Exclusive: State Senator Juan Mendez plagiarized candidate questionnaire

PHOENIX — State Senator Juan Mendez plagiarized significant portions of a candidate questionnaire that he filled out while running for his current position in the state legislature’s upper chamber, according to new research being shared by Arizona Democrats Exposed.

Mendez, a Democrat, who was then serving as a state representative for Arizona’s 26th legislative district, submitted answers to a candidate questionnaire sent to him by the Arizona Republic in 2016. The questionnaire was intended to help residents across the state “vote with confidence,” as the newspaper’s editorial board wrote ahead of the election.

However, further review of Mendez’s submission has found that a significant portion of the document was plagiarized from other sources — ranging from President Obama to the Arizona Department of Water Resources and various media outlets — while being presented as his own words.

The plagiarism, which has not been previously reported, includes large blocks of text copied and pasted from third-party other sources, often stolen word-for-word and occasionally reorganized to give the appearance of originality.

For example, in response to a question about whether the state of Arizona should legalize marijuana, Mendez answered that the “war on drugs” had not been successful in ending “the popularity or use of cannabis.”

“Nor, after decades of common use, has cannabis been proved to be the evil weed of ‘Reefer Madness,’” he wrote. “We would all be better off had we dedicated our resources to education and treatment rather than, through prohibition, to empowering criminals and cartels, not to mention ruining our youth’s lives, systematically creating second class citizens with results that put Jim Crow Laws to shame.”

That paragraph was copied almost verbatim from a column published by Kathleen Parker, a writer at the Washington Post, two years earlier.

“Nor, after decades of common use, has it been proved to be the evil weed of ‘Reefer Madness,’” that Washington Post columnist wrote in 2014. “How much better to have dedicated our resources to education and treatment rather than, through prohibition, to empowering criminals and cartels, not to mention ruining young lives with ‘criminal’ records.”

The differences between the questionnaire submission and the column are negligible, with Mendez comparing the “war on drugs” to Jim Crow laws, something that Parker, the columnist, did not do.

This excerpt of Mendez’s submission represents a broader pattern of the state representative plagiarizing large blocks of text while injecting handfuls of his own words and phrases as commentary.

In another example, the questionnaire asked the candidate whether Arizona needs additional regulations on abortions.

Mendez criticized the state for “requiring new HVAC systems” and “the requiring of widening hallways,” calling the rules “not only entirely unnecessary but also a flatout obstruction to basic health care.”

His answer closely echoes an article that had been published in the Austin Chronicle, an alternative weekly newspaper in Texas, citing the same requirements and characterizing an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) rule as having been “deemed not only ‘entirely unnecessary’ but an impediment to basic health care.”

Similar to the Washington Post example above, the only significant difference between the questionnaire submission and the previously-published news article is Mendez’s decision to subtly replace the Austin Chronicle’s description of the rule (“an impediment”) with his own colorful description (“a flatout obstruction”) in the middle of the sentence.

It is unclear if Mendez added his own commentary in order to customize the plagiarized paragraph to his liking, or to manipulate the original material just enough that his decision to copy-and-paste would not be detected by plagiarism-checking services.

In the same answer to the question about his stance on abortion, Mendez criticized Republicans’ actions on the issue and wrote that “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits does not justify these undue burdens on a woman’s right to choose.”

That, too, was copied almost verbatim from a U.S. Supreme Court decision in which Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: “. . . neither of these provisions confers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”

While Breyer wrote that the provisions do not “confer” benefits, Mendez wrote that the provisions do not “offer” them. The rest of the sentence is largely identical.

Mendez concluded his answer by saying that a “woman, not politicians, should make the informed decisions when it comes to her own pregnancy.” That text comes directly from the website of Planned Parenthood Action Fund — the political action committee affiliated with the eponymous women’s health organization — meaning Mendez plagiarized from three separate sources in response to a single question on the questionnaire.

Those examples are only two of the seven separate questions for which Mendez responded with plagiarized answers.

Regarding water policies in Arizona, the lawmaker stressed that “no single strategy can address projected water supply imbalances across the state,” adding that it’s important to “recognize the uniqueness of the regions throughout Arizona and their varying challenges.” This text was first published by the Arizona Department of Water Resources in 2014 as part of a “strategic vision” outlining the agency’s long-term sustainability plan. The strategic vision document refers to “the various regions throughout the State,” while Mendez’s answer removed the word “various” and replaced “the State” with “Arizona.”

The state representative’s answer on gun violence also was pulled from a speech that President Barack Obama delivered at the White House in April 2013. Here, Mendez took several quotations appearing in different spots during the president’s 13-minute Rose Garden speech and combined them to form one paragraph.

Similar portions of Mendez’s answers about empowerment scholarship accounts, income tax rates, and even his favorite place in Arizona were plagiarized from an Arizona Republic op-ed, an Arizona Capitol Times article, and the U.S. Forest Service, respectively.

Mendez was named the chair of the Arizona Legislative Latino Caucus for the 2016 legislative session and is running for reelection in 2018.

You can view the substantiating research at Arizona Democrats Exposed.

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