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Sinema's Time Is Up

Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)’s time in the Democratic Party is up. It’s time for her to be replaced in the Senate by an actual Democrat.

 

Senator Sinema’s tenure as Arizona’s senior senator has been predicated around one fact — Arizona votes like a maverick. She has certainly projected herself as just that, routinely playing the role of wild card prepared to buck the Democratic Party, not for an ideological reason, but just to oppose the Democratic Party. Since Democrats reclaimed their Senate majority in 2021, Sinema and West Virginia's Joe Manchin have been regular thorns in the party’s side. At every step, one of them — if not both — have blocked popular legislation, refused to get rid of the filibuster, and criticized the Democratic Party’s positions. For Sen. Manchin (D-WV), this positioning makes sense. He is a Blue Dog Democrat, a nearly extinct wing of the party largely composed of rural conservatives, who represents a state that former President Trump won by nearly 40 points in 2020. For Sen. Sinema, opposing the Democratic Party does not make sense. Joe Manchin is the only Democrat who can win in West Virginia, but Kyrsten Sinema is not the only Democrat who can win in Arizona.


Senator Kyrsten Sinema was the first Democratic Senator to win in Arizona in over thirty years — and by less than 2 points. Given that the last time a Democratic candidate won in Arizona was 1988, Kysten Sinema ran an “aggressively centrist” campaign in 2018, promoting bipartisanship at every turn. This positioning made sense when Arizona was a ruby red state, only voting for the Democratic presidential candidate once from 1952 to 2016. However, in the four years since her election, Arizona voters have begun to regularly back Democratic candidates, with President Biden and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) both winning the state in 2020. In 2022, Democratic candidates won nearly every state-wide race, with Senator Kelly winning re-election and the Democratic candidates for governor and secretary of state winning statewide. Sen. Kelly won by over 5 points, substantially increasing his vote share since 2020. He won his re-election after voting to overturn the filibuster in order to increase the minimum wage, supporting the Inflation Reduction Act, and voting with President Biden 95% of the time. He did not praise Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), or attack the Democratic party. And he won, convincingly. Sen. Kelly is a moderate, but he is also a senator that recognizes that when the Democratic Party passes substantial legislation, he is able to run on those accomplishments.


Given that Democratic candidates are winning statewide elections in Arizona there is no reason for Sen. Sinema to oppose the Democratic party for electoral reasons. The only argument for her positioning against the Democratic Party is ideological. However, Sinema in 2000 was an active Green Party member, serving on Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign, an anti-Iraq War activist, and on the far left of the Democratic party. In the two decades since she has drifted to the right, blocking a tax hike for private equity investors and voting against a minimum wage increase. This ideological shift has not been explained by her at any point in her career. Kyrsten Sinema lacks a coherent worldview, and with the recent strength of Democratic candidates in Arizona, there is no reason for Democrats to keep her around anymore.


There are two ways to replace Sen. Sinema with a Democrat who is willing to work with the party. Now that there is a Democratic Governor in Arizona, President Biden should offer Sen. Sinema any position (within reason) that she wants. A two-year vacation in the Bahamas as an ambassador would be sunny and relaxing, or a cabinet position would allow the prestige she seems to be seeking. This path requires Senator Sinema to be willing to give up her position as Senator, but it avoids the alternate path of a messy primary that she may lose.


Sen. Sinema is not popular in the Arizona Democratic Party, with key local labor unions or with her constituents. While primary challenges to senators are overwhelmingly unsuccessful, this case may be different. Senator Sinema has made herself a pariah of the party, was notably absent from the campaign trail this cycle, and has few allies left in Arizona. The Arizona Democratic party has a relatively deep bench at this point, but one person stands out as willing to primary her: Rep. Ruben Gallego. Rep. Gallego is a veteran who has represented AZ-07 since 2014. He is more progressive than Sen. Sinema, but still stands firmly in line with mainstream Democrats. He chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and in a state that is over 30% Hispanic, this would only be a benefit.


Rep. Gallego has criticized Sen. Sinema regularly for her positions, and there is a party-wide push to convince him to primary the senator. Senator Sinema is not working for the people of Arizona, but for her donors at the expense of all Americans. She needs to go one way or another, and should someone choose to primary her, the Democratic Party needs to support their campaign.


Anna Hickey is a fourth-year C.L.E.G. major in the School of Public Affairs. They are a Managing Editor for the American Agora.


Image courtesy Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

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