Wake up, progressives: You’re lucky to have Kyrsten Sinema

Brian Murray knows just how fierce an opponent Arizona’s Sen. Kyrsten Sinema can be. The Republican strategist saw his candidate lose to Democrat Sinema in their 2012 race for the House.

Calling the experience “unpleasant,” Murray admits his candidate, Vernon Parker, was flawed, but “flawed candidates win all of the time. Kyrsten, however, was an absolute machine.”

Sinema, along with fellow centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has recently become the epicenter of American politics largely because she insists on siding with the interests of her constituents instead of the demands of her party. Over the past few weeks, she has refused to support the Democrats’ Build Back Better bill.

Progressives saw her stance as a betrayal, and she has been hounded by activists. At Arizona State University, where she is a lecturer, angry protesters followed her as she left a classroom and headed into a nearby restroom, chanting: “We need a Build Back Better plan right now!”

Ever since January, the ruling class has expressed shock that she opposes the elimination of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. But she has held this view for the entire six years she served in the House and the three years she has spent in the Senate.

The left despises her obstructionist views that do not allow the Biden administration, and the Democrats, to get everything they want. But anyone who has ever listened to her speeches knows that Sinema has always been “Independent, like Arizona.”

Born in Tucson, Sinema’s parents divorced when she was a child, and she moved to a small town in Florida with her two siblings after her mother remarried. When her stepfather lost his job, the family became homeless and spent more than two years living in an abandoned gas station.

Eventually the family’s economic fortunes improved, and they moved into a small home. Despite her circumstances, Sinema was a star student, graduating from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree, then going on to earn a master’s in social work, a law degree and a doctorate in justice studies.

In 2016, she told a local Arizona newspaper how she recovered from poverty. “You think about the traditional narrative, ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and the liberal message, ‘help those in need and have a safety net.’ But the reality is, it’s a combination of those two. That’s what shaped my life — working hard and getting the help I needed.”

Sinema’s ascension into politics began like a lot of successful lawmakers — she lost. Twice, in fact, running first for Phoenix City Council in 2001 as a Green Party candidate and then for the Arizona legislature in 2002 as an independent.

In 2004, she ran again for the state legislature — but this time as a Democrat — and won. Eight years later, when a new Phoenix area congressional seat was created as a result of redistricting, she took advantage of the new balance of Republican, Democrat and Independent voters to handily beat GOP candidate Parker, despite all the socialist spaghetti Murray could throw at the wall to defeat her.

“I remember we called her a Prada socialist in one of our TV ads. … It wasn’t true. In the end result, that’s just not who Kyrsten Sinema is,” Murray admitted.

 Dane Strother, a California-based Democratic strategist, said Sinema is doing exactly what she is supposed to. “In a representative democracy, you are hired to represent your constituents,” Strother said. “If you don’t do that, they’ll find someone who will.”

When Sinema ran for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018, she defeated fellow Arizona congresswoman Republican Martha McSally and became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in Arizona history. Her presence has helped the Democrats move to a 50-50 split in the Senate.

Steve    McMahon, a Washington-based Democratic strategist,  said he thinks progressive activists should wake up and realize just how valuable Sinema is.

“Instead of criticizing Kyrsten Sinema, progressives should thank God that she’s able to win in a competitive state like Arizona, because without Kyrsten Sinema, there would be no majority leader, Chuck Schumer.”

Murray, meanwhile, chuckles when he hears both progressives and Republicans talking about running against her in 2024.

“I mean, that’s a joke. There is zero chance whatsoever that anybody in Arizona has a chance of defeating her, especially from within the Democratic Party.”

Salena Zito  is  a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.