Arizona House expels GOP lawmaker over unproven claims

The desk used by Arizona Republican Rep. Liz Harris at the state Capitol in Phoenix stands empty moments after she was expelled from the Legislature on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. The Arizona House of Representatives expelled a Harris in a bipartisan vote after she organized a presentation accusing a wide range of politicians, judges and public officials of both parties of taking bribes from a Mexican drug cartel. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

The desk used by Arizona Republican Rep. Liz Harris at the state Capitol in Phoenix stands empty moments after she was expelled from the Legislature on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. The Arizona House of Representatives expelled a Harris in a bipartisan vote after she organized a presentation accusing a wide range of politicians, judges and public officials of both parties of taking bribes from a Mexican drug cartel. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House of Representatives on Wednesday expelled a Republican lawmaker who organized a presentation making unsubstantiated accusations that a wide range of politicians, judges and public officials of both parties took bribes from a Mexican drug cartel.

Rep. Liz Harris, a prominent supporter of discredited election conspiracies, was kicked out of the Legislature in a bipartisan vote after the presentation by an Arizona insurance agent. The lawmaker’s ouster came a day after the House Ethics Committee determined Harris had engaged in “disorderly behavior” in violation of the chamber’s rules.

The committee’s report said Harris knew the person she invited to a legislative hearing in February would accuse her colleagues of criminal activity, that she took steps to hide it from House leaders ahead of time and then misled the committee investigating her actions.

“This comes down to the integrity, in my opinion, of this institution and us as leaders,” said Rep. David Livingston, a Republican who voted to expel Harris. “This is not personal.”

Harris, who was sworn into her first term in January, did not speak ahead of the expulsion vote. Immediately afterward, she carried boxes to her car, placed them in her trunk with the help of a handful of supporters and left. She called the ethics report “a lie.”

“God knows the truth,” Harris said, according to video recorded by a reporter for KPNX-TV. “This was an example of how you need to toe the line. If you don’t toe the line, this is what happens.”

The vote against Harris comes less than a week after Tennessee Republicans voted to expel two black Democrats, a decision that made that state a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy. But the Arizona vote did not carry the same partisan and racial overtones, with widespread and bipartisan condemnation for Harris’s actions.

Harris organized a daylong hearing of the House and Senate elections committees in February. At the end, a Scottsdale insurance agent, Jacqueline Breger, gave a 40-minute presentation alleging without reliable evidence that two women working on behalf of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel used fraudulent mortgage documents to launder money to a range of officials.

Arizona Republican lawmakers have given wide leeway for people claiming to be election experts to share unsubstantiated or disproven claims in hearings at the Capitol. But GOP legislative leaders raced to distance themselves from Breger’s claims and pin blame on Harris.

Before she was elected to the Legislature, Harris led a door-to-door canvassing effort searching for proof of fraud following the 2020 presidential election. Her effort drew scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, which warned about potential voter intimidation.

There was little public discussion before the expulsion vote. Republican Rep. Alexander Kolodin said Harris “made an error in judgement,” but expelling her would send the wrong message.

“It will be perceived as setting the precedent that if you rock the boat too much, you will be expelled,” said Kolodin, who voted against expulsion.

All Democrats and about half of Republicans voted to expel Harris in a 46-13 vote. She’s the first lawmaker to be expelled in Arizona since Rep. Don Shooter was kicked out for sexual misconduct amid the 2018 #MeToo movement. Rep. David Stringer quit the following year after old sex crimes charges came to light that likely would have led to his expulsion.

“There has been real and lasting damage to the lives and reputations of people who did not deserve it,” said Rep. Andres Cano, the top Democrat in the House. “Most importantly, the integrity of this House has been jeopardized.”

Harris represented one of the most competitive legislative districts in the state in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. Both parties had been anticipating she would face a difficult reelection campaign next year.

By law, Harris must be replaced by a Republican. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will choose from a list of three candidates nominated by the Republican precinct committeemen in her district.