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Rep. Shooter apology peppered with deflection, denial

Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who has been publicly accused of sexually harassing at least nine women, including fellow lawmakers and lobbyists, began his formal apology to his colleagues today with a joke.

“Members, I know you all want to thank me for my part in bringing you here today,” he said.

Shooter, whose comments came during a floor speech, then went on to point fingers in self-defense.

He said his role in the overall discussion “has been greatly magnified as a result of a complaint that was filed against me for reasons that I believe are largely unrelated to the complaint itself.”

Though he didn’t explicitly say whose complaint he was referring to, after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, accused Shooter of harassing her during her time at the legislature, Shooter blamed 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.”

Multiple women, including lawmakers, lobbyists and a former Capitol Times intern, allege Shooter made inappropriate or sexually charged comments to them or engaged in unwanted touching.

He read the apology prior to a mandatory harassment training for all House members presented by the Attorney General’s Office.

“Our legislative community is currently going through an intense period of self-evaluation on the topic of how we treat each other, where we have been failing to do things right, and how we need to do things better.”

Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma)

Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma)

Still, Shooter said the additional complaints that followed made him realize that his behavior, and comments he made in jest, were actually offensive and made others uncomfortable.

“At first, my response was largely defensive, borne of frustration at a few complaints that were not true or were made for a personal or political vendetta,” he said. “But it would be a mistake to treat each and every complaint the same, if I failed to learn from legitimate complaints, and if I failed to recognize and apologize for those actions that caused damage or hurt.”

He added that he regretted calling some oversensitive, instead of taking responsibility for his actions.

“I was beyond embarrassed to hear that what I thought were welcomed and well-intentioned hugs were perceived as creepy and lecherous,” Shooter said. “I didn’t know. As soon as I did know, I have been – and am, so sorry.”

Shooter, who is under investigation by an outside counsel, said he didn’t need to wait for the results of the investigation to know that his actions weren’t well received by some at the Capitol. He added that he was sorry for the “distraction and strain” the investigation had caused.

“We, as a larger Capitol community, cannot begin to heal until those of us who have made mistakes begin the process ourselves,” he said. “For me, that means learning and changing, so I stand before you today because it is my desire that we now begin to heal.”

The speech was met by applause by some of his colleagues, but many of the women in the House responded with silence.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said she heard Shooter acknowledge that his remarks were offensive to some people, even though he didn’t intend them to be, and he’s open to understanding and learning a more appropriate way.

“I think that is insightful and that’s the important part of all this training, new insights,” Rios said.

Read the full text of Shooter’s speech below:

Our legislative community is currently going through an intense period of self-evaluation on the topic of how we treat each other, where we have been failing to do things right, and how we need to do things better.

My own involvement in all of this has been greatly magnified as a result of a complaint that was filed against me for reasons that I believe are largely unrelated to the complaint itself.

But that complaint was followed by a number of additional complaints, the majority of which were sincere and which exposed me to the knowledge that my actions were not always received as intended, and that worse still, they caused genuine discomfort or pain.

At first, my response was largely defensive, borne of frustration at a few complaints that were not true or were made for a personal or political vendetta.
But it would be a mistake to I treat each and every complaint the same, if I failed to learn from legitimate complaints, and if I failed to recognize and apologize for those actions that caused damage or hurt.

We, as a larger Capitol community, cannot begin to heal until those of us who have made mistakes begin the process ourselves.  For me, that means learning and changing, so I stand before you today because it is my desire that we now begin to heal.

The healing won’t start in earnest, at least with respect to the people whom I have hurt, without me recognizing that comments I have made in jest, over the past seven years, were not received in the spirit in which they were intended. Quite the contrary. Some were jarring, insensitive, and demeaning.

I don’t need to wait for an investigative report to know that.

In the past, when I’ve told a joke that landed badly and realized it, I have always apologized.  My purpose is always to entertain and to get people smiling and laughing, and that has been my style as a farmer and a legislator.  But when someone reacts badly or tells me I’ve hurt their feelings I feel terrible and try to immediately remedy it.

It has been hard to sit on my hands during this political and legal process and not acknowledge that I care. I WANT to get it right and I want to make it right.

I was beyond embarrassed to hear that what I thought were welcomed and well-intentioned hugs were perceived as creepy and lecherous. I didn’t know. As soon as I did know, I have been – and am, so sorry.

I will confess that there were times that, when hearing that I had offended someone with a boorish comment or that- what I intended as a simple hug turned into someone believing that I had crossed some line, I was sorry but, I also reacted defensively and thought to myself that some people are just too sensitive.

It has taken me time to understand, that —- I —- have been INsensitive, and it is unfair to expect everyone to react to things the way I might react.  If I’m going to be a comedian, I have to understand and be sensitive to my audience, not blame them when my jokes fall flat.

I now know that comments intended to be hospitable, harmlessly flirtatious or outrageous –and above all intended to be humorous, weren’t at all humorous and caused others to believe I did not value who they are as individuals. I’ve taken all of this very hard because those who know me well, know that under all of the clowning – the schtick I put on– I care a great deal.

Nor was this reaction limited to how women reacted to my behavior.  During this investigative process, I learned that I not only offended women; one complaint was even from a man!

I learned that a crass and offensive comment I made in jest at an after-hours event to a legislative candidate– in response to a political prediction– was perceived as sexual harassment which I never would have imagined. My sarcastic response related to buggery.  Repeating my response now, during the day, in front of my colleagues, including women, is evidence enough that I should have never said it.  It’s a little rough. This candidate interpreted my remarks as serious, not sarcastic, for which I am embarrassed and deeply regretful. I look forward to apologizing personally.

It is important that you all know that while my actions have unintentionally offended some, I have never attempted to kiss anyone, made obscene gestures at a woman, nor sought a tryst or sexual relationship. It may seem inconsistent with my attempts at humor, but I have lived my life as someone who absolutely reveres and respects women.  I have been blessed to be married for 41 years to an incredible woman, to whom I have remained devoted.

I was brought up to be a gentleman who will hold the door, pull out the chair, stand when a woman leaves the table or lend her my jacket when she is cold.

However, I now am acutely aware that not everyone understood my attempts at humor and resented that I did not show the respect and value each individual deserves.  That is one of the things that bothers me the most.

I am sorry for the distraction and strain that this matter and the subsequent investigation have caused all of you. That was not my intent when I asked for the investigation. I don’t want to go one more day without apologizing and honoring all of you by not only saying I’m sorry, but by doing better. This has been a painful process for all. Hopefully to those I hurt, you feel empowered for speaking up. Your courage has already had a profound impact on the way I relate to others. I am sorry.

I also want to tell all of you that I am still your friend and I still want to hear from you.  I especially want to hear if I’m doing something wrong.  I wish that the people who came forward months or years later had said something immediately at the time so that I could have apologized and made improvements right away.  But, I understand why they didn’t. I hope that while I strive to be better, you all help me along the way if you see things I can improve. It is time to repair and begin to heal. I want to get this right.

It can be tough to teach old dogs new tricks, but this old dog can and will do better. I look forward to personally listening and expressing my remorse once the investigation is over – to the extent those I have offended are interested. I am sorry.

Thank you.

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