Cul­ture of sex­ism per­vades Capi­tol

In­sid­ers say ha­rass­ment has long been ram­pant

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Dustin Gar­diner

Ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, mis­con­duct and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior have rocked the Ari­zona Leg­is­la­ture since Novem­ber, when seven women pub­licly ac­cused Rep. Don Shooter of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior and crass com­ments.

It’s not just a Shooter is­sue.

The ac­cu­sa­tions against him are em­blem­atic of a deeper cul­tural prob­lem at the Capi­tol, ac­cord­ing to dozens of women and men who work in the cor­ri­dors of the state House and Se­nate.

Lob­by­ists pro­mote bills and high­stakes bud­get is­sues for their clients. They say they of­ten are be­holden to whims of elected of­fi­cials and have en­dured lewd re­marks and sex­ual advances. Elected of­fi­cials say they, too, have faced ha­rass­ment or sex­ist treat­ment.

Over the past two months, The Ari­zona Repub­lic in­ter­viewed more than 40 women and men — in­clud­ing lob­by­ists, law­mak­ers and pol­icy ad­vis­ers — about their ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing at the Leg­is­la­ture, which opens its 2018 ses­sion on Monday.

The in­ter­views ranged from 20 min­utes to well over an hour and oc­curred by phone, in per­son and via text mes­sages. The in­ter­views elicited anger, tears or dis­pas­sion­ate frus­tra­tion with what has long been the sta­tus quo.

From those in­ter­views, a portrait emerged of a coarse, male-dom­i­nated and of­ten sex­ist cul­ture that per­me­ates the in­tense work­days and the so­cial gath­er­ings that de­fine a leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Nearly all of the women and men in­ter­viewed by The

Repub­lic re­counted ex­pe­ri­ences of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior by law­mak­ers, and some­times lob­by­ists. Some said they were on the re­ceiv­ing end of that treat­ment ear­lier in their ca­reer but over time learned to set clear bound­aries with law­mak­ers, re­fus­ing to so­cial­ize and drink with them af­ter hours.

Be­cause their liveli­hood de­pends on ac­cess to law­mak­ers to bro­ker deals, most lob­by­ists were re­luc­tant to speak on the record about their ex­pe­ri­ences. Law­mak­ers sim­i­larly de­clined to talk about their peers’ be­hav­ior or pro­vide their names for pub­li­ca­tion, cit­ing the need to work with their col­leagues to pass leg­is­la­tion.

The sto­ries they told, in­de­pen­dently of each other, showed an of­ten un­healthy work­place — one where women and men are con­di­tioned to try to cap­i­tal­ize on the phys­i­cal ap­pear­ances of women to ad­vance a cause.

“Cer­tain male lob­by­ists do hire young women to go into the lion’s den, if you will,” said Rep. Lela Al­ston, D-Phoenix. “I think in a lot of ways, we have been stuck in time.”

One ex­pe­ri­enced male lob­by­ist said he em­ploys that tac­tic when the mer­its of a pol­icy or bud­get de­ci­sion don’t sway par­tic­u­lar male law­mak­ers.

“Some­times, they have to use all of their assets,” said the male lob­by­ist, who has worked at the Leg­is­la­ture since the 1990s. “I know that sounds dis­gust­ing.”

“... A lot of these gen­tle­men (law­mak­ers) love it: They get to hang out with a beau­ti­ful woman, they got a free meal — and they love the free meals — free drinks.”

A fe­male lob­by­ist said the cul­ture at the Capi­tol has changed for the worse with the fre­quent churn of elected of­fi­cials due to term lim­its, cou­pled with some law­mak­ers who en­joy wielding the power and so­cial priv­i­lege that come with hold­ing pub­lic of­fice.

“I don’t know if it’s our times, or new peo­ple com­ing in, but more and more, it’s get­ting to be that the end jus­ti­fies the means,” she said.

Lead­ers in both cham­bers have vowed to en­force a “zero-tol­er­ance” pol­icy, and all law­mak­ers are re­quired to at­tend manda­tory train­ing as the Leg­is­la­ture con­venes this week.

House Speaker J.D. Mes­nard, R-Chan­dler, said, “I’ve al­ways felt that Ari­zona is very pro­gres­sive when it comes to the equal­ity of the sexes in our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. The vast ma­jor­ity of mem­bers I in­ter­act with are treat­ing this (sex­ual ha­rass­ment) very se­ri­ously.”

Shooter, a pow­er­ful Repub­li­can fig­ure at the state­house from Yuma, re­mains a pri­mary fo­cus of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Ari­zona House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He has de­nied some ac­cu­sa­tions and re­fused to com­ment on others.

Law­mak­ers and lob­by­ists who have al­leged mis­con­duct, as well as those in­ter­viewed for this story, said a lack of clear rules in the past al­lowed lead­er­ship and other leg­is­la­tors to sweep prob­lems un­der the rug.

Some have lit­tle faith the cul­ture will change.

The lob­by­ist-law­maker power dy­namic

Of­ten, sto­ries of ha­rass­ment or in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior come from lob­by­ists, many of whom spend long hours try­ing to sway law­mak­ers on pol­icy and bud­get items that af­fect their clients.

Stacy Pear­son, a con­sul­tant who has worked in state pol­i­tics for more than a decade, said the law­maker-lob­by­ist power dy­namic cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where women can be ex­ploited.

Pow­er­ful leg­is­la­tors who chair com­mit­tees can block bills if they don’t re­ceive the at­ten­tion they seek. It’s common for lob­by­ists to try to win law­mak­ers’ votes with long lunches, pricey din­ners and cocktail hours that can stretch well past happy hour.

Pear­son said be­cause lob­by­ists “deal in con­fi­dences for a liv­ing,” those who re­port mis­con­duct could lose the fa­vor or trust of key law­mak­ers. Women do the math and see the po­ten­tial ef­fect on their liveli­hood, so they re­main silent, she said.

“That’s how it goes on for a decade, two decades,” Pear­son said. “It is the per­fect recipe for vic­tim­iza­tion, re­ally.”

At the same time, lob­by­ists also com­plain that some male law­mak­ers won’t take women se­ri­ously.

“Pretty much ev­ery fe­male lob­by­ist, if they’re be­ing hon­est, will tell you there are cer­tain male leg­is­la­tors they can’t talk to be­cause they won’t seem to be­lieve any in­for­ma­tion if it comes from a fe­male,” one fe­male lob­by­ist said.

“So you have to ask a man in your of­fice, ‘Can you go to talk to Rep. So-and-So?’ Be­cause he needs to hear it from a man.”

The Leg­is­la­ture also is un­like most tra­di­tional work en­vi­ron­ments.

Law­mak­ers from ru­ral Ari­zona take up tem­po­rary res­i­dence in the Val­ley, and, un­en­cum­bered by fam­ily and other com­mit­ments, so­cial­ize with lob­by­ists in restau­rants and even at the Capi­tol, where al­co­hol is some­times freely poured in leg­is­la­tors’ of­fices.

There are no pro­hi­bi­tions on law­mak­ers’ use of al­co­hol at the Capi­tol.

Throw in the ab­sence of consistently en­forced rules of con­duct, and the Leg­is­la­ture is prone to an any­thing­goes at­mos­phere, said one woman with years of lob­by­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The hours, the amount of time, the in­ten­sity of the is­sues, the need to find al­lies, create friends and at­tract foes, all of those dy­nam­ics con­trib­ute to a dif­fer­ent cul­ture than you’re go­ing to find most other places,” she said.

An­other long­time fe­male lob­by­ist said it’s not un­com­mon to lose a leg­isla­tive bat­tle to younger fe­male lob­by­ists who dress in short dresses, low-cut tops or platform high heels to try to win votes. Others in­ter­viewed told sim­i­lar sto­ries.

Around the Capi­tol, these women some­times are re­ferred to as “fluffers,” a term used in the adult-en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. In this set­ting, it means women who get law­mak­ers in a jovial mood be­fore talk­ing busi­ness.

“I don’t want to lose be­cause I didn’t wear a miniskirt,” the fe­male lob­by­ist said. “I’ve had that hap­pen, and (to law­mak­ers) I’m like, ‘Oh my good­ness, just be­cause she showed you her boobs doesn’t mean you have to hold my bills,’ “she said.

“That hap­pens — ab­so­lutely, it hap­pens.” An­other fe­male lob­by­ist re­called a law­maker’s re­mark about her high heels.

As she sat in the of­fice of a male law­maker, he told her that her pumps re­minded him of han­dles, and could be use­ful as grips dur­ing a cer­tain sex­ual po­si­tion, she re­called.

The en­counter was mor­ti­fy­ing, she said.

She com­plained to a close friend within days. That friend ver­i­fied their con­ver­sa­tion.

“She told me about how dis­gusted she was that some­one would even say that,” the friend con­firmed to

The Repub­lic.

The lob­by­ist did not com­plain to lead­ers at the Leg­is­la­ture. Do­ing so, she fig­ured, would hurt her ca­reer. She al­ready had come to ac­cept that sort of be­hav­ior as an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard.

“It’s a dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude to­wards women, and par­tic­u­larly young women,” she said.

When she first ar­rived at the Capi­tol, she said she showed up to pub­lic hear­ings and pri­vate meet­ings with law­mak­ers armed with reams of in­for­ma­tion to ar­gue for or against leg­is­la­tion.

When her in­tel­lect didn’t sway opin­ions, she said she changed her ap­proach. “We all use the things at our dis­posal, within rea­son,” she said.

She said she would try to per­suade some law­mak­ers with com­ments such as, “Oh, let’s just go get a beer and be fun. You love this bill, right?

“And all of the sud­den, they do,” she said. “I know it’s kind of hyp­o­crit­i­cal to be play­ing both sides of it.”

Here for a client, not a cru­sade

A male lob­by­ist, the one who some­times asks fe­male col­leagues to charm law­mak­ers, said he no­tices cer­tain male leg­is­la­tors stand un­com­fort­ably close to at­trac­tive women at the Capi­tol.

“When they talk to me, there’s a good three feet in be­tween us,” he said. “When they talk to some of these ladies, there isn’t five inches. But (the women) need to get their job done, so they’re go­ing to take that op­por­tu­nity to get their mes­sage out. It’s creepy.”

At times, he says, he “fears” for some fe­male lob­by­ists — es­pe­cially those who pull long nights out drink­ing along­side cer­tain law­mak­ers.

An­other male lob­by­ist said he does not send in young women to meet with law­mak­ers alone.

“Pol­i­tics is a unique en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “You have peo­ple who have a po­si­tion that they can use, and if they hap­pen to be a lit­tle less than scrupu­lous about it, there’s not re­ally much re­course.”

In that en­vi­ron­ment, the elected of­fi­cials hold all the power, he said, adding, “The per­son sit­ting across that desk largely dic­tates how that re­la­tion­ship goes. You have to bal­ance what that per­son is ask­ing of you ver­sus your client and your per­sonal com­fort level.” Lob­by­ists know they are there for a job, he said. “At the end of the day, their first pri­or­ity is to make money to feed their fam­i­lies, not to help clean up what­ever it is that’s go­ing on down there,” the male lob­by­ist said.

“Their clients pay them to get things done. They don’t pay them to go on a cru­sade.”

Tak­ing action to set bound­aries

Not ev­ery­one has wit­nessed in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior. Sev­eral peo­ple in­ter­viewed by The Repub­lic said they have made a point to avoid law­mak­ers who are no­to­ri­ously vul­gar, and they avoid af­ter-hours events.

In­stead, they fo­cus their lob­by­ing ef­forts on mem­bers and leg­isla­tive staffers who have rep­u­ta­tions for professionally tack­ling com­plex pol­icy is­sues.

Rep. Regina Cobb, a den­tist and Repub­li­can from King­man, said she hasn’t seen be­hav­ior at the Capi­tol that is any dif­fer­ent than what she would see in the den­tal in­dus­try.

Gen­er­ally, she said, women are treated “equally, on the same foot­ing” as men.

Dur­ing her first year at the Leg­is­la­ture, she said “some­one touched me in­ap­pro­pri­ately one day, and I gave an elbow to the ch­est.” She de­clined to say who it was, adding, “It wasn’t super-in­ap­pro­pri­ate ... but in­ap­pro­pri­ate enough.”

She added, “I’ve been able to han­dle any kind of in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments with­out is­sues.”

One fe­male lob­by­ist with more than a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence said there is a “net­work” of fe­male lob­by­ists at the Capi­tol who band to­gether in deal­ing with male leg­is­la­tors who are known to make women un­com­fort­able. For ex­am­ple, she said, if she sees an­other lob­by­ist is trapped, she will join the con­ver­sa­tion.

There are also avoid­ance strate­gies, she said. Mul­ti­ple lob­by­ists told The Repub­lic they try to skip meet­ings with the hand­ful of male law­mak­ers who have rep­u­ta­tions for in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior. Other lob­by­ists avoid so­cial­iz­ing at happy hours al­to­gether.

An­other fe­male lob­by­ist, who has worked in the pro­fes­sion for about a decade, said to suc­ceed at the state Capi­tol, peo­ple must be able to ap­peal to 90 per­son­al­i­ties in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Se­nate, as well as their as­sis­tants and staffers.

She said that en­vi­ron­ment can be tough for young pro­fes­sion­als to nav­i­gate. That’s why she de­lib­er­ately sets bound­aries for her re­la­tion­ships with elected of­fi­cials.

“I don’t so­cial­ize with law­mak­ers down there,” she said. “I don’t have late nights with them. I just don’t create en­vi­ron­ments that could lead to in­ter­ac­tions that I don’t want to have, or quite frankly, don’t want to have to man­age through.”

She said she uses her kids as ex­cuses to be un­avail­able for cock­tails and din­ner.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, re­gard­less of how emo­tion­ally mature some­one may be, if they have too many cock­tails, those rules change,” she said.

Law­mak­ers also de­cry ‘pa­tri­archy’

While lob­by­ists of­ten are the tar­get of more egre­gious be­hav­ior, elected of­fi­cials said they also have faced ha­rass­ment or sex­ist treat­ment.

The swirl of sex­ual-mis­con­duct ac­cu­sa­tions at the Leg­is­la­ture be­gan af­ter Rep. Michele Ugenti-Rita, RS­cotts­dale, said in Oc­to­ber that she has been ha­rassed by sev­eral male col­leagues over the years and faced re­tal­i­a­tion for re­port­ing it.

She said Shooter was one of her ha­rassers, al­leg­ing he made com­ments about her breasts and, once, at a con­fer­ence, knocked on the door of her ho­tel room late at night hold­ing a six-pack of beer. She said it wasn’t the only un­wanted ad­vance.

Shooter has de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions. He re­sponded by ac­cus­ing Ugenti-Rita of hav­ing an in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­la­tion­ship with a leg­isla­tive staff mem­ber and mak­ing a com­ment about mas­tur­ba­tion in a pub­lic hear­ing.

The House has hired an out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tor to re­view both sets of ac­cu­sa­tions, along with mul­ti­ple other com­plaints against Shooter.

But the claims against Shooter are just part of the in­ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment that fe­male law­mak­ers say they have ex­pe­ri­enced. House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she has re­ceived un­wanted advances from col­leagues. She de­clined to name them.

Other fe­male law­mak­ers said mis­treat­ment has come in the form of in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments or be­lit­tling be­hav­ior.

Al­ston, who first joined the Leg­is­la­ture in 1977, re­called a time early in her ten­ure when a male law­maker, mis­tak­ing her for a page, or­dered her to get him a cup of cof­fee and pick up some pa­pers that had been copied. She said the law­maker in ques­tion later apol­o­gized.

She said she hasn’t seen much im­prove­ment in the decades since, even though Ari­zona has the high­est per­cent­age of fe­male leg­is­la­tors of any state in the na­tion, with 15 of 30 sen­a­tors and 22 of 60 rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Dur­ing last year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Al­ston said, it was common for male mem­bers to quickly leave the House floor and go to the mem­bers’ lounge when younger, re­cently elected fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tives spoke.

“The lounge would be full,” Al­ston said. “It was up­set­ting to me that so many of the folks chose to leave the floor and not lis­ten.”

Rep. Athena Sal­man, who is 28 and was elected in 2016, said the Leg­is­la­ture’s sex­ist at­mos­phere was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent to her.

In her first week, she said, Shooter told her she “would be a nice view to look at.” Then she no­ticed other male law­mak­ers roll their eyes and au­di­bly sigh when she spoke.

“It’s just so in-your-face at the Leg­is­la­ture,” said Sal­man, D-Tempe. “If there’s any les­son that comes out of this, it’s that women aren’t be­ing re­spected in a va­ri­ety of ways.”

Shooter de­clined to re­spond to the al­le­ga­tion when it orig­i­nally was made in Novem­ber.

Will the cul­ture change?

The House didn’t have a writ­ten ha­rass­ment pol­icy un­til late Oc­to­ber. The Se­nate has had a pol­icy since 2005, but it had not been widely cir­cu­lated in years.

Mes­nard, the House speaker, has per­haps been most out­spo­ken on the is­sue, en­cour­ag­ing any­one with com­plaints to come forward as he launched that cham­ber’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

He noted that com­plaints of ha­rass­ment have shaken in­sti­tu­tions across the coun­try, from Hol­ly­wood to the me­dia to the U.S. Congress.

Tra­di­tion­ally, women have have been highly vis­i­ble in Ari­zona pol­i­tics, Mes­nard said.

But some lob­by­ists and law­mak­ers in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle are skep­ti­cal that any change to the sex­ist cul­ture will last, es­pe­cially when Mes­nard is no longer speaker. He is run­ning for state Se­nate and will leave the House next year.

A fe­male lob­by­ist said in spite of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, she sees lit­tle sup­port for peo­ple speak­ing out pub­licly about ha­rass­ment.

Some leg­is­la­tors have brushed off the ac­cu­sa­tions against Shooter in her pres­ence, with­out prompt­ing, she said.

“It seems now, more than ever, this is a cul­ture that not only looks the other way but con­dones the ha­rass­ment of women, and the sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women,” she said.

A male lob­by­ist agreed that there seems to be lit­tle sup­port for peo­ple re­port­ing mis­con­duct. Even with the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Shooter and Ugenti-Rita, he said, “I’ve met with leg­is­la­tors even to­day, and there are jokes about what’s go­ing on.”

He said he has heard col­leagues and law­mak­ers make ob­scene and “de­grad­ing” re­marks about women for years. But, he said, few peo­ple would risk com­plain­ing to lead­er­ship un­less be­hav­iors get into the crim­i­nal realm.

“If you say, ‘Hey, you’re talk­ing about some­body’s mother, or some­body’s daugh­ter, or some­body’s sis­ter,’ I’m the bad guy now, and my client’s bill is in trou­ble be­cause I stood up,” he said.

Asked about the cul­ture at the Capi­tol, an­other fe­male lob­by­ist vividly re­called an en­counter with a for­mer Repub­li­can law­maker who is no longer at the Capi­tol but still holds pub­lic of­fice.

For weeks, her em­ployer tried to get a meet­ing with him. Fi­nally, the law­maker re­lented and she crammed into his small of­fice along­side her boss, an­other lob­by­ist who was in her 70s at the time.

Af­ter the meet­ing, the two women sat in a car out­side the Capi­tol com­plex. She re­called telling her boss, “You know what I did to­day? I’m not proud of it, but I wore a short skirt.”

Her boss replied, “Honey, so did I.”

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