PHOENIX — A top leader in the Arizona House said Wednesday she would seek to have a fellow Republican lawmaker accused of a pattern of sexual harassment expelled unless he resigns first.
The move by House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend came after a report found that Rep. Don Shooter engaged in the harassment and ups the stakes for Shooter.
“I make this request in the spirit of prevention, to spare our colleagues from certain unpleasantry in having to vote for further action which will most certainly fracture and permanently stain this House,” Townsend said in a statement she read on the House Floor.
She added: “Should Mr. Shooter not resign, I will support and move forward tomorrow with the most severe action to be taken, as there should and will be zero tolerance for undignified behavior here.”
The move runs counter to GOP House Speaker J.D. Mesnard’s call for a formal censure for Shooter’s behavior but not an expulsion. The censure move is expected Thursday.
Mesnard released a lengthy report on Tuesday by investigators who examined a series of harassment complaints against Shooter.
Shooter’s troubles began in October, when Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita alleged he made repeated inappropriate comments and propositioned her.
The then-publisher of the Arizona Republic newspaper and a number of other women then came forward, saying Shooter subjected them to inappropriate sexual comments or actions.
Ugenti-Rita said Wednesday she wanted Shooter ejected from the chamber.
“I support expulsion, for me and for all of the other women who came forward,” she said.
Shooter, of Yuma, was absent Wednesday and did not return a call seeking comment.
He has previously 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.
He also has said that he would not resign.
Expulsion requires 40 of 60 House members to vote yes, while a censure requires a simple majority. Democrats would likely back expulsion, while Republicans controlling 36 seats appear split on how to deal with Shooter.
Republican Rep. Regina Cobb said she opposes expulsion, while Rep. David Stringer would not say how he was leaning and expressed concerns about Shooter’s treatment.
“I am troubled by what seemed to me serious due process concerns that are holding Mr. Shooter to a standard nobody else has previously been held to with respect to these kinds of allegations,” Stringer said. “We’re being asked to judge conduct that occurred before he was a state representative in this body — things that dated to 2011 when he was in the Senate. “
But Republican Rep. Darin Mitchell, who represents the same district as Shooter, said he knew enough about him even before the report’s release and would back either censure or expulsion.
“Don and I have never liked each other, and the reason for that is I’ve always thought this was his behavior,” Mitchell said. “When I read that report last night I see a pattern, a systematic pattern of sustained behavior that is wrong and it seems to be escalating. It’s just completely unacceptable behavior.”
The investigation launched by the House speaker 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.
— This story has been corrected to show Rep. Townsend’s leadership post is majority whip, not majority leader.