The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former Ariz. lawmaker said his ouster for harassment would appeal to voters. He got crushed.

Former Arizona state legislator Don Shooter, who was ousted for sexual harassment, lost a bid for reelection on Tuesday night. (Don Shooter for State Senate 2018)
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Six weeks ago, Don Shooter was feeling confident.

The former Arizona state legislator, who had been thrown out of office after multiple women came forward to accuse him of making inappropriate comments and unwanted sexual advances, was vying to get his old job back. His colleagues had voted 56-3 to expel him, and one had even called him a “pervy old man” in a widely distributed report, but he had decided to run again and prove them wrong.

In fact, being ousted for sexual harassment made him more likely to win an election, not less, the 66-year-old Republican told Yuma’s KYMA News 11.

“When we were trying to make the decision about whether to run again, we did some polling,” he said to reporter Vanessa Dillon, reclining on his leather couch as if he was settling in for a nap. “And one of the questions in the poll was, ‘If you knew a legislator was thrown out of office for sexual harassment, would you be more likely to vote for him, or less likely?’ Which one do you think won?”

He raised his bushy eyebrows and leaned forward toward the young woman in the blue dress.

“More likely,” he told her. “More likely.”

He threw his hands up in mock defeat.

“I’m just telling you!”

Shooter didn’t supply the methodology for his poll, which, in any case, turned out to be wrong. On Tuesday night, he lost his primary, coming in third place out of three candidates vying to be the Republican nominee for the Arizona state senate in a highly conservative district that stretches from Yuma to the outer edges of the Phoenix suburbs.

He did not return messages seeking comment.

Sine Kerr, a female dairy farmer who was appointed to the seat after another scandal-plagued lawmaker resigned to unsuccessfully run for Congress, led with 49 percent of the vote, and 9,530 total votes as of Tuesday night. Shooter received 21 percent of the vote and 4,083 votes in total.

In February, Shooter was removed from the Arizona House of Representatives after an independent investigation conducted by a local law firm determined that he had created a hostile work environment. The firm’s 82-page report said there was credible evidence that, among other things, Shooter had compared a conference attendee’s backside to “bobcats in a tote sack,” joked about sodomizing a political opponent while the man’s wife watched, and told the Korean American publisher of the Arizona Republic that he had done everything on his “bucket list” except for “those Asian twins in Mexico.”

Leading members of his own party called on him to resign. When he failed to do so, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard introduced a resolution to expel him from the legislature. Before the vote took place, Mesnard came to Shooter’s office and took his gun away, “out of an abundance of caution.”

When the roll was called, 56 of Shooter’s colleagues voted to remove him. Only three members of the Arizona House of Representatives said that he should remain in office. One of them was Shooter.

“I’ve said stupid things, I’ve done stupid things,” he said when asked to explain his vote. “I stood on the carpet. I took it like a man, I apologized.”

Then he — quite literally — dropped the mic and walked out. Security escorted him off the capitol grounds.

“I’ve been thrown out of better places than this,” Shooter told the Arizona Republic hours later.

It only took a few months before he began attempting a comeback. This time, he announced, he would seek a seat in the Arizona state senate, where he had spent six years before term limits forced him to run for the state house instead.

“Let’s dance,” he told reporters in May, as he sat in the lobby at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office waiting for his turn to submit the signatures that would qualify him for a spot on the ballot.

Throughout his campaign — which was immediately denounced by some of the women who had accused him of sexual harassment — Shooter cast himself as a victim of political correctness run amok.

“I never sexually harassed anyone,” he told KYMA News 11 in July. “I was guilty of annoying some people.”

Complicating Shooter’s campaign was the question of whether he actually lived in the district that he wanted to represent, which became an issue after a rival in the Republican primary filed a legal challenge to keep him off the ballot.

The case went to the Arizona Supreme Court, which eventually determined that Shooter’s primary residence was in Yuma, despite the fact that the electricity at his apartment had been turned off since February, his mail was forwarded to a Phoenix address, and he had listed his home in Phoenix as his primary residence for property tax purposes.

Questions of residency aside, Shooter managed to retain a certain amount of support in Yuma, a city three hours southwest of Phoenix that is surrounded by lettuce fields and has some of the highest summertime temperatures in the entire country. The MCRC Briefs, a widely read newsletter in Arizona Republican circles, reported earlier this month that Shooter’s rival, Brent Backus, had been booed at a candidate roundup buffet when he brought up Shooter’s removal from the state legislature.

“You know, you shouldn’t be chasing the women around,” Shooter’s friend Bobby Brooks told a visiting New York Times reporter who caught up with him in a Yuma diner. “But hell — they do it in Washington.”

Shooter has continually said that he was singled out and targeted by party leaders because he was investigating corruption in state government. The landing page for his website, which also features a photo of him shaking hands with President Trump, offers visitors two choices: “Know the Truth” and “Donate.”

Those who opt to “Know the Truth” are given the opportunity to download three PDF files. One, titled “The Backstory with Hard Evidence,” largely consists of scanned government contracts, which he says raise questions about the state’s procurement processes. The second is a notice of claim indicating he intends to sue House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and the governor’s chief of staff for removing him from office. The third, titled, “The Truth About Where I Live . . . YUMA” links to the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling on that subject.

A longtime fan of Trump, Shooter echoed the president’s rhetoric in his campaign, though he doesn’t seem to share Trump’s resiliency when it comes to weathering political scandals.

“TELLING THE TRUTH, NOT FAKE NEWS,” a billboard outside Yuma announced before the Arizona primary election. “VOTE SHOOTER.”

Other variations encouraged voters to “STICK IT TO THE MEDIA” and “MAKE A LIBERALS HEAD EXPLODE!”

Shooter told KYMA News 11, “The billboard sums up my candidacy after the charges of violating political correctness did not kill me.”

Those charges did, however, effectively put an end to his political career for the time being. Speaking to KYMA News 11 in July, Shooter noted that it wasn’t easy “to jump back in after six months of, ‘You scumbag.’”

“You’re my boss,” he said, looking unnervingly straight into the camera as if to address an imagined audience of Yuma voters. “You fire me.”

On Tuesday night, they did.

Correction: A previous version of this story garbled the quote, “I’ve been thrown out of worse places than this.” It should have read, “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this” and has now been corrected.

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