Politics

Records Show Wendy Rogers Silent on Border Wall, Officially

A recent examination shows Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers, who sponsored a $700 million border wall injection package, has limited her use of the word "border" to certain situations during her 14-month Senate tenure.
A recent examination shows Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers, who sponsored a $700 million border wall injection package, has limited her use of the word "border" to certain situations during her 14-month Senate tenure. Jacob Tyler Dunn
Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers is no stranger to ranting about securing the border, but a recent Phoenix New Times look into her personal communications revealed the word "border" didn't appear once in any of her emails, text messages, or social media direct messages since she took office.

On her website, she claims there is a "major crisis at the border" and that her constituents are begging for a change. Senate attorneys revealed this isn't the case.

More than 700 miles of towering steel bollards demarcate some of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A higher percentage of Arizona’s border with Mexico is fenced off compared to any of the other three Southwestern border states of California, New Mexico, and Texas.

Republicans have sought to wall off Arizona’s entire 373-mile border with its international neighbor to the south since Pat Buchanan, President Ronald Reagan's communications chief, floated his first presidential bid in 1992. Peddling the fear of an immigrant invasion was at the forefront of his campaign.

Reagan rejected the construction of a fence along America’s border with Mexico in 1980.

Although Buchanan didn’t make it past the primary, he is credited with adopting border security into the modern GOP platform.

That legacy was furthered in large part by former President Donald Trump, who took a special interest in the Grand Canyon State and rallied Arizonans behind the fear of invasion. The only solution, he said, was a continuous barricade from Douglas to San Luis.

In late February, Arizona lawmakers approved legislation that would funnel $700 million of state money toward finishing the job.

The bill was sponsored by Rogers, a Trump darling who represents Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo, and Gila counties in District 6.

Trump, who accused Democrats of being "complicit in all murders by illegal immigrants" in a 2018 campaign ad, rehashed his promise to “finish the wall” to the bitter end of his four-year presidency in January 2021.

His attempt ended with only 52 miles of new wall completed along the 2,000-mile boundary that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.

Now, Rogers is picking up where he left off. “It’s really following the hyper-polarization and further radical extremism of the Republican Party that has been kicked into high gear since Trump was elected,” fellow State Senator Martín Quezada, a Democrat from Maryvale, told New Times. “They are appealing to a self-admitted radical base of voters. That has become their strategy.”

But unlike the gaps between massive slats in the border wall that offer a glimpse of the sprawling Sonoran Desert landscape beyond, Rogers isn’t quite so transparent.

There’s a mystery brewing in her email inbox.

On Twitter, the first-term senator from Flagstaff has called for American tanks at the border, but on official communication channels, she has remained tight-lipped about the $700 million project.

The New Times filed a public records request with Pete Galvan, Associate Rules Attorney of the Arizona Senate, seeking any emails, text messages, or social media direct messages containing the word “border” since Rogers’ tenure began in January 2021.

“After a careful and thorough search of records, the Senate has not identified any records in its possession that are responsive to your request,” Galvan said.

Galvan confirmed there were no records excluded or redacted from the request.

The Arizona Senate maintains such records in perpetuity, he also confirmed.

But Rogers has tweeted about the border more than 50 times since she took office. Ten times she used the website to call for military presence at the border.

“I want to see some tanks on our border,” Rogers said in December. “A wall and some tanks.”

The fact that the longtime lawmaker never communicated the word “border” over email, text message, or social media direct message since taking office beggars belief.

“If there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there,” Tucson-based public records lawyer Michael Bloom said. “But I don't know if I would believe that.”

Rogers did not respond directly to questions from New Times.

Quezada said he receives 10 to 15 emails a day containing the word “border,” whether it be from listservs, constituent concerns, or discussions with colleagues about legislation moving through the process.

“The fact that there's none over a period of time tells me it’s not an honest answer to that request,” he said.
click to enlarge State Senator Martín Quezada speaks with supporters at a campaign rally with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Central High School in Phoenix. - GAGE SKIDMORE
State Senator Martín Quezada speaks with supporters at a campaign rally with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Central High School in Phoenix.
Gage Skidmore
Quezada isn’t totally shocked, though.

“There is a culture down there that they don’t believe any of their work should be subject to inspection,” Quezada said. “There is definitely an attitude that the open media law should not apply to them. They push back in all sorts of ways on public records requests.”

But Rogers didn't push back this time.

And it wouldn't matter if she chatted about her plans for a sweeping bulwark defended by U.S. tanks on a personal cellphone or with private email or social media accounts, according to Dan Barr, a First Amendment attorney from Phoenix.

Whether she’s using a private or private account, it's still a public record by the letter of the law.

"The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld that several times," Barr said. "When you juxtapose the facts with what they claim, it’s impossible to believe there are no emails that contain the word 'border.'"

Rogers has repeatedly claimed border defense was an issue of primary concern to her constituents.

But that claim is belied by the absence of any communication records released to New Times. Rogers never received any online or telephone correspondence from constituents about the border.

"If it’s true that constituents are clamoring for this, they are having problems asserting the truth," Barr said. "She says she’s doing what her constituents are demanding, but it is apparently true that her constituents are not demanding this."

Rogers’ official state accounts might have stayed hush-hush, but the online public space tells a different story.

Rogers beseeched her constituents to take part in organized militia patrol at Arizona’s border with the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California, raising serious legal concerns.

Anyone who detains migrants at the border can be charged with assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, impersonating a law enforcement officer, and a slew of other felonies if they are not U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

It is permissible under U.S. law for undocumented migrants to enter the country and apply for asylum or other forms of humanitarian relief. Rogers also accused Holocaust survivor George Soros and unnamed Mexican drug cartels of trying to “attack” her recent bill, which is under review by the Arizona House of Representatives. Another party-line passage is likely.

The bill will not cross Governor Doug Ducey’s desk. If passed again in the House, it would become part of a larger, comprehensive budget bill.

Quezada and many of his Democratic colleagues in the Arizona Senate have never gotten a nudge from Rogers about her own sponsored legislation. No conversation, no input, no debate outside the Senate floor.

Republican collaboration with opponents across the aisle is at an all-time low, Quezada said.

“They have demonized us as human beings and painted us as the enemy of the country,” he said. “Wendy Rogers represents the radical of the radical right wing. I don't think anybody has in-depth policy conversations because of her radical ideas and her personality.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss