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Sun sets for Arizona lawmaker as she resigns before possible expulsion

By Bob Christie
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- A Democratic member of the Arizona House resigned Wednesday as lawmakers were considering expelling her after an Ethics Committee investigation determined that she had engaged in a pattern of threats to city and school officials and other behavior that violated House rules.
Rep. Leezah Sun of Phoenix stepped down just before the start of Wednesday's floor session, where Democrats were expected to join with Republicans and vote to expel her for disorderly behavior.
Minority Leader Lupe Contreras, D-Tolleson, and the other three Democratic House leaders issued a statement thanking the Ethics Committee "for its diligent, intensive and transparent work on this report, and to the witnesses who came forward to share their stories under incredibly difficult circumstances.''
"The facts are overwhelmingly clear and speak for themselves,'' they said in the statement.
"Rep. Sun engaged in a pattern of disorderly behavior that damaged the reputation of the House,'' the statement says. "This is a solemn day, but Rep. Sun did what's best for our state and for the integrity of this body.''
Democratic Rep. Amish Shaw, D-Phoenix, also announced Wednesday that he was stepping down, but in his case it’s because he’s running for Congress.
There were already two other vacancies in the House, both Democratic seats, although one was filled Wednesday when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Jevin Hodge to replace former Rep. Athena Salman.
Salman resigned in December to take a job leading an Arizona effort to get abortion rights enshrined in the state Constitution. Hodge was formerly was a Tempe School District board member and ran for Congress in 2022 and for the board in 2020.
The board must also replace former Rep. Jennifer Longdon, a Democrat who resigned last week to take an unannounced new job.
The four members of the House Democratic leadership team filed an ethics complaint against Sun in November. The House Ethics Committee then held hearings to take testimony and hear Sun’s responses before issuing its final report on Tuesday.
The report found that Sun, who represents a wide swath of west Phoenix and all or part of several suburban cities, including Tolleson, Avondale, Goodyear and Glendale, engaged in a series of incidents that constituted disorderly behavior that began soon after she won her election in 2022.
The incidents included a threat to launch an investigation into a school district she made during a meeting with the superintendent of the Littleton Elementary School District and threats against city of Tolleson officials that prompted them to obtain a restraining order against her. A lobbyist for Tolleson told the committee last week that Sun had threatened during a meeting to "bitch-slap'' and then throw a city employee off a balcony and kill her.
Sun said she made those statements in jest, but the ethics panel wasn’t buying it.
"A desire to physically harm someone -- by either assaulting them or throwing them over a ledge -- or to take their life cannot be considered levity in any situation,'' the report said.
Last June, Sun interjected herself into a child custody transfer and told a court-appointed facilitator her involvement was approved by the state attorney general, leading to the children not being handed over for their visit with their father. Sun had no approval or contact with the attorney general’s office.
In her responses to the Ethics Committee, Sun acknowledged that she "may have acted inappropriately'' during the custody transfer incident but did not dispute that she was confrontational. She had denied threatening the school superintendent, and said her interactions with Tolleson officials were not actual threats, although she admitted cursing at them.
The panel said she abused the power of her office.
The Ethics Committee, consisting of three Republican and two Democratic House members, wrote in their unanimous report that they did not find her denials credible and concluded that those who testified against her were believable. The report concluded that Sun's behavior violated House Rules and were intolerable because it erodes public trust in the Legislative process.
The panel's report left it to the members of the House to determine the appropriate penalty.
Democrats hold 29 of 60 seats in the House and 14 of 30 in the Senate.
Sun's expulsion does not change the political landscape because the Board of Supervisors will appoint her replacement from among three names forwarded to them by Democratic precinct committee members in her Legislative District 22. They’ll replace Longdon and Shaw using the same process.
Sun would have been the third lawmaker expelled from the Legislature in the past six years.
The previous two were also House members but were Republicans.
Former Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma was thrown out in 2018 for a pattern of sexual harassment. And Rep. Liz Harris of Chandler was tossed last year for inviting a woman to testify to a committee about unfounded allegations against a host of elected Republicans and Democrats and then lying about her involvement.
Expulsions are rare in the Legislature: the most recent before Shooter was kicked out happened in 1991 and before that two lawmakers were thrown out in 1948. The actions over the past six years show that members of the Legislature will act forcefully even in an age where some emboldened lawmakers improperly use the power of their offices.
It takes a two-thirds vote of the House to expel a member, and it appeared clear before Sun stepped down that there were the needed votes to boot her from office.
On Twitter: @AZChristieNews