Rep. Shooter sorry for inappropriate remarks
On House floor, he apologizes for ‘distraction and strain’
State Rep. Don Shooter apologized Tuesday morning on the House floor for making inappropriate comments, breaking his months-long silence about allegations that he sexually harassed multiple women.
“I am sorry for the distraction and strain that this matter and the subsequent investigation have caused all of you,” Shooter said. “I don’t want to go one more day without apologizing and honoring all of you by not only saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ but by doing better.”
Shooter, a powerful Republican lawmaker from Yuma, is under investigation by the Arizona House of Representatives after seven women publicly accused him of inappropriate behavior, including making sexually charged comments, touching them inappropriately or making unwanted sexual advances.
His apology came on the second day of the legislative session, as lawmakers began mandatory harassment and discrimination training.
During the training, some lawmakers said that there should be a time limit for people to file a complaint — and they cited the experience of former Alabama Judge Roy Moore, who faced accusations of pursuing teenage girls while unsuccessfully running for a U.S. Senate seat last year.
At the start of the session, Shooter
rose to speak and teared up, often speaking in a muffled voice, as he read a lengthy statement.
Shooter’s tone was largely apologetic, but he said some complaints against him were false or the result of “a personal or political vendetta.”
An avalanche of accusations hit Shooter in early November, after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, accused Shooter of making comments about her breasts and multiple unwanted sexual advances.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, RChandler, suspended Shooter as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee following those accusations. The investigation is ongoing, but a report from an outside law firm hired to review accusations could be completed as early as next week.
He remains suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation.
Shooter didn’t address Ugenti-Rita by name on Tuesday, but he appeared to suggest she was insincere, saying the first accusation against him was “for reasons that I believe are largely unrelated to the complaint itself.”
“But that complaint was followed by a number of additional complaints, the majority of which were sincere and which exposed me to the knowledge that my actions were not always received as intended, and that worse still, they caused genuine discomfort or pain,” he said.
Ugenti-Rita did not respond to a request for comment afterward. After Ugenti-Rita accused Shooter of harassment in November, he accused her of having an inappropriate relationship with a legislative staff member and making a comment about masturbation to a male colleague in a public hearing.
While Shooter didn’t express remorse regarding Ugenti-Rita’s accusations, he said comments he’s made to other women — and one man — were “jarring, insensitive and demeaning.”
“I don’t need to wait for an investigative report to know that,” he said.
Several women also accused Shooter of inappropriate touching. A lobbyist said he put his hand on her knee in an overtly sexual manner during a 2013 meeting where she asked for his support on a budget issue. Another woman said he hugged her inappropriately.
Shooter didn’t address specific accusations, but he said he was embarrassed that “well-intentioned hugs were perceived as creepy and lecherous.”
Shooter ended his comments by saying he hopes to apologize to those he offended, if they are interested. While about a dozen of his colleagues applauded, most sat in silence.
“I want to get this right,” he said. “It can be tough to teach old dogs new tricks, but this old dog can learn and will do better.”
Some question ethics policy
Later in the day, Shooter questioned whether the House’s ethics policy should have a “statute of limitations” that requires accusers to come forward with complaints within a certain time frame, potentially six months.
“There has to be some concrete cutoff date,” Shooter said. “Because otherwise, how are you going to put it behind you? Like in the case of Roy Moore, 40 years later someone comes forward.”
Several GOP lawmakers agreed with Shooter’s suggestion of including a time limit for filing complaints in the House’s policy. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said such limitations help protect reputations from being damaged by false accusations.
Mesnard interjected to say that the House policy is different from criminal laws, where statutes of limitation typically apply. He didn’t rule out the idea of imposing time limits for complaints, though he said the policy is intended to hold lawmakers to a high standard.
But the prospect of putting reporting time limits on potential victims of harassment or workplace discrimination drew swift opposition from several Democratic lawmakers, along with Rep. Heather Carter, R-Scottsdale.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said that because the policy governs alleged instances of harassment between fellow lawmakers, someone may not want to make a complaint immediately out of fear of political retaliation.
He said lawmakers should focus on protecting victims of harassment, not the accused.
“You should be afraid that you have committed an act of harassment and that could come back and bite you,” Bolding said. “The fact of matter is you never should have harassed them in the first place.”
Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, apologizes to lawmakers and lobbyists on Tuesday on the House floor. Shooter is facing a House ethics investigation after seven women publicly accused him of sexual misconduct.