After resisting a post-2020 election pressure campaign, Arizona GOP House Speaker Rusty Bowers says he's 'running against Donald Trump' in his upcoming primary
- Rusty Bowers testified at a Jan. 6 hearing about enduring pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election.
- Now, he's facing a Trump-backed primary challenger: former state Sen. David Farnsworth.
MESA, Arizona — Russell "Rusty" Bowers, the Speaker of the Arizona House, testified before the January 6 committee in June about withstanding a pressure campaign from then-President Donald Trump to reverse the 2020 presidential election results in his state.
Now, Bowers is hoping to withstand another Trump-driven campaign: an August 2 state Senate primary against former Sen. David Farnsworth, a fellow Mormon who's known Bowers for years.
By the time Bowers testified about being pressured to take action to decertify the state's pro-Biden electors — and the harassment campaign that ensued when he refused — his primary had already been underway for a few months.
"I've got a former president running against me. I'm not running against David Farnsworth," Bowers told Insider this month. "I'm running against Donald Trump. It's his name that's propping up Dave Farnsworth."
Term-limited in the House, Bowers is now running in the newly-drawn 10th legislative district centered on Mesa, a city of roughly half a million people just east of Phoenix. Trump endorsed Farnsworth shortly after Bowers appeared before the committee, calling the state House speaker a "longtime political operative" and someone who "must be defeated."
Farnsworth, for his part, told Insider that he did not seek out Trump's endorsement personally, only saying that there were "at least a half a dozen people in Arizona that told me they were trying to get the Trump endorsement for me."
With Bowers raising more than $320,000 and Farnsworth raising just $70,000 — most of which came from a $40,000 personal loan — Farnsworth will largely have to rely on Trump's appeal and antipathy toward Bowers in order to prevail.
"Instead of David Christian Farnsworth on his signs, now it says 'David Trump Farnsworth,'" Bowers said, referring to the placement of an endorsement message that obscures Farnsworth's middle name. "All of us look at that, and say... yeah, that says something."
Bowers could certainly win the race. Brad Raffensperger, who testified alongside Bowers, handily beat a Trump-backed opponent in his Republican primary for a second term as Georgia secretary of state a week before he appeared on Capitol Hill. Other Republicans, like Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, have also recently prevailed against Trump-backed challengers.
But if he loses, Bowers would become the latest addition to the universe of high-profile Republicans who've been excommunicated from the party after crossing Trump, such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who's opted to retire rather than face a primary, or Rep. Tom Rice, who faced down a primary and lost.
"I would be, in one way, okay. I've lost before," said Bowers of a potential loss. "And in another way, I'm thinking 'oh my gosh, right when we need adults the most, the thugs take over.'"
'They're all uniformly thankful'
In June, Bowers testified before the January 6 committee about the months of harassment outside his home that he'd endured from supporters of the former president. He also described the deluge of phone and email messages registering disapproval at his refusal to bend to Trump's will.
—CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 21, 2022
Now, in the throes of another political campaign, Bowers seems to be used to confrontation.
Bowers now says that "nobody's come by the house of late," though he said some friends had suggested he prepare for the possibility for further demonstrations in light of Trump's recent visit to the state.
And he told Insider that he's continuing to get "basically the same type of harassment online that I've gotten for the last two years," but pays it little mind.
"I don't Twitter," he said. "I told the President that — I don't tweet."
Bowers told Insider that he's received mostly positive responses from people who've approached him about his committee testimony, particularly among fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in his neighborhood on the northern edge of Mesa.
"Especially in my neighborhood. Ds, Rs, Is, people from space," he said. "They're all uniformly thankful."
Bowers concedes, however, that the most committed party activists in his district are incensed with him.
"The fix is with the district leadership and in the Republican women," said Bowers. "The fix is all in for Trump and Dave, they've been working at it for months."
Bowers has increasingly irked the more right-wing members of his party. Earlier this year, he killed a so-called "election integrity" bill — which would have allowed Arizona's state legislature to overturn the will of the state's voters — by assigning it to all 12 of the chamber's committees, ensuring it wouldn't ever make it to the floor.
"That's why they're so angry at Rusty, because he slapped us in the face by saying, 'I'm not even gonna look at it,'" said Farnsworth.
"We passed 38 bills on election integrity stuff," said Bowers, seeking to defend his record on an issue of increasing importance to the Republican base. "No, we didn't take away people's fundamental right to choose the electors."
Bowers' foes also accuse him of being vindictive and petty. Sen. Kelly Townsend, a Republican from Apache Junction, told Insider that she encouraged Farnsworth to run against Bowers because of long-standing difficulties in working with the speaker, particularly when the two served together in the state's lower chamber.
"I have had trouble with Rusty for four years," said Townsend, a Trump-aligned figure who promotes the idea that the 2020 election was stolen who's now caught in her own contentious primary.
"He killed all my stuff, I had to do a lot of maneuvers just to get my bills across the board," said Townsend. "I just don't want to have to serve with him again."
At a rally in Prescott Valley on Friday night, Trump slammed Bowers for his January 6 committee testimony while touting Farnsworth,
"Rusty Bowers is a RINO coward who participated against the Republican Party in the totally partisan, unselect committee of political thugs and hacks," said Trump. "He disgraced the state of Arizona."
—Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 23, 2022
'No animosity, except that he called me a swamp rat'
In an interview at his home in Mesa, Farnsworth, a former state senator, spoke in religious terms as he told Insider about how his own Mormon faith had driven him to come out of retirement to challenge Bowers.
"The whole issue of this race, from my perspective, is that… our freedom is being destroyed," said Farnsworth as he sat with the Book of Mormon open in front of him. "And it's the people that are prophesied in this book who orchestrated the theft of the election."
In Farnsworth's telling, Townsend told him that he was the "only one that can beat Rusty" because of their shared Mormon faith, and he said he was running against his one-time acquaintance largely over dissatisfaction with how he handled the 2020 election.
"I have no doubt in my mind that the election was stolen," said Farnsworth. "I can't show you the proof, but I grew up in Arizona, I've seen all the evidence, I've talked to all these people, and in my heart, I know the election was stolen."
Farnsworth said that while he agrees that trying to appoint pro-Trump electors might have been a step too far, he thinks the former president genuinely believes he'd won the 2020 election and that it was Bowers' job to address the widespread lack of faith in the vote, suggesting that he could've held hearings to uncover evidence of fraud.
"Rusty, as Speaker of the House, had the responsibility as a leader in the Arizona legislature, to do whatever it took to restore that trust," says Farnsworth. "That is what this election is all about. He failed in his duty to do what he needed to do."
Farnsworth said that if elected, he wants to hold hearings on the issue himself, though he made clear that he doesn't believe the election itself can be reversed.
"At this point, if you try to put Trump in instead of Biden, you'd probably create a civil war," he said. "It's been too long."
Farnsworth, notably, has said that the QAnon conspiracy theory seems "credible" and said during a recent debate that "some of the things they've said made sense to me." However, he told Insider that he "definitely [does] not follow them" and has never "even googled the name to find out about them."
Bowers contrasts himself from Farnsworth primarily by talking about his ability to work constructively with others.
"Everybody is scared to death of Dave Farnsworth, because he doesn't listen well," says Bowers. "I have no animosity, except that he called me a swamp rat."
Bowers recalled an anecdote from when the two men served together in the Arizona House in the 1990s when Farnsworth voted no on a bill simply because he wasn't sure what was in it.
"He doesn't invest intellectual capital," says Bowers. "You have to be willing to really think things through on a lot of issues, and listen to a lot of voices, and synthesize a course of action from many different interests."
The 'growing fragility of civilization'
Bowers, a sculptor and painter who's now nearing age 70, has gone through a great deal of stress in recent years. His daughter, Kacey, died of a terminal illness at the end of January 2021 as Bowers dealt with protestors accusing him of being a "pedophile" outside his home.
Asked why he's opted to run for another political office — given both his age and the anger he's faced from members of his own party — Bowers spoke of his "love" for Arizona.
"There isn't anybody in the legislature that knows more about this state than me," he said.
But Bowers also warned of what he calls the "growing fragility of civilization."
"The use of emotional violence as a political tool — the biggest tool in the toolbox — is now kind of common," said Bowers. "Just bully them until they can't take it anymore."
He bemoaned the rise of this style of politics at a time when big challenges, including water scarcity driven by climate change, are impacting Arizona hard; when Bowers spoke with Insider, the average temperature in Maricopa County was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The policies, the practical governance of a society suffers," he said. "And I'm afraid."
"We are going to need to wisely move quickly to use the resources we've set aside," he continued. "And I think — I want my opponent taking those decisions?"
In his testimony before the January 6 committee in June, Bowers spoke of his admiration for President Ronald Reagan.
Bowers even cited Reagan in a December 2020 statement declaring that he would not seek to replace the state's pro-Biden electors at Rudy Giuliani's request, quoting the 40th president in calling the peaceful transfer of power "nothing less than a miracle."
But asked whether he thought Reagan still held sway with his party, Bowers demurred. "That's a good question for a sit around, fireside chat type of thing," he said.
He then recounted a trip he once made to Reagan's ranch in California, remarking that he was struck to see that he had read many of the same books as the former president, and that Reagan had used "Head and Shoulders" shampoo in a plywood shower on the property.
"He was a very common man," said Bowers of Reagan. "Whereas now, it's like, we have a — I don't want to use the word cultic, but maybe that would be appropriate — view of these leaders."
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