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Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is changing her affiliation to independent after decrying the stranglehold extremists have on both major parties in a move that potentially weakens Democrats’ already tenuous hold on the upper chamber.
The first-term Democrat made the announcement Friday morning in a guest column for the Arizona Republic, just days after Democrats won a critical Senate runoff in Georgia. Sinema, who is up for re-election in 2024, did not say if she will continue to caucus with Democrats, as do independent senators Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and Angus King, of Maine.
“Everyday Americans are increasingly left behind by national parties’ rigid partisanship, which has hardened in recent years,” Sinema wrote. “Pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges, allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities and expecting the rest of us to fall in line.”
Becoming an Independent won’t change my work in the Senate; my service to Arizona remains the same. Read my full Op-ed in the Arizona Republic 3/3 ⬇️https://t.co/P2JQXFT5IJ
— Kyrsten Sinema (@kyrstensinema) December 9, 2022
Sinema, like West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, has often bucked her party’s Left-wing leadership, although both often fall in line after initial, headline-grabbing reluctance. She said in her column that both parties give too much credence to their extreme wings and are more interested in stymying one another’s agenda than working for those who elected them.
“In catering to the fringes, neither party has demonstrated much tolerance for diversity of thought,” she wrote. “Bipartisan compromise is seen as a rarely acceptable last resort, rather than the best way to achieve lasting progress. Payback against the opposition party has replaced thoughtful legislating.”
In an interview with Politico, Sinema suggested she intends to vote the same way she has since her 2018 election.
“Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she said.
Democrats control 51 seats in the Senate after Georgia’s Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in Tuesday’s runoff election. But switching to independent is a shot across the bow to the party’s leadership, which has at times struggled to keep more moderate members in line with an agenda that includes massive green energy spending and lax border security.
Sinema was stalked and harassed at Arizona State University in October of 2021 by pro-illegal immigration activists who followed her into a restroom while recording the confrontation.
“I promised I would never bend to party pressure, and I would stay focused on solving problems and getting things done for everyday Arizonans,” Sinema wrote. “My approach is rare in Washington and has upset partisans in both parties.”
The move could better position Sinema for her 2024 re-election bid in a state that defies description as red or blue and values the maverick, a title longtime Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain wore proudly during his 31 years in the Senate, which ended when he died in 2018.