IN-DEPTH: How Kyrsten Sinema Sold Out

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons CC BY-SA

The origin story of the Senate’s newest super villain

By Aída Chávez | The Nation

In 2002, The Arizona Republic published a letter from Kyrsten Sinema, then a social worker preparing to run for a seat in the state House of Representatives, putting forth a critique of capitalism. Capitalism, she wrote, gave us NAFTA, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, which benefit the American ruling class at the expense of workers in the United States and abroad. “Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule,” she concluded. “It certainly is not ruling in our favor.”

In her first bid for office, Sinema ran as an independent candidate affiliated with the Arizona Green Party. She lost, finishing last in a five-way race. By the next year, building on her previous work for Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign, she had become a vocal anti-war activist. She organized 15 rallies by the start of the Iraq War, the biggest a February 2003 protest in downtown Phoenix attended by an estimated 2,500 people. The flyers promoting the rally, as CNN’s KFile reported, called for direct action “against Bush and his fascist, imperialist war.”

Sinema joined the Democratic Party in 2004, and shed her self-described “bomb-thrower” reputation over time. Erika Andiola, a longtime immigration activist based in Phoenix, first met Sinema through her work on immigration in the early 2000s, while the lawmaker was working in the state legislature. Andiola said Sinema was always “extremely helpful and supportive” of her work on deportation cases, noting that the Arizona Democrat did a lot of work with immigrant communities and on the border as a social worker. “She was like a champion for a lot of us who were pushing in the state legislature against some of these anti-immigrant bills,” Andiola said. During her time in the Arizona state legislature, Sinema was considered one of the most progressive members of her caucus, and fought zealously for many of the same things her Senate colleagues now support. In 2011, the Phoenix New Times named her a “local lefty icon.”

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