Who’s Afraid of Endorsing Kyrsten Sinema?

Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, seen here at a 2013 Chamber of Commerce summit, has picked up endorsements from Arizona Democrats in her bid for the Senate, with a few exceptions.
Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, seen here at a 2013 Chamber of Commerce summit, has picked up endorsements from Arizona Democrats in her bid for the Senate, with a few exceptions. Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Say it with me: The 2018 election is still an entire year from now. Yet there’s hardly a dull moment here as prominent Arizona politicians on both sides of the aisle pick sides in the race for outgoing Senator Jeff Flake’s seat.

On Thursday, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema’s campaign released a long list of endorsements from city and state leaders who’ve pledged to support her U.S. Senate bid.

Sinema's prominent backers include Congressmen Ruben Gallego and Tom O’Halleran, Phoenix City Council members Laura Pastor and Daniel Valenzuela, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

But not everyone is jumping on board.

Two notable absences from the list were Congressman Raúl Grijalva and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. Both Democrats have held back from endorsing Sinema.

For Grijalva’s part, he’s made his unease about Sinema plain. In an interview with the New York Times last week, Grijalva said he’s withholding his endorsement until he learns more about how Sinema will vote on immigration, tax cuts, and the environment. He suggested that other progressive Democrats aren’t sold on Sinema’s record, referring to "murmurs" at the grassroots level.

Grijalva raises questions shared by many left-leaning Arizonans regarding Sinema. Although her personal story is compelling — Sinema's family struggled with poverty and she previously worked as a social worker — her record in Congress is extremely questionable and hardly left-of-center.

Consider these votes:

• Sinema voted for anti-immigrant bills championed by the Trump administration.
• She opted to curtail resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S.
• She was one of seven Democrats to join with Congressional Republicans on a controversial vote to investigate the attack in Benghazi, Libya, widely seen as a political stunt to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential prospects.
• She co-sponsored legislation that would make it harder for people to file complaints and lawsuits over violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sinema has acknowledged that Democrats seeking statewide office in Arizona face an uphill battle, and some analysts view these votes as a way to make her palatable to red-state voters. But left-of-center Democrats say triangulating on issues like immigration in the name of "reaching across the aisle" is wrong.

It might not even help Sinema win a Senate seat anyway since these votes have apparently alienated the core progressive voters she needs the most.

“Given how Kyrsten Sinema defines herself in the next few months, she could solidify her position with a real chance to win,” Grijalva told the Times.

Where does the mayor of Phoenix stand on Sinema?

Unlike Grijalva, Stanton is tougher to read. He’s running for Sinema’s seat in Congress and hasn’t spoken publicly one way or the other regarding an endorsement. It could be that he's waiting to officially resign from the mayor's office before throwing himself headlong into the campaign season. Stanton has until May 30 to resign.

A spokesperson for the mayor wrote to New Times in an email to say that Stanton has no endorsement on the immediate horizon.

“The mayor has not endorsed anyone in the U.S. Senate race in Arizona at this time,” Raquel Estupinan wrote. “There’s no timeline or idea of who yet.”

Spokespersons for Sinema and Grijalva did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but we’ll update when we hear back.

Senator Jeff Flake’s decision to retire from Congress and Sinema’s decision to leave the House and run for the Senate created an immediate ripple effect.

Because Stanton is running for Congress, two councilmembers, Valenzuela and Kate Gallego, have announced their bids to replace him as mayor.

The who’s-in-and-who’s-out game is likely to continue as candidates line up to replace them, and so on.

It's going to be a long year.

An abridged list of Kyrsten Sinema's endorsements, from the campaign:

Congressman Ruben Gallego (AZ-07)
Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01)
Former Senator Dennis DeConcini
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild
Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell
State Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (LD-24)
State Senator Andrea Delassandro (LD-2)
State Senator Robert Meza (LD-30)
State House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (LD-27)
State House Minority Leader Dr. Randy Friese (LD-9)
State Representative Lela Alston (LD-24)
State Representative Daniel Hernandez, Jr. (LD-2)
Mesa City Councilman Francisco Heredia
Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor
Phoenix City Councilman Danny Valenzuela
Tempe City Councilman Joel Navarro
Tucson Councilwoman Regina Romero
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty