Arizona lawmaker faces ethics complaint after skipping months of session when wife had baby

“There is an expectation from voters within the state of Arizona that their lawmakers show up for work on a daily basis," complainant says.

Arizona State Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, is requesting his chamber's ethics officers hold one of his colleagues accountable for his poor attendance.

Shope filed an ethics inquiry into what should be deemed appropriate statute for when an office is declared vacant due to a politician's absences.

Shope filed the letter because of the attendance record of Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, who has been absent from the legislature for more than two months so far this session.

"There is an expectation from voters within the state of Arizona that their lawmakers show up for work on a daily basis," Shope said in a press release. "It is my belief that our current senator representing District 26, which covers north Tempe, northwest Mesa, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and parts of south Phoenix, is taking advantage of the system. 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 them. I am asking our Senate Ethics Committee to consider recommendations on statutory and rule changes to hold our state lawmakers to a higher standard than the present."

Shope hopes for an expedient process to figure out how the chamber will address what he called a "dangerous precedent."

Mendes responded to the accusations Friday, calling Shope's actions a move to deflect attention from Sen. Wendy Rogers. The Flagstaff Republican is facing an investigation over comments many took to infer that a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, was the work of federal agents.

"Setting aside how patently ridiculous it is to compare protecting my newborn from COVID-19 to employing the same type of rhetoric that incited the racist murder of 10 innocent people, Republicans are clearly trying to deflect from the fact that they are afraid to do their responsibility and remove Sen. Rogers from public office," Mendez told The Center Square via a Senate spokesperson. "The reason why they are afraid is simple: they know that it's Rogers who speaks for the modern Arizona Republican Party.

"Finally, I'm unaware of any efforts by Sen. Shope to allow for remote voting away from the Capitol in order to protect my baby from COVID. If he would like to join me in calling for remote voting, I'd be happy to commit to a perfect attendance record."

Current state law says that an office is vacant if the legislator is not present for three consecutive months. Additionally, under the Rules of Procedure of the Senate Ethics Committee, this group of lawmakers within the committee can provide advisory opinions on rule changes regarding the ethics of its members.

Mendez is married to Rep. Athena Salman. Unlike her husband, the Tempe Democrat isn't under the same scrutiny as Mendez.

Salman wrote House Speaker Rusty Bowers in January, requesting an extension of the Legislature's COVID-19 rule change allowing lawmakers to vote remotely. The request was denied, though both Mendez and Salman were granted excused absences for their months away from their chambers.

In his letter, Shope said that he thinks three months is too long of a time; he requested that the committee shortens that span.

"While this law is the current controlling authority for deeming an office vacant, I believe three months is a far too lengthy period of time for any member of the legislature to be away from the Capitol and not voting on important legislation," he wrote in the letter. "Therefore, I request that the Committee consider changes to statute that reflects a more appropriate timeframe for Senate members' offices to be declared vacant when they refuse to be present at the Capitol."