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House speaker calls on men to ‘do better’ to thwart sexual harassment

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard addresses his decision to suspend his Republican colleague Rep. Don Shooter from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee on Nov. 10. Shooter's suspension came after several women publicly accused him of sexual harassment. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

With allegations related to sexual harassment against two of its members still pending, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard opened the 2018 legislative session with a call to all — especially the men — to do better.

“Some people say this place is not safe,” the Chandler Republican said. But he also said it is not a situation unique to the Arizona Legislature.

“I want to say today that I know we can do better,” Mesnard said.

“We must do better,” he continued. “And I use that pronoun ‘we’ deliberately.”

Mesnard said it’s irrelevant whether people believe any or all of the allegations that have been made.

The speaker was not specific. But there is a pending investigation against Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who was accused by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, of harassment. He, in turn, has charged she has made improper comments and had an intimate relationship with someone who at the time was a House staffer.

“Whether or not you believe everything that’s been written about, we’ve been called out as an institution,” Mesnard said. “And we must not ignore it.”

But he also said there is a “growing chorus of folks” who say there is room for improvement, especially in how women are treated.

“We can’t dismiss it,” Mesnard said. “It’s our responsibility to take a hard, long look.”

He also said that the reputation of the house will not be defined “by any one miscreant” but instead by the collective actions of the House.

But Mesnard made it clear that the problem, to the extent it exists, rests with one half of the population. And he called out to the male half of the chamber.

“I suggest we must be better men, all of us,” he said. And Mesnard said while each person is responsible for his own behavior, “we can still hope to hold each other to the highest standard of conduct, insisting that we be true gentlemen.”

“The people are watching us,” he said.

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