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Arizona House votes to kick out lawmaker over sex misconduct

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 1, 2018, 5:10 p.m.

Arizona Republican state Rep. Don Shooter drops his mic after voting no on a resolution expelling him from the Arizona House for a pattern of sexual harassment in Phoenix, Ariz., Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. (Bob Christie / Associated Press)
Arizona Republican state Rep. Don Shooter drops his mic after voting no on a resolution expelling him from the Arizona House for a pattern of sexual harassment in Phoenix, Ariz., Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. (Bob Christie / Associated Press)
By Bob Christie Associated Press

PHOENIX – The Arizona House voted Thursday to kick out a Republican Rep. Don Shooter for sexual misconduct, making him the first state lawmaker in the U.S. expelled since the #MeToo movement emerged last year.

A report ordered by legislative leaders of his own party showed Shooter engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment toward women. Other legislators nationwide have resigned or been stripped of their leadership posts after being accused of misconduct.

The drama on Arizona’s House floor lasted for about two hours, with female lawmakers from both parties gathering in a circle, holding hands and hugging before the vote began.

“It’s been my honor to represent the people of District 13,” Shooter said as voting began. “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.

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 told the Associated Press 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 far worse than what Shooter is accused of doing. Shooter would not name the lawmaker.

“Rep. Shooter’s letter represents a clear act of retaliation and intimidation, and yet another violation of the House’s harassment policy, so I will be moving to expel him from the House of Representatives immediately,” Mesnard said in slamming the letter.

Shooter was elected to the Senate in 2010, and moved to the House in 2016. The lawmaker from Yuma was known around the Capital 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 by Shooter.

Former newspaper publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, who is Asian-American, wrote in a column online 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.

The #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct spread widely in October, with men in Hollywood, politics and elsewhere facing allegations. It exploded a year after the Tennessee state House voted to remove Rep. Jeremy Durham after an investigation detailed accusations of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women during his four years in office.

In Shooter’s letter Thursday, he said the report omitted a young woman’s harassment complaint. He says she complained that another lawmaker subjected her to unwanted sexual advances.

His letter said he wanted the report to include those allegations.

The report contains a section about Ugenti-Rita’s boyfriend sending sexually explicit communications to someone. The investigators determined that they happened but there was no credible evidence that Ugenti-Rita knew or was involved in the actions.

Mesnard said Shooter’s letter was an effort to “use the individual as a pawn” and doesn’t reflect the woman’s thoughts on the investigation.

Shooter said he’s upset for the woman.

“I’m a big boy, I’m in the ring, you take your licks,” Shooter said. “But that little girl, if she gets hurt because she did the right thing, and so far she got kicked right in the teeth for doing the right thing, it ain’t right.”

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