PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Senate’s ethics committee voted Wednesday to formally investigate a Republican lawmaker’s online comments that appeared to blame the federal government for the recent massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
The panel was directed by the full Senate last week to look into an online post Sen. Wendy Rogers made the night a young white man went into the market in a predominately Black neighborhood and fatally shot 10 people. Authorities say the gunman had posted a racist screed before the May 14 attack.
Rogers, who is in her first term, has built a national profile among the far right with inflammatory rhetoric and vociferous support for former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Democrats wanted to expel Rogers, who was just censured by the Senate on March 1. That action came after she spoke at a white nationalist gathering and said that her political opponents should face a "newly built set of gallows."
As news of the mass shooting in Buffalo was just becoming known, Rogers tweeted: "Fed boy summer has started 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 embracing conspiracy theories.
Rogers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. She did not comment when the Senate debated the ethics referral while she sat at her Senate floor desk last week.
The ethics panel ordered its attorneys to review the online posts and their context. Rogers, who represents Flagstaff and a wide swath of northern Arizona, will also be interviewed. She will have a week after the report is complete to provide a response.
The panel did not set a deadline for the investigation’s completion, but Senate lawyer Chris Kleminich told reporters that he expects the process to take "weeks, not months." He said he expected Rogers to cooperate with his review.
The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, could decide on discipline ranging from a formal censure to expulsion once the report is complete. It could also drop the matter with no action.
The Ethics Committee also acted on two other matters at Wednesday’s brief meeting.
It ordered Kleminich to suggest possible changes to state laws on when a public office should be declared vacant. The panel was acting on a request from Republican Sen. T.J. Shope, who complained that Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez has been absent for nearly the entirety of this year’s session.
Mendez’s wife, Democratic Rep. Athena Salman, gave birth to the couple’s first child in January. The couple has not attended floor debates or votes this year to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus and infecting their infant daughter. Both asked to be able to participate and vote remotely, as members were allowed to do last year, but were denied.
They could vote from their Capitol offices but have done so rarely.
The Senate also dismissed an ethics complaint that accused Democratic Sen. Lisa Otondo of helping Democratic Rep. Robert Meza cover up an alleged fraud and public corruption scheme.
The House Ethics Committee voted May 5 not to act on the complaint against Meza filed by Scottsdale resident Phillip Potter.
Potter was involved in a bitter divorce with his wife and filed what courts called frivolous lawsuits against her parents, business associates and companies her firm had done business with. Meza was named in one lawsuit, and his lawyer said the ethics complaint also was intended to lash out at her associates.
A Phoenix judge last week refused Potter’s request to reconsider his ruling throwing out one lawsuit. The judge also ordered Potter to pay nearly $70,000 in legal fees for attorneys who represented the people and businesses Potter sued.
"The Court agrees that Plaintiff’s inexplicable expansion of a family court dispute has caused the dismissed parties to incur significant attorney’s fees and costs to defend an entirely frivolous action," Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Ryan Adelman wrote.