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Sinema's minimum wage thumbs-down: The curtsy heard 'round the world

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What the Devil won't tell you

Sinema's minimum wage thumbs-down: The curtsy heard 'round the world

Arizona senator's emphatic nay tempts primary fates

  • Sinema's curtsy-ish thumbs down seems like a slap in the face of the workers she claims to support and an unnecessary self-inflicted wound.
    Sinema's curtsy-ish thumbs down seems like a slap in the face of the workers she claims to support and an unnecessary self-inflicted wound.

Is Kyrsten Sinema trying to get primaried?

The senior senator from Arizona has been in legislative politics since 2004 and has lived under thumb of Republicans up until 40-some-odd days ago. Now that she's part of the party in charge, she's coming off all Stockholm Sinema, eager to please her former oppressors. 

If she's calculating, she's using old and outdated math.

She almost got censured by the state Democratic Party for voting too much with President Donald Trump, which is a little silly because censuring politicians is just lame. It carries no effect. Running a primary challenge at them is fine but wagging the finger ... who cares?

She's been insistent that the overly abused filibuster remain as is, blocking much of the agenda that activists and voters fought hard to secure with consecutive election victories and record turnout.

She's been adamant that Republicans must have editorial control over President Joe Biden's agenda. All those activists, volunteers and voters who worked for a victory won't realize anything for it. The Republicans get to decide if the election they just lost has any consequence.

That wasn't always the math involving filibusters and bipartisanship, but is now. 

Put all that over there, off to the side.

She just joined all the other Democrats in approving a $1.9 trillion coronavirus bailout measure but first, she had some people to piss off.

If she was going to vote against loosely interpreting Senate rules and raising the minimum wage through a simple majority, then she should just do that. Vote no and walk away.

Don’t be flashy. Don’t indulge in it. It’s not a moment to have fun. And for God sakes, do not do it wearing a pair of boots that look like they cost what a dishwasher earns with 40 hours of scrubbing. There's no need for pizazz. 

What is up with her little coquettish curtsy emphasizing the “thumbs down” she gave in mugging to the cameras? Was it an homage to the late John McCain’s vote on the Obamacare repeal?

It sure came off as a slap in the face to the 1.6 million Americans trying to eke out a living on $7.25 an hour and the millions more who would get a raise.

She had a statement ready to go explaining her vote:

I understand what it is like to face tough choices while working to meet your family's most basic needs. I also know the difference better wages can make, which is why I helped lead Arizona's effort to pass an indexed minimum wage in 2006, and strongly supported the voter-approved state minimum wage increase in 2016. No person who works full time should live in poverty. Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill. I will keep working with colleagues in both parties to ensure Americans can access good-paying jobs, quality education, and skills training to build more economically secure lives for themselves and their families.

So it’s a good thing we don’t live in a world of viral video but inhabit an age where 132-word explanations trump the quick and dirty image. Or was that the point?

Sinema is not stupid. She’s the opposite. So doing something this tone deaf without any sense of self-awareness makes absolutely no sense unless you understand the internal working of Democratic politics.

This is the goofy part: I think Sinema thinks she’s brilliant for her knee-dip because it pisses off the Left and not in spite of it.

She’s playing nine-dimensional chess. Her problem is that the rest of the country may have moved on to backgammon.

The days of blood and hippie-punching

Sinema considers herself a real pro at this thing called “politicking.” In Democratic politics it is sacred cloth that swing voters hate liberals so it’s the job of a Democratic professional politician to act like they hate their base.

If the activists and volunteers want something, that “something” must be the politically disastrous thing to want. The smart people are smart enough to know that.

It’s an idea that grew out of the party’s blood splatter losses at the presidential level between 1972 and 1988. Democrats didn’t just lose during those five cycles but Republicans won 400 electoral votes four times.

The public was just sick of the New Deal and Great Society. So Democrats had to win elections by grabbing the middle and rejecting liberalism. Liberalism was toxic and the "Era of Big Government" was over.

I got a whole 'nother column for how progressive Bill Clinton actually was when first elected. We’re constantly “misremembering” the Clintons.

But that’s where this “hippie-punching” came into favor. In fact, moderate hippie-punchers tended to be the only Democrats who could win swing states.

It’s just the reality of living in a state like Arizona and believing in a more progressive pallet of policies. I have a friend active in Democratic politics who sighed that she’s resigned to being stuck with Sinema. She’s as liberal as liberals are allowed to hope for.

She thinks going viral to piss off her base will make her a star among moderate Republicans and centrists.

I’m not so sure. And I’m not so sure Sinema should think she’s that much in the catbird seat. I've got Georgia on my mind.

Mavericks need not apply

In January, both Sens. Rafael Warnock and John Ossof won Senate seats running very much to the left of center. This is the most under-appreciated political development of the past 20 years. Suddenly, swing states are in play for liberals and not just “independent mavericks.”

Liberals know this and also think they have a fair shot at winning a senate seat in Arizona without insisting on giving away a victory to the GOP.

A wide gulf divides Sinema 2021 and Bernie Sanders. It’s not this or that. That’s the point. The arrival of Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has moved the center Left away from the Right.

Moderate Democrats now believe in the public option, but not Medicare for All. They embrace free community college but not quite a free four years at a state school. Moderate Democrats now embraces higher taxes on the super rich but not a wealth tax.

Politics is a binary game. The Republicans radicalizing a lot faster than the Democrats. Neo-hippies are not the moral equivalent to the neo-KKK (I know, they are not racists. They prefer if you call them "Western chauvinists.").

Democrats are correct to think a Reuben Gallego could beat the likes of Paul Gosar in a U.S. Senate race. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Superintendent Public Instruction Linda Hoffman, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, plus U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton and Ann Kirkpatrick would run awfully strong.

Activists in the Democratic party wouldn’t be suicidal thinking they don’t need to settle for constant fists in their face.

Arizona voters themselves approved a minimum wage increase in 2016 that lift the rock bottom price for hourly labor. It's now at $12.15. Sinema in 2014 called a $15 minimum wage a “no brainer.”

Now that she has a chance to get it, she's telling the base "Nope. You can't have it. See what I did there, Scottsdale?"

I mean, why wouldn’t the Left take a primary shot at Sinema, if Sinema spends a chunk of her term taking shots at the Left?

The real McCain vote

On substance here she has a point.  

I have sympathies with the substance here. Minimum wage? Fine. Raise it. The bigger problems workers face is a slavish devotion to an ever-rising stock market. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough was on rock-solid ground ruling the minimum wage increase wasn’t a “budget item.”

Sinema is not out of line comparing her vote to McCain's. National pundits are already getting that 2017 vote wrong. McCain’s vote has gathered a mythology to it. He neither voted to save people’s health insurance nor did he “kill the Obamacare repeal.”

McCain was voting to defend Senate norms. He vehemently opposed the original Obamacare. 

What pissed McCain off is that the original Obamacare was at least done through what’s called “regular order.” That’s the “I’m Only a Bill” Schoolhouse Rock-process of passing legislation. It’s done through the committee process with public hearings and amendments on the floor.

That’s how he wanted the bill done: Out front and in public.

The Obamacare repeal was written up in some private meeting room by just a few authors and it was cloaked in secrecy.

McCain wanted a transparent promise, which is what Sinema was getting at, I think.

The comparison falls apart there because the substance of what McCain was voting against was anything but a full repeal of Obamacare. It was a "skinny repeal" that pulled out key Jenga pieces from Obama's legislation that could have toppled the entire health insurance market.

It was all the Senate Republicans could almost agree to, hoping to get something better after a conference committee sent them a better bill.

Friday, the Senate voted on an actual minimum wage increase that would have actually raised wages for millions of Americans.

Sinema can make the argument that she voted for a very progressive piece of legislation but she will be remembered for the thumbs-down curtsy.

Substance or schtick?

Her “woman-of-principle” thing would carry a lot more weight if Arizona had any clues what principles animate the woman. Her rapid transition from a socialist to Pachyderm light has been well documented.

What is she for and what is she against?

To paraphrase the West Wing’s Josh Lyman: She seems too much for “winning” and she seems to be against her opponents winning.

Arizona's other U.S. senator, Mark Kelly, voted for the minimum wage. He's been quiet on the filibuster because he knows he can be. So could Sinema. She's broadcasting her stubbornness.

Her curtsy said she's be happy about it. Her shtick seems to be trolling her own base so Scottsdale can watch.

What we don’t know yet is what happens if Republicans decide President Joe Biden shouldn’t get a win. She won't cut Republicans out of the deal-making. What if they decide there's no deal to be had? What if they agree to a minimum wage hike but only if Democrats agree to build the Donald J. Trump Wall of Powerful Strength and repeal the capital gains tax? 

Push hasn't come to shove yet but things are getting physical. Arizona's progressives are watching.

Grunge is out. No one is wearing overalls with one shoulder strap dangling. Try to find a can of Bud Dry. This isn’t the 1990s anymore.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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