Kyrsten Sinema didn’t expect to become a politician; she hated politics when she was younger. But the 36-year-old social worker says that working with poor immigrant children helped her realize that no matter how hard they worked, the system was working against them. Sinema’s dad lost his job when she was in elementary school, and she says at one point, her family had to live in an abandoned gas station with no running water. They sometimes didn’t have enough food to eat. Still, she was able to graduate from high school early and earn a full academic scholarship and Pell grant for college.
During college, she worked at a domestic violence shelter, then got a job in a low-income community in Phoenix and later earned a master’s degree, a law degree, and a PhD. With that success, she says, she feels driven by a sense of community stewardship. “If you make it, you have a duty to help others make it,” she said. Now, Sinema is fighting a tough campaign in a new congressional district, hoping to become the fifth woman elected to Congress from Arizona. If she wins, she’ll be the first openly bisexual member of Congress.
Sinema has served in Arizona’s Senate and House of Representatives, and says she excels at finding common ground where people didn’t think it existed. For example, she worked with a conservative representative from her hometown, Tucson, to pass a law that protects breast-feeding moms from public indecency violations. Democrats in the state had been trying to pass the law for eight years, she says, but she framed it in the context of family values — and earned bipartisan support. She hopes to take that spirit of cooperation to Washington, but first she has to overcome her opponent’s attack ads calling her a “radical left- wing activist.” The latest ads are funded by a Super PAC that recently got a $2.5 million donation from Chevron. She says that donation, and many of the nasty ads this election season, are directly linked to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which classifies corporations as people and allows unlimited campaign contributions. “Politics doesn’t have to be like that,” she says. “We’re the public…Say no thanks to the ugliness. Say yes to the positive.”
Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Schriock