Ducey again avoids condemnation of state Sen. Wendy Rogers after latest incendiary comments

Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, speaks at a Save America Rally prior to former president Donald Trump speaking  Jan. 15, 2022, in Florence, Ariz. The Arizona Senate voted March 1, 2022, to censure Republican Wendy Rogers, whose embrace of white nationalism and calls for violence drew bipartisan condemnation.
Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday again sidestepped condemnation of Wendy Rogers, the state senator facing an ethics inquiry for suggesting the racially motivated massacre in Buffalo, New York, was orchestrated by federal agents.

Asked if Rogers' latest comments were appropriate, Ducey told The Arizona Republic that "what happened in Buffalo was shocking and heartbreaking. People have lost their lives. Family members have lost loved ones. I think we ought to mourn the people that have died at this time, and I don't think that hateful or incendiary rhetoric is helpful."

As to why he would not forcefully condemn Rogers, which could send a message that the Republican senator's views don't reflect those of his party, Ducey said he already has done that.

"I've condemned racism in all its forms," he said. "I've done it dozens of times. I think there's a contest in the media on who's going to do it the loudest, or the angriest. And I think that just further causes division and attention to the comments."

Rogers has a history of incendiary public comments that have catapulted her to fame on the far right, and Ducey has a history of avoiding direct criticism of her. She's a Trump-endorsed, first-term politician who belongs to the Oath Keepers and is one of the loudest cheerleaders of false claims the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Her views have repeatedly put Republican Senate leaders and Ducey, a more traditional conservative who has stood up to Trump, on the spot to respond to her statements, and left them drawing fire for not more forcefully chastising her.

Gov. Doug Ducey gives a briefing on wildfire safety at the state Capitol on March 31, 2022, in Phoenix, Ariz.

Following Saturday's mass shooting in Buffalo, Rogers renewed scrutiny when she posted on social media that "Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo."

That day, a white 18-year-old carrying a gun with a racial expletive on its barrel went to a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood and shot 13 people, killing 10. Authorities later found a screed detailing his plan and referencing fears white Americans were being replaced by people of color. Those beliefs, often referred to as "replacement theory," are shared by white supremacists along with other mass shooters, and condemned by politicians up to President Joe Biden, who visited the site of the killings this week.

Rogers' comments were characterized by at least one extremism watchdog group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, as trying to further a false narrative about the shooting. 

With a 24-3 bipartisan vote on Monday, the Arizona Senate voted to launch an ethics investigation of Rogers and her missive. A subsequent Democrat-led vote to expel Rogers from the chamber failed.

How the Senate will investigate Rogers 

State Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Litchfield Park.

Rep. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee that will handle the probe, said the investigation would focus solely on Rogers' post after the Buffalo shooting. Still undecided was when the ethics committee would hold a meeting, conduct the investigation, and how the process will work, Kerr said.

Rogers has previously shared views akin to replacement theory. Last July she was criticized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix after sharing a report about thousands of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border and writing "we are being replaced and invaded."

In March, she was censured by her Senate peers after she promoted hanging political enemies during a pre-recorded speech to the America First Political Action Committee, a gathering hosted by Nick Fuentes, whom federal authorities have dubbed a white nationalist. The censure did not address Rogers' comments attacking the Jewish president of Ukraine amid the violent invasion of his country or her participation in the conference.

During debate of the censure, Rogers pushed back, alleging on her Telegram channel "the Communists in the GOP" would "throw the sweet grandma under the bus for being white." Telegram is a messaging application favored by conservatives, and it's where she wrote her "fed boy summer" comment Saturday.

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At the same time Rogers appeared virtually at the white nationalist conference, Ducey was asked by a reporter about his efforts to help elect Rogers to her northern Arizona senate seat in 2020. Ducey didn't address her appearance at the conference, offering as a defense his need to have a Republican majority to get his agenda through the Legislature.

"That's what I've wanted to do, is move my agenda forward," Ducey said. "I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish. And she's still better than her opponent, Felicia French."

Rogers defeated French, a Democrat, for the Senate seat in Legislative District 6, which stretches from the Grand Canyon to Payson and Snowflake. Ducey's political action committee gave a $500,000 boost to Rogers' campaign as part of its efforts to help the GOP maintain control of the state Legislature.

'Voters are going to have their say'

After the Senate censured Rogers and following days of criticism, Ducey took a more direct posture in a statement, though he didn't name Rogers.

“Antisemitic and hateful language has no place in Arizona," his statement read. "I have categorically condemned it in the past and condemn it now. I strongly believe our public policy debates should be about creating opportunity for all and making our state a better place, not denigrating and insulting any individual or group."

Ducey on Wednesday declined to comment on the appropriateness of the ethics investigation, saying it was the Senate's purview. Asked if he believed Rogers was a racist, Ducey dodged.

"There's going to be a primary election in three months, and there's going to be a general election three months after that," he said. "We live in a representative democracy. That's got to count for something.

"The voters are going to have their say."

Staff writer Ray Stern contributed to this report.

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

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