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Díaz and Boas: Arizona may regret losing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, but Democrats are rightfully mad

Kyrsten Sinema rocked the political world last week when she announced she won’t seek reelection for her seat in the U.S. Senate. In her announcement, she cited partisanship in Washington and said her bipartisan approach is “not what America wants right now.”

Love her or hate her, the Arizona Republic editorial board says Sinema’s exit from the Senate is bad news for all of us. Elvia Diaz is Editorial Page Editor of The Arizona Republic, and she spoke to The Show along with columnist Phil Boas.

Full interview

LAUREN GILGER: So you penned an op-ed with the entire editorial board that kind of reflected this sentiment that this is not a good thing, not to have Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate. But I understand you were a little conflicted about this one, Elvia. So I want to start with you. Tell us about your take here on Sinema’s departure.

ELVIA DÍAZ: No, I mean, first writing editorials from the perspective of the entire board is precisely that. It’s a consensus of the board and not one individual person’s perspective. And, you know, that’s why we’re all columnists as well.

In this case, it was a consensus of the board that Sinema was a big deal for Arizona, that she did accomplish quite a bit. From my perspective, the editorial left (out) a lot of the stuff that angered her base, that anger that Democrats and that ultimately cost her to not run for U.S. Senate.

GILGER: OK, so let’s talk about that. Go ahead and tell us the things that you would have written if you had written your own piece about this.

DÍAZ: Well, I do recognize that she did accomplish a lot for Arizona, but also that she blocked a lot of the Democrats’ (bills). Voting legislation, for instance, is one of those. Then keep in mind that she was elected as a Democrat to champion those issues.

So voting legislation is one of that. She helped kill a party-backed $15 an hour minimum wage. She blocked the repeal of the carried interest tax exemption, which we know that benefits venture capitalists.

And it’s not just what she did. Those are major, major issues, by the way, for her base. But it’s also how she did it. It’s how she went about it that angers so many people. To begin with, she decided that her constituents were not worth meeting with. So she preferred to be in the halls of Congress and elsewhere versus meeting with people throughout her Senate career.

Now, keep in mind that this is a senator that started as a progressive Green Party member and ended up as a pro-corporate centrist.

GILGER: Interesting. OK. So Phil, let’s turn to you then. You wrote your own opinion piece about Sinema with sort of a prediction in here or maybe a hope at least that Sinema might come back. Tell us why you think her departure is such a loss?

PHIL BOAS: I would say this: That the very first words out of Kyrsten Sinema's mouth when she was running for U.S. Senate when she began her launch were “I guess I’m a little bit different than most people in politics.”

And she said in that opening video, that launch video, “It’s time to put our country ahead of party, ahead of politics. It’s time to stop fighting and looking for common good. It’s time to stand up and answer the call. We can change a broken Washington and make it work again.” That’s truth in advertising. That’s who she was and is today.

And that’s what broke through a 30-year barrier between the Democrats and a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. I think the Democrats — and they still hate her to this day, and they cannot let go of it — I think they hate her because she held up a mirror to themselves and she told them, “You’re a big part of the problem we have in America. It’s not just the Republicans. It’s you, too. It takes two to fight like this, and we’re part of it. And we got to change that.”

I saw Kyrsten Sinema from the beginning, and I remember back when she was doing Code Pink and was a Green Party, I would say radical. We always thought she was a little bit nuts — very friendly, but a little bit nuts. And I just saw her mature over the years until she made herself into one of the most consequential politicians in Washington.

She is an amazing story. I don’t think a lot of Democrats even appreciate it, that she accomplished more in one term than most senators who served many terms will never accomplish it. I mean, she was the person who was indispensable in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. She made that happen. She brought the Republicans to the table because of all of the trust that she had built with them, the hard work that she put in.

And even Joe Biden was crowing her name from the mountaintops after she had done that. She was responsible for the biggest breakthrough in gun reform in nearly three decades. Even her fellow Democrats who were at the table with her marveled at the number of Republicans she was able to bring to the table.

She helped get the CHIPS and Science bill through when it was starting to break down. It’s working to make America a player again in microchips, which are the brains of all modern appliances and the brains of all military hardware. And at the very end, she nearly pulled off a deal on immigration reform, an almost impossible thing to do in an election year.

She had the support of Mitch McConnell. She didn’t have the support of the one Republican she needed, and that was Donald Trump. But she had Joe Biden, who is still relying on her even after her own party had shunned her. Biden was hoping that she could bail him out and save him in this election on the issue that is hurting him the most.

DÍAZ: Lauren, and yet she called it quits because she knows that she’s not going to be able to win. If Republicans love her so much for everything that she had accomplished, you would think that one, she would have run as a Republican, or she would have run as an independent and get the Republican vote.

Clearly the Republicans were not going to vote for her. They were going to vote for one of their own if it came to choosing. So yeah, they love her because they didn’t have to vote for her. They didn’t have to own her and that in that regard. So I just think that is very interesting.

Yes, she is very important because of the slim majority in Congress. Any one of those senators could have inserted herself or himself just like she did. I mean, she is very smart and she did that.

So, yes, Biden needed her and Biden still needs her. Let’s keep in mind that she will be in the Senate for another year.

GILGER: Phil, what do you make of that? A lot of people saying she may say that she’s not running because of partisanship in Washington, but she’s really not running because she couldn’t win. And she knows that.

BOAS: Well, right. So she was putting her country above party, which is exactly what she said she was going to do when she ran.

I didn’t even name her biggest accomplishment. Her biggest accomplishment — and one day the Democrats may really appreciate this — is she saved the legislative filibuster. She saved the protections there for the minority. That would be gone if it weren’t for her and Joe Manchin. But they saved it.

And things could look a lot different in the U.S. Senate and on Capitol Hill by the end of this year. If the polls go where they’re going now, you can have a Republican president, you might have a Republican Senate. And I think Democrats will see Kyrsten Sinema in a lot different way if that happens.

GILGER: He’s saying that’s one of Sinema’s biggest accomplishments, Elvia, one of the things that Democrats really were most angry with her for. What’s your take there?

DÍAZ: It is possible that in the end, a lot of people are going to look at her and say, “Yeah, she did the right thing.” But one of the things that I always keep in mind, Lauren, is the fact that when people are suffering, when everyday Americans are hurting — we’re talking about $15 minimum wage, we’re talking about a lot of other legislation: voting, border security, what have you — then it doesn’t matter who’s doing the beating, right? I mean, if you’re hurting and someone is beating you, that’s all you feel. And that’s what we are facing right now.

She did block a lot of the priorities of the people that got her elected and then she turned her back on them. So, again, it is possible that in hindsight, we’re all going to be praising her five years from now. But the people that were hurting, the people that elected her do not see it that way right now.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.