Sen. Kyrsten Sinema censured by Arizona Democratic Party executive board over filibuster vote

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The vote Saturday came after anger from liberals who characterize her as an obstructionist who helped doomed passing voting-rights bills.
The vote Saturday came after anger from liberals who characterize her as an obstructionist who helped doomed passing voting-rights bills.

Members of the Arizona Democratic Party executive committee passed Saturday a resolution to censure Sen. Kyrsten Sinema over her vote to keep the filibuster.

The closed-door vote Saturday morning came after an avalanche of anger from liberals who characterize Sinema, D-Ariz., as an obstructionist who helped doom Democrats’ chances at passing voting-rights legislation.

The censure has no practical effect but does deliver a strong message of condemnation and reflects the will of the party's most active and loyal members.

Sinema’s votes siding with Republicans and centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to maintain the Senate’s legislative filibuster rule helped kill Democrats’ push for passing two bills that would have established Election Day as a federal holiday, protected early- and mail-voting options, banned partisan gerrymandering and bolstered election security, among other things. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would re-establish protections under the Voting Rights Act.

Though Sinema sponsored both bills, she would not support changes to the Senate’s legislative filibuster, which requires a 60-vote majority to move most bills.

“As a party, our job is to support our Democratic candidates, and we appreciate Senator Sinema’s leadership in passing the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” state party chair Raquel Terán said in a written statement. “However, we are also here to advocate for our constituents and the ramifications of failing to pass federal legislation that protects their right to vote are too large and far-reaching. While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy.”

Hannah Hurley, a Sinema spokesperson, responded by noting Sinema's longstanding position on the filibuster and desire to work outside of partisan politics. Sinema has repeatedly said the filibuster helps encourage moderation and prevent “wild swings” between opposing political parties.

“During three terms in the U.S. House, and now in the Senate, Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans she would be an independent voice for the state — not for either political party,” Hurley said in a written statement. “She’s delivered for Arizonans and has always been honest about where she stands."

Last September, the party’s state committee members passed a resolution outlining potential action the party could take if she stuck by her filibuster position and held up passage of the voting rights bills. The resolution allowed for the party’s executive committee to discuss how to move forward with a possible “no confidence” in Sinema.

The executive committee met privately ahead of the state party's annual meeting. The censure resolution came on the day the state's Democratic and Republican parties gathered separately for their annual meetings. Democrats held their meeting virtually with some attending from the party's new headquarters in central Phoenix after the 2020 fire that burned down their previous headquarters. Republicans met at Dream City Church in north Phoenix.

“I want to be clear, the Arizona Democratic Party is a diverse coalition with plenty of room for policy disagreements, however on the matter of the filibuster and the urgency to protect voting rights, we have been crystal clear. In the choice between an archaic legislative norm and protecting Arizonans’ right to vote, we choose the latter, and we always will,” Terán said in her statement.

After the state GOP-led ballot review of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County following former President Donald Trump’s loss, she said, Republicans have introduced dozens of bills to “to eliminate our popular and long-standing vote-by-mail system, jail election workers, and put Cyber Ninjas in charge of our elections."

The censure carries echoes of the Arizona Republican Party's censures of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Among the senator's offenses: working on comprehensive immigration reform and not going along with a strategy by conservatives to "defund" former President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

The Sinema censure capped a week of intense criticism of the senator by Democrats, fueled by progressives who want to see her defeated when she is up for re-election in 2024. The liberals' debate over how to respond to Sinema's filibuster stance largely overshadowed the decision by Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., to back a maneuver to weaken the filibuster rule only for the voting rights legislation that he co-sponsored.

During the meeting, Terán said the Sinema censure would draw attention from the media, which she predicted would try to paint the party as divided. She urged unity ahead of a 2022 cycle where once again Arizona will take center stage in the battle over control for the evenly divided U.S. Senate.

Democrats, she said, should not be distracted.

"We must focus," she said. "We must remember that this is Sen. Kelly on the ballot this year. That if we do not re-elect Sen. Kelly, (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will likely return to the majority leader (job) and the Biden-Harris agenda will have no hope of moving forward."

At the same time, Arizona Republicans met in person for their meeting, where heard from candidates running for office. For the second time in two years, the media was not allowed to attend the GOP gathering, where conservatives elected some officers and considered a host of their own resolutions.

One resolution, which passed, expressed "appreciation and gratitude" for the state GOP-led Senate's ballot review, conducted by lead contractor Cyber Ninjas. The review raised questions about thousands of ballots cast in the 2020 election but determined that President Joe Biden won by a wider margin than former President Donald Trump.

The GOP resolution stated that "ongoing controversies" related to the 2020 election remain "unresolved" and assert wrongdoing by Maricopa County officials. The resolution calls on Maricopa County "to immediately terminate contracts with Dominion Voting Systems," including the company's personnel.

The resolution also urges Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a candidate in the Republican Senate primary, "to remain committed to a comprehensive investigation of the administration and certification of the 2020 Election."

The resolution also encourages the Arizona Legislature and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to "immediately enact responsible election laws further upholding election integrity" in the state.

Have news to share about Arizona politics? Reach the reporter on Twitter and Facebook. Contact her at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com and 602-444-4712.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kyrsten Sinema censured by Arizona Democratic Party over filibuster vote