Andrew G. Bjelland and Gene Fitzgerald: For Rep. Rusty Bowers, an oath is an oath

Arizona House speaker remained true to his promise, and it blasted by Trump in return.

(Doug Mills | The New York Times) Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., shakes hands with Rusty Bowers, Arizona state House Speaker, during a break of the fourth hearing held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, in Washington on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. During the hearing, Bowers described his fear when a man bearing the mark of an extremist group appeared in his neighborhood with a gun.

The January 6 House Select Committee’s initial hearings have drawn to a close. Other testimony, far more shocking in detail than that of Arizona state Rep. Russell “Rusty” Bowers, should not detract from the special resonance of his witnessing — especially within what was formerly known as the “Mormon Corridor.”

As soon as Bowers expressed his belief that the United States Constitution is divinely inspired, for many in this region he set his credibility on firm foundations.

Bowers is not the person you would expect to be the House speaker within the Republican-dominated Arizona Legislature. His university degree is not in law, business or political science. His bachelor of arts degree from Brigham Young University is in fine arts. He is not a real-estate developer, lawyer, landlord or business owner. His occupation: artist.

Perhaps his artist’s soul partially accounted for Bowers’ effectiveness as a witness during the committee’s fourth hearing. No lawyerly hemming, hawing or parsing of meanings, just candid responses to Rep. Adam Schiff’s questions.

Bowers testified that President Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had for weeks pressured him to support allegations that massive voter fraud had occurred during Arizona’s 2020 presidential election. Giuliani on a number of occasions stated he could prove that thousands of illegal immigrants and dead people had voted in 2020.

Bowers repeatedly asked Giuliani to provide compelling evidence that the purported fraud had occurred. No such proof was forthcoming. After Joe Biden was certified as president, Giuliani met with Bowers in Phoenix and admitted: “We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.”

John Eastman, a professor of law and chief tactician of the attempted decertification of Biden’s election, strongly urged Bowers to remove Biden’s electors and replace them with Trump loyalists. When Bowers refused to do so, Eastman advised him to set aside his scruples, do as requested and let the courts settle the matter.

Whenever pressured by Giuliani or Eastman, Bowers steadfastly stated he could not “do something that is counter to my oath … I swore to [uphold both the U.S.] Constitution and…the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona.”

Bowers further noted: “it is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired … And so, for me [to be complicit in an unconstitutional act] is foreign to my very being … I will not do it.”

Bowers remained faithful to his pledge and to his God. He, unlike so many other GOP elected officials, proved worthy of the public trust invested in him.

The former president — the leader whom Bowers loyally supported throughout his presidency — accuses Bowers of lying and refers to him as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). For Trump, loyalty is infamously a one-way street.

Bowers remains subject to continuing vilification and threats. His response: “It is painful to have friends … turn on me with such rancor. In the eyes of men [I may] not hold correct opinions or act according to their vision or convictions, but … I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to. [I abide by] my deep foundational desire to follow God’s will … How else will I ever approach Him in the wilderness of life? [How can] I ask [for] guidance only to show myself a coward [by not] defending the course He led me to take?”

After Bowers’ damning testimony, two questions remain unanswered:
(1) Why, with the notable exceptions of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, do so many elected officials within the former Mormon Corridor still refuse to repeatedly and publicly reject Trump’s Big Lie?

(2) In light of his own testimony, is it at all reasonable for Bowers to state he would again support Trump’s elevation to the pinnacle of earthly power?

Andrew G. Bjelland

Andrew G. Bjelland, Ph.D., Salt Lake City, is professor emeritus, Seattle University Philosophy Department, where he also held the Pigott-McCone Chair in Humanities.

Gene Fitzgerald

Gene Fitzgerald, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of Russian, which he taught at the University of Utah from 1969 to 2008. Since retirement he has continued to teach in the U.’s honors program and in the Osher program.