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Repairing Yavapai County’s ‘tarnished image’ central to supervisors’ replacement of Stringer
Longtime State Sen. Steve Pierce tapped to fill out remainder of Stringer’s term

Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel, left, swears in Republican Steve Pierce on Wednesday to replace former Rep. David Stringer of Prescott who resigned last week following the release of a police report detailing 1983 charges of paying teen boys for sex. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel, left, swears in Republican Steve Pierce on Wednesday to replace former Rep. David Stringer of Prescott who resigned last week following the release of a police report detailing 1983 charges of paying teen boys for sex. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A “reset,” a “renewal,” and a “refreshing” – they were all words that Yavapai County Supervisors used April 3, prior to choosing longtime State Sen. Steve Pierce to replace embattled Rep. David Stringer in the House of Representatives.

Throughout the board’s special meeting Wednesday morning, supervisors made repeated references to the need to repair the county’s ‘tarnished’ image, and move forward.

Although supervisors did not get specific about the cause of the stained reputation, Stringer resigned last week after he reportedly was informed that House Speaker Rusty Bowers had a police report detailing the Prescott Republican’s 1983 arrest in Maryland for allegedly having sex with two teenage boys.

Stringer’s resignation came in the midst of a House Ethics Committee probe into his recent racially disparaging comments, as well as the Maryland charges.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Garrison called the situation “an unfortunate occurrence, but it is what we’re dealing with.” He added: “I see this position (appointment) as being a reset.”

Supervisor Craig Brown maintained that while the county’s credibility had been “pristine” in the past – producing three recent Senate presidents and one Speaker of the House – he said: “This tarnish that we have felt the last six months or so has created a serious problem.”

With this week’s appointment, Brown said, “I want to make sure that whichever way we go, that everybody realizes that we’re working hard to make sure the confidence in the state of Yavapai County as a leader is going to be renewed and refreshed.”

Three Nominees

By state law, the party of the departing legislator recommends three choices to the supervisors of the legislator’s home county.

The county, which had prepared for the process last week, posted an agenda for Wednesday’s special meeting on Monday, listing the three nominees: Pierce; former Arizona Secretary of State and State Sen. Ken Bennett, and GOP field organizer Steven Sensmeier.

After hearing brief statements from each of the three, the supervisors chose Pierce in a 4-1 vote to fill the remainder of Stringer’s term.

Sensmeier, 27, told the board: “I put myself forward for this spot because Yavapai County has a bit of a problem right now at the state level. Our reputation’s been somewhat tarnished, and I feel that we need to get beyond the situation that we’re in right now.”

Sensmeier said he would be a good choice to replace Stringer, in part, because of his “youth and rigor,” but also because he would be “a new face,” setting “a new image and a clean slate going forward.”

Bennett, who has served in a variety of local and state political positions over the past three decades or so, told the supervisors that he would focus on resolving a number of issues with the state budget, if chosen.

For instance, Bennett said, “I’m going to push to solve things like the pension systems.” He also stressed the importance of restoring money to cities and counties that the state swept away during the economic downturn the late 2000s/early 2010s.

Hit The Ground Running

Ultimately, the board decided to go with Pierce’s promise to “hit the ground running” in the House.

In his comments to the board, Pierce said he would be able to deal immediately with the bills that are pending at the legislature.

He also stressed the positive relationship he has with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, as well as Senate President Karen Fann, and House Speaker Bowers.

The topic of the relationship with Ducey also came up during the supervisors’ questions for Bennett, who ran for governor against Ducey in 2018.

“One of my concerns is working with Gov. Ducey,” Supervisor Jack Smith said, adding, “Mr. Bennett, you ran against him. How do you see yourself working with Gov. Ducey?”

Bennett responded that he has had a good relationship with Ducey in the past, although he allowed it might be strained after the 2018 election. But, he added, “I don’t see the governor vetoing bills because Ken Bennett was one of the 31 votes for it.”

Pierce also had to answer questions from the supervisors concerning gun rights. Garrison noted that the county had received a barrage of emails, many of which brought up questions about nominee’s commitment to the Second Amendment.

Pierce responded: “I probably have more guns than anybody down there. I have supported the NRA in the past. I don’t know why they would put anything out about me. I’ve never ever voted to take guns away from anyone, nor would I.”

After the meeting, Pierce said he had opposed a previous bill that would have allowed concealed weapons on college campuses. “The universities didn’t want it, and I don’t think the kids need to be carrying guns,” he said.

Pierce was sworn into office later Wednesday at the State Legislator. He will fill Stringer’s term, which runs through 2020. He told the supervisors he does not intend to run for re-election.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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