A great deal of attention has been paid in recent weeks to the amount of money Wendy Rogers has received for her campaign to hold onto her seat in the State Senate. But her constituents are asking what they -and her contributors- expect to receive in exchange?
Rogers ran for, and failed to win, office in five elections starting in 2010, including four attempts to get into Congress. She then ran for State Senate in 2020, where despite a heavily Republican constituency she won with less than 55 percent of the vote.
This year, Rogers will face off against Sen. Kelly Townsend in the Aug. 2 Republican primary for the sole Senate seat of the newly formed Legislative District 7 which winds through four counties from southern Flagstaff over to Maricopa County’s East Valley and down to Pinal and Pima counties. Rogers skipped a planned LD7 debate with Townsend on Tuesday night in order to play in a legislative softball game.
As of Wednesday morning, Rogers has a legislative efficacy rating of only .01, based on her introduction as prime sponsor of nearly 90 bills, of which only one has been signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey. Her voting record has also come under scrutiny after she cast an “aye” vote in April for a pro-Big Tobacco bill which several Republicans voted against, and the month before helped kill a bill to require Term Limits for members of the U.S. Congress.
“Rogers has no interest in doing the work of a legislator, she just wants the exposure and opportunity to raise more money for herself,” said one constituent. “So she presents herself like a warrior, but she loses 99% of the fights she chooses, and it’s her district that suffers for it.”
Also raising concerns is the fact Rogers was censured in March by 24 of the other 29 Senators, including 11 Republicans, after suggesting that “traitors” should be put to death by hanging. Those traitors, according to Rogers’ comments, were not people convicted of any crimes, but rather were people she believed “have betrayed our country.”
Rogers then used social media to convey threats to the other 15 Republicans if any supported the censure effort.
“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,” she posted.
During the censure proceeding, Rogers framed the effort as an attack on her right to freedom of speech and accused Senate leadership of attempting to destroy her reputation. Those comments were dismissed by Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, who said Rogers was misrepresenting the reason behind the censure.
“We do support First Amendment freedom of speech. We absolutely support it. We fight battles over it,” Fann said. “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.”
There are also continuing concerns within the Republican caucus about Rogers’ support of Nick Fuentes, founder of the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC). Fuentes has come under increasing scrutiny for advocating white supremist and anti-Semitic policies.
Rogers was a featured speaker at an AFPAC event in Florida in February, and has frequently posted or shared Fuentes’ comments. Prior to the censure vote, several Senators expressed concern with Rogers appearing to promote anti-Semitic viewpoints.
Although the language of the censure does not mention those concerns, the subject was addressed by the Governor in his post-censure statement.
“Anti-Semitic and hateful language has no place in Arizona,” Doug Ducey noted in the statement, adding he believed the censure vote by the Arizona Senate “sends a clear message: rhetoric like this is unacceptable.”
Rogers’ own words have also been the basis of two lawsuits. In one, she is the defendant in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed last year by a young former legislative staffer, Michael Polloni, who contends he was subjected to a hostile work environment, including an alleged assault by Rogers.
There was also a defamation lawsuit filed against Rogers and her 2018 congressional campaign committee related to an ad approved by Rogers against a fellow Republican. Rogers won the primary but lost by several points to Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat.
Questions were also raised in April about how Rogers ended up being in the newly formed LD7. Those questions have prompted a request that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich investigate whether state law was violated.
Public records show the final draft map approved by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission had Rogers’ address in the new LD6, an overwhelmingly Democratic district. However, a last-minute change proposed by one of the redistricting commissioners moved a boundary line to the opposite side of Rogers’ street, thus putting her residence back into a heavily Republican district.
The change was described at the time as being requested on behalf of “a friend.” This may have run afoul with an Arizona statute which prohibits the location of incumbents’ homes from being considered when drawing new district boundaries. An investigation could result in subpoenas for emails, phone records, and even text messages to determine how the “little tweak,” as the commissioner called it, came to be.
While Rogers faces ongoing questions about her conduct, her primary opponent, fellow State Senator Kelly Townsend, is focused on telling voters of the new district about her own record. For Townsend, that includes four terms in the House of Representatives before she was elected in 2020 to the Senate, where she chairs the important Government Committee. There, she has taken the lead on both election integrity issues and medical liberty issues.
Townsend is also taking proactive steps to separate herself from Rogers, in part by redirecting a $10,000 campaign donation from AFPAC which Rogers helped secure earlier this year when Townsend considered a Congressional run. That money, Townsend said Wednesday, is going to an antisemitism organization.
Whether voters value Rogers’ rhetoric more than Townsend’s results remains to be seen. But the Rogers-Townsend race will be a real opportunity for voters to decide which matters more.
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