Committee Chair Sine Kerr, Shope asked, in an effort to "create better accountability when it comes to the attendance of our Arizona State Senators during the legislative session," for Sen. Kerr's committee to consider changing the rules and standing statutes in order to avoid setting a "dangerous precedent."

"State law deems an office vacant if the person holding the office ceases to discharge the duties of office for the period of three consecutive months," he wrote to Sen. Kerr.

Democrats were quick to label Shope's inquiry as a "smokescreen," intended to distract Arizonans from an investigation launched into far-right lawmaker Wendy Rogers earlier this week. Martín Quezada, who represents Glendale and Maryvale in LD 29, called his Senate colleague's request "pathetic."

"(Shope is) prioritizing an ethics complaint on a member who stayed home to protect a newborn baby from COVID-19 after the Senate refused to provide appropriate accommodations, rather than focus on the senator whose dog whistle comments excused the racist murder of 10 people," he tweeted.

Recent days have seen the Arizona State Senate engulfed in partisan controversy, mostly over Sen. Rogers's conspiratorial comments following the racism-fueled mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios called for Rogers's expulsion from the chamber earlier this week — a request that was not granted, though the body did vote 24-3 to begin an ethics probe into Rogers's behavior on social media.

"The Senator from LD 6 is just slowly dripping hate and racism and anti-Semitism into the public that actually is poisoning the soul of Arizona and our entire nation ... (Rogers) has time and again broken her commitment to the voters and to Arizonans, and I don't believe that this behavior can be tolerated any longer," Sen. Rios said on Monday.

NewsBreak was unable to secure further comment from the Arizona Senate Democrats before publication regarding Shope's complaint or a potential investigation into Mendez.

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

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