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Arizona Democratic leader calls on Rep. Don Shooter to step down

(AP Photo/Bob Christie,File)
LISTEN: Herschel Fink, Executive Director of the Arizona Democratic Party

PHOENIX — The head of the Arizona Democratic Party called on state Rep. Don Shooter to step down from his position after an investigation found that he violated the House sexual harassment policy.

Herschel Fink, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos that Shooter’s actions have been “way out of bounds” and that he should not “be representing the people of Arizona.”

Shooter, who had previously served as the chairman of the appropriations committee, was removed from all his committees Tuesday after the report found the Yuma Republican made several degrading and sexual comments toward other lawmakers, lobbyists and interns.

“Taking away his committees is a good first step, but I think it should go further and demand that he should resign,” Fink said of State Rep. J.D. Mesnard, who also serves as House speaker. Mesnard has also called for a formal censure, a punishment, but not expulsion. Lawmakers will be voting on that Thursday.

“In the environment we are in now, elected officials need to be held to a much higher standard than they have been.”

Shooter’s misconduct was first made public after state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who is also a Republican, accused him of behaving inappropriately toward her over a period of years. At least three other female lawmakers also claimed that he harassed them.

Fink said he is confident that Shooter believes he can continue to get away with his actions due to a “mentality of not facing consequences,” but hopes calls from both parties will be enough for him to resign.

“We plan to vote him out in November, but before that we want to put the pressure on Republicans to speak out,” he said. “This is not a partisan issue.”

Mesnard told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos on Wednesday that he believes his call for censure — which he says has never happened in the state’s history — is an “appropriate response.”

“What I have done is no small thing,” he said. “There’s a continuum of responses. In my view, I did everything that I could.”

House Majority Whip Rep. Kelly Townsend, another Arizona Republican, called on Shooter to resign on Wednesday and said if he did not, she would vote to expel him.

“I make this request in the spirit of prevention, to spare our colleagues from certain unpleasantry in having to vote for further action which will most certainly fracture and permanently stain this House,” Townsend said in a statement she read on the House Floor.

“Should Mr. Shooter not resign, I will support and move forward tomorrow with the most severe action to be taken, as there should and will be zero tolerance for undignified behavior here.”

Townsend said in the past that she has been subject to harassment at the state capitol, but not by Shooter.

Ugenti-Rita said Wednesday she wanted Shooter ejected from the chamber.

“I support expulsion, for me and for all of the other women who came forward,” she said.

Mesnard said he realized when he made his announcement that he realized some people will think his punishment was too far and others will think it was not far enough.

“I felt this was the fair approach.”

Expulsion requires 40 of 60 House members to vote yes, while a censure requires a simple majority. Republicans controlling 36 seats appear split on how to deal with Shooter. Democrats would likely back expulsion.

Shooter has acknowledged he had made “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments. He asked for the investigation after Ugenti-Rita accused him of propositioning her.

He also has said that he would not resign.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce initially called on Shooter to resign back in November, when the allegations first surfaced.

Republican Rep. Regina Cobb said she opposes expulsion, while Rep. David Stringer would not say how he was leaning and expressed concerns about Shooter’s treatment.

“I am troubled by what seemed to me serious due process concerns that are holding Mr. Shooter to a standard nobody else has previously been held to with respect to these kinds of allegations,” Stringer said. “We’re being asked to judge conduct that occurred before he was a state representative in this body — things that dated to 2011 when he was in the Senate. “

But Republican Rep. Darin Mitchell, who represents the same district as Shooter, said he knew enough about him even before the report’s release and would back either censure or expulsion.

“Don and I have never liked each other, and the reason for that is I’ve always thought this was his behavior,” Mitchell said. “When I read that report last night I see a pattern, a systematic pattern of sustained behavior that is wrong and it seems to be escalating. It’s just completely unacceptable behavior.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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