State Senate votes to investigate Sen. Wendy Rogers' comments about shooting in Buffalo

By Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - 8:56am
Updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - 4:00pm

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Wendy Rogers
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Wendy Rogers at the Arizona Capitol in 2022.

Less than two months after censuring her, state senators voted Monday to once again investigate Sen. Wendy Rogers to see whether she violated ethics rules by suggesting that the gunman who killed 10 people in Buffalo was really a federal agent.
But they refused to immediately expel her.

The 24-3 vote to refer the matter to the Ethics Committee came on a motion by Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray. The Sun City Republican pushed that in hopes of precluding a separate motion to expel.

That, however, did not stop Democrats from pursing that option.

Sen. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) said Rogers already got a warning.

“In March, our state Senate voted to censure her because of hateful anti-Semitic comments,” she said.

“Our sincere hope was that the senator from District 6 would have gotten her things together and moved forward to do better,” Steele continued. “What happened over this weekend was not doing better.”

That motion, however, gained just 11 votes, far short of the 20-vote margin required for expulsion.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) called the investigation the appropriate way to go. He said expulsion is “the equivalent of a legislative execution.”

“If we just forgo that, we are no better than a mob,” Mesnard said.

What has triggered the new investigation was a social posting by Rogers that said “Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo,” a comment that was widely interpreted to mean that 18-year-old who killed 10 at a grocery store and wounded two others, most of whom were Black, actually was a federal agent. That is in line with other conspiracy theories claiming that mass shooting actually are “false flag” operations by the government as part of a bid to restrict the freedom of individual senators.

This despite the fact that police said they found what appears to be a manifesto of sorts with racist views and reference to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that people of color are replacing white Americans.

Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios called Rogers’ post a “racist dog whistle ... perpetuating a grotesque conspiracy theory.”

“We need to ask ourselves as a body, when is enough enough?” the Phoenix Democrat said. “When will we no longer be willing to allow one senator to jeopardize the reputation of each and every one of us, of the Senate, of the entire institution, because we know this person, through their tweets, has been actively enabling and supporting white supremacist replacement theory?”

Rogers made no comment during the debate other than voting against the investigation and against expulsion. She also declined to speak with reporters.

But hours later Rogers issued a prepared statement saying her comment “was taken out of context” and thanking the Republican majority for pushing for an investigation instead of immediate expulsion “to give me due process in this matter” and saying she “will be vindicated” by the inquiry.

The other two votes against even doing an inquiry came from Sens. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) and Kelly Townsend (R-Apache Junction). Petersen said he didn’t even know what Rogers had posted.

Townsend, who actually will be Rogers’ foe in the Republican primary because of redistricting, took some verbal slaps at the Flagstaff senator.

“I can only imagine additional pain brought to those families by the dismissive comments that were made,” Townsend said, saying that Rogers “became the face of the Alt-Right movement.”

“But, at the same time, I have to defend person’s right to say ugly things,” Townsend said. “That’s why the First Amendment exists.”

The other senators, however, said that there should at least be an investigation, though their reasons varied.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) said he has “no idea” what Rogers’ comment actually means. And he said he believes an investigation by the Ethics Committee will clear Rogers. As proof, he read a posting that Rogers made Monday morning.

“Of course I condemn the violence in Buffalo, who doesn’t,” the posting said.

“I also condemn the #FakeNews and the government promoting violence and then blaming it on regular patriotic Americans as if regular Americans share those despicable views,” it continued. “Everything is not what it seems.”

“So, obviously, she does not condone the heinous acts by a deranged 18-year-old,” Borrelli said of Rogers.

Others, however, said there is more than enough evidence not just to justify an investigation but, ultimately, result in an expulsion vote.

It starts with that March 1 vote to censure Rogers for “conduct unbecoming of a senator.

The specifics of that vote included “publicly issuing and promoting social media and video messaging encouraging violence against and punishment of American citizens.”

Rogers had spoken to a white supremacist group in February, calling for public hangings. And she followed that with a last-ditch effort to avoid censure by making political threats to fellow Republicans.

On Monday, Sen. Theresa Hatathlie (D-Coal Mine Canyon) reminded colleagues of that March 1 vote. She said that was designed to be “a teaching moment.”

“How many times do you allow your children to get out of hand before you provide that opportunity for discipline?” Hatathlie asked.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson) called Rogers’ statements “racist and bigoted.”

And Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Glendale) who also voted for the investigation, said further inquiry is not necessary.

“What this does ultimately is it kicks the can down the road,” he said, saying the Senate “has all the evidence that it needs to make a decision right now.”

But Senate President Karen Fann said more inquiry is merited.

“Things that happen over the weekend, sometimes our members don’t even know that they’ve happened,” the Prescott Republican said of the earlier post.

“The best way to handle it is through a due process,” she said. “Let’s find out what happened, how it happened, who actually did it, what was the intention behind it and then we can make an informed decision at that point.”

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) also voted for the investigation, But she made it clear she believes the inquiry should die there and that she would not support additional action against Rogers.

“This is not an expel-able offense,” she said, saying that what Rogers wrote is outside the realm of what is within the purview of the Ethics Committee.

“It’s for the voters to decide,” Ugenti-Rita said, with that Aug. 2 Republican primary between Townsend and Rogers. Whoever survives will face off against Democrat Kyle Nitschke in the heavily Republican district.

And she said it would be a “very, very dangerous precedent” which could lead to inquiries into what people post on social media, send in emails and even statements made at public events.

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