Democrat Kyrsten Sinema raised eyebrows at a recent East Valley Partnership luncheon in Mesa, by stating that she hopes right-wing ideologue and Republican state Senate president Andy Biggs wins in Arizona's deeply red Fifth Congressional District this year.
The U.S. Representative for Arizona's Ninth Congressional District was onstage, participating in a Q&A with her pal, Republican Congressman Matt Salmon, who is retiring as the Fifth District's representative this year and backs Biggs in a five-person GOP primary.
"I can't wait to sit here and do this with Andy next year," Sinema enthused, according to one businessperson present at the event, who spoke with New Times on condition of anonymity.
EVP spokeswoman Chelsey Faggiano confirmed to New Times that the quote from Sinema is accurate, though she explained that the organization, which is dedicated to the economic development of the region, did not video- or audio-record the event. "There were a few claps," Faggiano says of the crowd's reaction to Sinema's comment. "People were wondering, 'Was that really just said? Is this something she knows that we don't know?'"
Faggiano characterized the remark as "very controversial" and noted that Republican CD5 hopeful Christine Jones was among the attendees. Jones had announced her candidacy May 3, the same day the forum was held.
One source who was present said he remembered Sinema making the comment twice, in a sort of humorous vein, perhaps making a dig at Biggs' status as Salmon's anointed successor.
Neither Jones nor Sinema's publicist, Macey Matthews, responded to requests for comment from New Times.
It's worth noting that no Democrat has declared for CD5. The Republican registration advantage in the district is nearly two to one, so the primary effectively decides the race. Other Republican contenders to fill the seat include former Maricopa County supervisor Don Stapley, state representative Justin Olson, and ex-Pinal County supervisor Bryan Martyn.
The conservative Sonoran Alliance blog also reported on Sinema's offhand endorsement of Biggs and deemed the Q&A "nothing short of a political love-fest" between Salmon and Sinema, with Sinema at one point becoming "teary over Salmon's retirement from the House."
Sinema and Biggs likely worked together during the former's time in the Legislature. Sinema once was considered a fairly lefty politician, but she began migrating to the center of the political spectrum once she set her sights on Congress.Biggs, on the other hand, is as far right as you get — so far right that he opposed the state's expansion of Medicaid in 2013, despite the fact that the effort was driven by a Republican governor.
More recently, he opposed Arizona's adopting KidsCare, the federal insurance plan for poor children, using his power as Senate president to block legislation to enact it, solely on ideological grounds, though the program costs the state nothing. The bill finally was approved, with Biggs overridden by coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans.
Salmon is no shirk when it comes to his wing-nut bona fides. Tea Party types saw him as a possible foil for U.S. Senator John McCain in this year's GOP primary, but Salmon did not enter the race, announcing in late February that he was retiring and throwing his support behind Biggs.
The Phoenix Business Journal reported that Sinema made another interesting comment at the EVP forum when she described this election year as "the year of the middle-finger voter" while discussing Donald Trump's candidacy.
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Sinema has a record of cozying up to Republicans and sometimes acting like one, to the ire of her Democratic base. She once infamously referred to former Republican state Senate president and nativist stalwart Russell Pearce as "my boss" in an address to a roomful of a progressive Democrats.
Moreover, she has had no problem accepting the endorsement of a local, right-wing police union, or, once in Congress, joining the Blue Dog caucus of conservative Democrats.
But, given her prowess at fundraising and her ability to get re-elected in a district that only narrowly favors Democrats, many local party members figure they're stuck with this born-again moderate, who in her liberal days once jokingly referred to herself as a "Prada socialist."
Which might explain why she feels so free to chum it up with the likes of Salmon, and, if she gets her wish, next year with Biggs.