Senate votes to censure Wendy Rogers for threatening her colleagues
Her ties to white nationalists and antisemitic statements were removed from the censure
Sen. Wendy Rogers (left, in red) watches as Sen. Rebecca Rios speaks in favor of censuring Rogers on March 1, 2022. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
In the wake of her speech to a white nationalist conference and a string of offensive and inflammatory social media posts, the Arizona Senate voted to censure Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers.
The Senate voted 24-3 in a rare censure of one of its own, with 11 of the chamber’s 16 Republicans siding with the chamber’s 13 Democratic members who were in attendance. Rogers voted no, as did GOP Sens. Nancy Barto and Warren Petersen.
The censure, which has no practical effect, was for comments calling for people she perceived as enemies to be hanged from gallows, and for social media postings Rogers made threatening to “personally destroy” fellow Republicans who sought to punish her. The censure resolution was silent on her embrace of white nationalists and a string of antisemitic and racist things she had posted online in recent days.
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Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican, didn’t defend or even address her comments on the Senate floor. Instead, she called the censure an attempt to limit her freedom of speech.
“I represent hundreds of thousands of people and the majority of them are with me. And they want me to be their voice. You are really censuring them. I do not apologize. I will not back down. And I am sorely disappointed in the leadership of this body for colluding with the Democrats to attempt to destroy my reputation,” Rogers said. “In the end, I rejoice in knowing I do and say what is right. And I speak as a free American, regardless of the actions of this corrupted process today.”
However, Senate President Karen Fann said the censure wasn’t about freedom of speech.
“We do support First Amendment freedom of speech. We absolutely support it. We fight battles over it. But what we do not condone is members threatening each other, to ruin each other, to incite violence, to call us communists. We don’t do that to each other,” said Fann, a Prescott Republican. “We, as elected officials, are held to a higher standard.”
Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, noted that Rogers referred to freedom of speech as “one of the most precious rights we have under heaven.”
“My message to you is, that is not freedom of speech. That is bullying and dehumanization. And that is below hell,” Otondo said.
Some Republican senators expressed hope that, despite what they saw as the necessity of the vote, the Senate’s members could continue their work together through the rest of the legislative session. Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, compared the Senate to a family dealing with a disruption.
“I would hope beyond hope that, once this is done, that our family gets back together, that we go back to work and complete the work that we were sent here to do,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray expressed similar sentiments, urging his colleagues to consider the policy, not the sponsor, when they vote on legislation.
“I do want to make clear to everybody that I am opposed to the kind of rhetoric that we’ve heard. But, as a senator, I also separate personality from policy. And I hope all in this body will do the same thing,” said Gray, a Sun City Republican.
Republicans have only a 16-14 majority in the Senate, meaning Rogers could block any GOP bill that doesn’t have Democratic support from passing.
Rogers spoke to the white nationalist America First Political Action Conference on Feb. 25. She called for gallows to be built so “high-level criminals” and “traitors who have betrayed our country” can be publicly hanged. She also unleashed a torrent of antisemitic tropes on social media over the weekend earlier this week, and voiced overt support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
After Gray publicly stated on Monday that discussions were underway about a possible censure, Rogers threatened retaliation against any GOP colleagues who joined the effort, writing on social media, “I will personally destroy the career of any Republican who partakes in the gaslighting of me simply because of the color of my skin or opinion about a war I don’t want to send our kids to die in.”
Following the vote, Rogers was far from chastened. On Twitter and Telegram, she defended herself and blasted the censure motion, which she summarized as the Senate saying, “we don’t like your mean tweets.”
“Those lying saying I was calling for violence are false. I was calling for justice and I still do,” Rogers said.
Rogers reposted messages from supporters on Telegram referring to the senators who censured her “godless commies” and calling the vote “Karen Fann’s last betrayal before she slithers away into retirement.” Fann is not running for re-election, though she’s eligible to seek another term in the Senate.
Rogers posted a draft version of the censure on social media, which showed that it was originally written to reprimand her for “inciting general racial and religious discrimination.” But that language was removed, as was a reference to her support of Putin.
Fann told the Arizona Mirror that she removed the language on racial and religious discrimination because some senators wanted to make clear that they support freedom of speech, but that Rogers’ threatening comments are not protected under the First Amendment.
Several members of Senate Republican leadership issued a statement over the weekend voicing their support for Ukraine and condemning Putin. Though it didn’t mention Rogers, the statement, which came four days after Russian invaded, was widely viewed as a response to her social media comments calling Zelensky a “globalist puppet” of the Clintons and financier George Sorors.
Rogers spent a decade seeking office, first from Tempe and then from Flagstaff, before finally winning a state Senate race in 2020, ousting incumbent Sylvia Allen in the Republican primary. She ran for the Senate in 2010, then for Congress in each of the four subsequent elections, twice seeking the seat for the 9th Congressional District in the Phoenix area and twice running for the northern Arizona-based 1st Congressional district.
During her years on the campaign trail, Rogers earned a reputation as a hardline conservative. But after winning her 2020 race, she started taking more extremist positions. She has embraced far-right extremists and openly identified with the “groyper” movement that seeks to push the Republican Party toward white nationalism and make its extremist ideology more mainstream.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said the censure was a powerful message. But it was a message the Senate could have sent numerous times since Rogers took office, she said.
“I do want to ask, what makes this moment different? Let’s not pretend that this isn’t the first, second, third or even fourth time we’ve seen this kind of racist, bigoted and antisemitic talk from the seantor. This is not an aberration in behavior. It is the default,” Rios said.
Sen. Raquel Terán, a Phoenix Democrat, said the censure wasn’t a strong enough action. She called for Rogers to be expelled.
There appeared to be little appetite among Republicans to make Rogers the fifth member of the legislature, and only the second member of the Senate, to be expelled. But there are other actions that could be taken against her. Fann has unilateral control over all committee assignments in the Senate, and could remove her from the committees on which she serves.
Rogers serves on the Senate government, health and human services, judiciary and natural resources committees. She serves as co-chair of the judiciary committee.
Kim Quintero, a spokeswoman for Fann, said the Senate president hasn’t decided yet whether to remove Rogers from her committees, but told reporters, “That’s been discussed.”
Rogers has become one of the legislature’s most vocal proponents of the false and debunked allegations that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against former President Donald Trump. She has made herself into a celebrity among Trump supporters across the country, raising $2.5 million for her re-election, a record for a legislative candidate in Arizona.
Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey drew national attention to the controversy surrounding Rogers when he told reporters that he still stood behind his decision to spend $500,000 from his political action committee to help elect her in 2020. Despite her embrace of white nationalism and inflammatory comments, Ducey said Rogers was still better than the Democrat she defeated, which kept the Senate in Republican hands with a one-vote majority.
The next night, Rogers spoke to AFPAC, which appears to have been the tipping point for many Republicans.
Following the vote, Ducey praised the Senate’s decision to censure Rogers.
“Anti-Semitic and hateful language has no place in Arizona. I have categorically condemned it in the past and condemn it now. I strongly believe our public policy debates should be about creating opportunity for all and making our state a better place, not denigrating and insulting any individual or group,” Ducey said in a press statement. “I believe the vote taken today by the Arizona Senate sends a clear message: rhetoric like this is unacceptable.”
Rogers was nearly drawn out of her legislative district but was saved by a last-minute change by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Rogers’ Flagstaff home was initially going to be in the new District 6, which is majority Native American and overwhelmingly Democratic. The commission made a series of changes to move parts of Flagstaff out of the district at the behest of the tribes, which were concerned about being outvoted in Democratic primaries by white voters.
After what appeared to be the final changes, Republican Commissioner David Mehl proposed one more change that moved another portion of southern Flagstaff, including Rogers’ home, into heavily Republican District 7. Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner claimed Mehl said he was making the change at the request of a friend. Mehl would not say who asked him to make the change or whether he knew an incumbent lawmaker lived there.
***UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional comments.
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