Thursday, April 12, 2012
Facing an almost certain expulsion from the state House of Representatives, Rep. Daniel Patterson resigned yesterday just minutes before his fellow lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a measure to kick him out for disorderly behavior.
Patterson was the subject of a House ethics investigation, which stemmed from allegations of domestic violence and turned into a referendum on the lawmaker’s record of harassment, intimidating behavior towards lawmakers and Capitol staff, and general creepiness.
But before his fellow lawmakers could throw him out, Patterson quit, citing workplace hostility as his reason for leaving.
“I have been forced to step down due to the fact that the House has become a very hostile work environment for me,” he wrote in his letter of resignation to the House Speaker.
After delivering his resignation letter, Patterson avoided questions from a pack of reporters by slinking out the back staircase of the House, through underground tunnel to the Senate, and out to a car waiting in the Senate parking lot.
He later tweeted: “Fix was in… No real hearing allowed; House rules violated.”
Democrats have been calling for his resignation for more than a month and even tried to expel him last week, but couldn’t get support from Republicans, who wanted to give him a chance to defend himself.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell looked ecstatic on the House floor when the news came in that Patterson had resigned. His call for Patterson’s head had been one of the loudest, but when we approached him, he toned it down a little.
“Unfortunately, it was necessary,” he said. “But now it’s done and let’s just move on.”
Patterson appeared before the House Ethics Committee for nearly two hours yesterday morning, pleading for them to drop the investigation, or at least give him a chance to cross-examine his accusers in a full ethics hearing.
The five-member committee peppered him with questions about his pattern of intimidating behavior and the myriad allegations outlined in a report delivered to the House Ethics Committee.
The lawmaker apologized for his behavior and said he was working on toning down his attitude and playing nice with the others. He said his nothing he did warrants his expulsion from the House.
“I think all of us have had some kind of run-in with each other around the House,” he said. “None of that is grounds for removal and I think it’s something the committee should consider very carefully. I’ve apologized for these actions.”
He told the committee that the damning and dense report compiled by a team of outside lawyers couldn’t be trusted because it relied in part on rumors, innuendo and anonymous sources. He called the document politically motivated and said the team that wrote it, lead by Mike Manning from the law firm Stinson Morrison Hecker, were trying to boost their image by taking him down.
But the committee unanimously decided that there was enough evidence in the sworn testimonies of 14 lawmakers (not even considering the rest of the report) to recommend expulsion for the two-term Democrat-turned-Independent for “disorderly behavior” which would have required a two-thirds vote from the full House.
“Even if we strip away everything you’ve asked us to strip away (from the ethics report) there is still a core of, for lack of a better word, very disturbing and disruptive behavior,” said House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Vogt, R-Tucson.
Several members expressed concerns about the report and lack of a full ethics hearing, but the votes were clearly there to expel him and few were willing to stick their necks on the line for Patterson.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, vice chair of the House Ethics Committee, agreed with Patterson that the report was weak.
“I don’t disagree with you that there is a significant part of this report that, for me personally, is not persuasive, for the reasons you’ve stated,” he said. “I think it’s hearsay. I think it’s innuendo.”
Still, he voted to recommend expulsion, saying he has personally seen Patterson knowingly break House rules, and the testimony from lawmakers fits the definition of “disorderly behavior.”
Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, said that in the hyper-partisan Legislature, kicking elected lawmakers out of office for getting into arguments sets a scary precedent. Although he didn’t want to defend Patterson for fear the claims were founded, Williams agreed the report was flimsy.
“I had no idea how I was going to vote,” he said after Patterson resigned. “But I know if I voted no on it, I would have wrote a couple of op-ed pieces, done a lot of blog posting (explaining the vote).”
Several lawmakers called some of the claims in the report childish or said it lacked real substance, but said that if it came down to it, they would still vote to kick Patterson out of the House.
"Are you kidding?" said one lawmaker. "(My opponent in the next election) would crucify me if I didn't."