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Patterson resigns from Regents over kerfuffle with Finchem

Greg Patterson has stepped down from the Arizona Board of Regents midway through his term in the wake of his revealing that he recorded his mocking of Saddlebrooke lawmaker Mark Finchem's Western-style clothing.

Patterson had been serving as the chairman of the governing body of the state's universities. His eight-year term was to run through 2020.

Saying he was "overzealous in my defense" of the state's schools, "I do not wish to be a distraction from the ongoing work of the Regents," Patterson wrote in a resignation letter Monday.

Patterson has removed blog posts that questioned Finchem's actions in slowing a bill allowing the universities to bond $1 billion, including calling it an "abuse of power."

Patterson, who met with Finchem in February as the Oro Valley-area Republican was running a bill to eliminate the Board of Regent's oversight of the state's universities, told Finchem — who frequently wears Western clothing, including a Sunday go-to-meeting tie — that "...the costume doesn't work. You know, trim that down. Buy a suit." He then angrily left the meeting.

Finchem did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Patterson's resignation.

Patterson had publicly apologized to Finchem, but the controversy over his remarks was rekindled when he revealed that he had recorded the meeting. He handed over a tape of it to the Arizona Republic in response to a public records request.

Although Patterson is a noted conservative — he was a controversial right-wing blogger at his Espresso Pundit before then-Gov. Jan Brewer appointed him to the panel that controls Arizona's three universities in 2012 — he questioned Finchem's move to eliminate the body, which is mandated in the state Constitution.

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In a pair of blog posts that were later removed (although still available through Google caching), Patterson outlined his issues with Finchem and criticized the Republic for reporting on the matter.

"I told Mr. Finchem that the Republican Caucus is only as credible as its least credible member and that if he keeps sponsoring bills like this and issuing press releases like this...well you get the picture," he wrote.

"In my caffeine-induced rage I managed to conclude by announcing that the cowboy costume didn't work and that he needed to trim the mustache, lose the tie and buy a real suit," Patterson wrote. "As you might imagine, that didn't go over very well."

Finchem later withdrew his bill before it could be heard.

Patterson did offer an apology to Finchem on his blog.

"I believe that the tone of my final few sentences was unacceptable. I was angry and unprofessional. ... So, Mr. Finchem, I apologize for the harshness and unprofessionalism of my tone. It's a real apology. I'm not "sorry that you were offended." Yada yada. I'm sorry for the offensive tone that I used. I stand by what I said, but my tone was harsh, angry and unprofessional.  And for that, I apologize," he wrote on June 2.

But, learning that the Republic was going to report on his statements and the potential effect on the next legislative session, Patterson posted again.

"Finchem fancies himself as a Constitutional Lawyer and is part of the "Freedom Caucus" that pays homage to strict construction and original intent of the Constitution.  You can not spend 10 minutes with him before he opines that the country is all messed up because liberal judges have misinterpreted, say, the Equal Footing doctrine or the Guarantee Clause," Patterson wrote. "So what is Finchem doing with his bill?  He's trying to use statute to amend the Constitution in order to eliminate the Board of Regents."

"Abuse of power is so rampant at the Legislature that Mr. Finchem doesn't even hide the fact that by standing up to him I have hurt the Regent's agenda in the Legislature and Team Republic doesn't even bother to step back and ask themselves if his actions are acceptable," Patterson wrote in the second post.

"As a former legislator I'm actually a big fan of the Legislature and the legislative process — that doesn't mean that individual legislators don't occasionally really tick me off," he wrote.

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Friday, incoming ABOR Vice Chair Bill Ridenour criticized Patterson's conduct.

"I wish to make clear that I in no way condone his remarks or behavior," Ridenour wrote. "While he is free to speak as an individual, he does not speak for me or other members of the board. We cannot allow his regrettable remarks and actions to diminish the hard work and outstanding results of the Arizona Board of Regents. I will continue to meet with legislators to discuss our work."

Arizona is a one-party state, meaning only a single participant in a conversation must consent for a recording to be legal.

"I recorded MYSELF in case Finchem came up with some story about me threatening him, offering some sort of deal or using profane language. Frankly, after our Tucson meeting, I didn't trust Finchem to be honest about this meeting," Patterson wrote.

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