In states, legislators face flood of harassment allegations

The powerful chairman of the Arizona state House Appropriations Committee was suspended from his post on Friday after eight women accused him of inappropriate sexual advances.

The lawmaker, Rep. Don Shooter (R), is one of more than a dozen state legislators who face allegations of sexual harassment or improper behavior in capitals across the country, as female lawmakers, lobbyists and staff increasingly speak up about what many call a pervasive culture of mistreatment.

The allegations cross party and state lines, targeting some of the most powerful men in state government, from Kentucky’s House Speaker to the chairmen of prominent committees in Florida and Minnesota.

And many of the women who have made their accusations public have strongly hinted that other legislators will be implicated in the coming days or weeks.

In just the last few weeks, some legislative leaders have implemented new training requirements or created new avenues for those who have been harassed to make formal complaints. Others have launched investigations into colleagues accused of inappropriate behavior, or stripped the accused of leadership posts.

But other states have been slower to act: Despite the multiple allegations, Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R) did not suspend Shooter until several hours after The Hill contacted his office for a response to criticism from a fellow Republican lawmaker who has alleged Shooter harassed her.

That lawmaker, state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R), is one of three legislators to publicly accuse Shooter of harassment. State Reps. Wenona Benally (D) and Athena Salman (D) have also made public allegations against him.

Ugenti-Rita said she had been harassed by Shooter for years. She said that in 2011, Shooter, then a state senator, told her he was in love with her. At a work conference, he brought a six-pack of beer to her hotel room, uninvited. And, Ugenti-Rita said, he left a bottle of tequila in her office as a Christmas present, along with a note, which she still has.

Ugenti-Rita repeatedly brought her allegations to House leadership, she told The Hill.

“The public has been very supportive. I’m a bit disappointed with leadership,” Ugenti-Rita told The Hill in an interview Friday morning. “I haven’t heard from them, from the Speaker. And there seems to be overwhelming evidence that Don Shooter has done and said inappropriate things, yet I feel like my leadership’s paralyzed, and I don’t know what’s going on.”

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