Q&A: Rusty Bowers opens up on Trump, the Jan. 6 committee and his Latter-day Saint faith
The Arizona Speaker of the House recently testified before Congress about Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election
It’s been a busy two weeks for Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers. In late June, the Republican gave an emotional testimony before the Jan. 6 Select Committee about the 2020 election. He said former President Donald Trump, attorney Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., all pressured him to illegally overturn the election results in Arizona, where Joe Biden won.
“It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired … and so for me to do that because somebody just asked me to is foreign to my very being,” Bowers said. “I will not do it.”
Bowers is a graduate of Brigham Young University and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His faith figured prominently in his congressional testimony.
When we spoke via phone on a recent weekday, Bowers was returning from the cemetery, where he’d just paid to have a headstone placed on his deceased daughter’s gravesite. In his testimony before the Jan. 6 Committee, Bowers became emotional when he described how his daughter Kacey, who was gravely ill at the time, became “upset at what was happening outside” as Trump supporters — at least one of whom was armed — protested in front of the Bowers’ home following the 2020 election. Kacey died only weeks later, in January 2021.
Deseret News writer Christian Sagers traveled to Phoenix to profile Bowers in March 2022. But after Bowers’ recent testimony, the Deseret News caught up with the lawmaker again to better understand the motives behind the man Sagers dubbed Arizona’s “last Republican maverick.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: Thanks for making the time, Speaker Bowers. Many people were impressed with your testimony before the Jan. 6 Committee. A lot of Republicans are choosing not to cooperate. How did you make the decision to testify?
Rusty Bowers: I know that they all have their own reasons. When they said they would subpoena me, there were no threats. I was open with the investigators when they came and talked to me. I’m in no rush to get a contempt of Congress letter. But they said they really wanted me to come. So they sent a subpoena and we immediately complied. And it was all good. I didn’t look forward to it. But I felt there were some tender mercies concerning it.
DN: The committee, at least for folks on the right, has become somewhat politicized. It’s viewed as a partisan effort. Both Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney have received a lot of pushback for participating. What is your perspective of those two as lawmakers?
RB: I did not interact with Kinzinger, but I have interacted with Cheney as we went to the JFK Profiles (in Courage Awards). We met and chatted. So I already had some information as to her character, and it was really actually good to see her up there. It was calming for me. I didn’t feel she was a threatening force. And I wasn’t intimidated. But it’s not something I would want to do every other day.
DN: How do you respond to fellow Republicans who say that this committee is all just a sham effort to make Republicans look bad, or a Democratic-motivated effort?
RB: I don’t doubt that there are politics involved. There are politics involved with everybody in the political world, but whether or not the information that is shared is true or not, I think that’s a more important element. I just today had a meeting in Mesa — I call it close encounters of the worst kind — with supposedly Republican women, and some of them were just vicious, vicious people.
I like to ask people — well, I’ll ask you. Have you ever been in a gunfight?
DN: I have not.
RB: Okay. Have you ever been held against your will and somebody instructed somebody else to kill you?
DN: That has never happened to me. No, sir.
RB: Well, it’s happened to me. And I found myself, and I think a lot of America finds ourselves, with the MS-13 on the one side, and in our case, it’s the Sonoran cowboy cartel on the left side. And they intimidate their respective sides and box you in and threaten you and malign you. Those sides don’t represent the real strength of a party, but when they start to embed themselves so deeply in a party that you can’t do anything without incurring their wrath or their intimidation, then the veneer of civilization — which is already paper thin — just goes away. And I think a lot of America feels pinned between the extremes of both sides of the party. And the reaction is either give up and join or flee from the neighborhood and get away from it. And they’ll be an independent or “party not determined” or just bow out totally. And I just don’t want to be bullied to do that. But I feel it all the time. It continues to this day.
DN: What do you foresee is the future of the Republican Party?
RB: If I was antifa or some other hard left group, you might be asking me that, too, if they, after the next election, started raising their profile in an intimidating way. I don’t know that it makes the party go away, but it certainly whittles down the membership of the party until maybe they’ll be happy when they finally can fit in a phone booth. I don’t think it’s helpful. When the (Arizona) party chair comes out in a primary and tells everybody what a jerk I am and what a RINO I am, and to vote for my competitor in this election, and that’s the chair? We’re supposed to be neutral in the primaries, and then you jump behind your candidate in the general! But it’s just on its head here. Trump lies and claims that I told him that our election was bogus, and that he was really the president. I mean, the guy is trying to undermine a basic institution of our governability, that is our ability to vote and have trust in it. And it’s terrible. It’s terrible, and I think it affects the party. I’ve talked to many people who say, “We were Republicans, but we’re out of there now. We don’t want any part of it.” And it’s sad. It’s sad.
DN: I wanted to ask you about Mr. Trump. In your testimony, you said that his efforts to overturn the election were “illegal” and the effects were “horrendous.” You spoke about some of his supporters harassing you and your family, and just recently, Trump called you a RINO and endorsed your challenger. But you also recently said that if Trump is the GOP nominee in 2024, you will support him. Why is that?
RB: That’s a false choice. Why would we focus on that? And I’m not gonna let you box me. I am a conservative. I have a heart that wants to help people in need and feel that we should do that. I want a candidate who has character, who wants to help other people and still maintain their principles, and who is an upright individual. After Trump’s childlike behavior in the first debate (in 2020), many Arizona women wouldn’t vote for him, and he lost the election. That election wasn’t stolen. He lost it. And they went, they voted in Arizona, 60,000ish of those women, 18 to 40, with small children. They just said, “We just can’t do it.” So they voted down-ballot Republican, but they didn’t vote for him. Or some of them even voted for Biden.
I don’t want the choice of having to look at (Trump) again. And if it comes, I’ll be hard pressed. I don’t know what I’ll do. But I’m not inclined to support him. Because he doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the morals and the platform of my party. And I just see it more and more all the time. That guy is just — he’s his own party. It’s a party of intimidation and I don’t like it. So I’m not going to be boxed by, “Who am I gonna vote for?” Because that’s between me and God. But I’m not happy with him. And I’m not happy with the thought that a robust primary can’t produce somebody better than Trump, for crying out loud.
DN: OK. The Associated Press reported that you plan to vote for Trump. Was that a false report?
RB: It’s not a false report. I know Bob Christie. He’s my AP guy. And I did say it. But it’s just that you get used to, as a defensive mechanism, when people say, “Who are you gonna vote for,” you usually say, “Well, you know, whoever the nominee is for my party,” rather than saying, “I’m voting for X, Y or Z.” I don’t like to be boxed. And so as kind of a sad evasion, I just said that. And it gets me out of a discussion and into a hotter fire. So I’d say it wasn’t a false report. He did quote me, and I’ve talked to him since. I give grace to people, Mr. Benson. If somebody gets in a fight with me, I’ll give them grace. We’ll say we’re sorry to each other. We’ll try to be amicable. So that’s my nature, is to extend some grace and not be hard in judgment against everybody or anybody. But I feel like people are being pinned both ways. I will be supporting somebody in the primary other than Mr. Trump. But it will be a Republican.
DN: Thank you for clarifying that. I wanted to ask about your faith as well. You mentioned your faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several times in your testimony. Did you intend to speak much about your belief in God and how that influenced your decisions? Or is that something that just came naturally?
RB: Well, I didn’t pre-plan anything except the written part that they specifically asked me to read. They asked the question, “Why do you feel so intensely defensive of the Constitution?” So that’s why, because I believe it is divinely inspired and the principles in it are divine. So that’s kind of where they came from. It’s how I believe, how I feel. I’ve believed that since I was a child.
“I will be supporting somebody in the primary other than Mr. Trump. But it will be a Republican.” — Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
DN: The Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith supposedly said that at some future day, the Constitution of the United States would “hang by a thread,” and Latter-day Saints would be involved in helping to save it. Do you think you fulfilled prophecy to any degree?
RB: I have thought about that statement about the Constitution hundreds, if not more, times in my life, especially my political life, wondering what the condition of the country would be at and when that would have to happen, and hopefully that we could stand up and defend it, and didn’t know how. And to have that corollary or that parallel come out of the testimony is at least extremely humbling. I hope it’s not me, but if it is in any way me, I hope I don’t fail in achieving that goal.
DN: The last thing I wanted to ask you about is the impact this has had in Arizona. What has been the response from your constituents in Arizona, especially Republicans?
RB: I’ve had hundreds of letters and hundreds of emails from all over the world. It is funny. They compliment me, and then when they read the other part from the AP that I might vote for Trump again, we’ve had some pretty vile responses. You know, if they just give me a chance, instead of automatically putting me in the box. Just now, I paid for the placing of my daughter’s headstone at the cemetery. I don’t know the lady who waited on me, who took my credit card. I didn’t introduce myself. I just said Kasey’s name, and they looked it up and gave me the price. And as she handed me the receipt, she says, “I just wanted you to know that I really was impressed and agree with what you said.” And I think, what did I say? I just said I had a Mastercard. She said, “No, aren’t you the man that testified in Congress?” And I said yes. And she said that she was very thankful, that I showed a lot of bravery in saying that.
I’m grateful that in some way it affected them for good, and I hope if that’s all I ever did, that I would affect somebody for good. If they would want to be a little better or a little more careful of our government and our responsibilities, then that would be enough.