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Who is Kyrsten Sinema?

Recently, the name of Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, has hit the headlines multiple times thanks to the latter's key involvement in the negotiations that led to the achievement of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the numerous doubts she raised about the 3.5 trillion dollars democratic social reform package. This article will try to explain, through her life and political career, how a former Green Party member and staunch leftist turned into a centrist icon, how Kyrsten Sinema became the Kyrsten Sinema we know today.

Life and studies

Kyrsten Sinema was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1976. Following her parents' divorce, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Florida, but her family soon fell into poverty when the latter lost his job. Sinema's difficult childhood had become a hotly debated topic in 2018, as, although it is established that the family lived in difficult conditions, information about the real life conditions of the future senator at that time are strongly contradictory. Upon graduation, Sinema moved to Utah, where she successfully attended Brigham Young University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. Once she moved back to Arizona, she began her career as a social worker, continuing her studies at the same time, eventually obtaining a 'Masters in Social Works' in 1999 and a JD in law in 2003, following which she began practicing as a lawyer. She finally concluded her studies by earning a PhD in law in 2012.

Political life and "liberal phase

It was when she moved back to AZ that Sinema kicked off the successful political career that would take her to the Senate benches. Initially, the future senator joined the Green Party, phone-banking and door-knocking for Ralph Nader’s 2004 election campaign, harshly criticizing the war on terror waged by the then Bush administration and lashing out at the capitalist economic system several times. In 2002 she unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, receiving only 8% of the votes, which, however, was a good result for a party out of the spotlight such as the Green Party. Changing her affiliation to the Democratic Party in 2004, she once again attempted the political adventure by running for the 15th district of the Arizona House of Representatives, where she incredibly managed to beat incumbent Democratic State Representative Wally Straughn. After winning the election, Sinema distinguished herself as one of the most progressive political figures in Arizona, opposing Proposition 107 aimed at preventing the recognition of same-sex marriages and becoming part of the team of state legislators who helped prepare the Affordable Care Act , Barack Obama's health care reform.

2012: Sinema runs for her first federal office

Sinema's political career changed completely in 2011, when she decides to run for the United States House of Representatives. She chooses the 9th Congressional district, located in Maricopa County and newly created following the 2010 census that had increased Arizona's electoral votes. During the electoral campaign, Sinema implemented a sharp change in her image, largely stained by her past leftist political positions. In fact, the future senator presented herself as a moderate Democrat, stating that her views on the war on terrorism and capitalism had evolved over time and even going so far as to partially retracting her involvement in the preparatory work of the Obamacare - declaring that the law needed some changes. Once she won the primary, Sinema was able to defeat Republican Vernon Parker in the November 2012 general election. This electoral campaign permitted her to completely change the image that people had of her. Among the noteworthy events of her period as House Representative she refused to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and voted with the Trump Administration approximately 53% of the time (FiveThirtyEight).

2017: Sinema runs for Senate

The definitive turning point in Kyrsten Sinema's career took place in 2017, when she announced her candidacy for the Senate election in Arizona. During the November 2018 midterm elections, the former Green Party member was able to beat Republican rival Martha McSally, winning 50% of the vote and thus becoming the first Democrat elected to the Senate for the state of Arizona since 1988. Her victory was certainly affected by the rival's lack of charisma, the increase in weight of ethnic minorities voters, but, above all, the excellent electoral campaign conducted by Sinema, who presented herself as a moderate and centrist democrat, attracting both Independents and Republicans. Let's not forget that on the same day Sinema triumphed in the Senate, Republican Governor Doug Ducey was re-elected by a margin of over 300,000 votes. According to the analysis of the electoral flows, Sinema was able to obtain 50% of the votes of independents and 14% of the conservative electorate: in particular almost one in 5 Republican women (16%) gave their preference to her. All of this allowed her to win by a margin of about 70,000 votes in the tipping-point County of Maricopa (Phoenix and suburbs), where Ducey had won the battle for re-election as Governor by a margin of almost 200,000 votes, and by a margin of 60,000 votes in Pima County, where Ducey had instead lost by a margin of just 15,000 votes.

Tenure in the Senate (2018- ) During her tenure in the Senate, Sinema maintained her moderate approach, voting in favor of the USMCA (the trade deal negotiated by the Trump Administration to replace NAFTA even though she expressed a positive view over Clinton's trade deal) and the appointment of William P. Barr as Attorney General, joining the Problem Solver, New Democrat and Blue Dog Caucuses, however supporting both impeachments of former President Donald J. Trump following the phone call with the Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Capitol Hill events of January 6, 2021. Numerous political organizations and analysts define her stances as those of a "socially liberal, fiscally conservative".

The Senator’s influence has grown considerably following the 2020 elections and, in particular, the two January 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs which gave the Democrats a slim majority in the upper chamber. The situation of equilibrium generated by these two results, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, put centrist Senators back to their natural role of importance, given the impossibility for the Democrats to resort to the budget reconciliation procedure without her vote. The vote of the Arizona Senator has thus become key to allow the advancement of the Democrats' legislative priorities. Nonetheless, Sinema has so far maintained her moderate approach, aiming to avoid any radical reform and, where possible, to involve Republicans in the legislative process. In particular, the Senator opposed (together with Manchin, the other main centrist senator of the democratic caucus) the abolition of the filibuster and the initial White House proposal of a 2.2 trillion dollars infrastructure bill. Sinema was key in initiating the difficult negotiations that, after months, resulted in a bipartisan infrastructure agreement that bears her name as well as that of other centrist Republican and Democratic colleagues. However, Sinema's conduct is heavily criticized by the progressive press and left-wing activists, which, in some cases, went so far as to wonder what was holding back the Senator from switching parties given her so moderate positions, openly threatening to primary her in 2024. Vice versa , the conservative press has extensively praised her, complimenting the commitment in involving Republicans in the legislative process as well. As things stand right now, the Senator's influence is largely likely to continue to grow in the coming weeks, given her key role in the future approval of the Democrats' 3.5 trillion social reform package, on which, as we have already said, Sinema has already expressed several doubts.

Alessandro B. Carelli


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