Trump-supporting Arizona politicians push election lies at Florence rally

Ray Stern
Arizona Republic

Many of the thousands of supporters who attended a rally for the former president in Florence seemed to respond enthusiastically to words of faith by the speakers onstage.

But the belief that dominated the rally Saturday was the false idea that the 2020 election was marred by fraud and that Donald Trump should be president, not Joe Biden.

The belief remains in spite of a year of intense scrutiny of the election. Lawsuits claiming Trump won were rejected by federal judges for lack of evidence, and a controversial ballot recount ordered by the Arizona Senate did not ultimately find fraud.

Politicians at local, state and national levels who warmed up the large crowd before Trump took the stage about 7:20 p.m. focused heavily on the concept of fraud, with lawmakers vowing to pass bills this year that would restore confidence in elections to the public.

Kari Lake, a former TV anchor who's running for governor, began her speech with the theme of some of the other speakers, praising America under Trump and listing its problems under Biden. As did others, she called Trump “president” and slammed the 2020 election as “rotten to the core.”

She vowed to “close every single loophole that allows them to cheat,” although she didn’t offer details.

"We are so blessed to have Donald Trump with us here today. We know the election was stolen,” state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, said when she took the stage, echoing the sentiments of other speakers and crowd members, who cheered her in response.

Many of the people attending wore colorful clothing or even costumes — at least one person was dressed as Uncle Sam — as they walked around in the festival atmosphere at the Country Thunder concert grounds before Trump spoke.

Many wore shirts supporting Trump or candidates for Arizona office such as Lake or Jim Lamon, a candidate for U.S. Senate, both avid election deniers. A die-hard belief in the falsehood that Trump actually won the 2020 election was a unifying theme for many. 

Tamera Rayl of Tucson, who was hanging out on a blanket with family members, said she believes Biden won through fraud and hopes Arizona lawmakers “get rid of the machines” used in elections and go back to paper ballots that would be hand-counted.

She thinks like-minded Republicans will still be “mad enough” over 2020 election results to show up at the polls this year despite beliefs that the election system is broken.

Jorge Rivas, who attended the rally with his wife, Betty, claims "there's no question" that Trump lost due to fraud. He said he has friends who work at a post office who maintain that their co-workers sabotaged or got rid of ballots for Trump.

Rivas owns the Tucson-area restaurant Sammy's Mexican Grill, and gained fame — and drew criticism from some — in 2020 for supporting Trump. He briefly entertained a run for governor but now said he's running for state representative in the new District 17 in southern Arizona.

Like-minded Trump supporters in the Legislature included speakers at Saturday's rally such as Rogers, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and former representative Anthony Kern, who's running for the state Senate.

They are among 30 current and former Arizona lawmakers who signed a resolution in December 2020 asking for the 2020 election to be handed to Trump or for the election certification to be delayed.

“They attacked Donald Trump because he exposed them and their evil deeds,” said Finchem, who's running for Arizona secretary of state, a position that oversees state elections.

Kern who, like Finchem, was in Washington near the U.S. Capitol as the Jan. 6, 2021, riot unfolded, began yelling at Saturday's rally, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as the former president’s helicopter descended to the concert grounds about 5:30 p.m. “Welcome to Arizona, Mr. President!” 

On Dec. 14, 2020, Kern and 10 other Arizonans, including state GOP Chair Kelli Ward and Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, signed a document that was sent to Congress with a false avowal that they constituted Arizona’s official vote in the Electoral College

All 11 people were listed on the general election ballot as the would-be electors for Trump. 

But Trump had lost Arizona. Gov. Doug Ducey had certified the election results in late November. By state statute, the only electors who mattered were those pledged to cast their votes for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as they did Dec. 14, 2020, at noon.

The document the Republicans signed, obtained from the National Archives last year by the group American Oversight, overlooked that detail. 

It described the “undersigned” as the “duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of Arizona …”

Referring to complaints that he and those electors should be criminally charged, Kern said the “real criminals are the ones who stole the election.” 

State lawmakers Borrelli and Townsend told the crowd to stay committed to the election denial conspiracy, as they would. 

Borrelli pushed back on the fact that the belief in widespread election fraud that stole the presidency from Trump in 2020 was a “conspiracy theory.” He said there was indeed a conspiracy, but he claims "it’s not a theory.”

He said the problem was “obstructionists” who oversee elections at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office and in Maricopa County. 

Borrelli said that many of his peers in the Arizona House and Senate were behind him and other election deniers and that they were going to “tighten up the loopholes that these commie (expletive) have exploited.” 

The crowd cheered as Borrelli claimed that the “shamestream media” were hiding facts like “ghost voters” he said were found to have voted in Pima County in 2020. Pima County election officials deny there were any widespread problems with the election.

Maricopa County officials also have debunked alleged voting irregularities found by the Senate's audit

Townsend has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission related to a possible run in Arizona's new 6th Congressional District. She asked how many in the crowd had volunteered for the 2020 election or the Senate-led audit. Dozens or more raised their hands.

She reminded them that state Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating findings from the Senate-led audit and led people in a chant:

“What do we want? Indictments! When do we want them? Now!” 

She referred to unnamed enemies who are “constantly scheming” to steal elections.

“We want indictments of the election workers so that they don’t continue to do this,” she said.

Townsend, chair of the Senate Government Committee, will review the many election-related bills being submitted by Republicans this year.

As of Friday, more than 28 such bills had been submitted that propose changes like removing mail-in voting from school elections, banning drive-through voting, and having ballots printed on special paper that contains security features.

Arizona Republican U.S. Reps. Debbie Lesko, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, the latter two national leaders in the spread of falsehoods over the 2020 election, also spoke at the rally, telling the crowd to be sure to get out and vote this year and in 2024.

“Can you feel the storm building?” Gosar asked. 

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.