OPINION: After Don Shooter's exodus, it's time to clean House (and the rest of the government)
The Arizona House of Representatives sent shockwaves throughout the state by removing the scandal-ridden Don Shooter from office after several serious allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct were leveled against him.
The vote to remove him was a massive step in the right direction, with Arizona standing up to sexual harassment and the misconduct of government officials which has gone unchallenged for years.
With the United States House paying out $174,000 between 2008 and 2012 to settle sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuits against their own members on the federal level (2), and both parties struggling to decide how to deal with members who have had accusations made against them for years, it’s about time the government cleaned house.
Shooter was accused of making a hostile work environment and purposefully harassing many women of his staff, and the Arizona House investigated him and confirmed the allegations, a move that was executed fairly and efficiently (3).
However, the vote to remove him began only after Shooter attempted to discredit the investigation, attacked the credibility of the accusers and explicitly condemned any further attempts to punish him.
It was this move that made his censure into a removal from office, with the Arizona Republic reporting that it was an email “that led House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who had initially proposed censuring Shooter, to push for his immediate removal," the first time a member of the House had been removed in Arizona since 1991.
But what happened to Shooter matches what is happening in all branches of government in the U.S. at the moment. After years of silence, victims are coming forward to reveal crimes that have been committed and silenced over decades, on both sides of the aisle.
While Shooter is a Republican, in Washington D.C. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had to decide whether Dean of the House of Representatives John Conyers Jr., should be removed from his position after “multiple female ex-staffers accused him of unwanted advances and groping” (4).
Representative Conyers resigned from his post in the wake of the allegations, rather than creating more problems. It is about time that Congress takes these cases much more seriously, rather than allow its members to act dishonorably, criminally and without fear of reproach.
The chaos that followed Rep. Conyers and Sen. Al Franken’s resignations has finally put the focus of both chambers of Congress on combating any further misconduct.
Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican from Alabama, has written a bill that has enjoyed bipartisan support and will try to make it easier for victims to come forward, be believed and have action follow their statements.
In an interview with NPR, Representative Byrne said that current U.S. policy to allegations of harassment are “stacked against the claimant” (5), and that attempts to reform this system have often stalled out or failed to address the largest concerns.
One highlight of the Byrne bill is that members of Congress will no longer be able to put their lawsuit on the taxpayer's tab, meaning that senators and representatives will have to take a direct financial hit as well as legal responsibility for their actions.
The fact that politicians could use taxpayer money to pay off and silence these allegations is insane, and that it is finally being addressed is a great sign. Representative Byrne said that the bill will cause "a culture change," which is so desperately needed across the country.
Watching and hearing about the scandals in Washington make it seem so far away, as if it is only something that happens in the Capital, or that it does not really exist. But the actions of Shooter and the vote by the Arizona House shows that this truly is a problem that exists across the nation, not just in Washington D.C., not just in Phoenix, but everywhere.
The actions of the Arizona House of Representatives is a step in the right direction, as is the bill proposed by Byrne, but if real change is to happen we have to be continually vigilant and aware that these are things that can happen anywhere, anytime.
Alec Scott is a Sophomore studying Political Science and German and volunteered for the 2014 Ron Barber Campaign. Follow Daily Wildcat on Twitter.