I know Rusty Bowers. Republicans were wrong to censure him
By testifying at the Jan. 6 committee hearings, Arizona’s Speaker of the House gave us a lesson in being less brash, and a bit more Burkean
In the early 1990s I was the newly minted executive director of the Goldwater Institute, a free market think tank in Arizona. Armed with research reports and draft op-eds, I was ready to transform welfare, education and tax policy in Arizona by educating members of the state Legislature. I was full of spit and vinegar — and no small amount of inexperience and naivete.
It was there that I first met Rep. Rusty Bowers, who was many things I was not.
Like me, Bowers would have described himself as a Milton Friedman conservative. One who believes in limited government and free markets. But unlike my young self, Bowers was also a conservative in the mold of Edmund Burke — marked by someone who is steady, measured and prudent.
Over the ensuing 30 years, I’ve watched Bowers as he moved back and forth between the Arizona House and Senate, in and out of leadership positions and back and forth between elected office and the private sector. His titles and responsibilities have changed, but Bowers — steady, measured and prudent — has not.
It was that Edmund Burkean conservatism that we all saw on full display when Rusty Bowers, now Arizona’s Speaker of the House, traveled to Washington to deliver compelling testimony about the pressure he received from the president of the United States to affirm that the president had won the 2020 election — an election that Bowers knew that the president had lost.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Bowers said that he intended to wear a red tie to the congressional hearing, but he swapped it out for a blue one. He didn’t want to be too bold.
His journal entry from December 2020 convey the same measured tone:
“I may, in the eyes of men, not hold correct opinions or act according to their vision or convictions, but I do not take this current situation in a light manner, a fearful manner or a vengeful manner. I do not want to win by cheating.”
Of course, not everyone is enamored with the Burkean model of conservatism. The reaction to Bowers’ Washington testimony by Arizona’s Republican Party has been swift and harsh. Just days after his testimony, the Republican Party of Arizona formally censured its own Speaker of the House, labeling him “No longer a Republican in good standing.” Last week at a political rally in Arizona, the former president piled on by calling Bowers a “RINO coward.”
Nobody likes to be censured, or called out by a former president. But my guess is that Bowers may have been expecting it. It kinda comes with the territory lately.
In January of last year, the Arizona Republican Party censured its Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. A few years prior, the Arizona Republican Party censured Republican Sen. John McCain for being “disastrous and harmful” to the state and nation. Censuring one McCain wasn’t enough, it appears. Despite never having held elected office, Cindy McCain was formally censured by the Arizona Republican Party in January 2021.
I remember the facts well because I was censured alongside them.
Arizona’s Republican Party may be one of the more censure-happy state parties out there, but it is not alone. Wyoming’s Republican Party censured its only representative in the U.S. House, Liz Cheney. Like Bowers, Cheney supported the former president in the 2020 election, but refused to deny the will of the voters who supported the other candidate. Utah’s Republican Party briefly flirted with censuring Republican Sen. Mitt Romney before wisely deciding to leave such a verdict to the voters.
It should be noted that while its examples are more egregious, the Republican Party isn’t alone in lacking the Burkean virtues of moderation and restraint. A sitting Democratic senator, who personally supports Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s reelection bid in November, recently told Politico that he can’t make a formal endorsement because his party would expel him for doing so.
Years ago, comedian Dana Carvey made us all laugh with his mocking portrayal of George H.W. Bush saying, with head shaking: “Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”
Would that we had more politicians with similar restraint today. Burke once said “Prudence is not only the first in rank of the virtues political and moral, but she is the director, the regulator, the standard of them all.”
Whatever our level of political involvement — whether we hold elected office, support or critique those who do, or simply exercise our own franchise when election day rolls around, I think it would behoove us all to be a little less brash and a little more Burkean.
As for Bowers, whether he is in elected office next year or back full time in his art studio, there’s no doubt he’ll continue to be steady, measured and, above all, prudent.
Jeff Flake is the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and a former U.S. senator representing Arizona. He is the author of The New York Times bestseller, “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.”