Rusty Bowers and the future of the Arizona Republican Party

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Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers is photographed on the Arizona House of Representatives chamber floor in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday March 2, 2022.

Laura Segall, for the Deseret News

The Arizona Republican Party has fallen.

That was Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ take after he lost his bid for a state Senate seat Tuesday.

“I’ve joked and said the party has taken Kabul and I’m on the last plane out to Uzbekistan,” he said by phone Friday during a layover en route to Israel as part of a trip to learn how desert farming techniques and desalinated water and distribution systems could work in Arizona.

Candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump won big in the state’s Republican primary this week, including former state Sen. David Farnsworth, the fellow Mesa Latter-day Saint who beat Bowers. Farnsworth has said he believes the 2020 election was fraudulent, but state audits and Arizona Republicans have found no evidence that fraud effected the outcome.

Bowers, a conservative, was censured by the state party following his testimony in front of the Jan. 6 committee about being pressured to help overturn the state’s election results in 2020. Bowers testified that his refusal to help overturn the election was motivated by his faith and belief in upholding the Constitution. He said he and his family have been harassed since he refused to go along with the scheme.

Bowers said he called Farnsworth and “wished him and Arizona the best,” but he’s unsure if the party will come together after a divisive primary.

“The party in Arizona is dysfunctional and now they want everybody to turn around and step into lock step,” he said.

“Anytime you have an attitude that you have to destroy your enemies in the primary, and even the party has that attitude, and then to come back and say now we’re going to join all together… I think that’ll be a challenge,” he said.

A longtime Republican stronghold, Arizona has seen Democrats win statewide in recent years against Trump and Trump-aligned candidates. Whether or not 2022 continues that trend remains to be seen, but Bowers believes the new Arizona Republican Party is more extreme.

“I frankly think they are very extreme and it’s not so much in the policies as it is in the attitude,” he said. “There’s a difference between being a conservative and being more radical, less tolerant.”

“Conservative is principle-based and institution-based, things that are lasting and of importance over generations,” he said.

Bowers said he sees “frightening developments in the [Arizona] House, which I love and want to protect,” and worries the state legislature could see a “brain drain” in staff.

“It will be a sea change,” he said.

Bowers said he intends to speak his piece, but said he found it liberating that he no longer needs to worry about the party. He plans to finish his term as Arizona House Speaker “and then go where the good Lord needs me.”

D. Hunter Schwarz

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