The Arizona Senate on Monday opened an ethics investigation into an inflammatory Republican member who tweeted inflammatory comments about last weekend’s racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that left 10 dead.
The referral of Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff to the Ethics Committee was instead of the immediate removal that Democratic lawmakers were planning, Republican Majority Leader Rick Gray said. Due process considerations require nothing less than an ethical investigation, he said.
But Democrats were furious, pointing out that Rogers had just been censured in March for a repeated series of tweets and statements that espoused white nationalism and called for violence.
Despite a 24-3 bipartisan vote on the Republican plan to open an ethics committee review that could lead to ouster, censure or reprimand, Democrats failed to get any Republicans to back their motion to oust Rogers.
On Saturday, as news broke of the mass shooting by a white suspect who had posted a racist rant on the internet and drove some 200 miles (322 kilometers) to a black neighborhood in Buffalo, Rogers tweeted: “Fed boy summer has begun in buffalo.”
Many in both parties took that tweet to mean that Rogers was blaming the attack on the federal government, especially in light of Rogers’ history of espousing conspiracy theories and posting racist tropes.
Only three members voted not to open the ethics investigation, including Rogers and Republican Sen. Warren Petersen, who said he hadn’t even heard of the controversy when he entered the Senate. Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend, who is challenging Rogers in the GOP primary after redistricting put them both in the same district, also opposed the ethics investigation.
Townsend said Rogers’ comments were an embarrassment to the state and the Republican Party and added to the grief of the families of those killed in Buffalo.
“But she has a right to do them,” Townsend said. “I have to defend a person’s right to say ugly things. That’s why the First Amendment exists. It doesn’t exist for kind words, it exists for ugly words.”
The hour-long Senate debate over what to do about Rogers turned into a brawl, with Republicans accusing Democrats of trying to make political hay and Democrats accusing GOP members of a pattern of dodging uncomfortable discussions about race relations by shutting down any debate on the issue.
Republican Senator Sonny Borrelli called it an example of the cancellation culture of Democrats who don’t like Rogers and his brand of politics. Others agreed that Rogers’ words were being used against him.
“This is not a expellable offense,” said Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. “The Ds are politicizing it.”
He considered it a dangerous precedent to consider expelling or even censoring a member for their tweets or comments.
Republican Sen. JD Mesnard, who was House speaker when a member was ousted in 2018 after a series of sexual misconduct allegations, said the ethics committee hearings and process were imperative.
“This is the equivalent of a legislative execution,” Mesnard said of the motion to expel Rogers. “That’s why due process and an ethics process and investigation are so critical.”
Democrats pointed to Rogers’ earlier troubles, which began the month she took office in 2021 when a staffer accused her of bullying and other unprofessional conduct, and the March 2022 censure, which also passed by 24 votes. against 3 with three members. not present. Townsend was absent, but said she would have voted for it.
“How many times do you allow your children to get out of hand before you provide the opportunity for discipline,” said Democratic Sen. Theresa Hatathlie. “Discipline is a teaching moment. That’s something we’ve already had.”
Democratic Senator Martín Quezada said more or less the same thing and accused members of the Republican Party of “kicking the can” by not taking immediate action.
He said that Rogers’s tweets needed no investigation, and that those and his history were all that was at stake.
“Now there is a history, now there is a pattern of behavior,” Quezada said. “We have not heard any effort to defend those actions. And my guess is because there is no defense for those actions.”
Rogers did not comment on the Senate floor where other members spent hours arguing about her.
However, on Monday morning he tweeted that he “of course” condemned the violence in Buffalo.
“I also condemn #FakeNews and the government that promotes violence and then blames ordinary patriotic Americans as if ordinary Americans share those despicable views. All is not what it seems!” the tweet continued.