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  • Vanessa Bartlett

Kyrsten Sinema’s Downward Spiral

Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic senator from Arizona, was elected in 2018 and is now the first openly bisexual woman to be elected in the Senate. To those who were introduced to her in 2019, Sinema seemed to represent a youthful new face, standing in contrast with the typical dour, serious vibe of most senators.

However, first impressions can be deceiving. Sinema didn’t come to Washington with a progressive agenda nor a track record of supporting progressive legislation.

A consistently moderate Democrat, Sinema has sided with Republicans with regularity. She was found to have voted in line with Republicans about 50% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. She has opposed progressive efforts to increase the federal minimum wage and the Green New Deal, to name a few.

It really shouldn’t be any wonder that Sinema’s views (and voting record) haven’t shifted since her start. This is what the Democratic Party signed up for.

Recently, Sinema voted against abolishing the filibuster. Democrats have argued that the filibuster has a racist history. Filibusters were utilized in the Senate in order to prevent the passage of anti-lynching legislation.

Today, the Voting Rights Act is in jeopardy. This act would protect minority groups from targeted laws that could result in widespread voter suppression. Once again, civil rights legislation is vulnerable to being shot down by a timely filibuster.

Sinema has been censured by the Arizona Democratic Party for her decision to vote to keep the filibuster. Personally, I didn’t know that the Democratic Party had any stance that it would hold on to so tightly that they would be willing to ditch one of their own.

What does this all mean? Short term, it puts the passage of progressive legislation into question, despite Democrats’ gains in the House and Senate, as well as holding the executive office.

With 8% approval among Democrats according to Civiqs, and maintaining only a 42% approval rating amongst Arizona Democrats, it looks like Sinema is going to have her work cut out for her when primary season rolls around.

Lizzie Widdicombe wrote an October 2021 opinion piece for the New Yorker, where she described the way Arizonans might analyze Sinema’s every inscrutable move, trying desperately to understand what the tight-lipped Senator’s motivations for voting against party lines might be.

Widdicombe explains the TikTok discourse on whether Sinema falls into the category of “pick me girl”: “The pick-me girl is intent on signaling that she is Not Like Other Girls, but Sinema seems equally bent on proving to the world—and especially to Republicans and Independents—that she is Not Like Other Democrats.”

While we can all acknowledge that the “pick-me” diagnosis is fraught with misogynistic implication, there is a ring of truth to it. Sinema seems more interested in being friendly with her counterparts across the aisle than she is in what voters may want.

In the long term, Sinema’s fall from grace may be a warning sign for the Democratic Party. If they continue to skew right, to the point where a representative can claim to be a Democrat while siding with the opposition half the time, they may lose their grip on progressive groups.

This party, with its ingrained connections to big donors and the private sector, may even have to face its own inner divisions. The gap between progressive democrats and moderates is widening. Democrats are signaling that they may be willing to lean further left, perhaps scooting away from the Sinemas and Manchins of the party. Perhaps if they lean far enough, they might even be able to pass the bills they claim to care about.

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