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Arizona House makes historic vote to oust Don Shooter

Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. Don Shooter refused to resign, instead forcing his Republican colleagues to vote to expel him over repeated, substantiated claims of sexual harassment contained in an investigative report conducted by the House.

Only three lawmakers had been expelled in the history of the Arizona Legislature. Shooter is the first Republican.

The majority of the chamber’s members, indeed a majority of its Republicans, voted to oust him. Only three men, one of them Shooter, voted against his expulsion.

An independent investigation produced a report detailing his repeated violation of a House harassment policy by creating a hostile work environment for female colleagues, other lawmakers, lobbyists and an intern at the Arizona Legislature.

He saw himself as a class clown, a character who told off-color jokes that found the right audience about 80 percent of the time, the report said.

But Shooter’s accusers saw him as a serial sexual harasser who used his position of power to belittle women with graphic sexual references, lewd gestures and unrelenting, unwanted sexual advances.

It was a “pattern of unwelcome and hostile conduct,” investigators Craig Morgan and Lindsay Hesketh said.

Without question, Shooter had leaped over typical professional boundaries.

And it cost him his political career.

The investigation was the first test of the nationwide Me Too movement in Arizona politics and the first use a brand new House policy designed to prevent the kind of behavior Shooter routinely exhibited.

In total, nine women publicly alleged misconduct, ranging from unwanted touching to inappropriate, sexually charged comments, to the press, which spurred the House’s investigation.

Yet even as Shooter’s political career crumbled around him, he didn’t seem to understand why. Throughout the investigation, he was indignant, not recognizing the impact his words and actions could have on other people. The report doesn’t include any real apologies for the harm he’d done.

He didn’t apologize before his fellow lawmakers voted to oust him either. He said the real shame in the chamber wasn’t anything he had done. He had taken the allegations “like a man.” He voted against his own removal, then left the House.

Earlier that day, he made a last-ditch effort and wrote a letter to his colleagues, saying he wanted another woman’s anonymous report, presumably about another elected official, to become public.

In the letter, Shooter said he has done some soul-searching since the allegations became public. He said he cares deeply about the pain he has caused others.

“Much of my focus has been inward and gradually coming to understand the impact of conduct, whether intentional or unintentional, that results in someone feeling demoralized and devalued,” he wrote.

He said a woman made a report to the House about “being subjected to her boss’ exposed genitalia” that has not been made public. Shooter wanted to see her story brought forward before any further action was taken against him.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard on Jan. 30 addresses reporters about the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don Shooter. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard on Jan. 30 addresses reporters about the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don Shooter. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

That letter pushed House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who had originally called for a censure and removal from all committees, to seek expulsion instead.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R- Mesa, the No. 3 Republican in the House, had given Shooter an ultimatum the day before: Resign or face expulsion in 24 hours. He didn’t resign.

In a statement, Mesnard said Shooter’s letter was an effort to use the woman “as a pawn” despite her attorney’s request that Shooter not do anything to jeopardize the woman’s anonymity.

“Rep. Shooter’s letter represents a clear act of retaliation and intimidation, and yet another violation of the House’s harassment policy, so I will be moving to expel him from the House of Representatives immediately,” Mesnard said.

Three lawmakers, including Shooter, voted against Shooter’s removal. Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said he didn’t believe Shooter got due process in the report, and thought the lawmaker should have had an opportunity to cross-examine his accusers. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said it’s ultimately the voters who should hold Shooter accountable.

Report details

The investigators’ report provides a glimpse into Shooter’s attitude toward women over the years, and the Capitol culture that enabled it for so long.

He told investigators women like to feel pretty, so he often tells them they’re pretty, even when he doesn’t think they are.

He denied harassing several women, saying he doesn’t consider them attractive enough to harass. He sexualized breastfeeding. He didn’t deny many of the most obscene remarks he reportedly made. They sounded like something he would say, he acknowledged.

 Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

He clearly understood that Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who made 11 allegations of misconduct against Shooter, wanted nothing to do with him about a year into their formerly congenial relationship. But he didn’t relent.

He bought her a bottle of tequila and put it in her office, along with printed lyrics to an overtly sexual song about the liquor. “You and tequila make me crazy. … When it comes to you, oh the damage I could do,” the song goes.

She repeatedly felt belittled, tiny, sexualized, disrespected by his behavior.

Ugenti-Rita wasn’t the only one. Multiple women and one man made similar claims against Shooter, many of which were substantiated by an outside investigation report released January 30.

Even as investigators grilled him on his behavior with Ugenti-Rita and several others who alleged sexual harassment, he didn’t understand the gravity of his actions.

“I’m amazed my statements have such a profound effect on people,” he told the investigators.

At one point, investigators made it clear how outlandish the behavior was. Things that should have been obviously out of bounds in professional settings clearly weren’t treated that way.

“It is inappropriate to tell two complete strangers who are appealing to your good graces and powerful position, who believed they were advocating to save Arizona jobs, that your one regret is the failure to have had sex with Asian twins in Mexico,” the investigators wrote.

The behavior was so routine to Shooter that he initially thought a complaint about him referring to his penis was actually a different time that had occurred while talking with other House members.

Amy Love, a lobbyist for the Arizona Supreme Court, alleged Shooter made a comment about being the only lawmaker who had the “balls” to do something, then grabbed his genitals and shook them while Love was seated within arms-length of the lawmaker.

The investigators said Love’s claims were credible, despite Shooter’s contention that he didn’t think the events happened as described because Love is “not that cute,” which the investigators said was of no consequence.

Another complaint from Rep. Darin Mitchell alleged Shooter made a comment to another person, Adam Stevens, regarding the race for the House speaker. Shooter allegedly told Stevens that he would take Mitchell into the bathroom and have anal sex with him in front of Mitchell’s wife, and do it again until Mitchell liked him. The House investigators said they believe Shooter made these comments.

Ugenti-Rita alleged that during a 2011 Liberty Caucus meeting, when she excused herself to breastfeed her infant child, Shooter said he wished he were that “lucky baby.” Investigators said it’s likely that the incident occurred, and Shooter acknowledged that “it sounded like something he would have said.”

In 2013, he left one of his business cards on Ugenti-Rita’s car. On the card, he wrote “TOY” — thinking of you – a gesture he said he made as a way to “mourn” their dying friendship.

He dressed like a pirate and poked her with a sword in her side at a 2015 conference in San Diego.

Shooter made a comment about enjoying watching Marilyn Rodriguez, a Democratic lobbyist, shake dice and her chest at a “fun caucus” event, which the investigation corroborated. Rodriguez made two other claims against Shooter, which could not be corroborated because of contradicting statements from the various parties involved.

Kendra Penningroth, a former intern with the Arizona Capitol Times, said Shooter gave a prolonged, “really inappropriate” hug at a work event in 2017.

“Basic norms of social interaction dictate that you simply do not touch someone, on purpose, without permission — by hug or otherwise,” the investigators wrote.

Tara Zika, a business development director, alleged Shooter made inappropriate comments and gestures at her at a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference last year. She said Shooter blew her a kiss, made a comment about her legs and buttocks, and made a gesture meant to mimic oral sex on a woman.

The investigators couldn’t corroborate several of the claims, but Shooter admitted to making a comment about her butt, saying to a group of men that it was like “bobcats in a tote sack.”

Shooter adamantly denied making the oral sex gesture, and investigators said the allegation that he made the gesture was not credible. The “bobcats” comment violated House policy, the investigators said.

During the first week of the 2017 session, Shooter told Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who was brand new to the Legislature, “You’ll be a nice view to look at,” she told investigators. Shooter acknowledged that he told her something to the effect of, “You’ll be a pretty addition to the House.” He said he intended his remark to be a compliment to make Salman feel welcome, not as a sexual remark. The investigators found the remark violated the harassment policy.

After the report was released, Shooter called the investigation a “humbling and eye-opening experience” and said he looked forward to repairing relationships at the Capitol.

For his part, Mesnard called for a formal code of conduct and prohibition on the consumption of alcohol on House premises.

Mesnard said he wants to add a formal anti-harassment policy to the House rules, which carry the force of law. He will formalize a human resources department for the House as well, he said.

After his ouster, Shooter told the Capitol Times, “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.”

One comment

  1. Unfortunately, it also appears that his denial phase is strongly in place which means that he may attempt to maintain dignity by commiserating in a bar with his like-minded buddies in Yuma, and probably will file some sort of litigation to challenge his ouster from the House so he can later blame the liberal courts for his predicament. I began lobbying legislators in 1983 on prison reform issues, and at my very first legislative committee hearing, a note was passed down the row, among the panel. Sen. Jones Osborne, who was supportive of prison reform issues, spoke to me after the hearing and showed me the note. It said, “She is an “old lady” to a prisoner.” While the message itself was not harassment, the language used to describe me and the fact that someone on the then-Judiciary committee panel thought it was necessary and appropriate to identify me in that overtly denigrating way demonstrates how deeply ingrained and long-standing these disrespectful and degrading attitudes about women within a group that — in some cases — tend to think of themselves as better than others of us. Hopefully, Shooter’s expulsion will be a chilling example.

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