STATE HOUSE DRAMA: Sexual harassment allegations rock state legislature

State Rep. Don Shooter said Tuesday night that he is withdrawing an apology he made to State Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, after she reportedly identified one of the person who sexually harassed her as State Rep. Don Shooter.

In October, State Rep. Ugenti-Rita talked about sexual harassment in the workplace, in a post made to her Facebook page.

(Can't see this Facebook post? Click here)

On Tuesday, State Rep. Ugenti-Rita identified State Rep. Shooter as one of the individuals, in regards to her sexual harassment claim. The statement was made to Stat Rep. Ugenti-Rita's Twitter account.

(Can't see this tweet? Click here)

Earlier on Tuesday evening, Rep. Shooter apologized for any insensitive comments that he may have made towards her. However, later on Tuesday evening, Rep. Shooter retracted the apology.

FOX 10 Phoenix obtained a statement by State Rep. Shooter, which read:

“Earlier today I was told that Ms. Ugenti was upset by some comments I made, but I wasn't given any details on what she had accused me of saying.  I responded that if I had said the wrong things I was sorry and that I would talk with her.  Since then, I've actually seen the text of Ms. Ugenti's accusations and I absolutely withdraw my apology.  I've been happily married for 41 years, I've never cheated on my wife, and there isn't a woman on this planet I would leave my wife for.  Michelle and I got along well when we were both first elected, as we shared a similar irreverent sense of humor, were both conservatives, etc.  But
that's all.

“The trouble with Ms. Ugenti stems from my publicly voiced disapproval over how she has conducted herself personally, with staff, and later with legislation.  While virtually every member of the legislature just whispered disapprovingly at Ms. Ugenti's conduct, I actually said things out loud.  I was particularly critical of her carrying on a very public affair with House staff, specifically the House Speaker's Chief of Staff.  I knew Frank, Michelle's husband and the father of her kids, and I thought it was a lousy thing to do.  In fact, I complained about it to the Speaker at the time.  Obviously she didn't want my advice or opinion and she continued the affair until it destroyed her marriage.  To say that we didn't get along after that time would be an understatement. Later I took offense to the way she screwed with really good bills, like being the only Republican to vote no on a Blue Lives Matter bill to better protect the police from violent assault.

“I can't speak to anything anyone else did or didn't do, but Ms. Ugenti is the only member of the Legislature to make masturbation jokes to a fellow member (and pastor) during a committee hearing, and to my knowledge she is the only member of the Legislature to carry on a very public affair with a subordinate.

“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me and I have asked Speaker Mesnard to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee / Counsel. At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”

On Wednesday, State House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said this behavior has no please in the legislature, and he is introducing a policy that aims to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

"This will be a major chapter for sure," said Mesnard, in a phone interview. "So, we wanted to make clear that processes, what unfold. what people who feel like they're receiving harassment where they can go."

Prior to State Rep. Ugenti's claims, the State House admits to not having a real clear channel to address and handle sexual harassment.

"I think there was a distinct lack of clarity, again not having an HR manual," said Mesnard. "So, we put the policy out there to remedy that situation."

Other state representatives, like Athena Salman, are thanking State Rep. Ugenti-Rita for opening the door for them to come forward with their claims of sexual harassment as well. State Rep. Wenona Banally even added she has her own story to share.

House leadership said all of these claims will be taken seriously.

"Certainly, if someone has does something inappropriate, we need to respond appropriately," said Mesnard.

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