Some in GOP repudiate Sen. Wendy Rogers after comments calling for executions, attacking Ukraine's president
Some Arizona Republicans are condemning one of their own after state Sen. Wendy Rogers' speech to a white nationalist conference included a call for public hangings, and a series of social media over the weekend where she attacked the president of Ukraine.
The rare intraparty criticism stands in contrast to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's support for Rogers last week, and exemplifies a broader struggle within the party as establishment members seek to temper outlandish and extremist responses to the crisis in Ukraine from some far-right members.
On Monday, Senate Republicans fretted over what — if any — official action to take in response to Rogers' comments at the Feb. 25 America First Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, and online.
Rogers, R-Flagstaff, didn't appear at the conference, but submitted a seven-minute video in which she praised AFPAC founder Nick Fuentes, who has made antisemitic comments and who the Anti-Defamation League has labeled a white supremacist. Rogers bashed the media and unspecified “traitors” she said should be publicly hanged.
The country is "forcibly vaccinating people with a bioweapon … it’s criminal!” she said.
“When we do take back our God-given rights, we will bring these criminals to justice. We need to build more gallows. If we try some of these high-level criminals, convict them, and use a newly built set of gallows, it’ll make an example for these traitors who have betrayed our country. They have yet to be justly punished for the crimes they have committed.”
On Twitter, Rogers also posted over the weekend that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy "is a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons," naming the Democratic mega-donor George Soros and the political dynasty. In another post, she claimed "half of the combat footage of Kiev out there is from a video game." She said she refused to spell the Ukrainian capital city Kyiv, saying Kiev was the preferred "American spelling."
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said Rogers' comments to AFPAC were "heinous and egregious."
"She shouldn't have even agreed to speak to such an organization that I mean, they're literally chanting 'Putin' when Nick Fuentes is speaking," Boyer said.
"We’re never going to have better race relations by saying one race is superior to another, no matter who is saying it," Boyer said. "Organizations like AFPAC, they’re one of the most hideous in my mind for that reason. It not only polarizing, but it’s toxic, it’s evil really. To even show up as a speaker, why would someone want to do that?”
Republican Sen. T.J. Shope, of Coolidge, said Rogers' Twitter posts about Ukraine reflected poorly on the entire Arizona Senate — where leadership put out a statement in support of Ukraine on Monday as apparent damage control after Rogers' comments.
"I thought the tweets over the weekend were, dare I say, deranged. I mean, it was unhinged," Shope said. "I don't think anybody runs for office to have to come and answer questions about your colleagues and what they're putting on Twitter, frankly. People on the other side drag Trump, sometimes rightfully so for some of the things he tweeted out, but his stuff is kid's games compared to what I saw over the weekend."
Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, declined to comment directly about Rogers' statements, but said "there's obviously a certain amount of angst" among his Republican peers over her statements.
"They’re not statements that I would put forward or I would endorse, but I’m not going to go further than that," Gray said.
Rogers did not respond to a request for comment, but she has welcomed national news coverage of her comments for drawing more attention to her extremist views.
Governor's support draws criticism
Despite the growing concern among Arizona Republicans, Ducey's office declined to comment when asked if the governor wanted to clarify his statements last week supporting Rogers, which were widely criticized.
The governor's political action committee, Arizonans for Strong Leadership, spent about $500,000 to get Rogers elected, according to Arizona campaign finance records. Ducey said last week, after being asked if he was happy with that investment, that he needed to build governing majorities and "she's still better than her opponent, Felicia French."
Rogers defeated French for the northern Arizona Senate seat that includes Flagstaff, Payson and Snowflake in 2020. She'll run for reelection this fall in a new, Republican-stronghold district that stretches from Flagstaff nearly to Tucson and includes Payson and Globe.
But Ducey sought to set himself apart on Sunday, posting support for Zelenskyy on social media, calling him a "formidable champion of freedom" who was defending his country "without hesitation."
The governor said the copper dome atop the Arizona Capitol would be lit yellow and blue this week — reflecting the colors of the Ukrainian flag that was raised outside the Governor's Office on Monday, too.
Senate Republican leaders put out a statement, too, supporting Zelenskyy.
"Let's be very clear: this is a fight between dictatorship and democracy," the unsigned statement reads. "Freedom and sovereignty are sacred tenant's [sic] of the free world that must be protected at all costs. They should be supported by all leaders of free nations.
"We stand with President Zelensky and the courageous men and women of Ukraine."
Rogers is not a stranger to criticism in part because she is one of the Legislature's loudest voices furthering false claims that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. None of dozens of lawsuits, nor the Arizona Senate's partisan ballot review provided evidence that Joe Biden should not be in the White House.
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Vice Chairman Clint Hickman — who emerged as political foes of Rogers' during the contentious 5-month ballot review — also condemned her call to execute political enemies and statements about Zelenskyy as conspiracy theories.
"Wendy Rogers does not represent American values or interests," the statement reads. "I trust other business, community, and political leaders will publicly condemn her hateful, dangerous, paranoid, un-American rhetoric."
Recourse for the Senate?
With concerns growing in the majority caucus, discussions are ongoing about what, if anything, to do in response to Rogers' statements.
Senate rules and the Arizona Constitution set the framework for what disciplinary action Rogers could face, if her peers pursue it. Lawmakers can reprimand or censure a member by a majority vote. The most severe step — expelling a lawmaker — would take a two-thirds vote, which seems unlikely.
According to Arizona Senate staff, no censures were recorded in the upper chamber in the past 30 years.