First State Legislator Expelled Since Dawn of #MeToo Era
PHOENIX—The Arizona House kicked out Republican Rep. Don Shooter on Thursday because of a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct, making him the first state lawmaker in the U.S. to be expelled since the #MeToo movement emerged last year.
Other legislators nationwide have resigned or been stripped of their leadership posts after being accused of misconduct. But the expulsion marked a new escalation in handling such cases after a report ordered by the legislative leader of his own party showed Shooter engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment toward women.
The drama on Arizona’s House floor lasted for about two hours, with bipartisan female lawmakers in red gathering in a circle, holding hands and hugging before the vote began. Then Shooter took center stage, saying he had said and done stupid things but “I stood on the carpet, I took it like a man, I apologized.”
“It’s been my honor to represent the people of District 13,” Shooter said. “I have faithfully executed my duties. I’ve never taken bribes, I’ve never considered one way or another except on the merits of a bill.”
At the end of his speech, he held his arm out, dropped the microphone on the floor and walked out. He was one of three lawmakers to vote against his ouster, with 56 House members supporting it.
The fallout comes months after Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said Shooter propositioned her for sex and repeatedly commented on her breasts. Many other women, including the then-publisher of Arizona’s largest newspaper, then complained that he subjected them to inappropriate sexual comments or actions.
Shooter said earlier in the day that he deserved to be punished but did nothing to justify expulsion.
He had been facing censure, but Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard moved for a vote to expel him after the embattled lawmaker sent a letter to fellow legislators Thursday. It alleged that the investigative report Mesnard commissioned into Shooter’s and Ugenti-Rita’s behavior whitewashed accusations against another House member that were worse than the claims he faced.
Shooter wrote that the report omitted a young woman’s complaint that another lawmaker subjected her to unwanted sexual advances. He would not name the lawmaker.
The report says Ugenti-Rita’s boyfriend sent sexually explicit communications to someone. Investigators determined that happened but that there was no evidence Ugenti-Rita knew or was involved.
Mesnard said he talked to the woman and learned Shooter’s description her concerns weren’t true.
“It was then I realized Rep. Shooter’s letter was nothing more than an effort to use this individual as a pawn,” Mesnard said. “So he was not, in fact, standing up for the victim but rather further victimizing this person.”
The House speaker told Shooter that the vote was now about expulsion and asked for any weapons he had with him. Mesnard said Shooter turned over a handgun. Firearms are banned at the Legislature, but lawmakers have been known to carry them in gun-friendly Arizona and the rule generally isn’t enforced.
Shooter was elected to the Senate in 2010, and moved to the House in 2016. The lawmaker from the southern Arizona city of Yuma was known around the Capitol as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-fueled parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.
The initial complaints against him came from Ugenti-Rita in mid-October. In the following weeks, the woman then working as the publisher of the Arizona Republic newspaper and a number of others also complained about inappropriate behavior and comments.
Former newspaper publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, who is Asian-American, wrote in a column that Shooter told her last year during a meeting in his office that he had done everything on his “bucket list,” except for “those Asian twins in Mexico.”
The investigation substantiated some of the allegations, but not all.
Shooter has denied sexual harassment but acknowledged that he had made “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments. He asked for the investigation after Ugenti-Rita said he propositioned her.
His seat was immediately declared vacant and will be filled by another Republican. GOP committee members in his district will nominate three people for the post, and officials in Yuma County will make the final choice.
The #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct spread widely in October, targeting men in Hollywood, politics and elsewhere. It came a year after the Tennessee state House removed Rep. Jeremy Durham after an investigation detailed accusations of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women.
In Arizona, Republican Rep. Noel Campbell said Shooter’s actions should be condemned but voted against kicking him out.
“I believe it is up to the people of his district to either expel him or not,” he said. “I think that is the real judging body.”