PHOENIX – Embattled state Rep. Don Shooter was suspended Friday from his position as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
The move by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard came amid an ever-expanding list of allegations of sexual harassment against the Yuma Republican. Most recently, Mi-Ai Parrish, publisher of the Arizona Republic, said that Shooter last year made a sexist and racist comment while she and her attorney were in his office.
Mesnard, in a prepared statement, said Shooter will lose his chairmanship while a special House committee investigates the charges against him.
“He will not be taking any budgetary meetings, chairing hearings, or engaged in any budget discussion or any duties related to Appropriations until the investigation has concluded,” the speaker said. That leaves him out of the process when House and Senate GOP leaders prepare a nearly $10 billion spending plan ahead of the new legislative session that begins in January.
Mesnard said Shooter will receive “a fair, thorough investigation into his behavior” before any decisions are made about whether a violation of House rules has occurred and what punishment, if any, should be imposed.
That could range from censure to expulsion, the latter requiring a two-thirds vote of the 60 members.
The decision to remove Shooter – or anyone – as chair of a committee is totally within the purview of the speaker. And Mesnard said it should not be seen as punishment, but instead as in the best interests of the legislative process.
“I’m not casting judgment on Mr. Shooter at this time,” he said. “I don’t believe he can properly fulfill his obligations as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee until that investigation has concluded.”
Mesnard said he spoke with Shooter ahead of Friday’s announcement.
“I’m not going to speak for him,” he said.
“He probably doesn’t feel like much of this is fair,” Mesnard continued, “but I think he understands from a process standpoint this is necessary, even if he’s not happy about it.”
Shooter declined Friday to comment on the action.
Mesnard conceded that the sudden flood of allegations against Shooter and others perhaps should not be a surprise. “Clearly, we have tolerated things in the past that we shouldn’t have,” Mesnard said, “and people are standing up, and rightly so.”
Mesnard said he hopes to address that with ethics training for lawmakers and staff covering “everything from sexual harassment to sexism to quid-pro-quo to appropriate talk on the House floor.” And he said things will change.
“If there is any suggestion that in the past we may have just rolled our eyes at something or ignored something, we’re going to be much more strict moving forward,” Mesnard said.
Mesnard said what happens going forward depends on the findings of a panel of seven House staffers he appointed to look into all the allegations, and not just against Shooter. But while the speaker said he is reserving judgment, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is not.
Spokesman Garrick Taylor said the group, which has backed Shooter in previous elections, thinks he should resign immediately.
“These are deeply disturbing allegations,” Taylor said. “And it is behavior that does not comport with the way elected officials ought to behave.”
And Taylor said that if Shooter does not quit and is not expelled from the House, there is “a high degree of certainty” that his organization will not support him for another two-year term.
At a hastily called press conference Friday, Mesnard acknowledged that he was aware when he named Shooter to chair the committee in January that the Yuma Republican had a self-proclaimed reputation as someone whose actions and words might raise questions.