Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita named Rep. Don Shooter Tuesday as one of the men who harassed her at the Capitol.
She said in an interview with KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch that Shooter, a 65-year-old Yuma Republican, asked about her chest in her office once and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.
Following the revelation and a call for action from House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard announced the House initiated “multiple investigations into reports of sexual harassment at the Legislature.” A bipartisan investigative team will review all allegations and expand the investigation as needed.
“Those of us in government should be held to the highest standard, and any form of harassment will not be tolerated,” he said in the statement sent Wednesday. “I encourage anyone – whether it be legislators, staff, lobbyists or others – with allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature to work with investigators.”
Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted in support of the decision, but made no direct reference to Shooter.
The Arizona Democratic Party released a statement saying an investigation was not enough – Executive Director Herschel Fink called for Shooter to resign “if he has any dignity left in him.”
Following the revelation, House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios called for an investigation into the allegations against Shooter and others’ experiences with him.
Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican, first brought the topic of harassment at the Arizona Capitol to the forefront on Oct. 20 when she said she had been sexually harassed at the statehouse for years since she first took office in 2011.
She also called attention to the lack of policies and procedures to investigate harassment among the elected members of the legislature, which resulted in a new policy.
On Tuesday, Ugenti-Rita detailed an additional encounter in June 2011 where he told her he was in love with her and said he wanted to have a relationship. She wrote a memo about that incident, and said she told Republican leadership, but nothing was done.
“He tells me that he loves me and asks if there’s an opportunity for us to be together in the future,” she read to AZFamily from the June 2011 memo. “Just then, he bursts out, ‘I have been married for 32 years and have never done anything.'”
Ugenti-Rita said she’s worried about retaliation now that she’s named Shooter.
Initially, according to Welch’s report, Shooter issued an apologetic statement and said he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.”
However, later on Tuesday evening, he retracted that statement, stating he had previously been told only that Ugenti-Rita was upset by comments he made but wasn’t given details.
“I’ve been happily married for 41 years, I’ve never cheated on my wife and there isn’t a woman on this planet I would leave my wife for,” he wrote.
He went on to blame the trouble between him and Ugenti-Rita on “how she has conducted herself personally, with staff and later with legislation,” including “a very public affair.”
“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me, and I have asked Speaker Mesnard to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee/Counsel,” he concluded. “At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”
On Wednesday morning, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, defended Ugenti-Rita’s accounts of harassment, stating she had personally witnessed her mistreatment by fellow lawmakers.
She had not witnessed such behavior specifically from Shooter, she wrote in her statement, but was concerned by Ugenti-Rita’s accusations. Townsend also made reference to “both unwanted sexual advances by more than one person as well as intimidating behavior and retaliation by another in a position of power in years passed.”
Townsend also called on the House’s new sexual harassment policy to be fortified and codified because “there is no assurance that future leadership would be as proactive.”