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Female legislators want 2 women in House to cede leadership

Posted at 4:31 PM, Dec 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-02 06:54:07-05

Four women in the Arizona Legislature called for two prominent women in the House to be relieved of leadership roles Friday, citing allegations that both had inappropriate relationships with employees.

In a letter sent to House members the four Republican representatives urged the removal of Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Democratic Rep. Rebecca Rios from leadership positions. Rios is the minority leader of the House Democratic Caucus. Ugenti-Rita is the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rios was recently accused in an ethics complaint by a fellow Democrat, Rep. Ray Martinez, of having an inappropriate relationship with a House employee. Martinez was also upset that Rios was not planning to endorse him.

Ugenti-Rita is one of several women in recent weeks to accuse GOP Rep. Don Shooter of sexual harassment. Shooter denied the allegations and accused her of pursuing an affair with a staffer and making inappropriate sexual comments during a hearing.

Shooter, of Yuma, was suspended from his role as chair of the Appropriations Committee by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard amid the investigation. Ugenti-Rita and Rios should receive the same discipline to "maintain equal treatment, consistency, and the integrity of the House policy," the letter stated.

"If we're going to remove one from leadership we have to remove all from leadership pending the investigation," Rep. Maria Syms, of Paradise Valley, told the Arizona Capitol Times.  "And I hope, and I'm encouraged, that House leadership will fully vet all of these claims and we will root out any sexual harassment that is found."

Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Randall Friese said the letter was more about politics. The speaker also doesn't have the authority over caucus leadership, he added.

Larry Wulkan, an attorney for Rios, accused the four female lawmakers of putting out the letter as a diversion tactic to help Shooter.

"Allegations against Representative Rios are based on rumor, speculation and political motivations," Wulkan said.

Kurt Altman, an attorney for Ugenti-Rita, declined to comment.