Column: In Arizona, a crackpot gets promoted and underscores the danger to democracy

Side-by-side portraits of Arizona politicians Kari Lake and Wendy Rogers
Kari Lake, left, has refused to admit she lost Arizona’s 2022 gubernatorial race. Now Wendy Rogers is fueling Lake’s unfounded claims as chair of the Arizona Senate Elections Committee.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press; Thomas McKinless / CQ Roll Call)

Meet Wendy Rogers.

Her political credentials include antisemitism, a hyperactive promotion of outlandish conspiracy theories, a fondness for the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Vladimir Putin, and consorting with the outspoken racist and white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

In a well-earned rebuke, Rogers was censured by colleagues in Arizona’s state Senate last year after calling for her political foes to be hanged. The vote was bipartisan and overwhelming.


Despite all that, or maybe because of it, the Republican now heads the state Senate’s Elections Committee.

You can always count on Arizona for crazy.

The state, an emergent presidential battleground, has become a political fun house, a carnival of continuing election denialism where clownish politicians and grifters proudly parade. (Often, they’re one and the same.)

You may recall that zany audit — quote, unquote — of presidential ballots in Maricopa County, which included an eagle-eyed examination for traces of bamboo — evidence, it was said, of Chinese meddling in the 2020 election.

The result not only confirmed Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump but added a few votes to the Democrat’s winning total.

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Or you may recollect that slate of election deniers — candidates for U.S. Senate and Arizona’s governor, attorney general and secretary of state — who bid for a top-down takeover of the state and its election process.


The quartet met with deserved defeat in November, and the refusal of several of them to admit they lost has turned them into walking punchlines. (“Kari Lake Furious After Arizona Awards Her Participation Trophy,” the New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz gibed in a poke at the sore-losing gubernatorial hopeful.)

It would be funny, in a sort of all’s-well-that-ends-well fashion, if it wasn’t so serious. Clearly the threat to our democracy, and its nemeses, haven’t gone away.

In November, the voters of Arizona spoke loudly and clearly about driving out the lunacy-mongers in their midst, casting their ballots for sanity and the sanctity of our election process. But the president of the state Senate, Warren Petersen, chose to ignore that.

Petersen, an ally of Rogers, appointed her to lead the Elections Committee after she backed his elevation to the leadership post. He was one of two lawmakers who signed subpoenas that led to the farcical audit of the 2020 election.

Fortunately, Arizona has a new Democratic governor, Katie Hobbs, and her veto power ensures that none of Rogers’ nutty ideas will be enacted into law. That’s not to say, however, the senator can’t — or won’t — do harm.

Chairing a recent hearing, the election-denying, conspiracy-spreading Rogers admonished witnesses not to use the phrase “election denial,” deeming it a partisan epithet, and cautioned lawmakers against using the words “conspiracy theory.”


So much for truth.

Rogers then turned the hearing into a showcase of fakery and tinfoil-hat testimony about alleged fraud, centered this time on the 2022 gubernatorial race.

Lake echoed those phony claims in a subsequent podcast interview with Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist, accused swindler (let off the hook by a presidential pardon) and super-spreader of political misinformation.

Thus churns the conspiracy mill.

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It’s easy and tempting, once more, to laugh it off.

Rogers, for her part, is chortling all the way to her campaign treasurer’s office. Having built a national following after hitching herself to Trump and his donor-milking machine, she reported raising nearly $2.5 million last year, which evidently set a new legislative record for Arizona — topping the mark she established in 2020.

But the seriousness and authority conferred on someone as reckless and delusional as Rogers shouldn’t be tolerated, or ignored.

There is a weight that comes with a formal legislative hearing. The solemnity of the setting, never mind the testimony itself, lends the proceedings a certain credence.

If a state Senate committee sees fit to take up a matter, some may suppose, there has to be at least some grounding in fact. A gavel confers gravitas, whether the person wielding it is deserving of respect or not.


The bigoted, racist and just plain nutty will always be among us. But crackpots like Rogers shouldn’t be elevated and given the power and platform to legitimize their hateful and crazy beliefs.

There must be a broom closet somewhere in Arizona’s Capitol to lock her away.