Republican leadership in the Arizona state Senate has no interest in investigating allegations of sexual harassment made against Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday evening said they hoped Senate President Karen Fann would investigate allegations that Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican, sexually harassed a lobbyist in 2016 and threatened the woman in 2018. But Fann and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray dismissed calls for an investigation in separate interviews Thursday, and rank-and-file Senate Republicans largely declined to comment. And Gray, R-Sun City, said Democrats can file a complaint if they want. But he warned Democrats to be careful because one of their own members, whom he declined to name, also could be investigated.
“If they want to open up all the cans of worms from years past, we can open up all the cans of worms,” Gray said. “This was years ago. It was in the other chamber. Both people have been re-elected.”
In both a statement sent early Thursday morning and comments to reporters on the floor of the Senate this afternoon, Fann, R-Prescott, said the Senate would not comment on ongoing litigation. The Senate is not a party in either lawsuit filed by former Rep. Don Shooter, who alleges the House of Representatives inadequately investigated allegations the lobbyist made against Ugenti-Rita, then a House member.
Fann said she has yet to receive a formal request for an investigation, and she’s staying focused on Senate business.
“Quite honestly, we are moving along,” Fann said. “We’re working on the budget, we’re getting our deals done so we’re just trying to keep the eye on the ball and keep this moving so we can get out of session and everybody can get out and do no more damage or harm, I could say.”
Fann said the Senate will address any new allegation about a new situation that has not already been investigated. According to the lobbyist’s deposition, one incident, in which Ugenti-Rita called the woman a liar in a public bathroom in December 2018, happened after Ugenti-Rita was elected to the Senate.
The House probe into sexual harassment did not investigate that incident, which would seem to fall under the Senate’s ban on retaliation.
Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, who Wednesday afternoon said he wanted Fann to investigate Ugenti-Rita because his caucus believes her alleged actions violate the Senate’s sexual harassment policy, said he has nothing more to say until he speaks with Fann during a regularly scheduled meeting next week.
“We’ll probably discuss it,” the Tucson Democrat said. “My statement is my statement, and we’ll take it from there.”
Bradley said Wednesday it would be better for Republicans to initiate an investigation. Rank-and-file Republicans contacted by the Arizona Capitol Times have no interest in calling for one.
In a statement this afternoon, Bradley said that position hasn’t changed.
“I told (the Arizona Capitol Times) that my statement from yesterday, that the allegations warrant further investigation by President Fann, remains my statement and that I plan to discuss the situation with President Fann early next week. In no way should it be characterized that our caucus is retracting our position,” Bradley said.
Senate President Pro Tem Eddie Farnsworth cut off questions before the afternoon floor session with a “No comment. Zero comment on any of that.”
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who was Speaker of the House during the chamber’s 2017-18 investigation into sexual harassment allegations, said it was important to remember that the lobbyist’s allegations were contained in a deposition taken by Shooter’s lawyers, using questions designed to accomplish Shooter’s purposes.
He said he stood by the House’s investigation, and that he thinks that if anyone who feels like a victim has other accusations they want investigated, they should be heard. But a Senate investigation is up to Senate leadership, he said.
“That’s really not my call to make,” he said. “I will say this. I think if somebody is feeling like a victim that they should be listened to, and I do think that their wishes for what should happen should be respected.”
Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said a decision on an investigation was up to Fann, and that he’s comfortable with her making a decision either way.
Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, was the only Republican senator to answer a phone call.
“I’m not going to get involved in a comment or anything on this, but thank you for calling,” she said.
And Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he’s avoided reading anything about the new allegations.
“I haven’t seen it, and I wasn’t planning on reading it,” he said.
Ugenti-Rita, who has refused to comment on any of the allegations, smiled and stared straight ahead when asked if she plans to resign.
–Dillon Rosenblatt contributed reporting
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, who reiterated that his caucus’ position hasn’t changed. The story’s earlier version said Democrats are no longer pushing the issue.