Former state representative Don Shooter is no longer in the House following a nearly unanimous decision to expel him for sexual harassment claims.
“It was pressing that he either resigns or we expel him,” Rep. Kelly Townsend of District 16 says. “We can’t have that behavior around the already established victims, first of all. Even if we censured him, he’s still there, and they have to look him in the face. He could potentially victimize someone else.”
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard originally pushed to have the representative censured. However, following a statement by Shooter claiming that there was another government official guilty of a similar offense and his behavior leading up to the vote, the censure was changed to an expulsion.
“It was symbolic that his last action on the House floor was to take the microphone and drop it,” Townsend says. “You damage the microphone when you do that. It’s symbolic of the disregard to the pain caused when you behave in such a way… It’s just a microphone, but there’s a lot more that has been damaged.”
Statements from other representative were emotional, some speaking with tears in their eyes. Mesnard says the House is a family, and they had to get rid of one of their family members. Townsend agrees, saying anytime you have to terminate someone is not an easy task.
A House member has not been expelled since the 1940s. Townsend says there were some aspects of the situation that could’ve been handled better, but it was everyone’s first time expelling someone and that they learned from the experience.
As for the effect of this action, Townsend is hopeful that it resonated with everyone. She says she hopes Shooter seeks help, and that other members of the legislature won’t make the same mistake. For the bigger picture, she hopes this was the pebble in the water that will cause the ripples making other legislators around the country to look at their own policy.
The House Speaker was on Arizona Horizon Wednesday to explain why he handled the situation the way he did.
Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona "Horizon," the Arizona house votes to expel representative don shooter over sexual harassment claims. Also we will get a doctor's reaction to the state's new regulations on Opioids. And we will hear about a former suns coach who is living with Alzheimer's disease. Those stories and more, next on Arizona "Horizon."
Video: Arizona "Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona "Horizon," I’m Ted Simons. The Arizona house of representatives voted to expel Yuma lawmaker don shooter over sexual harassment allegations. This after an outside announcement found shooter engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment. Today’s action on the house floor was emotional at times, as dozens of lawmakers stood to explain their vote with many saying they wished shooter had resigned and not put them in a position to vote him out.
Regina Cobb: This morning I asked my friend, Mr. Shooter, to respect all of us and to make a hard decision himself. He chose not to.
Becky Nutt: People that make these accusations have done similar things and you need to knock it off. I do not appreciate having to do this vote. I was willing to censor, Mr. Shooter. I do not appreciate having to make a vote to expel him. But I will.
Ted Simons: … had planned to ask for a senture vote, but after Shooter released a letter implying there was another official guilty of the same kind of behavior. Mesnard decided to seek expulsion and it wasn't an easy decision.
J.D. Mesnard: This is a horrifying day. It’s horrifying because, while some on the outside might think this is an easy thing to kick somebody out, we are family here. Republicans, democrats, men, women, old, young. We are family. We just expelled somebody from this family.
Ted Simons: Representative shooter took the floor to make one last plea for lawmakers not to vote for expulsion.
Don Shooter: I have said stupid things. I have done stupid things. I stood on the carpet. I took it like a man. I apologized. Can't go back to the past. Can't change it. But I can change the future if given the opportunity. Frankly, you do whatever you need to do and any of my people are my friends and feel like they owe me, you don't owe me anything. You owe the people of the state of Arizona something.
Ted Simons: The vote was nearly unanimous with just two other lawmakers representative Nole Campbell and David Stringer, both of Prescott, in voting no. It is the first expulsion of a lawmaker in 27 years and the first in the house since 1948. One of the earliest voices calling for representative Shooter to be expelled was House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, who joins us now on Arizona Horizon. Thank you for being here. Was anyone else out there vocally saying he has got to go?
Kelly Townsend: I think there was a lot of soul searching with what is the right thing to do about this. Not everyone agreed. I came from my past position at corporate management knowing there is no corrective action you can do to address this. It is an immediate termination and any corporate manager would understand the person doing the same things Mr. Shooter was doing would be terminated immediately and walked out of the building. We can't do that at the house of representative so we have to vote. That is why I was pressing he either resigns or we have him leave because you can't have that type of behavior around the already-established victims. Even if we sentured him, he still is there and we would have to look him in the face. He could potentially victimize someone else, and it’s a hard decision. He didn't give us a choice.
Ted Simons: And it’s no small matter. Expelling an elective official. There was a letter that he sent in the last hour. It kind of implied another official might have been guilty of doing the same thing. There was an anonymous person involved there as well. Do you think that changed the votes of some folks in the house?
Kelly Townsend: I think it confirmed we are doing the right thing. As of last night, I was told we had 50. I counted when we got to 40 and someone called saying we understand it has to happen and there was about 50 votes as of last night. We had the votes but those on the fence after seeing what happened today, it wasn't just the letter, there were other things that happened, but after those it was a conformation we are doing the right thing.
Ted Simons: What were those other things?
Kelly Townsend: There was behaviors, I don’t know that I want to discuss here on this program, but there was some behaviors that were consistent with what we have seen. You know, I will point out this seems petty but it was symbolic his last gesture, his last action on the house floor was to take his microphone and drop it and that is symbolic. It might not seem big, but you damage the microphone when you do that. It is that flamboyance and disregard for the damage you will cause in your flamboyance that is symbolic of the disregard to the pain caused when you behave in such a way.
Ted Simons: Symbolic of defiance as well?
Kelly Townsend: Defiance, disregard for the feelings of others or the damage you might cause, you know? It is just a microphone but there is a lot more that has been damaged.
Ted Simons: Representative shooter, former representative shooter, said the victims story in his letter was omitted and not given the respect it deserves. The omission of the investigation was in his words disgraced. How did that go over?
Kelly Townsend: I would say that there is some folks that would say this polish needed on the way we do these investigations. It is the first time we have over done this. We were starting from scratch. We need to commend our speaker for making this effort. Was it perfect? No. Can we improve upon it? Absolutely. But we did move the ball forward and we did make it better for the people who come after us. We continue to work on it. We had some representative stringer voted no -- or what I heard him say was he didn't agree with the process. He makes great points about things need to be better. This is coming from an attorney's perspective, yes, we can improve but it doesn't negate what happened or the omission of the things he has done. Those omissions and cavalier attitude and inappropriate responses to the investigators is all we need to know this is a cause for immediate removal.
Ted Simons: And you are suggesting that up until the last moment existed. Do you think even now representative shooter gets it?
Kelly Townsend: I hope so. I hope so.
Ted Simons: Do you think he does?
Kelly Townsend: I think he may. I would hope Mr. Shooter takes this to heart and seeks whatever needs to happen whether that is -- whatever help he needs to get whether that is spiritual or whatever else that this should jar him. If it doesn't, I think it will. I hope it will and I hope he seeks help.
Ted Simons: Do you think other lawmakers get it?
Kelly Townsend: Oh, yeah.
Ted Simons: Think so?
Kelly Townsend: Oh, yeah. Another reporter asked me a question of how this impacts legislatures in other states and I had not thought of that. Now that I think about that, and she brought that question forward, I hope that this was the pebble in the water that causes the ripple effect around the country so that other legislatures can maybe look and see that, yeah, we can improve. We can create protection for people who want to come forward but are afraid of retaliation.
Ted Simons: Last question here. We saw video. There were tears on the house floor. Lots of them. A lot of people sober. This was the no fooling around here. From the outside people say this guy had problems. This guy as you mentioned was acting in behaviors that simply aren't acceptable. He needed to go. They are wondering why so much emotion from lawmakers on what seemed, from the outside, to be pretty clear cut.
Kelly Townsend: You know, there is different levels of involvement. Some were involved deeper and knew more facts. Others didn't get to see those per se until they saw the reports. And Mr. Shooter is a fun-loving guy; right? On the surface. So, we are family. Mr. Speaker was right. We are family down there and it is not easy. If anyone who is listening to this has had to terminate somebody it is not easy. This is a peer. It is not a subordinate. It is a peer. They had to vote to terminate. For some, I suspect it was the first time they had to do that. It is hard. They didn't want to act in haste or make a wrong move and so I understand the tears. Yeah, it is very egregious and we had to do it. We didn't have a choice and I think they communicated that today.
Ted Simons: House majority whip, representative Kelly townsend, thank you so much for joining us. Here are more voices from the floor on the hearing to expel representative don shooter.
Rusty Bowers: This is a heavy day as has been said but it is very simple in my mind. There comes for all of us a time when we must accept the responsibilities of this circle to serve in the house of representatives.
Darin Mitchell: After this report was done its findings were shared with Mr. Shooter for his comments and on opening day I received a threat from Mr. Shooter for these comments. Remember, I was only responding to what his actions had been but I received a threat that he was out to get me.
Rebecca Rios: The fate of any bill or any agency's budget should depend solely on its merits not on whether the appropriation chairman or other powerful lawmaker find a lobbyist or colleague attractive.
Becky Nutt: You guys need to knock it off. What we are doing is important. We have kids down here on the floor in these desks. We are supposed to be an example to them. This is not okay.
Rep. Kelly Townsend: (R) District 16