Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

Freshman Congresswoman Moves to the Middle

Sinema greets voters at Giant Coffee in Phoenix. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

PHOENIX — Once known for her progressive politics, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has coasted to the center in her first re-election.

The freshman bills herself as bipartisan, and now party operatives — even Republicans, privately — view her as the safest of the state’s three vulnerable Democrats. But that’s also because she’s lucky: A brutal Republican primary is bound to leave her future foe broke and bruised 10 weeks before Election Day.

On the campaign trail, Sinema stresses her work across the aisle. It’s a political necessity for a member who represents a district President Barack Obama won by just four points.

“I’m working to make it cool to compromise in Congress,” Sinema tells 30 mostly baby boomers at a Thursday lunch with the Phoenix West Rotary Club. “I don’t know if we’re quite there yet, but I’m working on it.”

Sinema started her elected career nearly a decade ago at the state House, 10 miles away from this Sheraton conference room.

Some of her first political experience came working for Ralph Nader’s spoiler 2000 presidential bid. She tried her own third party attempt in a losing race for the state House as an independent affiliated with the Green Party two years later. She finally won the seat as a Democrat in 2004.In 2012, Republicans were elated when Sinema won a brutal Democratic primary because they viewed her as the weaker candidate, thanks to her liberal record. They cited some of her comments and positions as “too far out” in television advertisements.

But after arriving in Washington, Sinema joined the Blue Dog Coalition and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. She boasts about her work with conservative Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., on veterans’ legislation. It’s a salient issue for Phoenix given its local VA hospital sparked the national scandal.

Sinema tells a story about her first few weeks in Congress, when she attempted to listen to a bill hearing on Capitol Hill closed-circuit television. She couldn’t find the feed, so she asked Democratic leadership, who informed her that some bills go straight to the floor for a vote without debate or hearing. They explained that Democrats did the same procedural work-around when they held control of the chamber.

“That is not a good answer,” Sinema tells the rotary members. “You don’t eat paste because your neighbor is eating paste.”

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

She’s known for these witty one-liners, often interjecting colorful, self-deprecating comments into speeches and one-on-one conversations.

She looks young for her career? Must be her curly hair, she quipped. Tequila tips? She’s got them! Good news: Congress passed a budget for the first time in four years! “I mean, it’s Congress,” she deadpans.

The 9th District encompasses the eastern part of the Valley of the Sun, surrounding downtown like a backwards “C.” This is a newly drawn district, created after redistricting to account for population growth in the sprawling Phoenix area. It includes liberal strongholds she used to represent in the legislature such as Arizona State University in Tempe.

But there’s also ardent GOP territory on the district’s east side in places like Mesa, and more moderate Republicans in the Camelback Corridor and Ahwatukee Foothills.

“They’re Republicans who have wine and cheese parties with their gay friends,” says a Republican familiar with Phoenix, granted anonymity to speak candidly. “It’s not a culturally conservative district.”

According to March records from Arizona’s secretary of state, independents are actually the biggest concentration in the district at 36 percent, followed by 33 percent Republicans and 30 percent Democrats. Or, as Sinema offers later at trendy Giant Coffee in downtown Phoenix, “the remaining 10 people are Democrats.”

On the table, Sinema keeps spinning her Kate Spade iPhone case with the engraved message, “Eat Cake for Breakfast.”

She’ll face the winner of the Aug. 26 primary, either former ASU Football quarterback Andrew Walter or ret. Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers. They won’t have much time — early voting starts six weeks later.

Privately, Republicans view Walter, now a local businessman, as a slightly better general election candidate, if only because Rogers was criticized for taking an unpopular political position in 1012, when she told a group of local conservatives she would like to see Social Security “phased out” or privatized.

But Walter is green. In a disastrous interview with the Arizona Republic’s editorial board last month, the former jock said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the bipartisan immigration overhaul bill the Senate passed last year or deportation options for the influx of child migrants from Central America. Neither Republican made themselves available for this story the few days Roll Call was in the district.

Sinema calls Rogers “a very hard worker” but says she’s never met Walter. (“I was in law school while he was playing football.”)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Back at the rotary luncheon, Sinema details her multiple degrees and unusual path to Washington. The former Mormon rose from poverty to get a full scholarship to college and become a social worker at nearby Sunnyslope Elementary School. She doesn’t mention that she was Congress’ first openly bisexual member.

Asked about her greatest area of improvement in her short time in Congress, Sinema prefers instead to talk about her early missteps as a state lawmaker.
“I think the area that I’ve grown the most in is patience,” she tells the questioner, head cocked to the side. “When I first got elected to the state House, I was a bit of a firecracker.”

Sinema spent seven years in the state House, followed by a two years in the state Senate before winning a close race for Congress in 2012.

This fall, her greatest challenge will be turnout. Her campaign team estimates Democrats could drop off as much as 6 percent without a presidential race on the ballot. But she also doesn’t face a primary challenge, and her campaign bank account shows it: She reported $1.59 million in cash on hand for the race at the end of June.

“Out of 435 congressional districts in this country, only about 25 are competitive,” Sinema explains to the rotary group. “My district is one of those 25 districts, where a Republican or Democrat could win that election.”

This race is rated Democrat Favored by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

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  • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

    Another Stu masterpiece of stretching the truth. This woman HAS TO move to the middle. She is a phony and wouldn’t get elected again without the deception. It will probably work. Newly arrived Californians bring their leftist politics with them; they just won’t learn and move in to destroy another state. Mexicans also vote liberal much to their dismay. So…watch Arizona keep moving Left and becoming Little Cali in 5 years !!

  • JetsFan1984

    she is a Ralph Nader centrist – yeah, that’s the ticket! Sure!

    Roll Call continues to embarrass itself. Not one example of centrism. She is a far left liberal, and used to be proud of it. Lying full-time must be exhausting.

  • Jack Everett

    She is wasting her time with republicans they don’t know the meaning od compromise and all they are interested in is creating more deficits with their borrowing and anti Obama racism.

  • Chris

    Go Kirstin
    Chris In Brussels

  • Richard Murray

    She is a radical leftist who gets a lot of money from the greens as well as the California Air Resources Board to push their agenda and sell California fuel blends to other states. I helped fight her years ago when she was trying to force Arizona to buy only CA CARB fuel.

    She was also behind a law which was overturned in the state which would have forced trucks to drive only in the right lane and at 55, in a 75 mph state. The State Police refused to enforce the law as it is very dangerous, and after the DOT head showed the results of a Texas study accomplished a year after eliminating the state’s split speed limit and allowing trucks to move over in certain situations, accidents between cars and trucks dropped significantly.

  • darrell_b8

    Lying, big busted leftist….

  • Nunaya Biddness III

    So is she lying now, or was she lying then? Does she support Wall-street, or Main-street; Does she support Illegals, or Americans?

  • ltm5004

    No one knows who the real Krysten Sinema is. Why did she vote against the border crisis bill passed by the house recently? Does she support repeal of Obamacare, a majority of the country does. What about Keystone pipeline? What about conceal carry laws? What about the EPA’s overreach on coal plants? What about global warming hoax? Sinema flips and flops more than a fish in water. She will have a lot to answer to in the upcoming election. 70% of the country is unhappy with the direction of the country and her and her party have been in power for the last 6 years.

  • ltm5004

    Those who call others racists, are racists themselves. You must be a racist Jack.

  • ltm5004

    We are trying to fight the invasion of California leftists. Some want to build a border fence between the 2 states…. ha ha.

  • obamas_evil_ring_of_power

    another lying political whore

  • meanmarine

    I wonder when she had her epiphany it’s awfully suspicious that she just mentions her conversion in an election year. I guess after the election she can revert to her old progressive ways until the next election.

  • Jack Everett

    You may as well start getting use to the loser has hats you always are. You welfare queens will be cut off soon.

  • Jack Everett

    What say Racist Commie.

  • Jack Everett

    The only thing you know how to do is troll for welfare.

  • Jack Everett

    What about you ass hats crawling back into your commie cave.

  • Jack Everett

    Did your Koch welfare check bounce this month?

  • ltm5004

    Harry Reid is the obstructionist. He has 322 bills that the house passed and Harry won’t let his baby Democrats vote on them. #stuckinthehouse.


    It’s truly sad how disconnected both political parties are from mainstream America. This is just but one issue out of so many other issues affecting us. The situation with the more than three million unemployed families, still without an unemployment extension bill, is a critical issue, that both parties seemed to have walked away from and forgot about. Unfortunately, for these financially ruined families, it’s not possible to have that luxury. These workers, whom many are “older workers”, have lost everything, while waiting for the senate to finally pass an extension bill to help them recover from 8 months without benefits, and means to pay credit bills. Now, many have become financially ruined, and deep in debt. When the average American is only one or two paychecks away from being able to sustain themselves, you can imagine how much 8 months of no payments can do to a family. When the Congress approves Billions of dollars for the Ukraine, and other countries, and commits our children to another term in Iraq, we back home here, are having to go homeless and hungry. Our government can’t even take care of our veterans from the last war. But I’m sure the senators and congressman receive the very best healthcare, and perks, and salary, that the average citizens could only dream of. We Americans have finally become the “servants” of our so called “Public Servants’. It’s time we change that in the coming elections.

  • Ms. Newton

    I think we can all agree that homosexual sodomy is a vile perversion.

  • ericdondero

    only problem is, you liberals tax us working poor, as well: Taxes on cigarettes, beer, tollways, state taxes, local taxes, and yes, some of us working poor pay insane income taxes to support the loafers sitting on their couches collecting SSI.

  • Jack

    The house is caving in under the load of legislation they refuse to even read. Has your ratings come up above the sewer yet?

  • Jack

    Only problem is wing nuts caused all this with their commie borrowing and created the biggest government and debt in history. Bye bye in November.

  • ltm5004

    How many bills does the House have that haven’t been voted on? List them.

  • Manny Bartow

    One thing I’ve noticed recently – liberalism is basically socialism.

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    Set up some missiles around Phoenix airport bud, like in the Ukraine, it’s your only hope.
    The locusts, They come from the air!!

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