|God, guns, and freedom|
|Starting arguments over Thanksgiving dinner|
|Persons of interest|
Kyrsten Sinema (1976–) is a formerly Democratic, now Independent Senator from Arizona, elected in 2018. She succeeded the retiring Jeff Flake, defeated Martha McSally, and became the first Democratic Senator to represent Arizona since Dennis DeConcini's retirement in 1995. Before that, she represented Arizona's 9th district (based in suburban Phoenix) for eight years in the House, and before that served in Arizona's state Senate and House. Alongside Joe Manchin, she is currently one of the two Democrats in the Senate most responsible for holding up Joe Biden's agenda. However, while Joe Manchin was always seen as being conservative for a Democrat, being more business-friendly in a state that was at the time dominated by labor unions, Kyrsten Sinema is a different beast entirely. She actually got her start in politics in the Green Party, and was a vocal anti-war activist who wrote an essay critical of capitalism. But somewhere along the way, she became much more conservative, to the point where she infamously opposed an increase to a $15 minimum wage. This leaves many to wonder why a bisexual, openly nonreligious former Green Party member could turn into such a thorn in the side of progressives.
“”Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule. It certainly is not ruling in our favor.
|—Sinema, in an 2002 essay published in The Arizona Republic|
“”He's a shame to Democrats. I don't even know why he's running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him – what kind of strategy is that?
Sinema got her start in politics working for Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. Her first attempt at running for public office was in 2002, when she ran as a Green Party-affiliated candidate but placed last in a field of five candidates, receiving 8% of the vote. In the next year, however, she would become a vocal anti-war activist, co-founding Local to Global Justice, which had held 15 anti-war rallies by the start of the Iraq War; she was even willing to work with anarchist groups to hold the rallies. She was also a supporter of universal health care.
In 2004, she joined the Democratic Party, and would be elected to the Arizona State House of Representatives later that year. She was still seen as pretty progressive, especially known for her opposition to anti-immigration bills (being a social worker who had worked with many immigrants on the border) and support of LGBTQ+ rights (being bisexual herself). In 2006, she sponsored the DREAM Act and campaigned against Proposition 107, which would have constitutionally banned all gay marriage and civil unions in the state. That year, she said she was "the most liberal member of the Arizona State Legislature" to a radio host. Sinema was also one of the only lawmakers in her state to tackle mass incarceration, and attended a prison reform rally in 2008. That same year, she opposed another proposition to ban gay marriage in the state, which would sadly pass but ultimately be declared unconstitutional six years later.
A turning point
In 2009, Sinema was promoted to an Assistant Minority Leader in the Arizona State House. 2009 wasn't a good year for the state of Arizona. Due to a combination of the effects of the Great Recession and number of ill-advised tax cuts, Arizona had a severe budget deficit, one of the worst in the nation. Additionally, Barack Obama had chosen the Democratic Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as his Secretary of Homeland Security, and she was succeeded by the Tea Partier Jan Brewer, giving Republicans full control of Arizona. Sinema realized that it would be difficult to convince Republicans to raise taxes, and instead shifted her focus to trying to limit the damage of the budget cuts instead of trying to avoid them entirely, going as far as voting with the rest of the House Appropriations Committee against considering increasing taxes as a solution. The proposed cuts weren't enough for Governor Brewer, and when she requested even more severe cuts to the budget, she told the press that there were still areas of the budget to cut beyond the proposed cuts. However, this attempt at reaching across the aisle was an abject failure, and the Democrats were eventually kicked out of the budget negotiations, and a budget that had severe cuts to areas like healthcare and education passed along party lines. Despite the failure, the budget crisis would mark a shift in Sinema's rhetoric, and instead of a progressive seeking to make meaningful change, she fashioned herself as a negotiator who would work across the aisle and get things done. Perhaps the biggest signal of her shift was when she defended then-President of the Arizona Senate Russell Pearce, who was responsible for Arizona's notoriously harsh anti-immigration laws, during the successful 2011 effort to recall him, and even said she would like him to run for Congress, which came across as betrayal of her past support for undocumented immigrants. However, there was a likely reason for this: she was eyeing a competitive House seat.
On the national stage
As a result of the 2010 census, Arizona gained an additional House seat. This new House seat was split between Tempe, a liberal college city, and more conservative portions of Phoenix, meaning that it was competitive. In 2012, Sinema, who two years earlier had made it from the Arizona State House to the Senate, decided to make a run for the House, and she came out on top of a three-way primary. While the Republicans tried to use her past as an activist against her, Sinema was able to use her bipartisan rhetoric to win over moderate voters, as well as the fact that her opponent was a Tea Partier. Ultimately, she won by four points. Upon being elected, Sinema would join a number of neoliberal and fiscally conservative congressional groups, including the Blue Dog Democrats, the New Democrats, and Third Way, the lattermost of which she would become an honorary co-chair.
Since Joe Biden became President, Sinema has become famous for being one of the biggest issues Biden has when it comes to passing his agenda. Of course, a political voting against legislation they think is bad, even if its brought forward by their own party, is not an issue on its own, however, many progressives have grown to dislike Sinema because she's constantly kept the President from implementing his more left-wing ideas. She has been a diehard supporter of the filibuster, which has cost her the endorsement of both Emily's List and NARAL. She has also voted against a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, which she expressed through giving a rather flashy thumbs down.
Sinema and the Filibuster
Among strong criticism from progressives for her support of the filibuster, Sinema decided to defend her stance in an op-ed for The Washington Post. Among the highlights are the following claims:
But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a covid-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.
Although this is true, Sinema seems to be ignoring an important question: Was that a good idea on the part of the Democrats? Should they have stopped the passage of legislation on important issues like COVID relief and police reform not because they thought the bill was bad but because they thought a better should be written first? Should we have a system where people who have issues politicians could fix are forced to wait until somebody writes up the dream bill of said politicians?
And, sometimes, the filibuster, as it’s been used in previous Congresses, is needed to protect against attacks on women’s health, clean air and water, or aid to children and families in need.
Sinema offers no examples to back up this claim.
To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?
This point would be much stronger if Republicans weren't already doing exactly this on the state level at the time of this op-ed. Nineteen states enacted some form of voter restriction over the course of 2021, and we can already see states introducing several new restrictions in the runup to the 2024 Presidential Election.
Although Sinema is not wrong to say this is a concern, she is greatly downplaying how this is a massive "rock or a hard place" situation. And this is an issue with all of the hypotheticals Sinema puts forward.
She is also ignoring the possibility of Republicans getting rid of the filibuster in the future and doing all of these things anyway. Remember, it was Mitch McConnell who ended the option to filibuster Supreme Court Justices in order to make sure Neil Gorsuch could get enough votes to be confirmed. Donald Trump himself has even called for the abolition of the filibuster in the past. Yet, the unstated assumption of Sinema's op-ed is that only Democrats, specifically of the progressive variety, have so much as considered the idea, while everybody else views it as scared.
Sinema does attempt to address this idea by saying she'll be against this hypothetical future:
And to those who fear that Senate rules will change anyway as soon as the Senate majority changes: I will not support an action that damages our democracy because someone else did so previously or might do so in the future. I do not accept a new standard by which important legislation can only pass on party-line votes — and when my party is again in the Senate minority, I will work just as hard to preserve the right to shape legislation.
In this goalpost shift, Sinema is changing the situation from if Republicans get rid of it to if she would personally support Republicans getting rid of it. Nobody is arguing that she will personally change her mind, instead they are saying that this fight is little more than Democrats espousing rather shallow principals to the point of not being able to govern effectively. It's great that she thinks legislation shouldn't be passed on partisan lines, but the Republicans don't care one way or the other and that needs to be taken into account if you want to be a member of a meaningful opposition party.
- The Man Who Controls the Senate, Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, 21/6/21
- How Kyrsten Sinema Sold Out, Aída Chávez, The Nation, 22/3/21
- Kyrsten Sinema’s combustible thumb, Aaron Blake, The Washington Post, 6/3/21
- Kyrsten Sinema Once Called Joe Lieberman “Pathetic.” Now He’s Coming to Her Defense.
- Arizona Senate: Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-war group blasted ‘U.S. terror,’ depicted soldier as skeleton in 2003 flyers, Andrew Kaczynski and Christopher Massie, CNN, 15/7/18
- Kyrsten Sinema Wants You To Know She’s Not A Progressive, Kevin Robillard, The Huffington Post 5/11/18
- Bill History for HCM2004, azleg.gov
- Controversial initiatives make it on ballot, Howard Fischer, Knau
- How Kyrsten Sinema Went from Lefty Activist to Proud Neoliberal Democrat, Branko Marcetic, Jacobin 24/3/21
- A recent history of Arizona’s state budget, Arizona Capitol Times 20/10/10
- Budgeting in Arizona: Hard Decisions for Hard Times, David R. Berman and Kristin Borns, Arizona State University 23/8/10
- The Man Behind Arizona's Toughest Immigrant Laws, Ted Robins, NPR 12/3/08
- Can Kyrsten Sinema Win in Congressional District 9?, Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times 12/1/12
- Kyrsten Sinema Turns Blue Dog, Liberals Blow a Gasket, Stephen Lemon, Phoenix New Times 23/1/14
- Kyrsten Sinema’s Unconventional Style: Play Well With Others, Emma Dumain, Roll Call 5/2/15
- Think Tank Quickies (#196), Think Tank Watch 30/8/15
- Emily's List, NARAL pull support of Sinema over opposition to changing filibuster
- Sinema gives a thumb’s down to federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour
- Opinion: Kyrsten Sinema: We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster. The Washington Post, 21 June 2021.
- 19 states enacted voting restrictions in 2021. What's next?
- States Push for New Voting Laws With an Eye Toward 2024
- Fact check: Republicans, not Democrats, eliminated the Senate filibuster on Supreme Court nominees
- Trump calls for end to filibuster
- Schumer Fails At Failing. Mitch McConnell's news room, 24 June 2021.