Sinema’s no Manchin, no McCain and no maverick
Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) may think she comes off like a maverick, but to many she looks more like a one-term senator. She appears to have chosen winery internships and private equity connections over her constituent’s best interest; the type of political malpractice that could open the door for Rep. Ruben Gallego (D), a military veteran from Arizona, to jump from Congress into the Senate.
Sinema is in danger of becoming a political Icarus, a politician who flew too close to the sun and forgot they too could get burned. She’s been criticized for her lack of clarity on major issues and support of Republican talking points at the cost of her own constituents. The most important bill since the Affordable Care Act is sitting in limbo and it looks like she cares more about fundraising in Europe than finding areas of compromise. Eighty five percent of Democratic voters in her state support reconciliation, in spite of her less-than enthusiastic attitude.
While voters may have believed they were electing a self defined progressive to the Senate, she’s turned out more like a Republican with Democratic tendencies. According to CNN, from 2013 to 2019, she’s never voted with her party more than 75 percent of the time — a percentage over 15 percent lower than her idol, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and unnecessarily low for a state trending more purple than red.
It’s one thing to be moderate in a state like West Virginia, where Sen. Joe Manchin (D) defied the odds and held on to a seat despite Donald Trump winning by nearly 40 points in 2020. It’s another thing to deceive your constituents and misrepresent what type of Democrat you are and cause harm to the very people you are supposed to protect. Let me be clear, Sen. Sinema can vote however she wants and is only beholden to the people of Arizona, but she at least owes her constituents an explanation, not silence and indifference. Arizonians shouldn’t have to guess where the Senator stands on reconciliation, or whether she’ll support reconciliation. She should be clear and transparent.
The irony is that for all of her criticisms of progressives and attempts to poorly mimic McCain, she is far more likely to be voted out of office than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) or any other member of the squad when she faces reelection. Her giddy thumbs down performance theater on minimum wage, combined with her dismissive, wise-cracking retorts when questioned by reporters, make her appear cold and mean spirited — traits John McCain would never be labeled.
Given Sinema’s monopoly on bad headlines, one would expect a change in strategy or reading of the tea leaves. Instead, Sinema has shown an unwillingness to even consider a carveout for special circumstances, like passing a desperately needed voting rights bill.
But If she’s brave enough to enthusiastically deny Arizonians a $15 minimum wage with an overly performative thumbs down, then you would think she would be brave enough to sit down with a serious reporter, explain her thought process and treat her constituents like adults. They may even reward her honesty, even if they disagree. Instead, her arrogance sets the table for a charismatic war vet to potentially give her a run for her donor money.
Arizona may be a moderate state, but it is no West Virginia and she is clearly no Joe Manchin. For all of Democrats disagreements with Manchin, he’s not only been consistent, but transparent in his beliefs — something that can’t be said for Sinema. She may be attempting to do her best John McCain impersonation, but she lacks the very things that made him a “maverick” and a rarity in the Capitol; the courage of her convictions and the ability to grasp the importance of the moment. Up to this point, she’s failed to show an understanding of the power that she currently yields or an ability to be part of a team.
Sinema can either help Democrats strengthen their argument for the upcoming midterm elections, or she can destroy their chances, thus handing power to Republicans. Unlike most members of Congress, Sinema has actual power; the type of power that most politicians only dream of. The question that has gone unanswered for far too long, is how she plans to use that power.
Her choice will have far and wide consequences: Consequences that could lead to her constituents changing course and looking at someone with a history of putting service to the country before all. Voters are not stupid and will only put up with so many donor dinners and vacations during session. Members of Congress work for their constituents and it would serve her well not to forget that.
The senator’s political future is on the line, and the wrong choice could leave her permanently on vacation. Sinema wouldn’t be the first or the last to forget who she serves, but it’s not too late to change course. The question she has to ask herself is whether she has any desire to.
Michael Starr Hopkins is Founding partner at Northern Starr Strategies.
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