PHOENIX -- Senate Majority Leader Scott Bundgaard is fighting off calls for an ethics probe from Democrats and suggestions from members of his own Republican party that he quit his leadership post.
Democrats said Monday a fight he had two weekends ago with his girlfriend in the median of a Phoenix freeway raises questions about the fitness of the Peoria Republican to serve as a legislator.
But Bundgaard was not arrested at the scene, even though an off-duty police officer said he saw the woman fall to the ground while the senator had his hands on her. Both were bruised.
While police sought to arrest both, the report says Bundgaard claimed legislative immunity from arrest. That allowed him to avoid jail while his companion was locked up for 14 hours.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, was a bit soft when pressed to cite what ethics rule Bundgaard actually violated.
"I don't necessarily think there is a rule right now in our rule book,' he said. "But we have to look. Is this appropriate?'
If nothing else, Gallardo said Bundgaard's decision to invoke his constitutional privilege of immunity means "you've now brought in this Legislature.'
Bundgaard's more immediate problem is with his own party. The 21 Republicans get to decide among themselves if they want him to stay on as majority leader.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said based on his review of the police report, Bundgaard has to go.
"When people elect senators they expect them to behave like ladies and gentlemen,' Gould said.
"When you get into a fistfight on the side of a freeway, which is witnessed by an off-duty police officer, that's conduct unbecoming of a senator,' he continued. "I won't be led by somebody that's going to do those kinds of things.'
Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said calls for ousting Bundgaard from leadership are "premature.'
"I think in this state, in this country, we have a due-process system,' he said. "The man's not been convicted of anything.'
Pearce also rejected claims by Democrats that a possible ethics probe will create a "distraction' from the business of the Senate.
"The only distraction is the Left out there holding press conferences on it instead of working on the bills,' he said. "They're making it a distraction.'
But Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, supports ousting Bundgaard, saying the incident has become an embarrassment.
"This has gone way beyond a personal issue between Scott Bundgaard and his girlfriend,' Crandall said, acknowledging he may not be totally unbiased as he knows the girlfriend and her mother. And he disagreed with Pearce's belief that nothing should be done until the any criminal case against Bundgaard is over.
"You do not have to be convicted of a crime to have committed an ethics violation,' he said. "In theory, we're held to a higher standard as elected officials.'
Criminal charges remain possible.
Legislative immunity shields lawmakers only from being arrested while the Legislature is in session. But it does not absolve them of any responsibility, with police free to file charges once the session ends.
"I'm going to let this work through the process,' Bundgaard said. "I'm going to work to clear my name through the process.'
Bundgaard did not answer questions from reporters about his leadership role. But he blasted the idea of an Ethics Committee probe.
"I think it's inappropriate for the chairman to even suggest it because he's supposed to be unbiased,' Bundgaard said, pointing to Gould's call that he resign as majority leader. "I think that severely compromises him.'
Bundgaard also said "politics have now been injected' in into the issue. Both Gould and Bundgaard are possible contenders for the seat now held by Congressman Trent Franks if he decides to run for the U.S. Senate next year.
Gould called that irrelevant, saying the publicity Bundgaard got makes his candidacy "a moot point now.'
Whether there will, in fact, be an ethics investigation remains undecided. Gould, as chairman of that panel, gets first crack at deciding whether the conduct alleged is unethical.
Gould said, based on the police report, there is reason to believe Bundgaard has crossed the line. But Gould said he's not sure whether an Ethics Committee probe makes sense just now because of possible future criminal charges against Bundgaard.
"I don't know that the Ethics Committee should get involved in something that might either harm or disrupt that criminal investigation,' he said.