The 39-year-old co-executive director of community organizing group LUCHA went door-to-door in the sweltering heat of Arizona in 2018, eliminating Democratic voters who helped get Sinema elected to the Senate. The work was hard and the hours long, but Gomez and others believed deeply in the need to defeat Republican Martha McSally, who aligned with then-President Donald Trump.
Gomez now has another label for the woman she helped elect: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“What has happened is a complete slap in the face for our members, for the work they have done and for the change they are trying to make in our communities,” said Gomez. “If it’s not part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. And what we are seeing is that she is presenting herself as a bipartisan leader, but we haven’t seen where the bipartisanship is yet. She didn’t do anything. “
But at home, her refusal to support a number of Democratic priorities -om eliminating filibuster to raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour – has created deep mistrust of her party base and even urged groups like LUCHA to look for alternatives to run against her in the Democratic primary when she is re-elected in 2024.
“We are ready to support a viable candidate who is ready to stand up for our communities,” Gomez said.
When asked if challenging Sinema was worth the risk of losing the seat to a Republican, Gomez didn’t flinch.
“We already have a Republican in this seat,” she said.
From the Green Party to the centrist Senate
Sinema, whose Senate office declined to comment for this story, is in part the product of a changing Arizona policy.
The Democrat began her career as a member of the Arizona Green Party and became a staunch supporter of liberal positions, including writing a letter to the Arizona Republic editor that “until the Average American realizes that capitalism harms their livelihoods while increasing the livelihoods of the rich, the almighty dollar will continue to rule. “
Her political career began with loss – she finished fifth in a five-person race for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives in 2002 – but her fortunes began to be reversed in 2004, when she joined the Democratic Party and won a state chamber. seat. Sinema held the post for six years before moving to the Arizona Senate in 2010. The Arizona Democrat went on to win her US House seat two years later in 2012, and was subsequently re-elected. quite easily over the next four years.
Meanwhile, Arizona – once a Republican stronghold that produced Barry Goldwater and John McCain – began to move to the left, spurred by a growing Latin American population and voters moving to the desert from across the country. More liberal states like California and Illinois. .
While Sinema’s victory in 2018, in many ways signaled that political change was coming, the politics of the future senator began to shift to the center during her time in the House. The Arizona Democrat has joined the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats who identify as centrists, and The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that poses as negotiators across party lines.
Sinema won the support of almost every Democratic group ahead of his Senate bid, billed as a top recruit and someone who could win in a state that had not been too Democrat-friendly. But she campaigned cautiously, avoiding many contentious issues and, in the eyes of National Democrats, counting that national anti-Trump sentiment would be enough to win the day.
His election, like many in 2018, brought out people who had never been involved in politics, spurred on by Trump’s White House victory two years earlier and the feeling that the midterms could show that the country rejected his type of leadership. With that help, however, Sinema won, becoming the first woman to represent Arizona in the Senate.
The fact that so many new political activists helped Democrats get elected in 2018, argued Julie Erfle, Arizona communications consultant and AZMirror columnist, is part of the reason why so many one-time Sinema supporters feel depressed.
“They are unhappy with Senator Sinema because they think she is holding back the party and that she is really an obstacle to some of these policies,” Erfle said, adding that she too was “a little puzzled” by the the political positioning of the senator. because there are very few signs that Republicans are ready to find the compromise Sinema says he seeks.
Few issues have targeted liberal anger at Sinema more than Senate filibustering, a rule that requires 60 votes to pass most laws. Many Democrats want to change the filibuster rule and allow most laws to pass by a simple majority. Sinema opposed these changes and recently stood with Republican Senator from Texas John Cornyn in saying that Democrats were pushing a “false choice” in the filibuster debate.
“The reality is that when you have a system that isn’t working efficiently – and I think most would agree that the Senate is not a particularly well-oiled machine, is it – the way to remedy it is to correct your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior, ”she told reporters in Texas on a tour of the US-Mexico border.
The flashback was swift, with Dan Pfeiffer, once a key aide to President Barack Obama, arguing that Sinema’s statement “told all the Democratic activists and local donors who helped her get elected.” .
Erfle described herself as “a little frustrated”.
“I was really hoping she wouldn’t have dug this far and said no to (change) the obstruction,” the columnist said. “I think there is room to reform filibuster. Personally, I would like it to go away, but if it doesn’t, reform at least to make it a real obstruction. “
Sinema’s problems don’t lie exclusively in Arizona, with National Democratic agents regularly and publicly calling on the lawmaker for her actions.
It happened more viscerally earlier this year when Sinema joined with seven other Senate Democrats in voting against raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. Even though the Arizona Democrat was part of a larger group, it was her vote – which she did with what looked like a happy thumbs down and a bent knee on the Senate floor – that infuriated Liberal Democrats, although she said she threw out the vote because she wanted the measure separated from the coronavirus relief bill.
Representative Mark Pocan, a progressive Democrat who represents Madison, Wisconsin, went further by retweeting a message posted by Sinema in 2014 in which she pledged to raise the minimum wage.
And back home, with Gomez and Lucha, the way she did it pissed them off.
“Seeing her curtsy and dance and walk away so casually,” said Gomez, “she was sending that message to millions of Americans and Arizonans that she didn’t care. “
In response, the Liberals prepared to oust the same senator they helped elect in 2018, hoping to knock her out of her Senate seat as a warning to other moderates.
“There was real excitement in the campaign she ran. She looked like she was going to be a progressive pillar and a new kind of progressive fighter in the Senate, ”said Corbin Trent, who joined with other progressives in launching the No Excuses PAC as a business to oust both. Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, another Democrat supporting the party’s priorities. “This is what is particularly disappointing. “
The super PAC now airs radio commercials in Arizona accusing Sinema of “doing an about-face” and “more determined to protect Washington’s inaction and dysfunction.”
“Right now what she’s fighting to protect is her own political relevance,” Trent told CNN. “She is essentially on a political campaign to protect the power of an individual senator. “
But it’s a photo the senator posted on Instagram in April that activists back home say really captures what she feels for them: Sinema is seen wearing a ring that says “F *** Off” then that she’s sitting at what appears to be a restaurant sipping a drink.
“Her message to them,” Gomez said, “was clear from her ring. “