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2:44 AM Tue, Oct. 16th

House Speaker Mesnard: ‘we can do better’

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough during the joint session of the Legislature on Monday. “Whether or not you believe everything that’s been written about [sexual harassment], we’ve been called out as an institution,’’ Mesnard said. “And we must not ignore it.’’ (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough during the joint session of the Legislature on Monday. “Whether or not you believe everything that’s been written about [sexual harassment], we’ve been called out as an institution,’’ Mesnard said. “And we must not ignore it.’’ (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX — With sexual harassment allegations against two of its members still pending, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard opened the 2018 legislative session with a call to all — especially the men — to do better.

“Some people say this place is not safe,’’ the Chandler Republican said. But he also said it is not a situation unique to the Arizona Legislature.

“I want to say today that I know we can do better,’’ Mesnard said.

“We must do better,’’ he continued. “And I use that pronoun ‘we’ deliberately.’’

Mesnard said it’s irrelevant whether people believe any or all of the allegations that have been made.

The speaker was not specific. But there is a pending investigation against Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who was accused by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, of harassment.

He, in turn, has charged she has made improper comments and had an intimate relationship with someone who at the time was a House staffer.

“Whether or not you believe everything that’s been written about, we’ve been called out as an institution,’’ Mesnard said. “And we must not ignore it.’’

But he also said there is a “growing chorus of folks’’ who say there is room for improvement, especially in how women are treated.

“We can’t dismiss it,’’ Mesnard said. “It’s our responsibility to take a hard, long look.’’

He also said that the reputation of the house will not be defined “by any one miscreant’’ but instead by the collective actions of the House.

But Mesnard made it clear that the problem, to the extent it exists, rests with one half of the population. And he called out to the male half of the chamber.

“I suggest we must be better men, all of us,’’ he said. And Mesnard said while each person is responsible for his own behavior, “we can still hope to hold each other to the highest standard of conduct, insisting that we be true gentlemen.’’

“The people are watching us,’’ he said.

The issue also got the attention of Gov. Doug Ducey in his State of the State speech who spoke of Arizona’s long history of women in politics, including former Gov. Rose Mofford and Sandra Day O’Connor, who was a state senator and state Court of Appeals judge before becoming the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“They didn’t do it for women in the year 2018 to face discrimination, misogyny or harassment, the governor said. “The reason they did it was so the women who followed them, would not only have their voices heard in our country, but so they would help lead and shape our great country.’’

And Ducey added his voice to those who say harassment is not acceptable.

“Every individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,’’ he said.

“Always. No exceptions,’’ the governor continued. “Private sector. Public sector. In my office. In state agencies. In this chamber. And everywhere else.’’