Another woman has accused state Rep. Don Shooter of sexual harassment, claiming the state legislator made advances on her during a government meeting last August.
These allegations come amidst a wave of sexual assault accusations being made nationally. Arizona House Minority Leader Rep. Rebecca Rios says that while she has never been sexually harassed at the capitol, what is happening with Re. Shooter is part of a larger picture, where women throughout the country feel empowered to speak out against their attackers.
Ted Simons: And another allegation of sexual harassment against State Representative Don Shooter. An employee at a risk-management firm told the Arizona Capitol Times that Shooter made inappropriate sexual comments and gestures toward her last August. 26-year-old Tara Zika says Shooter made contact with her during a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference. She says that he blew her a kiss and made sexually suggestive comments about her legs. She also says that Shooter made crude gestures and mocked her throughout the day. Eight other women have accused Shooter of sexual harassment. Here now to talk about what's going on with all this at the State Capitol is house minority leader Rebecca Rios. Thank you so much for joining us. Good to see you again. So another harassment claim. Eight, nine, I have lost count here. Have you seen this kind of behavior at the Capitol?
Rebecca Rios: I have not specifically witnessed this kind of behavior. I have been down there many years. That's not to say it isn't occurring. I could just have been one of the lucky ones, but I what think we are seeing at the Capitol is simply a microcosm of what's occurring across the country. You see women empowered to finally come forward and report. The Capitol is no different than any other segment of the population, Hollywood, etc. I am very pleased that our speaker has taken the allegations very seriously and moved to put a process in place that will hopefully provide a safe setting for other women to come forward should there be other situations that need to be reported.
Ted Simons: You say you haven’t seen anything like this personally. Have you heard or seen anything involving anyone other than Representative Don Shooter?
Rebecca Rios: I have not personally been a witness or the subject of this type of behavior, but the Legislature is a very interesting place. It's not a setting that has an HR department. I would venture to say perhaps over time a lot of things have occurred that people have brushed off, given the type of setting it is. With all the attention being given to this, women are standing up and saying, no more. It's not appropriate. Clearly, this is an egregious case, it remains to be seen if there are other situations. Again, the process that's in place to address the allegations against Representative Shooter will also be there to address any other allegations that come forward with regard to him or any other members.
Ted Simons: You are a veteran at the Capitol. This is happening right now. Were these kinds of things happening by your knowledge or others that you have spoken to in years past?
Rebecca Rios: Again, I personally have not been subjected to any of this, but not to say that, that is not -- has not occurred. I think it took a lot of courage for Miss Ugenti-Rita to come forward. What we saw after she came forward is a number of other women that were not necessarily claiming sexual harassment but saying, these allegations may be true based on the experiences I had with him. This speaks to his judgment, especially in a situation where the publisher of the largest paper in Arizona is sitting in his office with her attorney and he makes inappropriate sexual and racial comments, that speaks to a judgment that clearly needs to be checked.
Ted Simons: Representative Ugenti-Rita said she went to House leadership a while back and nothing was done. It sounds like something will be done regarding Shooter. Are you happy the investigation is with outside counsel and outside activities?
Rebecca Rios: Absolutely. In the past the only mechanism to address any sort of concerns that you had was to submit a report to the Ethics Committee. That's extremely partisan, controlled by the majority party. Four Republicans, two Democrats, the chairman decides what rises to the level of being heard and what doesn't. The process that’s being put in place will require an outside firm be hired, and it will be attorneys with investigative experience, hopefully with employment law experience and they'll do the full investigation, come up with a report to be given to the speaker, and then he will have a number of options in terms of what he recommends. One of the concerns people have voiced is if one of his recommendations is to send that to the Ethics Committee, it has gone full circle with an element of partisanship. And again, sexual harassment is not a partisan issue. We need look no further than Minnesota, where these allegations are occurring with a Democrat. I commend the speaker for using outside counsel and I hope it's not tinged with partisanship.
Ted Simons: What do you think of the House’s new anti-harassment policy? Does it go far enough? Again, I think representative Ugenti-Rita doesn’t think it quite goes far enough, or at least it hadn’t. Are things changing? You think it's a good thing and worth it?
Rebecca Rios: I think it’s a good start. It didn't exist the way it does now prior. Now at least there is something to for folks to measure behavior by and report based on. Again, you need to provide a safe environment for women to come forward so they are not retaliated against. Particularly when you’re talking about female lobbyists, this is their livelihood. We need to ensure that we give them a safe space where they’re not going to be retaliated against in order to report. So, yes. The harassment policy is a good first step. It needs to be implemented. We need to use it.
Ted Simons: Representative Shooter blamed her for his actions because of her actions. What do you make of that?
Rebecca Rios: I saw that behavior as despicable to try and drag in her personal life was despicable. Many people termed it as blaming the victim. At the end of the day, even if any of those allegations he alleges about her and her personal life were true, it doesn't negate the fact that what he did was wrong. Attempts to take the focus off his behavior and turn it on her were not well received, I’ll tell you, by many at the Capitol. At the end of the day, it's about accountability for his behavior.
Ted Simons: Should Don Shooter resign?
Rebecca Rios: My position is, we have lobbied for this neutral investigative body to have a process. Let it run its process. That way everybody is due. It's their due process. At the end, we'll see what they recommend.
Ted Simons: What about being suspended from the House of Appropriations chair?
Rebecca Rios: I think that was appropriate. That is a chairmanship with a lot of power and authority. With all of the scrutiny on Representative Shooter, it was a good move to remove him from that and let somebody else take the lead.
Ted Simons: All right, House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios. Good to see you.
Rep. Rebecca Rios: Arizona House Minority Leader