Speaking at a Tempe Chamber of Commerce event on Thursday morning, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema repeatedly turned to one of conservatives' favorite subjects: the need to cut back on government red tape.
Sinema, who is running for Senate as a Democrat, often sounds (and votes) more like a Republican. That was particularly true on Thursday, when she criticized the federal government's "outdated regulations" for standing in the way of Arizona's small businesses.
As corporate types in grey suit jackets snacked on yogurt parfaits, Sinema touted her cosponsorship of the Comprehensive Regulatory Review Act, a GOP-backed proposal that would require federal agencies to re-evalulate financial regulations that are currently in place, and consider making them less burdensome. First International Bank in Scottsdale had been one of her inspirations, she said.
"The bank's president here in Arizona, Greg Miskovsky, told me that many regulations are well-intentioned," she said. "But they stifle our ability to make loans to small businesses seeking to expand and hire new workers."
She also highlighted the fact that she'd introduced the Fostering Innovation Act of 2017, which would exempt some publicly traded start-ups from the auditing requirements in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. (Though the bill was introduced a little over a year ago, it hasn't yet gone up for a vote.)
If passed, she said, the bill would benefit companies like HTG Molecular in Tucson, which has come up with a way to speed up genetic testing.
"Washington should be tearing down roadblocks so that HTG can bring its lifesaving technologies to every lab in the country," she said. "But instead there are arbitrary rules that hold back this company, and other emerging biotech companies, with expensive and uncessary audits."
All the talk of cutting back on regulations to make room for business felt a little strange, given Governor Doug Ducey is currently taking flak from Democrats for exactly that. (And given the recent headlines about Uber and Theranos, regulations are looking pretty good these days.)
Her positions also demonstrate how dramatically Sinema's politics have changed. In 2002, the first year that she ran for the state legislature, she wrote, "Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule. It certainly is not ruling in our favor."
These days, her message to capitalists is a lot different.
"I'll be traveling across the state this month listening to business leaders and the challenges and opportunities that they're facing," she told the group at the Tempe Chamber event. "And I want to hear directly from you about how we can bring more jobs to our state."
During a short question-and-answer session, one bearded audience member with a distinct Bernie Bro vibe asked Sinema where she stood on the proposed rollback of banking reforms.
"There's a bill that's currently making its way through Congress that made news in the past couple of weeks on Dodd-Frank rollback, where they're attempting to reduce some of the more burdensome regulations, but at the same time they're granting more power to credit bureaus like Equifax that have not historically been good custodians of information," he said. "I would like to know where you stand on the Dodd-Frank rollback, and that particular bill?"
"I'm not sure exactly what bill you're referring to, but what I can tell you about is the work we're doing on Equifax," Sinema replied, using a time-honored political tradition: the pivot.
Eventually, she indirectly answered the question by suggesting that, yes, she'd support some changes to Dodd- Frank.
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"What I can say is that we're working in a bipartisan way in both the House and the Senate to pass reasonable changes to some elements of Dodd-Frank that have been overburdensome," she said. "For instance, regulating insurance the same way that you regulate banks doesn't make sense. They have totally different systems in terms of how they operate, and their risk levels are totally different. Similarly, regulating a community bank in the way that you regulate the Big Four makes no sense."
Closing out, Sinema seemed to suggest to the Republicans in the room that it would be okay for them to vote for her — after all, she was named one of the most independent members of Congress.
"Frankly, Arizonans don’t care whether there’s an R or a D next to your name, as long as you get the job done," she said.
Correction: This article previously stated that Kyrsten Sinema first ran for office for in 2002. It has been amended to reflect the fact that she ran for a seat on the Phoenix City Council in 2001.