PHOENIX (AP) — The publisher of Arizona's largest newspaper on Friday joined a growing list of women who say a top Republican state lawmaker subjected them to inappropriate sexual comments or actions.
Arizona Republic Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish wrote in a column published online that state Rep. Don Shooter made a strikingly inappropriate comment to her during a meeting last year in his statehouse office about legislation opposed by the newspaper.
Parish wrote that Shooter told her he was a free thinker and had done everything on his "bucket list," except for "those Asian twins in Mexico."
Also Friday, Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard suspended Shooter from his chairmanship of the powerful appropriations committee pending the results of an investigation into his actions. The state's most powerful business group, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, called on him to resign.
Mesnard said in a statement that Shooter is entitled to and will receive a fair and thorough investigation, but he doesn't believe he can fulfill his role leading the committee until that is done.
"Additionally, due to the number and nature of the allegations against him, the House's bipartisan sexual harassment investigative team has decided to employ the use of outside investigators moving forward."
Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the chamber, went further.
"We believe he should resign," Taylor said. "Our president and CEO, Glenn Hamer, believes this is the right position for the chamber to take. And it's also best for the institution of the state Legislature."
Parrish is Asian American and serves as president and publisher of the Republic and previously held the same jobs at The Kansas City Star and The Idaho Statesman. She has twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, is a longtime member of the Asian American Journalists Association and serves on several boards, including that of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.
Shooter is already the subject of an investigation launched by the Arizona House this week after a lawmaker accused him of repeatedly making unwanted advances.
Shooter denied Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita's allegations this week and leveled his own against her, accusing her of pursuing an affair with a House staffer. But several other women have come forward with similar charges about Shooter's behavior since Ugenti-Rita gave a television interview that aired Tuesday, including allegations of inappropriate sexually-tinged comments or unwanted touching.
Shooter issued a statement Wednesday saying he requested the investigation, and "therefore I am unable to comment further except to provide my full support and cooperation." He has since referred questions to his attorney, who hasn't elaborated.
Mesnard appointed two House attorneys to lead an investigation into the claims. They will be joined by several staffers from the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
Parrish wrote that she initially brushed off Shooters' comment, chalking it up as "just another remark in a long, long list of offensive, obnoxious, ignorant, destructive things said to me and others by people with some power or sway."
But she said she now realizes "It wasn't OK. And it wasn't OK for me to be OK with it. For me to put up with it. To laugh it off, to excuse it, to use it as a cocktail-party tale."
The developments in Arizona's statehouse come after a flood of allegations sparked by an October report in the New York Times alleging that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed or assaulted several women. Other entertainment industry figures, business people, newsroom leaders and politicians at several statehouses have since faced similar charges.
Shooter wielded considerable power as head of the House Appropriations Committee and is known around the Capitol as a politically incorrect jokester famous for throwing booze-laden parties in his Capitol office on the last of legislative sessions. The Yuma lawmaker was elected to the Senate in 2010 and led that body's appropriations committee before moving to the House in 2016.
Minority Democrats have called for him to resign, but for now he's staying put.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, expressed support for an investigation.
"There can be absolutely no tolerance for sexual harassment in the halls of our state Capitol, or any other organization — private or public," Ducey said in a statement on Wednesday.
The investigation could lead to a formal ethics probe by the Arizona House, which could expel him with a two-thirds vote for "disorderly behavior."