Last February 25 Arizona Republican State Senator Scott Bundgaard earned his 15 minutes of national infamy after he pulled his car onto the median of a freeway in Phoenix and began slapping around his girlfriend, Aubry Ballard. According to witnesses:
"He grabbed the woman and slammed her up against the cement barricade in between the freeway and started throwing her around."
Another witness reported: "He was beatin' the living crap out of whoever was in the passenger seat." Arizona Republic
Bundgaard was Senate Majority Leader at the time, a "Proven Conservative" and rising young star whose 2010 election materials featured photos and gobs of gab from Arizona's leading lunatics, among them Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Senate President Russell Pearce, and Crazy Man Trent Franks®. Given what soon followed on a Phoenix freeway, Congressman Franks' comment on Bundgaard's election brochure sounds even more idiotic than usual: "Scott Bundgaard is more than just a personal friend, he is someone I trust to do the right thing."
The Senator claimed he was doing the "right thing" that night -- merely trying to de-escalate a violent situation that Ballard herself started after she grew jealous of events earlier that evening:
Bundgaard claims Ballard attacked him in a jealous rage as the two were driving home from a charity event, during which Bundgaard competed in a dance competition with another woman.
He claims she started punching him and throwing his clothes out the window as the two were driving on State Route 51. When he stopped to retrieve the clothes, he tried to remove Ballard from the car, dragging her along the side of the highway, causing cuts and scrapes to her legs. New Times
Bundgaard also said she grabbed for a gun, which none of the evidence or eye-witness accounts corroborate. When police arrived they took Aubry Ballard into custody, but the 43-year-old Senator was not arrested because of legislative immunity. According to the police report:
"The senator said: 'I demand you take these handcuffs off. I'm state Senator Scott Bundgaard, and according to Article 4 of the Constitution, you cannot detain me. I'm immune from arrest when the Legislature is in session, in which it currently is.' " Arizona Republic
Bundgaard later told reporters he never claimed immunity, which flies in the face of the investigative report. He also said no punches were thrown that night, but again the police report (with photos) noted scratches and black-and-blue marks. Finally, Bundgaard later said he was "stone-cold sober" that evening, yet the attending officer wrote in his report that the Senator had alcohol on his breath. I'm no lawyer but that doesn't seem like a good defense tactic, calling cops liars on three counts.
Anyway, similar to diplomatic immunity, it's true they could not arrest Bundgaard because the legislative session was underway. So the Phoenix police waited until the 2011 session-from-hell ended in June and then they charged his ass with misdemeanor assault and endangerment. Later that month Bundgaard pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could land him in jail for 10 months. He was supposed to appear in court in July, but the trial was postponed because his lawyers are seeking a change of venue.
So, what's been the result? Lost his Senate seat? No. How 'bout a GOP award for being an upstanding family man. You bet!
Immediately after the freeway fracas hit the headlines, the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Organization for Women called for Bundgaard to step down, which of course he did not do. Not only that, at first the leadership of the Republican party blamed the cops:
The chair of the Republican Party [Jeannette Dubreil] in Sen. Scott Bundgaard's legislative district has come to his defense, questioning the Phoenix police investigation into a February freeway altercation with his then-girlfriend. Arizona Republic
For his part, Senate President Russell Pearce, who knows a thing or two about slapping women around, said Bundgaard would keep his #2 leadership position:
Senate Republicans decided that he is, still, the man to lead them. Or Senate President Russell Pearce decided it, and they just all went along like sheep because they owe him or they're scared of him. Arizona Republic
However, the media attention and public outcry eventually grew too loud, even for the dim bulbs at the GOP, so they went over Pearce's thick head and booted Bundgaard from his Majority Leader position (he kept his Senate seat).
The best is still to come. Last week Bundgaard received a "Friend of the Family" award from the Arizona Family Project, which seems to be little more than a self-congratulatory website run by GOP politicians that trumpets extreme anti-choice and anti-GLBT views. As Stephen Lemons at New Times wrote, the award is given to any Republican who votes to make it harder to get an abortion or marry someone of the same sex.
Funny thing about the ruling Republican caste here in Sand Land: they like to give themselves meaningless awards that look legitimate to the unskeptical eye, in a bald attempt to trick the electorate into thinking that they're a bunch of good guys and gals.
Case in point, the "Friend of the Family Awards" doled out yearly by an organization in paper only called the Arizona Family Project... The 2011 list of winners is out, and guess who won? Nearly every Republican member of the state Legislature. No Democrats allowed.
This, despite the fact that the GOPers cut about a half-billion from the state's education budget for 2011-2012. New Times
That's right, last session the GOP-dominated Arizona legislature slashed education funding to the marrow, they've tossed thousands of families off the state's healthcare rolls, they've cut back on or eliminated social programs that serve families -- from child care assistance to libraries. And they got a "family" award for it. Never mind that you'll find bigots on the family-friendly list like Russell Pearce who, in addition to choking his wife, has a son sitting in jail, a guy who's had more than 30 run-ins with the law. Russell Pearce: Family Man. But, hey, they're all winners who supported tougher abortion laws and more gay-bashing. So have an award!
Similar to Pearce, Scott Bundgaard does indeed sound like an upstanding family man. His first marriage to Anne Harwell in 2006 ended shortly after the knots were tied at the $10-million Arizona estate of Pierre Falcone. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Falcone was later charged with masterminding a Soviet arms deal during the 1990s Angolan civil war. But that's another Bundgaard diary. Once married, Harwell told police, "he turned into a monster, becoming manipulative and irrational.... It was like 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,'" police quoted her as saying. "She said he would go into a rage over nothing." And then they honeymooned in Hawaii:
Harwell, in a police report, told a dispatcher that she was afraid of her male companion and that she wanted police to escort her to the couple's vacation rental so she could retrieve her personal items... After retrieving her belongings, Harwell left Bundgaard and returned to Georgia, where she lived at the time. Five days later, she filed to have the marriage annulled in Maricopa County Superior Court, records show. Arizona Republic
Scott Bundgaard, poster child for GOP family values. Rather than this phony-baloney "Friend of the Family" crapola, voters should listen to groups like the Children's Action Alliance, which actually does work to improve the lives of children and their families. After pointing out in their 2011 legislative wrap-up report (pdf) that the goons at the Capitol slashed K-12 $183 million, universities $198 million, healthcare $536 million, and other programs countless millions more, CAA concluded:
Many large budget cuts are still phasing in, with families losing behavioral health services, therapy for special needs, basic cash assistance for food and shelter -- and more. CAA
The Children's Action Alliance report card rates Senator Scott Bundgaard 14%. Hang that award on your cell wall.
UPDATE: h/t to notdarkyet in the comments, this news broke today about a possible plea agreement. Must've been that family award that convinced prosecutors Bundgaard is a good guy:
City prosecutors and an attorney for Sen. Scott Bundgaard, R-Peoria, said Monday that they were close to agreement on a deal that would allow the state lawmaker to plead "no contest" to misdemeanor assault and reckless-endangerment charges stemming from a February freeway altercation with his then-girlfriend. Arizona Republic
The article mentions that Aubry Ballard has four eye-witnesses who back up her side of the story, that he beat the crap out of her.