Don Shooter was the first state legislator to be expelled following a #MeToo allegation – or was he? Was his departure really caused by some other unnamed reason?
Shooter’s expulsion from the Arizona State House of Representatives was a moment of high drama, and he was not shy about levelling counter-accusations against his accusers and political opponents. Ultimately the former Appropriations Committee chairman claims his troubles stem from awkward questions he was asking about government contracts awarded to companies with ties to Governor Doug Ducey.
It is an extraordinary claim, but for now at least one that has not been dismissed out of hand by political insiders. Was the colorful Don Shooter brought down not by sexual harassment but by a wider conspiracy?
Don Shooter’s dossier
On the morning of Shooter’s expulsion on February 1st, House speaker J.D. Mesnard had originally been planning to introduce a measure of censure. But then Shooter sent out an email to his colleagues before the day began, asking them to postpone the vote and setting out several different lines of defence. At that moment events began to spin out of control.
One of Shooter’s arguments referenced a source that was supposed to have been anonymous. Shooter was also mentioning to colleagues that it was “a good day for a lynching.” Some took this to be gallows humor, but some took it to be a threat.
It was enough to push Mesnard from seeking censure to seeking expulsion – he had had enough. Accompanied by police he confronted Shooter in his office and confiscated the two handguns the legislator kept there. Shooter later gave an impassioned speech in his own defence on the House floor before dropping the microphone and walking out. After he left the vote of expulsion was passed.
These antics may not have done much for Shooter’s credibility, but the black binder full of documents backing up his case he left behind in the Capitol has to some extent. In fact, these allegations have managed to hang around the Arizona capitol long after the expelled legislator returned to his home in Yuma.
The conspiracy timeline
On November 2nd 2017 Don Shooter, the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, threatened to issue subpoenas to the Governor’s office to get information about government contracts he thought were suspicious.
On November 7th, Shooter was publicly accused of sexual harassment by fellow representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita. Ugenti had given revealed in late October that she had been the frequent target of inappropriate behavior since first being elected to the house, but declined to name any culprits.
Interestingly, in her original online statement she describes an overall climate of harassment, not the actions of a single individual. She wrote:
“I experienced unwanted sexual advances and lewd and suggestive comments regarding my body and appearance from male colleagues.”
But when Ugenti named Shooter on Twitter on November 7th, she named only him.
I’ve been contacted by several people concerning an individual regarding my sexual harassment claim and confirm Don Shooter is one of them.
— Michelle Ugenti-Rita (@MichelleUgenti) 8 November 2017
Ungeti’s accusation led to an investigation against Shooter being launched. While under investigation Shooter could no longer serve as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. And once he was no longer chairman, Shooter could no longer issue potentially embarrassing subpoenas. So whether intentional or not, by naming Shooter, Ugenti solved a real headache for Governor Doug Ducey.
The really weird part and the really sleazy-sounding part
One of the documents in Don Shooter’s dossier is a report from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. It confirms that Shooter was being tailed by a private investigator following a legislators’ softball game in April 2017. When Shooter realised he was being followed he called the police who confirmed the stalker was a PI. Who hired the investigator is unknown, and there is no evidence that the incident has anything to do with Shooter’s long-running feud with the governor, as he alleges.
Shooter also alleges his troubles stem from an intervention by him in the awarding of a government contract. A company called Periscope Holdings had hired a friend of the governor to lobby for them, but Shooter had helped steer the contract to the other bidder. The friend of the governor who had lost out is named Brian Townsend. Mr Townsend is currently the fiancé of Michelle Ugenti, the first women to accuse him of sexual misconduct a few months later.
Conspiracy theory or plot uncovered?
Seven other women besides Michell Ugenti accused Shooter of sexual harassment after she came forward, so he sure looks guilty. Whatever her motives for naming him in November, it appears it was just a matter of time before the #MeToo movement caught up with Mr Shooter.
But that does not mean that Don Shooter’s allegations of possible wrongdoing by the governor are unfounded either. In the latest edition of The Gabble podcast, Arizona Republic journalist Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, sums up the reason Shooter’s accusations are being taken seriously, at least for now. Speaking of Shooter she said, “he is really not the kind of guy who’s been known to spill the beans or leak about high-stakes, weighty contracts. There is a feeling, even among Capitol insiders and lawmakers that maybe there is something here.”
One thing we do know for sure – there will be more to come.