A freshman Democrat in the House apologized March 7 to colleagues and staff who said they were offended by pillows made of feminine hygiene products she and activists handed out the previous day.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she didn’t know the policy that requires deliveries to lawmakers by outside groups are to be made by House pages.
“That was a mistake and I am sincerely sorry to any of my colleagues or staff who felt uncomfortable. … It will not happen again.”
On March 6, Salman was joined by activists from several criminal justice reform groups, including Reinventing Re-Entry, which was founded by former Arizona state prisoner Sue Ellen Allen, and #cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to reduce the number of people in prison, to bring attention to the plight of inmates.
During the events, marking the 2018 National Day of Empathy, Salman and the groups intended to hand out Kotex pillows, one each to the 90 members in the state Legislature. The pillows represented a pillow that inmates made for Allen after Maricopa County Jail denied her one following a mastectomy.
However, not all members agreed with Salman’s actions, with one Republican, Rep. T.J. Shope, calling it “purely theatrical.”
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said a “litany” of members took issue with the pillows and how they were delivered. GOP spokesman Matt Specht said staff received several complaints from members and staff.
“Members’ offices are their domain,” Mesnard said, “and it’s not really OK to kind of interrupt them without an appointment. You can certainly knock and see if they’re free but my understanding was that’s not what happened.”
He said the “salt in the wound” was that Salman was being followed by what he described as an entourage of cameras, and members felt it was a “gotcha’ moment.”
“There were a variety of reactions to it but they were universally negative,” he said.
Mesnard said Republican and Democratic leadership met prior to the March 7 floor session to address members’ concerns.
Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said leadership met with Mesnard and Republican Reps. Mark Finchem, John Allen and Jay Lawrence who felt that Salman and the groups had intentionally created a gotcha’ moment when they approached members with cameras in tow.
Rios said that Salman also walked into the Democratic caucus with what she described as a trail of TV news cameras behind her, and though it caught people off guard, there was nothing hostile about it.
It was just a mistake made by a freshman legislator, Rios said.
“I could understand how Republicans thought it was intentional but when we approached Athena she had absolutely no qualms about apologizing and there was no hesitation about issuing a public apology,” Rios said, adding that Salman had already privately apologized to at least one member.
During her apology, Salman explained that it wasn’t her intention to offend anyone. She said that she only wanted to bring attention to the need for criminal justice reform and better health care in prison.
Mesnard said he did not question Salman’s intent or motivation, and added that he felt her apology was sincere. He will not be taking any further action and said he considers the matter closed now that she has apologized.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the Arizona Department of Corrections denied Sue Ellen Allen a pillow.