#MeTooNewsThe West

Out West Roundup: ‘Party animal’ Arizona lawmaker expelled after #MeToo movement

Author: Ernest Luning - February 9, 2018 - Updated: February 15, 2018

Female members of the Arizona House, from Republican and Democratic parties, hold hands to express support for Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, middle facing camera, as the House prepares to vote to possibly expel a member for sexual harassment in Phoenix on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. An investigation of Republican Rep. Don Shooter was prompted in an October complaint by Ugenti-Rita, also a Republican. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)


‘Party animal’ Arizona lawmaker expelled after #MeToo movement

PHOENIX — Known for booze-fueled partying and good-ol’ boy, clownish behavior, Rep. Don Shooter spent the past seven years as a hard-to-miss fixture who wielded considerable power at the Arizona state Capitol.

But he was kicked out of the Arizona Legislature last week for a lengthy pattern of sexual misconduct.

The whispered rumors about the retired and married Yuma farmer were brushed off as the actions of a country bumpkin jokester until October when the #MeToo movement prompted millions of women to share their experiences with sexual harassment or assault on social media.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita then publicly accused Shooter, fellow Republican,  of propositioning her for sex years ago and repeatedly commenting on her breasts.

Spurred by the movement that erupted after a New York Times expose about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, other women came forward against Shooter at a dizzying pace — lobbyists, a newspaper publisher and other female lawmakers.

“This all began years ago when Mr. Shooter began making inappropriate comments and gestures to people and culminated today,” Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said after Shooter was booted out of office on a 56-3 vote. “Certainly the #MeToo movement and the greater awareness not only here but nationally over issues of sexual harassment and other similar offenses brought this to the forefront.”

Mesnard had ordered an investigation in early November after Shooter had charged his initial accuser, Ugenti-Rita, with having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer and making crude comments herself.  Slowly, over time, he apologized for what he called his “jarring, insensitive and demeaning” comments but argued that he never sought to touch anyone or have a sexual relationship with them.

The investigative report before the vote essentially cleared Ugenti-Rita but found Shooter had engaged in “repeated pervasive conduct (that) created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature.”

As the House began a historic vote to expel a sitting lawmaker — the first in Arizona’s Legislature in nearly three decades — Ugenti-Rita and women from both parties gathered in a circle, holding hands and hugging.

Shooter spoke first, voting against the measure and saying that while he had said and done stupid things, “I stood on the carpet, I took it like a man, I apologized.”

“I have faithfully executed my duties,” he said. “I’ve never taken bribes, I’ve never considered one way or another except on the merits of a bill.”

He then dropped his microphone, leaving the chamber. Within about an hour, his expulsion was final. Another Republican will be appointed to fill out the remaining 11 months of his term.


Romney to announce Feb.15 if he’ll seek Utah Senate seat

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans to announce on Feb. 15 if he’ll run for the Utah Senate seat held by Orrin Hatch.

Romney said in a Twitter post that he’s looking forward to the announcement. The post included a link to his website , which no longer includes references to his 2012 presidential campaign and quotes from his concession speech. Instead, it offers visitors a form to sign up and “Join Team Mitt.”

Romney’s been considered a top candidate for the Senate seat after longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch announced in January that he would not seek another term.

In recent months, Romney has made more public appearances around the state but has declined to say if he’ll run for Hatch’s seat.

Hatch, who has served more than four decades in the Senate, is one of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history and began floating Romney’s name as his potential successor last year.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who moved to Utah after losing the presidential election, is expected to easily win the Senate seat if he chooses to seek it.

New Mexico

New Mexico lawmakers eye new limits on oil,  gas drilling

SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers last week embarked on a new effort to limit oil and natural gas drilling in the northwestern corner of the state over concerns about archaeological and Native American cultural sites.

State lawmakers may put new pressure on federal authorities to help maintain a buffer zone between new natural gas drilling rigs and the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

Pre-colonial ruins at Chaco Canyon are a popular tourist attraction and hold ancestral and spiritual significance for some Native Americans. An upcoming sale of drilling rights in March by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is stoking tensions about gas development in the area.

A Senate committee endorsed a measure that would urge the Bureau of Land Management not to allow hydraulic fracturing within 10 miles of the Chaco archaeological site.

The nonbinding legislation sponsored by Democratic state Sen. George Munoz of Gallup also would pressure federal agencies to consult with the Navajo Nation before allowing new natural gas production in the area.

Navajo President Russell Begaye testified in support of the measure and cautioned that restrictions beyond a 10-mile radius of Chaco could infringe on income opportunities for Navajo families.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association says the proposed guidance is overly prohibitive to responsible natural resource development.

Bill making post-high school plan mandatory clears committee

SANTA FE — A proposal to require New Mexico high school juniors to apply to college or begin to make other post-high school plans as a condition of graduation has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

The bipartisan legislation would make New Mexico the first state to mandate that high school students submit an application for a two- or four-year college, vocational school, apprenticeship or job — although individual districts in the past have set in place similar requirements.

Under the bill, students could also meet the requirement by inquiring about military enlistment.

A House committee last week approved the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and Republican Rep. Nate Gentry, who said some language in the measure was being amended to expand options for students.


Gov. Colyer promises ‘new day’ for Kansas after taking oath

TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican Jeff Colyer promised a “new day” of openness last week shortly after taking the oath as Kansas’ governor, then made overtures to a skeptical GOP-controlled Legislature on the divisive issue of public school spending.

Colyer, the state’s longest-serving lieutenant governor, replaced former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback immediately after Brownback stepped down to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Colyer, a 57-year-old surgeon, took the oath for his new office in a ceremony inside the Statehouse.

“We will set a tone and insist on an environment of openness, honesty and respect and without harassment, especially in this building,” Colyer said. “When others blame and complain, I’ll be busy working for you and finding solutions.”

Colyer largely avoided policy issues in his inaugural address, which included a call to the state’s residents to “give yourself to your fellow man.”   He plans to give a longer and more detailed speech to a joint session of the Legislature.

But ahead of the ceremony, a top Republican lawmaker urged him to push for a long-term settlement of ongoing legal battles over education funding that prompted a mandate from the Kansas Supreme Court to boost school spending.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, who is influential among GOP conservatives, said Colyer should either support rewriting the state constitution or initiate settlement talks with four school districts suing the state.

“That’s the No. 1 priority,” said Denning, a Kansas City-area Republican. “We have to settle it this year.”

Colyer told reporters after his speech and a reception that Denning’s ideas were “a good place to start.”

“I want to focus on getting this problem solved,” he said.

The new governor also told reporters that he will work with legislators on measures to improve government transparency and might issue executive orders to address the issue.

Colyer remained a loyal No. 2 during seven years as Brownback’s lieutenant governor, even as Kansas voters turned on Brownback because of the persistent budget problems that followed aggressive income tax cuts the governor championed in 2012 and 2013. Lawmakers last year rolled back most of the cuts.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.

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