Kyrsten Sinema: Arizona Democrats censure senator for not ensuring ‘the health of our democracy’

‘Arizona is ground-zero for the modern-day fight for voting rights, and we don’t have any time to waste’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Saturday 22 January 2022 20:15
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Related video: Protesters gather at Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Phoenix office

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has been censured by the state’s Democratic Party for her opposition to removing the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation without Republican support.

“While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the [Arizona Democratic Party] Executive Board has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy,” the chair of the board, Raquel Terán, said.

She added that “the Arizona Democratic Party is a diverse coalition with plenty of room for policy disagreements, however on the matter of the filibuster and the urgency to protect voting rights, we have been crystal clear. In the choice between an archaic legislative norm and protecting Arizonans’ right to vote, we choose the latter, and we always will”.

Ms Terán said Republicans in the state are pushing “restrictive legislation to eliminate our popular and long-standing vote-by-mail system” and to “jail election workers”.

“As a party, our job is to support our Democratic candidates, and we appreciate Senator Sinema’s leadership in passing the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. However, we are also here to advocate for our constituents and the ramifications of failing to pass federal legislation that protects their right to vote are too large and far-reaching,” she added.

A censure is a symbolic condemnation without practical implications. Multiple groups are fundraising to mount a primary challenge against Ms Sinema in 2024. The last Democratic Senator to represent Arizona before Ms Sinema’s election in 2018 was Dennis DeConcini, who retired in 1995.

The vice-chair of the Arizona Democrats, Michael Slugocki, told Insider that the vote to censure Ms Sinema took place on Saturday.

“I’ve never, ever in my time organizing in the Arizona Democratic Party seen such a large amount of Democrats upset,” Mr Slugocki told the outlet. “It’s never been at these levels, ever.”

Along with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ms Sinema was one of only two Democrats to vote against reforming the filibuster, which requires at least 60 votes to pass most laws in the senate.

Democrats now appear unable to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act, a major priority for the Biden administration and congressional Democrats.

“This should not be a partisan issue, the duty to protect our most fundamental right to vote is one that we all share,” Ms Terán said in a statement. “We were counting on Senator Sinema to fight for Arizona, find a path forward, and protect our democracy, but on this issue she has fallen short. Right now, Arizona is ground-zero for the modern-day fight for voting rights, and we don’t have any time to waste.”

Arizona Republicans ordered a partisan review of millions of ballots in the state after the 2020 election and they almost entirely removed the permanent early voting list in the state, meaning that ballots will no longer be sent by default to voters who haven’t used the system.

“Any reservoir of goodwill that she had is gone,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who may challenge Sinema from the left.

Ms Sinema’s defenders say nobody who’s watched her for the past decade should be surprised by her position. She often bucked her party while serving in the House, ran an aggressively moderate campaign for Senate and has never wavered in her support for upholding the filibuster.

“During three terms in the US House, and now in the Senate, Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans she would be an independent voice for the state — not for either political party,” Hannah Hurley, Ms Sinema’s spokesperson, said in a statement to The Independent. “She’s delivered for Arizonans and has always been honest about where she stands.”

Her influence is driven by the Senate’s 50-50 split, which essentially gives any senator the ability to kill legislation, an option Ms Sinema has repeatedly exercised.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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