Andy Biggs, under scrutiny after Jan. 6 riot, has long history on conservatism's fringes
Rep. Andy Biggs is often a man apart from the crowd, a far-right brawler often in the right place at the right time.
Sometimes, it’s because of luck. More often, it’s because the three-term Arizona Republican is content to go to battle where few others will, from attacking the mainstream medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic to spreading baseless conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden's ballot box victory on Nov. 3.
While Biggs has always been known in Arizona as a conservative, his unwavering loyalty to former President Donald Trump, his potentially dangerous counter-programming on coronavirus measures and other moments have introduced his thinking to a wider audience.
Biggs, 62, is by any measure among the most conservative members of Congress. His national stature as a political outlier only has grown in the stormy aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, when Biggs repeatedly raised doubts to undermine the process and sought to set aside millions of legitimate votes. He also is among a group of Republican lawmakers under scrutiny over their roles in the run-up to the Jan. 6 riot in which supporters of former President Donald Trump ransacked the U.S. Capitol and five people died.
Biggs, the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is sometimes viewed as a possibility for a U.S. Senate run next year that would test the appeal of his high-octane conservative message in a once-red state that is now considered purple.
Biggs' conservative bona fides are undeniable.
In a past political life at the Arizona Legislature, Biggs emerged as a major supporter of Senate Bill 1070, the state's controversial immigration-enforcement law, and as the main GOP opponent to Medicaid expansion. Biggs' Washington, D.C., allies include Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., two newcomers who have quickly become among the House's most polarizing members. And he is cheered by many of the same Arizona Republican Party activists who recently voted to censure Gov. Doug Ducey, Cindy McCain and former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Larry Sabato, the political scientist who directs the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Biggs hasn’t overshadowed other arch-conservatives on Capitol Hill, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Greene, but he has gotten everyone’s attention.
“Among Democrats, he’s a pariah, that’s for sure," Sabato said. "The more-mainstream Republicans in the House are becoming more and more aware of the Andy Biggses and the Marjorie Taylor Greenes. Not that he's as bad as she is, but, he's certainly embraced his share of conspiracy theories."
“Generally speaking, the Republicans in the House do not want to be defined by people like Biggs and Greene and Jordan,” Sabato said. “There's a discussion at high levels in the Republican Party about, to be blunt, whether it's worth trying to change the Republican Party because the current version is way too far to the right, and the country is changing.”
A few months after Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and a string of other Democratic triumphs, Biggs has said he believes his state, if not the country as a whole, is poised to snap back to a more conservative agenda.
If it seems an unlikely bet, well, Biggs has beaten the odds more than once as he has risen through the political ranks.
Biggs, who is increasingly a presence nationally on Fox News and other conservative media, declined The Arizona Republic's request for an interview.
Tom Freestone, a former Maricopa County supervisor, state legislator and longtime politician from suburbs southeast of Phoenix, said Biggs retains a strong hold on Republicans in the Mesa-based 5th Congressional District.
“Andy Biggs is in a solid district for him,” Freestone said. “He’s very strong in the Republican Party with conservatives. They really like him. Liberals don’t like him at all, but they’re outnumbered.”
Many members of Congress, and those around them, have visions of a Senate run, he said. But mounting such a race will require heavy fundraising and a mistake from either Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema that neither has made to this point, Freestone said.
“I think Andy Biggs plays his cards close to his vest,” he said.
Tyler Montague, an East Valley Republican consultant who was on the losing end of Biggs’ 2016 GOP primary victory, sees Biggs as drifting to the fringe of his party, limiting his political appeal in a state that has shifted more to the political middle.
“He’s kind of sabotaged his ability to win a statewide general election,” Montague said. “He’s so used to playing far-right, red-meat politics that he doesn’t know how to appeal across the spectrum, and he’s done nothing but pour gas on that fire in this last year.
“He’s always been far right, but he’s always had a certain dignity about him and a decorum. He’s been on the thoughtful side. There was an intellectual heft to what he was doing, but I think he’s lost that. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get primaried.”
Growing up in Tucson, getting political
It would mean another political battle for a man who’s been fighting them since childhood.
Biggs, a Tucson native, was the third of five children.
In his self-published “The Con of the Con-Con,” Biggs argues against a constitutional convention, comparing a desire to fix problems in government through such a process to overhauling an engine to fix a flat tire. In the book, Biggs said his family was targeted by liberals in Tucson when he was growing up.
“When my mother wrote letters to the editor expressing conservative values, our home was egged and my car was vandalized,” he wrote, according to Phoenix New Times. “I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable for being conservative.”
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Biggs got a degree in Asian studies from Brigham Young University and served on a two-year church mission in Japan, where he became fluent in the language.
He earned a law degree from the University of Arizona and considered blending his education with his experience on his mission.
“When I was in law school I thought I would become an international lawyer,” Biggs said in a 2013 interview with Western Growers Magazine. Instead, he and his wife and family settled in Hobbs, N.M., an oil town near the Texas border.
“The people in Hobbs were fantastic but, as they say, if you are in the center of everything, you are in the middle of nowhere,” he told the magazine.
Biggs returned to Arizona, working briefly as a prosecutor in Phoenix before becoming a low-profile attorney in Gilbert in the early 1990s.
He gained passing mention for representing the mother of a boy suspended 18 weeks by the Gilbert Unified School District for handling a BB gun at school. Biggs argued the punishment was too severe, and the gun was broken anyway. It's unclear how the matter was resolved.
Sweepstakes win brought an instant fortune
In 1993, Biggs’ life changed dramatically when he won the $10 million American Family Sweepstakes.
In a promotional ad ahead of the 1994 contest, a young Biggs with large glasses told the company’s celebrity pitchmen, Ed McMahon and Dick Clark, he was glad he entered.
“You bet. It’s unbelievable,” he said in the commercial.
In a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, Biggs, who was running for the Arizona House of Representatives at the time, said the winnings brought him more than money.
“It’s taught me a lot about human nature and the dark side of people,” he said at the dawn of his political career. “I don’t want to reopen those days when people would call and just start cussing and swearing at me because I won and they didn’t.”
“I don’t think anybody can go through that and not be impacted,” he said of it in 2016. “I know how to stay grounded.”
After winning his fortune, Biggs worked as a policy adviser with United Families International, a Gilbert-based nonprofit that opposes pornography and same-sex marriage while promoting abstinence-only education as part of what it sees as a pro-family agenda.
In 2006, UFI spent $50,000 in an effort to pass Proposition 107, which would have banned same-sex marriage in Arizona. That measure narrowly failed, though a more-limited ban passed two years later.
In 2012, when Biggs’ wife, Cindy, was UFI’s secretary and treasurer, the Southern Poverty Law Center named the organization an “anti-LGBT hate group,” a designation it still has.
In marrying Cindy Whitlock, Biggs joined a family of political activists.
His wife’s mother, Shirley Whitlock, was a prominent conservative voice on social issues for decades.
Whitlock was the president of the Arizona Eagle Forum, an offshoot of Phyllis Schlafly’s national organization that opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. In the 1980s, Whitlock spoke against pornography, sex education in public schools and sought to uphold a criminal ban on unmarried couples living together.
In 1980, both Shirley and Cindy Whitlock signed onto an ad in The Republic urging the election of Republican Tom Collins as Maricopa County attorney because he made combating pornography a centerpiece of his campaign.
It was an anti-smut effort financed in part by Charles Keating Jr., the developer, financier and, later, the namesake of the future political scandal dubbed the “Keating Five.”
Shirley Whitlock sought to have the Mormon Church take action against former Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson, whom she accused of aligning with “atheists, homosexuals, liberals who oppose traditional values and constitutional law.”
Political career starts at state Capitol
Andy Biggs turned his attention to Arizona politics in 2002 when he was elected to the state House of Representatives.
He acknowledged during that campaign that his prize-winnings contributed to his entry into the low-rent life of an Arizona legislator.
“I can't say it (the $10 million) is my reason for running for office,” he said. “But it does make it easier in that I don't have to answer, ‘How can you live on $24,000 a year?’”
In the state House, Biggs was a staunch supporter of school choice, border security and restrictions on abortion rights.
He opposed expanded government responsibilities, including the program that provided health insurance for the poor and for children in low-income families.
To his critics, Biggs was also self-serving.
In 2006, he authored a law that at that time required only the town of Gilbert to provide fire services to adjacent, unincorporated areas of Maricopa County. It happened to include where Biggs lived.
A county judge later overturned the law.
Biggs wrote two self-published books while in the Legislature and in 2010 started the American Founders Library, a nonprofit intended to disseminate scholarly information about the founding of America. It aspired to construct a replica of Independence Hall as a museum.
Tax records show the nonprofit has been dormant for years, according to nonprofit records tracked by ProPublica.
A leader at the Arizona Legislature
In his eight terms in the Arizona Legislature, Biggs scored policy victories, led principled losses and trampled toes in the process.
He was a vocal supporter of Arizona’s controversial immigration-enforcement law, Senate Bill 1070, and its architect, then-Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.
In the elections that year, voters sent Biggs to the state Senate.
Biggs and his GOP colleagues made Pearce the Senate’s president. Less than a year later, however, voters recalled Pearce and removed him from office.
Former state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, replaced Pearce in leading the chamber, but not for long. Biggs was in the right position to oust Pierce in the party’s leadership vote after the 2012 elections.
Pierce said Biggs employed both carrots and sticks to get his way.
“That’s the way politics works, but you don’t have to bully people and treat them like dirt,” Pierce said in a 2016 interview.
In 2011, Biggs pushed to have Arizona end its Medicaid program, a move that even fellow Republicans saw as too drastic.
Biggs’ hard-right views put him on the edge of what was politically possible in the right-leaning Arizona Legislature. Even so, he suffered a stinging defeat his first year heading the chamber.
Gov. Jan Brewer angered many conservatives when she urged the state to expand Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Biggs blocked the effort for months, but as the Legislature took up the state’s final budget, five Senate Republicans — including Pierce — joined with Democrats to approve the expansion. It allowed Arizona to tap federal funding to provide coverage to another 350,000 residents and stabilize support for rural hospitals.
“This is not about expanding health care because it’s some kind of altruistic program. It’s about expanding health care to get federal money,” Biggs argued in vain. “The money will unfairly burden our children and our grandchildren.”
It was a bitter loss for Biggs, who recalled the moment in a vengeful voice when arguing on the Senate floor in 2015 for an austere budget plan unpopular with a handful of GOP moderates but one that he said set the state on firmer financial footing.
That time, Biggs got his way.
First Congress run a nail-biter
In February 2016, Biggs seemed to get the political upper hand again when Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., announced he was ending his second stint in Congress and recommended Biggs as his replacement.
It was a critical boost in a race that would become a six-month sprint to the Republican primary. In a district that leans decidedly to the right, the winner of the GOP primary was all but assured a seat in Washington. The district runs from the northern Loop 202 down to Chandler Heights and from Sun Lakes to the eastern edge of Mesa.
"President Trump defeated Joe Biden by 14 points (in the 5th district). That's a pretty clear indication of the type of politics that a majority of the voters in that district want," said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Inside Politics, which analyzes congressional races.
It's too soon to know how that area, which once elected Salmon and Flake will look when the congressional lines are redrawn later this year, but the GOP has been changing in Arizona for a while, Gonzales said.
"You have Arizona as a state moving more Democratic and you have the Republican Party moving more toward Trump," he said. "It's hard to judge Biggs by the former members (representing that area) when the Republican Party has changed."
Biggs, the state Senate president and handpicked successor to the incumbent, won a four-way primary in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.
On the day of the primary election, Christine Jones, a former GoDaddy executive, led Biggs by nearly 900 votes. Two days later, as the county continued counting ballots, Biggs cut that margin to less than 600.
By the third day, Jones' lead melted to 37 after the county announced the results of a batch of 7,500 additional early ballots dropped off on election day.
At 2 a.m. Saturday, Maricopa County officials ended their tally: Biggs led by nine votes.
The matter went to court, where a handful of ballots deemed improperly excluded were added for consideration. After a recount, Biggs formally won the race by 16 votes.
Nearly 600 other ballots in the contest were never counted because the county’s voting machines detected what they considered marks for multiple candidates. Jones conceded without inspecting the disqualified ballots and vowed to push for improved election integrity.
"I'm a conservative. There's a lot of things on which we agree. The need for election integrity, he and I agree wholeheartedly on that," Jones recently told The Republic. "He and I disagree on the way to make the best policy. ... Having watched him in Congress, his ideology comes first, and that makes him not as effective a legislator."
Biggs’ career at the Arizona Legislature ended a few months earlier with another ideological defeat. After months of holding back a vote to renew the state’s federally funded health insurance program for 30,000 children of the poor, Biggs allowed the matter to come to a vote.
At the time, Arizona was the only state in the nation that didn’t offer such a program because of budget cutbacks six years earlier. With Democratic support and a few Republican defectors, the measure passed 16-12.
Biggs called it “an interesting bookend” to his career heading the chamber.
Biggs a Trump ally during impeachment drama
He arrived in Washington with Republicans holding their firmest grip on the House and Senate under a GOP president since the 1920s. Biggs joined the House Freedom Caucus, arguably the chamber’s most conservative bloc.
“I know where I am. I know what my belief system is. It’s good to have others who share that belief system,” Biggs said in an interview with C-SPAN at the time. “I know how to get things done and work with anybody who’s going to help me get the stuff done that I believe is important to the nation and to my district.”
Even so, his first term was perhaps most notable for what didn’t get done.
In May 2017, Biggs was one of only 20 House Republicans who voted with Democrats against a GOP-led bill that would have overhauled the Affordable Care Act. He justified it by saying “it is not a clean repeal of Obamacare.”
The House bill narrowly passed, but Republican efforts to undo the ACA ended two months later amid a flurry of changes in the Senate when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gave the rushed process a dramatic thumbs-down.
In Biggs’ second term in Washington, Democrats took control of the House and began pressing the Trump administration with a series of investigations.
From his perch on the House Judiciary Committee, Biggs was an early and forceful voice questioning the origins of the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. When that 22-month probe resulted in nearly three dozen indictments, eight guilty pleas and a jury conviction but left Trump largely unscathed, Biggs declared it a victory for the president.
In 2019, Trump tapped Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the Freedom Caucus chair, to be his chief of staff. In turn, Biggs’ conservative colleagues named him to head their group.
He stepped into that role just as House Democrats began the first impeachment inquiry into Trump over his dealings with Ukraine. Biggs used his new platform and his seat on the Judiciary Committee to again aggressively defend the president and assail the left’s agenda more broadly.
Biggs was among the Freedom Caucus members who stormed a secure room in the Capitol where a witness was to be interviewed behind closed doors. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to censure Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who was leading the inquiry in the House.
Biggs said Schiff misconstrued Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president and had concealed his dealings with the whistleblower who sparked the probe.
It was the kind of aggressive pushback that has raised Biggs' profile in Washington.
Biggs fights masks, lockdowns, touts hydroxychloroquine
Trump’s first impeachment ended with all but one Senate Republican voting to acquit him at the outset of his reelection campaign. The celebration for conservatives such as Biggs was short-lived.
Within weeks, the spread of coronavirus mushroomed into a global pandemic that brought the booming U.S. economy to a sudden halt.
Throughout the year, Trump delivered overly optimistic, factually false appraisals of the deadly disease.
As he did, Biggs was a consistent voice calling to reopen the economy, questioning the authority for mask mandates and touting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment despite scientific evidence it was potentially dangerous.
His social-media messages encouraged people to "fight the medical establishment" and "unmask." He called for the White House Coronavirus Task Force to be shut down and slammed its best-known members, Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.
Medical experts publicly rebuked Biggs, who was a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee until January.
"If you're sick, you don't go to a politician to get taken care of. You go to a physician," Dr. Ross Goldberg, president of the Arizona Medical Association, told The Republic in July. "So why, with all this going on, are we asking the politicians what they think?"
Biggs voted against several Democratic-led virus relief bills that passed last year, calling them "larded-up" and saying they would "bankrupt our grandchildren's future."
The politically-tinged pandemic gave way to the November election in which Biggs again sided with Trump, baselessly suggesting fraud in results affirmed by courts and security experts.
In the extended period when ballots were counted in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Biggs took to conservative media to cast doubt on the process.
“Well, you're talking about fraud, pure and simple. We're talking about Pennsylvania is an utter disaster, and really your immediate remedy is to basically nullify Pennsylvania's election," Biggs said in a Nov. 10 appearance on “The Charlie Kirk Show.”
In December, Biggs, along with more than 100 other GOP colleagues, signed onto a legal brief supporting a lawsuit brought by the attorney general of Texas asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the election results in four states.
The high court quickly dismissed the case.
Days later, Biggs taped a message for Trump supporters at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Phoenix.
Ali Alexander, the man who claimed credit for organizing the event, played the message on his cell phone.
Later, Alexander taped a video message in which he identified Biggs as one of three House Republicans who played key roles in organizing the rally to be held in Washington on Jan. 6. "We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress, while they were voting so that who we couldn’t lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body hearing our loud war from outside," Alexander said in the video.
On that day, Biggs was among the first House Republicans to argue to set aside Arizona’s election results. He said judges had altered the state’s voter-registration period, part of a pattern of removing control from the Legislature, which, he said, had the constitutional authority to choose the state’s presidential electors.
The legalistic argument soon was overshadowed by the pro-Trump mob that broke into the Capitol in a rampage that killed five people, including a police officer, and injured at least 140 other officers.
Biggs sought to distance himself from Alexander, saying he never met the man and only provided remarks to the Phoenix rally at the request of aides to Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who was an enthusiastic supporter of the effort. Gosar was one of the other two U.S. House lawmakers named by Alexander in the video.
Even before the violence, Biggs shifted his rhetoric from claiming fraud to insisting on upholding election integrity. It is a distinction lost on his critics, who view him as helping incite the riot by fueling the sense of grievance over the election.
In the end, Biggs voted to set aside the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Violent rhetoric isn't condemned
While Biggs sought to distinguish his own rhetoric from those around him, it was a reminder of another incident involving deadly rhetoric.
In 2015, Biggs shared his thoughts about a constitutional convention at a videotaped event in Tempe more remembered for the remarks of the co-founder of the extremist group the Oath Keepers.
Stewart Rhodes called McCain a traitor to the Constitution and said “he should be hung by the neck until dead.” Biggs didn’t immediately denounce the remark and told The Republic at the time that he didn’t feel it was his place to do so.
The Oath Keepers are among the groups facing federal investigation for their roles in the Jan. 6 riot. Others want the scrutiny to widen to include people like Biggs.
The left-leaning Campaign for Accountability has asked for ethics and criminal investigations of Biggs and Gosar, among others whose “words helped light the match.”
Arizona Democrats also sought a federal probe into potential acts of sedition by Arizona Republicans, including Biggs. His two brothers wrote a letter to The Arizona Republic calling for voters to oust him.
Seemingly unfazed, Biggs has brushed aside his critics and doubled down on the political agenda he has long touted.
He recently led another tour of the border for House Republicans, such as freshman Boebert of Colorado. Like her, Biggs has reportedly set off metal detectors at the Capitol and ignored closer police inspection. Like Biggs, Boebert has come under fire for her behavior before and on Jan. 6; critics have blasted her for tweeting information about the location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., while pro-Trump rioters were overrunning the Capitol.
When Congress was evacuated during the riot, Greene, another controversial freshman, stood next to Biggs refusing to wear a mask in a closed room with their colleagues.
Biggs stood with Greene when House Democrats voted to strip her of her committee assignments for an array of controversies, including comments she made online before running for office that were supportive of violence against Democrats.
And in a recent tweet, Biggs passed judgment on Biden’s entire presidency.
“When all is said and done, Joe Biden will be known as one of the worst presidents this nation has ever known.”
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
Subscribe to our free political podcast, The Gaggle.