Accused of Harassment, and Seeking Redemption at the Ballot Box

David Sawyer, a Washington state representative, is running for re-election after being accused of unwelcome advances and inappropriate remarks by at least eight women. One of his campaign signs lay uprooted on a lawn in Tacoma.

YUMA, Ariz. — In Arizona, the list of women accusing former State Representative Don Shooter of sexual harassment includes a Republican colleague, a Democratic legislator, at least two lobbyists, a newspaper intern and the former publisher of The Arizona Republic.

“I’m a sucker for the pretty ladies,” Mr. Shooter is said to have told one woman while shaking his pelvis in her face.

More than 1,000 miles to the northwest, State Representative David Sawyer, a Washington Democrat, has been accused of unwelcome advances, inappropriate remarks or other misconduct by at least eight women, including former legislative aides and a lobbyist he asked to be his “arm candy.”

Almost a year into an antiharassment movement that has prompted a coast-to-coast cultural reckoning, Mr. Shooter and Mr. Sawyer are among more than a dozen politicians who have been accused of misconduct and are running for state legislatures again anyway.

Among them are a Kentucky legislator accused of sending racy text messages to an aide, a Pennsylvania lawmaker involved in a six-figure sexual harassment settlement and a Wisconsin representative accused of forcible kissing.

Some candidates hope that voters will accept their apologies. Others believe constituents will dismiss the allegations as untrue — or deem them unimportant at a time when state legislatures could play crucial roles either in advancing the Trump administration’s agenda or forming bulwarks against it.

“I say stupid stuff, I admit it, big deal — I admitted it in my apology,” said Mr. Shooter, who believes Arizonans will vote for him because he has promised to root out corruption.

Apologies alone do not satisfy some of those who are working to ensure that candidates accused of harassment do not retain political power.

“It’s about making sure we’re going to hold people accountable,” said Jessica Gavre, 34, a former statehouse aide in Washington who said Mr. Sawyer sent her sexually suggestive text messages at all hours. She now leads a group dedicated to informing voters about the accusations against Mr. Sawyer; the committee has spent more than $78,000 to influence Tuesday’s election.

“This is where we decide what the #MeToo movement is going to mean,” she said.

Mr. Shooter, 66, joined the Arizona Legislature in 2011. He was a Tea Party candidate, pitching a small-government, low-tax ethos, and rose to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Then nine women came forward with accusations of harassment.

“I wish I was that baby,” he is said to have told Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Republican, when she explained she would have to leave a meeting to breast-feed. “You’ll be a nice view to look at,” he is accused of saying when Representative Athena Salman, a Democrat, joined the Legislature.

An intern at The Arizona Capitol Times, Kendra Penningroth, said Mr. Shooter pulled her into an extended embrace before telling her he “promised to be good.”

In another episode, the publisher of The Arizona Republic, Mi-Ai Parrish, who is Korean-American, met with Mr. Shooter to discuss a bill affecting newspapers.

In the meeting, Mr. Shooter described himself as an independent thinker who had done most everything on his bucket list. When Ms. Parrish asked what he had not done, he responded: “Those Asian twins in Mexico.”

Investigators found many of the allegations to be credible, and in February, Mr. Shooter’s colleagues voted by 56-3 to expel him. Mr. Shooter, who had apologized for any demeaning comments, then dropped his microphone in a defiant clatter. Security guards escorted him off the Capitol grounds.

“I’ve been thrown out of better places than this,” he told a reporter.

Now Mr. Shooter is running for office again, hoping to jump from the State House to the State Senate to represent a district that stretches north from Yuma, near the Mexican border, across family farms and military bases and into the suburbs of Phoenix. He maintains that he was ousted not for his coarse behavior but because he was scrutinizing alleged spending violations in state government.

His campaign strategy includes a billboard he has placed on a highway leading into Yuma. “Vote Shooter,” it reads, “Make a Liberal’s Head Explode.”

Mr. Shooter has represented the area in the past, as both a senator and a representative, and though he has been abandoned by much of the Republican party establishment, even his critics say he has a chance to win.

J.D. Mesnard, the Republican speaker of the House, cited a “block of folks that would go off the cliff with him.”

Mr. Shooter has two opponents in the Aug. 28 primary, including the incumbent, Sine Kerr, 56, a dairy farmer serving her first term. Ms. Kerr has been crisscrossing the vast district to speak with voters, but she only discusses Mr. Shooter when she is asked about him.

“It’s up to the voters, ultimately,” Ms. Kerr said, explaining that she prefers to focus on issues like figuring out how to help farmers caught up in President Trump’s trade war. “The tragedy for our district is, you know, these are very important, critical times,” she said. “If he were to get elected, he would be completely ineffective. I don’t think anybody at the Legislature, the other members, would be excited about working with him,” she said of Mr. Shooter.

In Yuma, where the temperature reached a blistering 118 degrees in late July, feelings about his attempt at a political comeback are mixed.

“Don Shooter should not be running,” said Gabriella Lopez, 26, an unaffiliated voter who pledged to cast a ballot against him. “He should be ashamed.”

But at Brownie’s Cafe, a longtime social spot with a red-striped awning, Bobby Brooks, 78, was more sympathetic. The Brooks family has owned the restaurant for decades, and Mr. Shooter is a friend.

“You know, you shouldn’t be chasing the women around,” Mr. Brooks said. “But hell — they do it in Washington.”

He pointed out that Mr. Trump has also faced allegations of harassment, and has survived. Mr. Shooter, at least, had apologized. “That’s enough,” he said. “That should be enough.”

In Spanaway, Wash., Melanie Morgan went on the attack 37 seconds after meeting Ralph and Caroline Cantrell.

“Normally, I wouldn’t challenge a fellow Democrat, but my opponent has been called to resign over sexual harassment charges,” Ms. Morgan, one of Mr. Sawyer’s rivals for a seat in the Washington State Legislature, told the Cantrells at their front door.

“We can’t have that,” Ms. Cantrell replied, her eyes widened.

Some politicians accused of harassment face little or no opposition for re-election. But the allegations against Mr. Sawyer, 35, have turned the 29th Legislative District, a working-class Democratic area that includes part of Tacoma and stretches southward into unincorporated Pierce County, into a battleground.

“The problem is, for a long time we’ve put politics over the safety of women, and that’s clearly not O.K.,” said Ms. Gavre, who leads a group that is opposing Mr. Sawyer because of his behavior.

The district, where voter turnout is notoriously low, may seem an unlikely place for any kind of political landmark, much less one fueled by claims of private misbehavior. Mr. Sawyer felt confident enough in his standing in the district to plan a campaign emphasizing taxes and education. In a recent advertisement, he complained that critics are “slinging so much mud,” but made no direct reference to the allegations against him.

“Every fiber of my being said the right thing to do is to hold your head high, run for office and apologize if there was conduct that you should apologize for, and change your behavior,” Mr. Sawyer, who has been cast into political isolation by many fellow Democrats, said in an interview.

Mr. Sawyer insisted his behavior was not sexual harassment. But he allowed that he had “a communication problem” with some women, some of whom described their encounters with him to local news organizations. Mr. Sawyer has not been accused of physical misconduct, but women said he sent inappropriate text messages, made remarks about their appearance, sprinkled sexual innuendo into conversation and sought a relationship over a woman’s protests. He has denied some of the allegations.

His decision to run for re-election invited distinct but intertwined deliberations that have played out in different ways across the country: how the political establishment should respond, and whether and how his accusers should seek his electoral unraveling. The answers in Washington led to a message striking for its starkness: that Mr. Sawyer, as one piece of direct mail put it, needs to be stopped “from harassing any more young women working in the State Capitol.”

“A lot of folks in party leadership or political leadership are grappling with how to handle these issues,” said Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general, who endorsed Ms. Morgan. “We’re seeing it more frequently: ‘Do I speak up? Do I endorse their opponent? Do I stay out of it?’”

There has been no consensus. More than once, Ms. Morgan said, she has been rebuffed by people who told her they could not go against an incumbent, no matter his personal history. In public and in private, some Democrats have questioned whether they should be spending precious campaign dollars fighting one of their own incumbents.

Mr. Sawyer, seeking his fourth term at the marbled Capitol in Olympia, is vowing to “stand tall” and not “bend to the will of Seattle money.”

But Ms. Gavre is having none of it. Sitting at a coffee shop near posters declaring “We the People Defend Dignity” and “We the People Are Greater Than Fear,” she argued that Mr. Sawyer deserved to be met with an organized campaign to derail his political career.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” she said, “but what I know is that either way, it sends this really clear message.”

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