The "me too" sexual harassment movement is front and center at the Arizona State Capitol.
One lawmaker is coming forward to name names, and she spoke exclusively to our political editor Dennis Welch.
It was two weeks ago Michelle Ugenti-Rita claimed she was the victim of sexual harassment. At the time, she did not reveal who it was.
But now she is, and he's a lawmaker who's no stranger to controversy.
"I do feel compelled to want to come forward with someone who has been who has harassed me since I got here," said State Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita. "Currently he's a former senator and he's appropriations chairman Don Shooter."
Representative Shooter, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is the lawmaker Ugenti-Rita is publicly discussing for the first time after, she claims, years of sexual harassment.
"There was an incident where he came to my office during the day and asked about my chest," she said. "At a conference, he came to my room uninvited with a six pack of beer. I never answered the door."
"He told me in June 2011, after a tort reform meeting in the House, that he was in love with me, that he had never felt that way about someone, that he wanted to have a relationship," she continued.
She says she repeatedly told Shooter to stop, but he never did.
"A Republican fundraiser at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, he walked me to my car and proceeded to try to convince me to go to a room," she said. "He knew I was uncomfortable because I told him. I remember two incidences specifically where I told him directly that what he was doing was wrong."
Over the years she documented some incidents.
She read us a memo she wrote about the June 2011 incident.
"He tells me that he loves me and asks if there's an opportunity for us to be together in the future," she said. "Just then, he bursts out, 'I have been married for 32 years and have never done anything."
Ugenti-Rita says she alerted house leadership but they never acted.
And now she fears what might come next.
"I'm worried about retaliation. I'm worried about ... you know... it's an uncomfortable spot. You don't want to be thought of differently. You don't want to be pointed at or whispered about."
Shooter issued a statement earlier on Tuesday where he apologized and said he "apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well."
However, just after 10 p.m., he sent 3TV/CBS 5 another statement about the accusations, where he took back the apology.“Earlier today I was told that Ms. Ugenti was upset by some comments I made, but I wasn't given any details on what she had accused me of saying. I responded that if I had said the wrong things I was sorry and that I would talk with her. Since then, I've actually seen the text of Ms. Ugenti's accusations and I absolutely withdraw my apology. I've been happily married for 41 years, I've never cheated on my wife, and there isn't a woman on this planet I would leave my wife for. Michelle and I got along well when we were both first elected, as we shared a similar irreverent sense of humor, were both conservatives, etc. But that's all.
“The trouble with Ms. Ugenti stems from my publicly voiced disapproval over how she has conducted herself personally, with staff, and later with legislation. While virtually every member of the legislature just whispered disapprovingly at Ms. Ugenti's conduct, I actually said things out loud. I was particularly critical of her carrying on a very public affair with House staff, specifically the House Speaker's Chief of Staff. I knew Frank, Michelle's husband and the father of her kids, and I thought it was a lousy thing to do. In fact, I complained about it to the Speaker at the time. Obviously, she didn't want my advice or opinion and she continued the affair until it destroyed her marriage. To say that we didn't get along after that time would be an understatement. Later I took offense to the way she screwed with really good bills, like being the only Republican to vote no on a Blue Lives Matter bill to better protect the police from violent assault.
“I can't speak to anything anyone else did or didn't do, but Ms. Ugenti is the only member of the Legislature to make masturbation jokes to a fellow member (and pastor) during a committee hearing, and to my knowledge she is the only member of the Legislature to carry on a very public affair with a subordinate.
“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me and I have asked Speaker Mesnard to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee / Counsel.
At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”House Speaker JD Mesnard released this statement:"These are very serious accusations and, consistent with the House anti-harassment policy and processes, will be investigated fully."Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.
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