Three years after their sprawling grassroots operation helped carry Kyrsten Sinema over the electoral finish line, members of the progressive Hispanic activist group LUCHA stood at the back exit of the Royal Palms Resort in Scottsdale on Saturday night, attempting to score a few moments with the first-term senator as she left a high-dollar fundraiser put on by corporate lobbyists.
Instead, they were forced to leave by aggressive police and security guards as Sinema’s staff watched and mocked them from afar. The confrontation ensured that they would once again go home without getting to speak with Sinema, whose decision to continue her wine-soaked evening with millionaires sent a clear message to her one-time supporters.
“We have not been able to have a sit down conversation with the senator this entire year,” Stephanie Maldonado, the organizing director for LUCHA, told me earlier in the week. “We have had rallies and actions outside of her office when we know she's here in state during her recess; there have been thousands of calls, we have been driven to her office and sent endless amounts of emails and letters. We’ve used all of the strategies to engage with her, and like many of the groups we engage with, we have yet to have a sit down conversation with the senator.”
They were once again left to shout their pleas into the desert night sky’s infinite emptiness. At least they weren’t alone: A larger contingent of LUCHA members protested in front of the resort for hours, capping a longer day of statewide actions meant to pressure Sinema into dropping her hardball tactics and stonewalling of just about every pressing Democratic priority.
Democratic leaders, reporters, pundits, and activists have spent these last nine months asking the same question: What does Sen. Kyrsten Sinema want?
The question, some version of which is now bluntly posed in headlines almost daily, is actually based on a flawed premise.
The Arizona lawmaker fooled scoop-hungry reporters at Axios into publishing multiple stories last month that extoll her independence, unpredictability, and supposed actuarial mastery in budget negotiations — negotiations that she takes so seriously that she fled them for an expensive lobbyist fundraise at a ritzy hotel in Phoenix this weekend. Sinema doesn’t play by the rules, these stories warn, which is a gentler way of conveying the message she wore on a ring in a photo posted on Instagram this spring.
It all adds up to a pretty clear conclusion: We know exactly what Sinema wants and it has nothing to do with numbers or the structure of a major piece of legislation.
While her efforts to strip the tax increases and most popular social programs out of Democrats’ reconciliation bill are being on behalf of corporate donors, it’s not policy that she ultimately cares about. What Kyrsten Sinema really wantsare power and attention.
Some level of narcissism is practically de rigueur for any politician, of course, though Sinema’s Joker-esque commitment to sewing chaos and outrage amongst her own voters is unprecedented and borderline sociopathic, especially in an increasingly tribal political system. But what makes her right-wing trolling still difficult to accept is how much of a heel turn it represents from the lawmaker who began once presented as a leftist progressive, suggesting that her politics and campaigns are mere kayfabe in a state where the stakes couldn’t be higher.
For Maldonado, the decision to work as an organizer was a deeply personal one. In 2012, Maldonado mother, an undocumented immigrant in a state being terrorized by the GOP’s SB 1070 “Show Me Your Papers” law and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, decided to self-deport back to Mexico. Maldonado was in college at the time and it became a formative event.
“I think something hit me, something clicked where I felt the need to really fight,” she recalled. “My mother was not a criminal, my mother didn't do anything bad. All she did was really fight for a better future for her family, for me and for my siblings. And the fact of the matter is that no matter how good you are, as immigrant, due to the way the system is set up, she was just not a priority for this country.”
Maldonado has worked her way up as an organizer at LUCHA, becoming a key part of the tireless campaign machinery that has turned Arizona blue in national elections and nearly flipped it at the legislative level, as well. That included electing Sinema in 2018 after the quirky wig-wearing lawmaker had served in both chambers of the legislature and in Congress.
“We do independent programs to uplift and to support candidates that we believe are going to align with our political agenda, and that are going to defend and value our people and center them in their decision-making,” Maldonado said. “And Kyrsten Sinema is someone that people looked up to, someone the grassroots movement organizations saw as someone that we could trust, someone that could get the job done, that was going to go to Washington, DC and center those communities of color that elected her into office.”
This wasn’t some naive assumption by young activists; Sinema began her political life as a Green Party activist and has consistently spoken like a movement progressive, voicing support for taxing the rich, ending corporate influence in politics, eliminating the filibuster, and free Community College, among many other key policies.
CLICK HERE to donate to LUCHA and Primary Sinema PAC via ActBlue!
“She ran on the platform of defending undocumented communities, that she was going to create a pathway to citizenship, that she was going to center education and health careThat was a big part of why communities right, were voting for cinema, because when Martha mcsalley was saying repeal the ACA, Kristen senemo was like, affordable health care for all right, so now, right, like, fast forward, two, and in fact, years later, it's completely day and night, right? Like, the platform she ran on was centering working day like everyday working class, Arizona, right, her agenda and her platform was to serve both communities that were always that were forgotten.
Now, she’ll only talk to corporate lobbyists, as evidenced by her ongoing refusal to exchange words with LUCHA activists on Sunday, even when they stood face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder. Listen to the heart-wrenching stories they tell in the video below and ask yourself how any person, let alone politician, could stay silent.
After the Arizona Democratic Party overwhelmingly authorized an official vote of no confidence against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema should she not bend on the filibuster or the most important provisions in the Build Back Better legislative package, a number of party officials and activists on Wednesday launched a prospective primary campaign against the troll masquerading as a senator. They’re raising money right now that they plan to split between a primary candidate and grassroots organizations that would do the groundwork necessary to topple Sinema. Two other Democratic groups have also launched primary efforts, as well.
Perhaps not wanting to give away the bomb that was dropping the next morning, Maldonado demurred a bit when I asked about LUCHA’s interest in supporting a primary challenge, saying that they wanted to keep focusing on the filibuster and reconciliation for now.
Still, it wasn’t hard to read in between the lines; Maldonado’s disappointment in and frustration with Sinema was palpable and personal, and on the subject of the primary challenge, it wasn’t all that hard to game out what’s going to happen given what’s happened all year. “Based on how she shows up and votes, I think that that's going to be very telling for where groups like ours will be,” Maldonado said. “I think at that point, we will identify whether that’s primary challenge. But for now we still are remaining hopeful that the senator will show up and she will vote for our communities.”
That quote came on Tuesday evening. Judging by the videos and interaction they’ve had — or haven't had — with Sinema since, I’m going to bet that after helping Democrats win the governor’s election in Arizona in 2022 and proving their power, LUCHA will be all-in on a primary against Sinema.
CLICK HERE to donate to LUCHA and Primary Sinema PAC via ActBlue!
The national media didn’t touch any of the protests against Sinema this weekend. We have to create or own media ecosystem to keep people informed, which is the goal of Progressives Everywhere
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