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The Arizona House expels a Republican lawmaker for her role in baseless testimony

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.
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.

PHOENIX — An Arizona Republican legislator has been expelled from the state House of Representatives for inviting a witness to present false charges about lawmakers and other state officials — and then, according to an ethics committee report, lying about her involvement in the outrageous testimony.

A bipartisan, two-thirds majority of the GOP-led House voted Wednesday to kick out Liz Harris, a freshman lawmaker from Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix.

The notable move to expel Harris, who's pushed baseless claims about the 2020 and 2022 elections, comes as members of the state's Republican Party have in recent years led Arizona to become a hive of election denialism.

The vote came a day after the release of a House Ethics Committee report, which concluded that Harris knew, or was at least aware, that a woman she arranged to testify at the Capitol would claim, without evidence, that a host of elected officials and judges, including Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, took bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel and committed other crimes, such as money laundering.

The woman, Gilbert, Ariz., insurance agent Jacqueline Breger, also claimed during the February hearing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "controls" the government and played a key role in money laundering schemes.

Breger provided no evidence to support the outlandish claims. But a video of her testimony in front of election committees exploded on the internet in the days following the hearing. At one point, #CartelKatie was trending on Twitter.

It didn't matter that there was no substance to the claims. The fact that they were presented before Republican lawmakers in their official capacity at the state Capitol — Democrats on the committees boycotted the hearing — gave the accusations enough credibility to spread.

That was problematic enough to merit the ethics investigation and expulsion, according to House Speaker Ben Toma, a Republican and one of the lawmakers falsely accused of criminal activity.

"Each member could make up their own mind on whether or not Rep. Harris did, in fact, not only perpetrate this to begin with, but then contradict herself numerous times during the ethics hearing process," said Toma, one of the 46 lawmakers who voted to expel Harris.

In full, the ethics panel concluded Harris' actions violated House rules and damaged the body's institutional integrity.

"Harris engaged in disorderly behavior in violation of House Rule 1, thereby eroding the public trust in the legislative process," the resolution calling for her expulsion read.

The ethics report also found that Harris lied to the panel when she claimed she had no idea Breger would make such wild accusations.

"The only thing that we have down here is our word and our integrity," Toma said. "And when that is clearly crossed, when you can no longer count on someone's word or integrity, they can no longer be an effective legislator."

Harris told The Washington Post ahead of the vote, "I didn't lie and God knows the truth. The truth will come out." Harris did not speak on her own behalf as the House voted to expel her. She quietly left the House floor after the roll call vote. Only after the House adjourned did a handful of her supporters in the gallery speak out, shouting "shame on you, shame, shame, shame."

It's the second time in six years the House has voted to kick out one of its own. In 2018, the chamber voted to expel then-Rep. Don Shooter, who was found to have serially sexually harassed his colleagues and lobbyists at the state Capitol.

The expulsion in Arizona follows the expulsions — for different reasons — of two Black lawmakers in Tennessee. Democrats Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones were kicked out by a Republican supermajority after the pair — alongside Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white — led a protest from the House floor calling for reforms to gun laws.

Pearson and Jones have now been reappointed to their seats by local officials.

Copyright 2023 KJZZ

Ben Giles