When it comes to politics, the cost of moderation can be high, tearing families apart and threatening to destroy human lives.
Issues that are not solved by lawmakers — whether they’re rights that go unsecured or inequality that goes unfixed — have a tangible impact on people. In short, moderation for moderation’s sake isn’t worth celebrating. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is learning that lesson this week.
Sinema’s opposition to two key spending bills in President Joe Biden’s agenda is yet to be explained, and Arizonans are fed up. Her position is somewhat similar to that of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., another self-styled moderate who has voiced opposition to the legislation.
Manchin has haggled the Biden administration over the cost of the bills, and he has faced backlash in West Virginia for his centrism. Activists even kayaked to his houseboat to protest against him last week.
However, unlike Manchin, Sinema hasn’t specified a price tag she would accept; her only gripe is that it’s too costly in her view. But the people who have empowered her want actual life improvements in return. For them, meaningless moderation won’t do.
On Sunday, Sinema was questioned about her stance by members of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), an advocacy group focused on racial, economic and social justice. LUCHA and the Latino communities it has mobilized were largely responsible for helping Sinema win her first U.S. House race in 2012, as well as her first race for Senate in 2018.
Sinema ducked off into a bathroom at Arizona State University, where she is a lecturer in the School of Social Work, and LUCHA members followed her to denounce her stonewalling and to ask her to support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, teens and young adults who lack legal status after having been brought to the United States as children. (Her office has been noncommittal on whether she supports one.)
Sinema has steadily relied on nonwhite voters — Latinos, especially — to win races in Arizona.
“We knocked on doors for you to get you elected,” said a voice who identified herself as an immigrant named Blanca. “And we can get you out of office if you don’t support what you promised us.”
Sinema called the protest “unlawful” and “not legitimate” in a statement, so she’s clearly not thrilled about the accountability thing. And she probably wasn’t too excited when she was confronted again by a Dreamer on Monday, either.
But these constituents are right to criticize. Sinema has steadily relied on nonwhite voters — Latinos, especially — to win races in Arizona. And although she is talking like a moderate now, she has shown a tendency to waffle over the years merely out of political convenience.
Voter outreach groups like LUCHA, that focus heavily on Black and brown communities, have been essential to Democratic victories across the state, including Sinema's wins. Exploding population growth among Latinos in the state in recent decades helped bring some previously out-of-reach districts into contention for local Democrats, particularly in densely populated Maricopa County. From 1990 to 2010, the Hispanic population in that county grew by more than 225 percent.
The senator’s obstinate approach to dealmaking may earn her praise in the national media, where moderates are essentially characters in a political storyline, but it’s not doing her any favors at home, where Arizonans will feel the effects of her needless penny-pinching.
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