It is a dark time in the life of the American experiment. The world’s oldest democracy, once believed to be unbreakable, often seems to fall apart by the rivets.
From exile in Florida, a defeated leader, whose efforts to undo the latest election are still in sight, works to place loyalists in key offices across the country, and his followers race to install themselves in control of future ones. elections.
But in Arizona this week, the most unlikely of characters stepped forward with palms raised to Donald J. Trump’s troops.
When right-wing lawmakers there pushed for a bill that would have given the Republican-controlled legislature the power to unilaterally reject the results of an election and enforce a new one, Rusty Bowers said no.
For decades Bowers, the humble speaker of the Arizona House, has represented staunch Republican beliefs and supported the kind of low-tax, limited government policies that turned Barry Goldwater into a conservative icon of the state.
Bowers could have sat on the bill and let it die a quiet death. Instead, he killed it through an aggressive legislative maneuver that left even veteran Arizona state guards in awe of its audacity.
“The speaker wanted to put the wooden cross right through the heart of this thing for everyone to see,” said Stan Barnes, a Republican consultant who has known Bowers for some 30 years.
Drawn a line
The bill’s sponsor, John Fillmore – who prides himself on being the most conservative member of the Arizona state legislature – told us in an interview that Bowers’ tactics amounted to saying, “I am God. I check the rules. You will do as I say.”
But for 69-year-old Bowers, a Mormon and father of seven who first entered politics in 1992, it was clearly a matter of something bigger than parliamentary procedure.
By sending Fillmore’s legislation to not one but 12 committees, effectively dooming it, he also sent an undeniable message about the direction of his party — a GOP beyond recognition of what it was when conservatism was in Goldwater. style itself represented an insurrection.
Fillmore’s bill would have eliminated early voting altogether and required all ballots to be counted by hand.
Voting Rights Lab, a nonprofit that monitors election laws, called it “one of the most comprehensive attacks on impartial election administration and voter access we’ve seen.”
Most troubling, for voting attorneys and independent experts, was a provision that would have allowed the Arizona legislature to “accept or reject the election results” and would have given a single voter the power to demand new elections. elections are held.
And while the bill probably would never become law, it was an expression of what Barnes called a “cathartic moment” for the Republican Party. “And I guess Rusty isn’t thrilled about that,” he said.
‘We gave the authority to the people’
The Arizona dispute comes amid a national spasm within the Republican Party, which has split into two unequal factions: the pro-Trump forces, who have sided with the former president’s calls to undo the 2020 election. , and a dwindling establishment that has either avoided the subject or faced the wrath of Trump’s allies.
On Friday, the Republican National Committee disapproved of Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the congressional committee investigating the January 6 riots in the United States Capitol. In doing so, the RNC officially stated that the attack was “legitimate political discourse”.
Bowers did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but his public comments indicate a deep unease about how Trump and his supporters have promoted wild theories of voter fraud and pushed legislation that voter groups say amounts to seizing an undemocratic, rural power.
“We’ve given the authority to the people,” Bowers told Capitol Media Services, an Arizona outlet, earlier this week. “And I’m not going back to kick them in the teeth.”
Among Arizona political insiders, Bowers is known as a Renaissance man—an artist who is just as comfortable rolling up his sleeves to fix a broken-down vehicle in the middle of the desert as he is painting landscapes in watercolor. A 2015 profile describes him as “a beekeeper and orchardist” who once moved to Mexico to live with a remote indigenous tribe.
“He’s always thought of me as independent, his own man,” said Robert Robb, a columnist for The Arizona Republic. ‘He’s a doctrinal conservative in some things, but a pragmatic, conservative problem-solver in others. Very principled, straight-shooter, full of integrity.”
Bowers, a libertarian-style conservative who came of age in Goldwater’s Republican Party, backed Trump in 2020. But he resisted post-election calls to undo the results — and rejected his colleagues’ claims, which according to courts and independent experts are groundless, that President Biden has not won Arizona fairly.
“As a conservative Republican, I don’t like the results of the presidential election,” he said in December 2020. “I voted for President Trump and worked hard to get him re-elected. But I cannot and will not suggest that we are breaking the current law. to change the outcome of a certified election.”
The Arizona GOP’s Civil War
Bowers’ resistance to the shifting currents of Republican politics has made him a frequent target of the pro-Trump right.
Last year, when he survived an attempt to recall him from the legislature, he complained about the aggressive tactics of the Trump supporters behind it.
“They came to my house and intimidated our family and our neighborhood,” Bowers said, describing mobile trucks driving past his house and calling him a pedophile over a loudspeaker.
He is limited on terms, but his stance could revive efforts to oust him from the speakership — a move that would have national resonance.
Fillmore, who insisted he was willing to negotiate all aspects of his bill, said he was “disappointed that members of my caucus don’t have the testicular fortitude” to stand up to Bowers.
But he hinted at steps to remove the speaker, who he accused of sabotaging what he said was good faith to rein in voting practices that he believes have gone too far.
“I am an old-fashioned person. I’m not going quiet. I’m not going quietly,” Fillmore warned. “I believe the Republican voters are firmly in my shoes.”
Political observers from Arizona told us it was unlikely the right wing of the Republican caucus could find a suitable replacement for Bowers, who has survived thus far through a combination of sluggishness and disorganization among its critics.
Fillmore, who said he did not support or speak to Trump in 2016, said he had received death threats over the bill from people who accused him of racism because, as he put it, he wanted to restore Arizona’s voting laws as they were. were growing up in the 1950s.
He succinctly expressed his own steadfastness. “You know what, folks?” he said. “Kiss my grits.”
What to read?
Eye contact, with ultrasounds
On Politics regularly shows work by Times photographers. On Friday, Sarahbeth Maney caught President Biden looking up at three ironworkers, their legs hanging in the air, just before signing an executive order in favor of construction unions. Here’s what she told us about capturing it:
I like how all three of them look at Biden, and he looks at them. I was hoping there would be some kind of interaction. He thought it was fun. “You’re crazy,” he joked, comparing them to workers who sat on a job site the same way when he got his first-ever union clearance. It was a little unusual moment that makes a speech a little more personal and interesting.
They seemed to be in their natural element. They looked very relaxed. Everyone in the crowd sat very upright – very attentive, as were the men above – but downstairs people had their phones off and were recording. When Biden signed the warrant, a lot of people stood up, which actually made it hard for me to get a photo — because their heads and phones got in the way.
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