Arizona's Democratic Senators Diverge on Votes for $15 Minimum Wage Hike

Democratic Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema.
Democratic Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. KyrstenSinema.com
Arizona's two Democratic Senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, voted oppositely today on whether the federal minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour as part of the latest COVID-19 relief package.

Kelly, who was elected in November to complete the last two years of John McCain's term, voted for the federal wage hike in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate.

But Sinema, who isn't up for reelection until 2024, voted against it. She joined a group of other moderate Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, in opposing it.

Even though the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that the wage hike can't be attached to the relief package because it is going through a process called budget reconciliation (a procedure that only requires a simple majority vote to pass a bill), Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont pushed it in anyway. It was voted down. Sinema and the other Democrats voted alongside all 50 Senate Republicans to kill the proposal, making the final vote 58-42.

Sinema's vote isn't entirely surprising. Back in February, she told Politico that she opposed including the $15 minimum wage hike in the relief bill. She's also expressed support for the Senate filibuster procedure, which requires 60 votes to pass most legislation, and which critics argue hampers the Senate's ability to get anything done.

But Sinema's vote, alongside her allegiance to the filibuster and other less-than-lefty votes, has drawn the ire of progressives, who have criticized her for her moderate stances. She and Kelly both recently voted against providing $1,400 stimulus checks to undocumented immigrants.

"I'm incredibly disappointed in Senator Sinema’s vote, and it indicates that she is putting a desire to be seen as moderate above what’s actually popular and necessary in Arizona," said Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, a local liberal group. "It feels to me like a vote that is both callous and a misreading of the political landscape, and I know she’s going to be hearing from constituents who are really frustrated by this vote."

She added that Kelly "absolutely did the right thing" by voting for the minimum wage hike.

In a statement released today, Sinema defended her vote.

“I understand what it is like to face tough choices while working to meet your family's most basic needs," she said. "No person who works full time should live in poverty. Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill."

Tomas Robles, the co-executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), a liberal group, slammed Sinema on Twitter over her claim that she "strongly supported" Proposition 206, a ballot measure approved by voters in 2016 that raised Arizona's minimum wage to $12 an hour. He alleged that she didn't endorse the ballot measure and called her a "political coward."

Marisol Samayoa, a spokesperson for Kelly, did not respond to New Times' request for comment on his vote.

Update: Mark Kelly released a statement to New Times after publication of this article: "I’ve talked with Arizonans struggling to make ends meet, and while improvements need to be made to this proposal, I believe hard working Arizonans deserve a raise. This COVID relief package is going to bring a lot of immediate help to Arizona families and small business owners, and I’ll continue working with Republicans and Democrats to raise the minimum wage in a way that works for Arizona’s economy, families, and small businesses."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety