Exclusive: State Senator Juan Mendez’s plagiarism went on for 5 years

PHOENIX — For five full years, if not longer, Democratic State Senator Juan Mendez repeatedly plagiarized his floor speeches, committee speeches, and online commentary in his capacity as an elected official, Arizona Democrats Exposed can now reveal for the first time.

Last Tuesday, this website reported that Mendez, while serving as a state representative for Arizona’s 26th legislative district, plagiarized a significant portion of a candidate questionnaire in 2016 while campaigning for his current position in the state senate. The candidate copied and pasted blocks of text from already-published sources, ranging from Planned Parenthood to media outlets across the state, and claimed them as his own words.

This website then reported on Thursday that Mendez additionally plagiarized several paragraphs of a committee speech that he delivered in opposition to Arizona’s “right to try” health care legislation. The Democratic lawmaker, whose district includes the academic institutions of Tempe, told his colleagues that he had “consulted experts” before arriving at his ‘no’ vote.

In reality, he did not. His speech, along with the name of the “expert” whom he allegedly consulted, was derived in part from a conspiracy theory website — which once implied that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax — and in part from an Internet post published by a Wikipedia user named “WhatamIdoing” in 2008.

Today, Arizona Democrats Exposed can reveal exclusively that Mendez’s plagiarism did not start during that committee hearing in 2014, nor did it end with his candidate questionnaire in 2016.

According to transcripts and videos of several years’ worth of committee hearings and speeches on the floor of the Arizona state legislature, Mendez repeatedly plagiarized already-published sources — claiming them as his own before colleagues — from at least early 2014 through 2018, the current legislative session.

In February 2014, Mendez attended a hearing of the House Reform and Human Services Committee regarding House Bill 2234.

“I would hate for staff to take responsibility for my typos and bad grammar,” Mendez told members of the committee in his opening line. “These are my explanations.”

What followed was praise from the state representative about the Medicaid expansion signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in 2013. He touted the “end to lifetime and yearly dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits” and said that it was “now illegal for health insurance companies to arbitrarily cancel your health insurance just because you get sick.”

Those words — along with others from his committee speech — were pulled without attribution from an archived page on the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid website promoting the Affordable Care Act. The website highlighted that the law “ends lifetime and yearly dollar limits on coverage of essential health benefits” and makes it “illegal for health insurance companies to arbitrarily cancel your health insurance just because you get sick.”

Mendez merely re-ordered the bullet points to give the speech the false appearance of originality.

That same month, this time on the House floor, Mendez spoke about his opposition to House Bill 2153.

“This bill allows individuals and businesses in our state to discriminate against people they do not agree with in the name of the religious freedom, resulting in increased vulnerabilities for non-believers, the LGBTQ community, and others on the targeted list of religionists,” Mendez said into the microphone.

A group called the Secular Coalition for Arizona published the same words — one year earlier. About a different bill.

The bill “expands the ability of individuals in our state to discriminate against people they don’t agree with in the name of religious belief–resulting in increased vulnerability for nonbelievers, the LGBT community, and others on the target list of religionists,” the website wrote in 2013.

Much like in the Democratic lawmaker’s candidate questionnaire and other speeches, Mendez subtly altered words and phrases, perhaps as a way of evading detection by plagiarism-checking services. In the example above, Mendez simply added the phrase “and businesses” after “individuals,” broke up the compound word “don’t” into “do not,” and turned the singular word “vulnerability” into the plural form.

About 180 words from this committee speech, in addition to the quotation above, were pulled nearly verbatim from the group’s website. Somewhere in the middle of those excerpts, Mendez added two sentences that do not appear on the website.

“This legislation will grant for-profit corporations with a powerful affirmative defense to not have to acknowledge any state law which the corporation deems religiously offensive,” the lawmaker said. “In an effort to allow economic power to dictate the free exercise of religion, Chik-fil-A and Hobby Lobby were just the most brazen before this law.”

However, while those two sentences don’t appear on the aforementioned website, they do appear in a letter written by the Anti-Defamation League weeks earlier. The letter criticized the legislation for providing companies “a powerful affirmative defense to the enforcement of any state law” (“enforcement,” compared to Mendez’s “acknowledgement”) and said that it could have the unintended consequence of “allowing economic power to dictate the free exercise of religion.”

Mendez merely tacked on his own commentary at the end of the sentence about Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby.

That same month, Mendez spoke at another committee hearing regarding House Bill 2367.

“Health care must be respected as a public good for all, financed publicly and equitably,” Mendez told members of the committee, adding that health care “must be accessible, available, acceptable, and of good quality for everyone on an equitable basis where and when needed.”

That, too, was published by a group called the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative in 2013, the year before this hearing took place. Mendez substituted “respected” in place of the group’s original word, “provided.” And not only did Mendez plagiarize the group’s website for his committee speech, he recycled the committee speech itself during the next legislative session, using it again — including the plagiarized portions — while reviewing a different bill one year later.

“Health care in Arizona must be respected as a public good for all, financed publicly and equitably,” Mendez repeated in 2015, adding that health care services “must be accessible, available, acceptable, and of good quality for everyone on an equitable basis where and when they need it, not just for five years.”

This time, Mendez made more minor alternations: He added the phrase “in Arizona” to the beginning of the sentence, changed “when needed” to “when they need it,” and tacked five words of his own commentary onto the end. The following 80 or so words also are recycled from that 2014 committee speech.

This wasn’t the only instance that Mendez plagiarized in 2015, either.

In March of that year, Mendez delivered a floor speech about Senate Bill 1047, which increased confidentiality protections for individuals who win the lottery.

“I will be supporting this bill, but I would like to come out and share with everybody that I believe lotteries are the single most insidious way that our state government raises money,” Mendez said on the Senate floor. “Many of the people who buy lottery tickets are not financially well-off, and the odds against winning a big jackpot are astronomically poor, far worse than the odds of a Vegas slot machine. All of this makes the get-rich-quick marketing by our government mean and offensive.”

Again, this text was plagiarized almost word-for-word from a column published by Joe Nocera, a writer at the New York Times, in 2012.

Nocera referred to “state governments,” while Mendez changed it to “our state government.” Nocera characterized the odds against winning the lottery as “astronomical,” while Mendez changed it “astronomically poor.” Nocera compared the odds to “an Atlantic City slot machine,” while Mendez changed it to “a Vegas slot machine.”

Mendez’s stolen paragraphs would not have been detected by most plagiarism-checking services because of his decision to intentionally manipulate portions of the text.

The behavior did not stop after the lawmaker plagiarized his candidate questionnaire in 2016.

In April 2017, as state legislators debated expanding school choice through Arizona’s empowerment scholarship account program, Mendez voiced his opposition to the legislation — ultimately signed by Governor Doug Ducey — on the Senate floor.

“ESAs allow students to re-arrange themselves within, across, and entirely outside districts in ways that courts would never have allowed a district to do so,” Mendez said.

An op-ed that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star two years earlier made a very similar criticism: Families are “re-arranging themselves within, across and entirely outside districts in ways that some government agency or the court never would have permitted of TUSD,” the original author wrote in August 2015.

In Mendez’s plagiarized version, the phrase “some government agency or the court” was condensed into “courts,” and the word “permitted” changed to “allowed.”

Other portions of his floor speech were stolen from a Web page published by the Children’s Action Alliance in 2016, an article written by reporters at the Arizona Republic, also in 2016, and an archived version of a blog post published on a website called Bringing Up Arizona in July 2015.

According to that July 2015 article, “When it comes to education, ‘white flight’ no longer requires a moving van.” Mendez echoed that: “[R]ight now with the ESAs it’s pretty easy see you don’t even need a moving van for our evolved version of white flight,” he quipped.

In his May 2017 floor speech regarding Senate Bill 1525, Mendez also appears to have copied an article published by the Arizona Sonora News Service in February 2016. That article was written by a student journalist who, at the time, attended the University of Arizona.

Mendez has worked as a substitute teacher on the side.

The plagiarism also was not contained to the state legislature. This website identified instances online in which Mendez plagiarized online commentary in his capacity as an elected official.

The state representative recycled his May 2014 committee speech — which itself was plagiarized from a conspiracy theory website, as detailed above — in a series of posts on Reddit. Mendez told users that he was “working off my phone without much at service” but managed again to plagiarize from the aforementioned website and Wikipedia, both published in 2008.

In his online answer, Mendez plagiarized from a third source.

“Most cancer patients are deemed ineligible for drug trials beyond phase I testing because drug corps are looking for the healthiest patients at the earliest point in their disease to give the highest probability of a positive outcome in order to fulfill regulatory requirements.”

This text appeared in a BBC News article published seven years earlier.

“He points out that most cancer patients are deemed ineligible for drug trials beyond phase I testing – these tend to enlist the healthiest patients at the earliest point in their disease to give the highest probability of a positive outcome to fulfil regulatory requirements,” the London-based news outlet wrote in September 2007.

Mendez copied-and-pasted portions of an additional Reddit post in October 2014 inviting users to a movie screening hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona at the office of Congressman Ruben Gallego. More than half of his post was plagiarized from two separate pages on the website of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

This pattern of repeated plagiarism, which has not been reported until now on Arizona Democrats Exposed, went on in at least five of the six years during which Mendez has served in the state legislature.

It is possible that more examples of plagiarism occurred throughout these years but have not yet been found.

“It only takes 300 Republican signatures to run against me in the general and nobody even tried anything this election,” Mendez bragged in one of those Reddit posts. “I don’t think there will be that big of a line to run against me in 2018.”

You can view the substantiating research at Arizona Democrats Exposed.

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