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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has made progressives more than mad. Some are readying for 2024

Kyrsten Sinema
Kyrsten Sinema in 2019.

Chris Love met Arizona’s future senior U.S. senator in law school 20 years ago.

“One day after class Kyrsten just came up to me and said, ‘I want to be your friend.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’”

They belonged to a group of bold and outspoken misfits, said Love, who was then new to Arizona.  

“So a lot of the things that [Sinema] was involved (in) politically, she dragged me to.”

Today Love leads the board that runs political operations for Planned Parenthood here. She doesn’t agree with how Sinema has used her power in the Senate.

“I don’t like the way that she’s operating right now,” said Love.

Love is not alone. Other Arizona progressives are more than mad. They’ve told Sinema to back the Democratic causes they sent her to Washington to vote for, or they’ll work to primary her in 2024.

A small group of protesters chanted “fight for us” on Camelback Road near where Sinema held a fundraiser last Saturday. The group called Living United for Change in Arizona or LUCHA helped organize the action.

Video on Twitter shows LUCHA confronting Sinema the next day, at a bathroom break during a class Sinema teaches at ASU.  

In a statement Sinema called what happened not a legitimate protest. She’s defended her positions as delivering through compromise, such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill she helped broker.

Carrie Lifshitz, a neuroscientist and mom living in Phoenix, voted for Sinema when she was in the U.S. House of Representatives and now the Senate.

“I did have some friends that did tell me that, ‘Just be careful. Be careful because she might not be exactly who you think she is,’” said Lifshitz.

A Democrat growing more progressive through her faith and children, Lifshitz doesn’t regret her vote because it helped her party later get a Senate majority.

“But at the same time, I’m very disappointed,” she said.

Lifshitz pointed to Sinema’s opposition to filibuster reform and vote against a $15 dollar minimum wage. At this point she finds it hard to believe she’d support Sinema again.

“I feel like Kyrsten Sinema is really an example of somebody who has flipped and has turned into a rebel without a cause,” said Sukie Keita, an educator and progressive, who also voted multiple times for Sinema.

Keita has soured on Sinema’s maverick mindset that’s drawn comparisons to the late Republican John McCain.  

“He was always telling us what he thought. You know, that's why we all appreciated and respected him,” she said.

Keita said she’ll vote against Sinema in a primary. But would still vote for Sinema in a general election.

“Because I’m not crazy. And I’m in a purple state,” she said.

Democrats won national races here in 2020. But Republicans won about everything else in Arizona, said Chris Love, Sinema’s friend from law school.  

“I’m not willing to say that we’re purple yet. Maybe we’re like light pink,” she said.

Sinema has made shrewd choices based on Arizona’s political reality, Love said.

Roughly two-thirds of the state’s registered voters are Independents and Republicans.

But Love said Sinema’s calculations don’t fulfill her campaign promises to fellow Democrats.  

“I would just say that I know that she has it in her to do the things that are right. What she needs is the courage to deliver on those things,” said Love.

It’s too soon to focus on a 2024 primary, Love said. She recalls complaints about Sinema from groups like LUCHA going back years.

“Those complaints have not been taken seriously by the larger party. And you know, folks are just like, ‘Just fall in line.’ And it happens every time.

Love means that Sinema has kept getting support from local Democrats. But LUCHA and other groups have shown they can deliver results. She thinks Sinema is doing the fundraising that would be needed to run a ground game in 2024 without local help. 

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Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.