Amid Calls For Navarrete's Resignation, An Arizona Senate Ethics Investigation Looms

Published: Monday, August 9, 2021 - 5:31pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 10, 2021 - 2:56pm
Arizona Senate Democrats
Tony Navarrete

As calls for Sen. Tony Navarrete’s resignation mount, the Senate Ethics Committee chair announced she’ll pursue an investigation of the Phoenix Democrat.

Navarrete, a two-term state senator from Legislative District 30, was charged last week with seven felonies related to sexual acts with a minor. Since his arrest on Aug. 5, Republicans and Democrats alike have called for him to step down.

A probable-cause statement, released as part of court records shortly after Navarrete’s arraignment, reveals details of multiple instances of alleged sexual conduct with two male teenagers. Police also wrote that they have a recorded phone call between Navarrete and one of the alleged victim, in which Navarrete was asked about the alleged sexual conduct and expressed regret for his actions. 

Rebecca Rios, the top Democrat in the Senate, says she’s expecting as much from Navarrete.

But Sen. Kelly Townsend was unwilling to wait. After giving Navarrete a noon deadline on Monday to resign, she filed an ethics complaint in hopes of expelling him from the Senate.

Townsend, a Mesa Republican, wants the committee to investigate if similar accusations have been made against Navarrete, perhaps among colleagues and staff at the Arizona Capitol.

“This matter is of such egregious nature that it warrants expedient action that cannot wait until the Legislature resumes session in January of 2022,” Townsend wrote, and asked the chair of the Ethics Committee to convene this week.

Townsend’s complaint also seeks to tie Navarrete’s charges with Democratic efforts to advance sexual education in public schools.

In a statement, ethics chairwoman Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) said is recommending the committee follow through on an investigation, but will give Navarrete seven days to file a response in accordance with Senate rules.

Kerr, too, called for Navarrete to resign. Doing so would likely render an ethics investigation moot.

“Senator Navarrete is facing serious felony charges. He should resign from the Senate,” Kerr said in a statement. “In the meantime, the Senate Ethics Committee will follow its process.”

Sen. Rebecca Rios, the top Democrat in the Senate, said she expects an ethics investigation won’t get far because she’s anticipating Navarrete’s resignation within the week. And she accused Townsend of filing a complaint, even after every Democrat in the House and Senate called for Navarrete to step down, out of her own “attention seeking needs.”

“At this point, there is no indication that he won’t resign. He’s literally been out (of jail) less than 48 hours,” Rios said. “I would assume that resignation is coming soon.”

Rios later put out a joint statement with Senate President Karen Fann, the top Republican in the chamber, repeating their call for Navarrete to resign.

“The circumstances and serious nature of the felony charges faced by Senator Navarrete provide an untenable distraction from his role as an elected official and public servant for District 30,” the legislative leaders stated. “The Senator also now faces a Senate ethics complaint, and no one benefits from any further delay in his ultimate resignation.”