'I want an audit': Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers ends eventful week with pushup contest

Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Rusty Bowers started the workweek in Washington, D.C., and on national television, telling the world how he stood up to former President Donald Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election.

The fourth-generation Arizonan ended the week about midnight Friday, literally on hands and knees on the seafoam-green carpeted floor of the state House of Representatives, somewhat flushed from another high-stakes appearance he couldn't resist: a rematch of a pre-session pushup contest with House page George Montano of Phoenix.

Bowers, the Republican House speaker from Mesa, and his colleagues had wrapped up a packed week of work just before midnight, celebrating landmark water legislation to help the drought-stricken state and a bulging budget with big investments in public education. 

But there was one piece of business left to attend to: the pushup contest. Both men, separated by decades in age and equally undaunted by a long day's work, stripped off their suit jackets and ties, setting them aside.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, was defeated, 69-59, by House page George Montano of Phoenix in an end-of-session pushup contest. The Arizona Legislature adjourned in the early morning hours of June 25, 2022.

Montano tallied 69 pushups — equal to Bowers' age, coincidentally. Bowers watched, arms folded, eyeglasses at the end of his nose in their characteristic spot.

The other pages counted out loud, in unison, as Bowers came close.

"... 58 ... 59 ..."

Bowers' knees hit the floor, his face flushed.

"He cheated," Bowers joked afterward. "I want an audit."

It was a spot-on joke for the veteran lawmaker who now has a national profile for opposing Arizona's infamous 2020 ballot review after seeing no evidence to back up Trump's claims of widespread election fraud.

Bowers, who is leaving the House this year and seeking election to the Senate, is known in Arizona politics not just for his conservatism and his artwork that graces the Capitol but his lighthearted and even jovial approach in a time of great partisan division. 

This was Montano's third session working in the Legislature.

"Everybody else would have, what would you say, thrown the contest to me," Bowers said of their match. "But George had integrity and stuck with it through the end, and whipped me."

"I think it's time for me to retire," Montano quipped.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.