The nasty atmosphere at the Arizona Capitol

In this July 24 photo, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, addresses a crowd of Donald Trump supporters who drown out her speech with boos and catcalls. Ugenti-Rita, one of the few Republicans to publicly criticize the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election, disclosed September 10 that someone made a death threat against her and her family. /PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Even though threats of harm, inflammatory messages and acts of intimidation can be part of heated public policy debates, colleagues of Senate president Karen Fann on both sides of the aisle agree that the atmosphere today is more toxic than it used to be. 

And Fann’s and Ugenti-Rita’s responses exemplify the different approaches lawmakers take to working in such an environment as reported by Nathan Brown and Kyra Haas, Arizona Capitol Times.  

Fann said she typically does not publicly discuss threatening messages to herself or to other legislators because she feels that brings more attention to the negativity and generates more angry emails. 

“The reason I had to put the presser out was because I had a member who got one and pretty well demanded that I should put something out to say it was not acceptable,” Fann said. “And I said, ‘Fine, I’ll be glad to do it; it’s not acceptable,’ but, you know, personally I think the more you raise attention to it, the more you just feed into it. That’s all.” 

Ugenti-Rita said that on September 9 she got a deluge of volatile emails accusing her of delaying the audit, but one email with bad grammar and spelling told her to “give the American people the audit report or we’re coming for you.”  

The writer, an audit supporter who called himself “Matt Boster,” addressed the senator with an ethnic slur and a swear word and said he knows where the senator and her family live and where she shops for groceries. 

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, told Cap Times that while he isn’t sure if there are more threats to elected officials than there used to be, there is a lot more “general nastiness.” He said this worries him because it could discourage good people from running for office. He blames the last two presidential elections, and how the losers responded to them, for the poisonous climate. 

A slew of the threats this year have come from people who apparently believe the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. After Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, joined Democrats in voting against holding Maricopa County supervisors in contempt in February for refusing to turn over documents the Senate wanted as part of its review of the election results, he was deluged with harassing and threatening phone calls and emails. He got police protection and temporarily left his home. 

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said general tone of the emails has her worried something bad will happen. 

“This is something deeper, part of a bigger sentiment that is brewing,” she said. 

said emails like the one Ugenti-Rita reported to police have gotten much more common. 

“Over the years politics has gotten so much uglier and the nature of emails that we get is ridiculous,” said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios. “There are occasions where we refer phone calls or emails over to DPS.[Dept. of Public Service]” 

Fann said she’s “absolutely” noticed a significant uptick in nasty and threatening emails this year that include “every four or five letter word you can think of.” 

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and her staff have similarly been harassed and threatened, and Hobbs has also requested police protection at times. She has referred to this regularly in making her case for why she should be elected governor. 

Protesters who wanted to overturn the election results have shown up at the homes of Hobbs and of House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Shope had protesters show up at his home in May, angry at his opposition to a bill that would have banned private businesses from asking for proof of vaccination. Shope said there used to be an understanding that people’s homes were off-limits. 

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September 2021