PHOENIX -- House Speaker J.D. Mesnard launched "multiple investigations'' Wednesday into reports of sexual harassment at the Legislature as several lawmakers and one lobbyist came forward with new allegations, naming Rep. Don Shooter as the offender.
The inquiry was triggered by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita—who had previously said that an unnamed legislator had harassed her—when she publicly accused the Yuma Republican of multiple incidents stretching over several years. On Wednesday, she detailed three specific incidents for Capitol Media Services, including one where she said Shooter, at the time a senator, came to her office, commented about her figure and asked her whether her breasts were real.
She said he also showed up at her hotel room with a six-pack of beer when both were at an out-of-state conference. Ugenti-Rita also cited an incident going back to 2011 in which Shooter said some "very inappropriate things to her,'' to the point where she was so unnerved that she decided to write them down.
The decision by Ugenti-Rita to go public triggered others to come forward later on Wednesday.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, filed her own complaint Wednesday against Shooter. She told Capitol Media Services that he approached her during the first week of session and told her she would be "a nice view to look at.''
"It definitely made me uncomfortable,'' she said. But Salman, a first-term lawmaker, said she was too unsure of herself at the time to report it to anyone.
And Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock, said she "witnessed Rep. Shooter using suggestive and sexually inappropriate language in my presence.''
Separately, the Arizona Capitol Times reports that lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez said Shooter made inappropriate advances, putting his hand on her knee, when she was talking with him about legislation at a restaurant.
The issue of sex harassment at the Capitol apparently goes beyond Shooter.
House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said Wednesday she has been "on the receiving end of both unwanted sexual advances by more than one person as well as intimidating behavior and retaliation by another in a position of power in years past.''
"I was able to handle one such situation,'' she said. But Townsend said she had to get the top House Republicans to intercede in another.
In both cases, she provided no names.
Furthermore, Townsend said she has personally witnessed "sexist comments and maltreatment'' of Ugenti-Rita, though not by Shooter.
Mesnard's inquiry will not end there.
Shooter, in a response to Ugenti-Rita's comments, made his own statement questioning the propriety of a relationship she started years ago with a House staffer.
Mesnard press aide Matt Specht said that relationship effectively was a little-guarded secret, with even the speaker being aware of the situation. But Specht said now that Shooter has raised the issue it has to be investigated.
Ugenti-Rita would not comment on the complaint.
Ugenti-Rita's initial allegations -- before she spelled out who had allegedly harassed her -- came on the heels of national publicity on incidents involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; that led to a flood of other complaints, not only against Weinstein but others.
As to the decision to name Shooter, she acknowledged that the incidents are not new. But she told Capitol Media Services this seemed to be the right time to go public.
"I knew that there were other women out there,'' she said. "And I knew that I had a responsibility to do something about it, for myself and for others.''
Shooter would not comment about either Ugenti-Rita's allegations against him or his own about her.
"All allegations of sexual harassment will be taken seriously in the House,'' Mesnard said in a prepared statement.
"A bipartisan team of investigators will be conducting thorough reviews of all allegations made,'' he continued. And Mesnard promised the inquiry will expand "if more information is gathered.''
Townsend noted that Mesnard, in the wake of Ugenti-Rita's initial complaints -- before she named names -- put a written policy in place to deal with allegations of harassment. But she said more may be needed.
"It could definitely be fortified and made better in an effort to prevent such behavior,'' she said. In fact, Townsend said she is crafting legislation to put any strengthened policy into law.