PHOENIX — An Arizona House lawmaker violated the chamber’s sexual harassment policies and has been permanently removed from all committee assignments, the House speaker announced Tuesday.
The move involving Republican Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma came months after a female lawmaker said he harassed her and many other women then complained about his actions.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, also a Republican, said he would seek to have Shooter formally censured by the full House. In addition, he wants to launch a formal House human resources department and ban drinking on House property.
A formal censure is the most severe punishment a House member can face short of expulsion, Mesnard said. He called it a “proportionate response” to Shooter’s actions, which he said involved “crude jokes and disgusting comments to people” but not sexual assault.
He expects a formal House vote Thursday on the censure proposal. Only a simple majority vote is needed, while a 2/3 vote is needed for expulsion.
In the weeks after the October allegation by Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the then-publisher of the Arizona Republic newspaper and a number of other women said Shooter subjected them to inappropriate sexual comments or actions.
The investigation substantiated some of the allegations.
“There is credible evidence Rep. Shooter has violated (House policy) and by his repeated pervasive conduct has created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature,” the report commissioned by Mesnard and written by an outside law firm concluded.
Shooter has denied sexual harassment but acknowledged he had made “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments. He asked for the investigation after Ugenti-Rita accused him of propositioning her.
In a statement, Shooter said he was reviewing the report and thanked the investigators and his colleagues for their professionalism.
“This has been a humbling and eye-opening experience for me,” Shooter said. “I look forward to working to repair relationships and serving my constituents and our great State.”
The same day Mesnard announced the investigation, then-Arizona Republic Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish wrote in a column online that Shooter told her during a 2016 meeting in his office that he had done everything on his “bucket list,” except for “those Asian twins in Mexico.” Parrish is Asian-American.
Sexual harassment rocketed to the fore of the national conversation in the wake of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in early October. Since then, other lawmakers, entertainment figures, businesspeople and media leaders have been accused of sexual harassment.
Lawmakers facing such complaints in other states have stepped down, been removed from assignments or otherwise disciplined.
Mesnard said his decision not to seek expulsion was a judgment call, and some will believe it is too harsh or too timid a punishment. He said any new allegations would force his hand.
“If there is any more misconduct in this sort of way I will absolutely move for expulsion,” he said.
Shooter wielded considerable power as head of the House Appropriations Committee before Mesnard removed him from that role in November. He was known around the Capitol as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-laden parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.
The ban on drinking appears to have been prompted by the behavior.