Column: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema makes liberal heads explode. And that’s just fine with the Arizona Democrat

TEMPE, Ariz. —

When Kyrsten Sinema ran for Senate in 2018, she could not have been more clear. The Democrat did not call herself a Democrat but rather an “Arizona independent.”

She refused to endorse her party’s liberal candidate for governor, who was shellacked the day Sinema narrowly won.

Her advertisements suggested that she was against partisanship.

A lot of people in Washington are more interested in talking points and their ideologies than getting things done, she stated in one roll-up-her sleeves ad.

“Arizonans should a senator who only solves problems,” she stated in another TV spot, swinging at both sides. “Not in a Republican or Democratic way …. It will only work if we can work across the aisle.”

Funny thing: It seems as though Sinema actually meant it.

The freshman lawmaker, along with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin III from West Virginia has created a human barrier to prevent Congress passing President Biden’s $3.5 trillion climate and social welfare legislation.

Liberals insist on passing the bill before they approve a more traditional $1-trillion bricks and mortar infrastructure bill , which has bipartisan support. (Progressives would build a brick wall around Sinema and Manchin if they could. There is no need to worry about it, as they have done for several weeks.

Anyone surprised by Sinema’s stance hasn’t paid attention.

“I am confused by people’s confusion,” said Stacy Pearson, a Democratic strategist who helped Sinema win her first House race in 2012 in a highly competitive district here in the Phoenix suburbs.

“This is exactly what she told Arizona she would do,” said Stan Barnes, a former Republican state lawmaker who has known Sinema since she served in the Legislature before going to Congress. “A cynic might say that you do what it takes to get elected” and then you change when you are in office.

Apparently, Barnes said, “she didn’t get the memo.”

Sinema’s political heresy extends beyond her objections to the size and scope of Biden’s massive and massively ambitious “human infrastructure” bill. She voted against including a $15 minimum wage in the coronavirus relief package, turning thumbs down with a curtsy that seemed to rub it in, and also opposes Democratic efforts to end the Senate filibuster.

This result is rare in today’s partisan political climate. Sinema outrages many of her fellow Democrats — already there are efforts underway to line up a 2024 primary challenger — and has forged an unusual fan base among Republicans.

Indeed, polling in Arizona shows Sinema more popular with segments of the GOP, notably suburban women, than she is with some Democrats.

” It’s driven by her not, which is a highly-partisan progressive,” stated Chuck Coughlin. He was a veteran GOP strategist and became an independent political strategist after Donald Trump’s election. “That doesn’t get elected in Arizona .”

It is very similar to another senator who broke with his party and ridiculed those political purists trying to hold him accountable. Confounding members on both sides of the aisle, John McCain delighted in defying expectations and turned “maverick” into a popular political brand.

When Arizona Republicans protested his decision, the senator gently reminded them to use sunblock. Sinema is now leading a series of Democratic protests outside her state office.

She considers McCain her “personal hero”; she even imitates his sharply-honed, but not always appreciated, sense of humor.

Democrats complain that Sinema has failed to publicly detail what she needs to support Biden’s signature legislation, beyond saying $3.5 trillion is too much and resisting tax hikes on corporations and the well-to-do to offset the increased spending.

” “What do you tell frustrated progressives that don’t know where they are?” Sinema was asked during an impromptu conversation on Capitol Hill.

“I am in the Senate,” Sinema replied.

” There are some progressives in Congress who are frustrated that they don’t know where to go,” Frank Thorp of NBC followed up.

” “I’m clearly right infront of the elevator,” she responded.

It can be frustrating. Her shameless fundraising while negotiations are underway puts off a bad odor. Sinema, who is image conscious, seems to enjoy the bright lights sometimes a little too much.

Politically her positioning is clear.

There is a misapprehension that Arizona has suddenly become a blue state after Sinema won, Democrat Mark Kelly was elected to the Senate in 2020 and Biden beat Trump to capture the state’s 11 electoral votes. It is not.

The governor and most state legislators are Republicans. Voter registrations are roughly equal in size between Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Until Sinema, there had not been a single Democrat elected to the Senate for over three decades.

Trump made that victory possible along with Biden’s win by alienating huge numbers of GOP voters who defected to the Democrats. Both races were close even then.

For all the talk of what Sinema owes Biden as a member of his party, it could be said the president is in Sinema’s debt for his slender Arizona victory. She proved to Republicans that there was a pragmatically moderate Democrat who wasn’t scary.

“Arizona is naturally a center-right state,” said Barnes, Sinema’s Republican admirer. “She knows her electorate, she knows her voters and she’s reflecting that in every move she makes.”

Sinema began her political career as a left-leaning Green Party activist, which raises an obvious question: Does she genuinely believe, in her heart of hearts, in the centrist positions she’s staked and the contrarian buck-the-party reputation she’s building as her political hallmark?

Only she knows for certain.

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