Can Kyrsten Sinema Win in Congressional District 9?
Former state Senator Kyrsten Sinema longs to be the Democratic nominee from newly formed Congressional District 9.
However, she suffers from a terrible affliction that threatens to undermine her ambition: a predilection for lodging a Prada pump in her esophagus.
Sinema's knack for the self-inflicted wound and the political tin ear that accompanies it were front and center at a recent meeting of a local chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America.
The PDA was one of the organizations that worked its collective keister off to help Randy Parraz's group, Citizens for a Better Arizona, put a period on the political career of ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce with last year's historic recall election.
Scheduled to speak at the same meeting was Parraz himself, now hell-bent on a mission to remove Sheriff Joe Arpaio from office.
So, Sinema should have anticipated a question that was sure to come from fellow lefties: Why didn't she openly oppose Pearce in the recall effort?
Lilia Alvarez, a CBA member at the meeting with Parraz, rose to ask a version of that question. Sinema's response flummoxed her.
"She said pretty unapologetically, 'Russell Pearce is my boss, and that's why I couldn't get involved,'" recalled Alvarez. "People in the crowd were just wide-eyed."
Such a statement sounds like a non sequitur, even coming from a politician who once exclaimed on Channel 12's Sunday Square Off: "I love Russell. We get along very well; not always on policy matters, but on personal matters, we do."
After all, for any Arizona Democrat (and many Arizona Republicans, albeit quietly), Pearce was and remains, even in defeat, a right-wing ogre, worthy of all the calumny he can shoulder.
Moreover, Pearce, as the jefe of a Republican super-majority in the state Senate, was hardly Sinema's "boss."
Virginia Hauflaire, a PDA leader who put her shoulder to the recall wheel last year, remembers Sinema's reply slightly differently, but her version is no more flattering.
"[Sinema] gave a couple of weird answers, but then she just flatly said, 'He's my boss. I have to work with him,'" Hauflaire told me.
"I raised my hand," Hauflaire remembered. "'He's your boss?' I asked. 'Your constituents aren't your boss?'"
But Sinema persisted in her folly.
"She said, 'Well, you know, Russell's my boss. He sets the agenda, blah blah blah,'" Hauflaire recalled. "Still, she didn't answer my question."
Fortunately for Sinema, no one caught this gaffe on audio or video. At least, no recordings have surfaced. Though others I've spoken with who were there confirm her statements.
Even Sinema's recounting, though nuanced, doesn't help her much.
"I said, 'You know, you have to think about what it's like at the Legislature,'" she said when I asked her about it. "'It's like Russell Pearce is my boss. He can stop my bills. He can stop me from getting a hearing in committee if he wants to.'"
She admitted to me, as Hauflaire suggested, that constituents were legislators' real bosses.
"What I [was] talking about is the process of what it takes to get a bill passed," she explained.
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Dallas Mavericks
TicketsFri., Oct. 14, 7:00pm
Still, bad analogy. And a particularly bad one to use at a gathering of 30 or more liberals who hate Pearce like Newt Gingrich hates a moment of silence.
Parraz posted an incensed message about Sinema's "boss" statement on Facebook, and the chatter among lefties went wild.
But Sinema can't seem to wrap her head around why folks are so ticked.
She says she admitted in the meeting that, like a lot of Dems and pundits, she initially thought the recall effort against Pearce was a non-starter.
"I flat-out didn't think it was possible," she said. "And I was wrong."
That aside, she said she was "surprised" and "shocked" by the response on Facebook to the PDA debacle. Hurt, even.
Parraz told me that, during the meeting, he let Sinema hang herself. Afterward, he had plenty to say.
"No Democrat in Congress would call [Speaker of the U.S. House] John Boehner their boss," he said. "Nancy Pelosi wouldn't say that."
He continued: "It's her thinking she can say anything she wants, that she's the smartest person there, and everyone's got to accept it."
I just see it as an incredibly dumb thing for Sinema to have said, considering the forum.
But it speaks to the affliction I diagnosed her with above. One that seems to have worsened as Sinema has positioned herself over the last couple of years for a Congressional run.
Heretofore, Sinema has served in the Senate and the House representing tres lefty Legislative District 15. But what flies in that progressive nook of Phoenix is eyed with suspicion in the rest of Sand Land.
So Sinema's had to branch out and risk bruising her base in the process. It's not a change she'll cop to, but it's one that she's been doing. Inartfully.
Last year, she enraged many Latinos by running a bill that upped the penalty on an existing law against drop-house operators from a class-four to a class-three penalty.
In her press release trumpeting Senate Bill 1225 (which later became law), she adopted some of the same rhetoric used so often by nativists, like the phrase "secure our borders," which to the pro-immigration side sounds like "keep the brown people out."
Some marked it as a betrayal from the same legislator who fought so valiantly against Pearce's breathing-while-brown statute, Senate Bill 1070, not to mention numerous other pieces of nativist legislation she's opposed over the years.
More recently, she accepted the endorsement of the notoriously anti-immigrant Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which is tight with Sheriff Joe and also backed Pearce to the hilt in his effort to beat down the recall.
"I'm proud to have that endorsement," she told me, noting that PLEA lightning rod Mark Spencer no longer is president.
A lot of libs have been annoyed by the PLEA nod. But Sinema's hardly the first D to get love from PLEA.
The state Democratic Party has taken money from the organization. And Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was pleased as punch to accept the endorsement of the Arizona Police Association, a PLEA puppet group.
Running SB 1225 was, at the very least, unseemly and unnecessary. The PLEA endorsement? That's just par for the course for the average Arizona donkey.
What's concerning about Sinema's missteps is that such stuff hurts her with those who've admired her unapologetic liberalism over the years.
Simultaneously, her run to the center is unlikely to win her new pals in CD 9, which includes parts of Mesa and Phoenix, and a Tempe that hardly is a lefty bastion.
Should she make it past a Democratic field that may include state Senator David Schapira and Arizona Democratic Party Chair Andrei Cherny, she'll face a Republican opponent who'll be quick to use a fat opposition research file on her.
In it are things that the libs in LD 15 wouldn't think twice about: marching with the Reverend Al Sharpton in 2010, championing Ralph Nader for president in 2000, once referring to herself, self-mockingly, as a "Prada socialist."
Sinema avers that over her career arc, "My values haven't changed."
Rightly or wrongly, some progressives believe she's sold out her values for a shot at Congress.
While the right is licking its chops, eager to prove that those values remain the same.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.