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Arizona House launches sexual harassment investigations

Arizona House
Posted at 2:01 PM, Nov 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-08 21:36:31-05

The Arizona House is investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature, including allegations from a Scottsdale lawmaker that another member of the chamber,  Rep Don Shooter (R-Yuma), told her he wanted to have a romantic relationship with her.

Matthew Specht, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus, says the investigations announced Wednesday will examine harassment allegations made by Reps. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale and Kelly Townsend of Mesa.

The response to sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo social-media movement has spread to statehouses across the country.

Two weeks after Ugenti-Rita first made the allegations last month, the Arizona House issued a written harassment policy.

Under the policy, a House member experiencing harassment can report it to the chamber's attorney or the chiefs of staff from either party.

Rep. Wenona Benally (D-Window Rock) said she was subjected to hearing a "joking but graphic" conversation between Shooter and another man at the Capitol earlier this year.

"Rep. Shooter repeatedly referred to his male genitalia as a ‘gun,'" Benally said. "The conversation made me extremely uncomfortable. I reported this interaction to my Leadership, who in turn reported the incident to the House Speaker."

Referring to the allegations against him, Rep. Shooter issued a statement saying, “I requested an investigation by the House which is now underway.  Therefore I am unable to comment further except to provide my full support and cooperation.”

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) said he is putting together a group of lawyers and leaders from both parties to conduct investigations of multiple sexual harassment allegations.

"We will respond appropriately per the policy investigate fully and take every matter seriously," Mesnard said.

Townsend said she was sexually harassed by a different colleague, and she praised House leadership for helping to stop it. 

"I wanted to talk about solutions and that there is more work that can be done at the legislature to ensure these things don't happen," Townsend said.