Arizona state legislator acknowledges ‘insensitive’ conduct
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona state Rep. Don Shooter apologized to fellow House members Tuesday at the start of mandatory sexual harassment training required in large part because of sexual harassment and other misconduct complaints made against him.
The Yuma Republican apologized for conduct he acknowledged was “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” but denied the most serious complaint — that he tried to pressure Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita into having a sexual relationship with him.
“It is important for you to know that while my actions have unintentionally offended some, I have never attempted to touch anyone, made obscene gestures at a woman nor sought a tryst or sexual relationship,” he said.
Ugenti-Rita, a Republican, was sitting three rows in front of Shooter as he read his statement and appeared shaken at times, looking down most of the time. She left the House floor soon after Shooter stopped speaking but returned later and declined to comment on his statement.
An investigation into Shooter’s alleged misconduct is ongoing and he has been removed as head of the appropriations committee.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, a Republican, issued the chamber’s first written policy on harassment shortly after Ugenti-Rita made the allegations public in October. In the following weeks, a series of other women came out with stories of boorish, crude or insensitive behavior by Shooter.
No state Senate members have been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct, but all 30 members went through training in recent weeks.
The 60 House members were called by Mesnard to hear a training presentation by House and Arizona Attorney General attorneys.
It came a day after Mesnard told members on the opening day of the 2018 Legislative session that male legislators need to consider their actions.
“Let’s treat all women — regardless of their background, their age, their political affiliation, their role in the process — as ladies, as we would like anybody to treat our wives, our daughters, mothers, sisters,′ Mesnard said.
The training covered sexual and other workplace harassment, ethics and other legal issues that affect lawmakers. The session ran long and will be completed next week.
A discussion by lawmakers about the written policy on reporting harassment allegations became contentious at times, with Shooter questioning how far back such allegations could reach.
“Every crime except murder has a statute of limitations,” he said. “It seems to me we’re never going to put this behind us if we don’t have a cutoff date.”
Democrats objected, saying women who are harassed often don’t come forward until others do so as well, and that can take years. Mesnard said that conversation will continue, but told members to remember that the ethics policy he put in place just that, a policy.
“There is nothing in here that is going to throw you in prison,” he said. “This is not the law.”
This version corrects the spelling of the house speaker’s last name on first reference, Mesnard not Mensard.