Commentary

If Republicans want to send a message that racism isn’t tolerated, censuring Wendy Rogers won’t cut it

But we’ve seen GOP unwillingness to confront racism in their ranks in the past

March 1, 2022 11:28 am

Photo illustration by Jim Small. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

***UPDATE: Several hours after this piece was published the Arizona Senate censured Wendy Rogers on a 24-3 vote. The censure was originally drafted to include reprimands for her antisemitic comments and for “inciting general racial and religious discrimination,” but the language was removed, apparently to win support from Republican senators. Republicans chose to punish Rogers because she praised Putin and then wrote mean things about them on social media, not because of her horrid racism and her love of horrid racists. They are profiles in cowardice.

The Arizona Capitol is a bastion of cowards and enablers.

This has, of course, pretty much always been true, but the muted outrage over state Sen. Wendy Rogers’ speech last week at a white nationalist convention puts in full relief just how cowardly its denizens can be.

Republicans at the Capitol are hardly tripping over themselves to condemn the Flagstaff Republican for her speech, in which she spoke about building gallows to execute her political enemies, praised the attendees — including prominent figures in the white supremacists movement — as “patriots” and rhapsodized about the greatness of Nick Fuentes, the Holocaust-denier and Hitler-lover who organized the convention.

And it’s no surprise, as politics is a game of access, and access is rarely gained by taking a bold stand against bad behavior. Rocking the boat by confronting a wrong is the way to get ostracized, not to be successful. That incentivizes complicity, and it’s why state capitals are teeming with sexual harassment and bad behavior.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

But there are people willing to take stands.

“You’re not a victim @WendyRogersAZ so quit pretending to be one. And stop using Christianity to justify race superiority and executing your political opponents,” Sen. Paul Boyer wrote on Twitter

That the Glendale Republican was the first to speak out against Rogers is not surprising to anyone who has watched the Arizona Capitol for any length of time, as Boyer is perhaps the only legislator who can be counted on to follow his moral compass over politics — which is exactly why he is more or less an apostate among Republicans in the Trump era, as he refused to go along with the Big Lie and its undermining of our democracy.

Gov. Doug Ducey won’t say a cross word about Rogers, whose victory was a top priority in 2020 for his PAC, which raised millions of dollars from deep-pocketed businessmen and corporate interests. After all, she’s the critical 16th Republican vote in the Senate, and since that’s much more important than her racism, Rogers is “still better than” the Democrat she beat.

And that’s the key to her survival: She’s indispensable to the GOP agenda. And she knows it, as demonstrated by her taunting Boyer on Twitter after he criticized her.

Rocking the boat by confronting a wrong is the way to get ostracized, not to be successful. That incentivizes complicity, and it’s why state capitals are safe places for cretinous behavior.

Sure, a couple of Republicans have had some pointed words for Rogers — Sen. T.J. Shope said her antisemitic, pro-Putin social media posts were “bullshit” — and some GOP senators are apparently mulling a censure of Rogers. 

A censure might be a step in the right direction, but it won’t actually change anything. 

Shope said he’d “rather have somebody filling that seat that I’m not going to have to explain myself away on a daily basis.” He’s hardly alone in feeling that way. And If that’s true, Republicans should put their money where their mouth is and move to expel Rogers.

The Senate has the ability to determine its own membership and can remove senators from office. It’s rare, but has happened recently: In 2018, the state House of Representatives voted to expel Don Shooter for conduct that was “dishonorable and unbecoming of a member.”

If going to a conference of virulent racists to espouse violent political rhetoric — openly fantasizing about executing political opponents — declaring allegiance to white nationalists, praising them as patriots and saying you “truly respect” a white nationalist leader because he’s “persecuted” doesn’t qualify as dishonorable or unbecoming, what does?

If spouting antisemitic vitriol about “globalists” and cabals of Jewsled by George Soros, of course — who are working to destroy her and run the international finance system doesn’t qualify as dishonorable or unbecoming, what does?

But we know how this will go, because we’ve seen it before. Republicans and their corporate backers will tolerate a lot of overt racism — in fact, they will happily turn a blind eye if it keeps them from having to reckon with the racist attitudes that undergird so much of conservative ideology and have long been at the heart of the GOP.

Take the David Stringer saga: His Republican colleagues at the Capitol refused to call on him to resign or make a move to punish him for publicly saying and writing explicitly racist things. Stringer eventually lost the support of GOP representatives and resigned… but only after it emerged that he was charged with paying an intellectually disabled boy for sex in the 1980s.

Among those who cowardly ignored Stringer’s racism were Senate President Karen Fann, who initially refused to speak out against her seatmate because they were no longer in the same legislative chamber. Two days later, she reversed course after local GOP officials called on him to resign.

Fann is no stranger to bowing to politics over whatever protestations she might make about the evils of racism. In 2019, she defended a Republican senator who warned of white people being replaced by scary Brown people who will make America “look like South American countries.” That dangerous ideology, known as the Great Replacement, is popular among white supremacists has inspired violence in America and around the globe.

Expelling Wendy Rogers would restore some honor and integrity to the legislature and send a crystal clear message that her racist bile is unwelcome and unacceptable — but it would mean exhibiting a collective wellspring of political bravery that I’ve never seen at our Capitol.

Less than two days after a gunman targeted an El Paso Walmart to murder Latinos because he believed they were destroying America by “replacing” white people, Fann blamed dirty politics for criticism of the senator.

Because irony is clearly dead, that senator was defeated by Rogers, who denounced the “very racist” assertion that America was being ruined by non-white immgrants having children. Last year, Rogers repeatedly claimed that immigrants are “replacing” white Americans and destroying “western civilization.” Fann, of course, had nothing to say about the matter.

The unfortunate reality is that Senate Republicans will not do what they should and expel Rogers because there are political consequences. It would restore some honor and integrity to the legislature and send a crystal clear message that Rogers’ racist bile is unwelcome and unacceptable — but it would mean exhibiting a collective wellspring of political bravery that I’ve never seen at our Capitol.

So, at best, Rogers will face a censure, and Republicans will pat themselves on the back for being oh-so-stern and very-definitely-against-racism. And then she’ll win reelection in November and be seated again in the Senate in January, with the knowledge that she is untouchable.

Surprise me, Senate Republicans.

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

MORE FROM AUTHOR