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Who is Kyrsten Sinema?
Kyrsten Lea Sinema (born July 12, 1976) is an American politician, former social worker, and lawyer currently serving as the senior United States Senator from Arizona. She served three terms as a state representative for Arizona’s 15th legislative district from 2005 to 2011, one term as a state senator for the 15th legislative district from 2011 to 2012, and three terms as the United States Representative for Arizona’s 9th district from 2013 to 2019.
Sinema began her political career as a member of the Arizona Green Party, where she rose to prominence as a progressive advocate who supported LGBT rights and opposed the war on terror.
In 2004, she switched from the Green Party to the Arizona Democratic Party, and in 2012 she was elected to the United States House of Representatives.
She joined the New Democrat Coalition, the Blue Dog Coalition, and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus after her election, amassing one of the Democratic caucus’ most conservative voting records.
She defeated Republican nominee Martha McSally in the 2018 Senate election to replace retiring Jeff Flake.
Sinema was elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively, as the first openly bisexual and second openly LGBT woman (after Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin). She was also the first woman elected to the Arizona Senate.
Sinema is a moderate Democrat who was ranked as the 47th most conservative senator in the Senate by the nonpartisan organization GovTrack.us in 2019. She voted with President Donald Trump’s position roughly 25% of the time during the 116th Congress, the second-highest percentage of any Democratic senator who served the full term.
Early life, education and private career
On July 12, 1976, Kyrsten Lea Sinema was born in Tucson, Arizona, to Marilyn (Wiley) and Dan Sinema.
She is at least a sixteenth-generation Frisian. From the village of Bitgum in the Dutch province of Friesland, her great-great-grandfather Lieuwe Jacobs Sinnema (1863–1941) immigrated to the United States in 1867 with his father Jacob Jans Sinnema (1830–1903).
They arrived in Sioux City, Iowa, and later settled in Twin Falls, Idaho, where her great-grandfather Jacob Sinema (1892–1963) and grandfather Gerald Sinema (1929–) were raised. Dan Sinema, her father, was born in Phoenix in 1949 after her grandfather moved there.
Sinema has two younger siblings, a brother, and a sister. Her father worked as a lawyer. When she was a child, her parents divorced, and her mother, who had custody of the children, remarried. Sinema moved to DeFuniak Springs, Florida, a small town in the Panhandle, with her siblings, mother, and stepfather.
The family lived in an abandoned gas station for three years after her stepfather lost his job and the bank foreclosed on their home. Sinema claims that they lived there for two years without a toilet or electricity. Later, she reflected, “My stepfather built a bunk bed for my sister and me. One of those big chalkboards on rollers served as a barrier between our bunk bed and the kitchen. That was odd, I knew it. A chalkboard should not be placed against a wall. Running water should be available in a kitchen.”
Sinema was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since childhood.
According to The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin, Sinema has given “contradictory answers about her early life,” and Sinema’s mother and stepfather have filed court documents stating that they had made monthly payments for gas, electricity, and phone bills, despite Sinema’s claim that they were “without running water or electricity.”
Sinema, when asked if she embellished details from her childhood, said, “I’ve told you about my childhood memories. I understand what you’re going through because I’ve been there.”
Sinema graduated from Walton High School in DeFuniak Springs as valedictorian at the age of 16 and went on to Brigham Young University (BYU) to earn her B.A. in 1995 at the age of 18. After graduating from BYU, she left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1995, Sinema returned to Arizona.
Sinema worked as a social worker in the Washington Elementary School District of the Phoenix metropolitan area from 1995 to 2002, earning a Master of Social Work degree from Arizona State University in 1999. She graduated from Arizona State University College of Law with a J.D. in 2004 and began working as a criminal defense attorney.
Sinema joined Arizona State University’s School of Social Work as an adjunct professor in 2003, teaching master’s-level policy and grant-writing classes, as well as an adjunct Business Law Professor at Arizona Summit Law School, formerly known as Phoenix School of Law. As a David Bohnett LGBTQ Victory Institute Leadership Fellow, Sinema graduated from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government program for senior executives in state and local government in 2008. She earned a Ph.D. in justice studies from Arizona State University in 2012.
Early political involvement
Before joining the Arizona Democratic Party in 2004, Sinema was a member of the Arizona Green Party.
Sinema was a member of Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in 2000.
She ran for local elected offices as an independent in 2001 and 2002 but lost both times.
Sinema wrote a letter criticizing capitalism in 2002, which was published in The Arizona Republic.
“The Almighty Dollar will continue to rule until the average American realizes that capitalism harms her livelihood while enhancing the livelihoods of the wealthy,” she wrote.
During this time, she was opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.
She spoke out against Senator Joe Lieberman’s failed presidential campaign in 2004, telling the Hartford Courant, “Democrats should be ashamed of him… I’m not sure why he’s running. He appears to be trying to sway Republicans to vote for him. That’s not a strategy, is it?”
Sinema served as the Green Party’s local spokesperson while in office, working to repeal the death penalty and organizing anti-war protests. By the time the Iraq War began, she had organized 15 anti-war rallies. She was also opposed to the Afghan war. During a protest in Phoenix’s Patriots Square Park on February 15, 2003, a group led by Sinema distributed flyers depicting a U.S. president.
Arizona state legislature
Sinema first ran for the Arizona House of Representatives as an independent with the Arizona Green Party in 2002.
She received 8% of the vote in a five-candidate field, placing her in last place.
In 2004, Sinema became a member of the Democratic Party.
Sinema and David Lujan won the two seats in Arizona’s 15th district that year, with Sinema receiving 37 percent of the vote and Lujan receiving 34 percent of the vote, respectively, over incumbent representative Wally Straughn.
Sinema was re-elected three times with more than 30% of the vote each time.
Sinema served as an assistant minority leader for the Democratic Caucus in the Arizona House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010. Sinema was elected to the Arizona Senate in 2010, defeating Republican Bob Thomas by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.
Elle claims that “In 2005 after a Republican colleague’s speech insulted LGBT people, she made her first public statement as an elected official. ‘We’re just ordinary people who want and deserve respect,’ she declared emphatically. When reporters questioned Sinema about her use of the first person, she responded, “Duh, I’m bisexual.” Sinema claimed to be “the most liberal member of the Arizona State Legislature” to a radio host in 2006.
She also co-chaired Arizona Together, the statewide campaign that defeated Proposition 107, which would have prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Arizona.
(A similar referendum, Proposition 102, was passed in 2008.)
“These women who act like staying at home, leeching off their husbands or boyfriends, and just cashing the checks is some sort of feminism because they’re choosing to live that life,” Sinema said in 2006 when asked about “new feminism.”
That’s nonsense. “What the fuck are we talking about here?” I mean, “What the fuck are we talking about?”
Sinema apologized after receiving backlash, claiming that the interview format was meant to be a “lighthearted spoof.” She explained, “I was raised by a stay-at-home mom.”She did a pretty good job with me, so that’s good.”
Sinema ran a campaign against Proposition 107, which would make same-sex marriage and civil unions illegal in Arizona. In 2008, she led the opposition to Proposition 102, a ballot initiative that would have made same-sex marriage illegal in Arizona. On November 4, 2008, Proposition 102 received 56 percent of the vote in the general election.
Ward Connerly’s attempt to place an initiative on the state ballot that would eliminate equal-opportunity programs was defeated by a coalition led by Sinema called Protect Arizona’s Freedom.
Sinema was one of 32 state legislators appointed to the White House Health Reform Task Force by President Barack Obama in June 2009, which helped shape the Affordable Care Act. She was invited to attend the Obamacare bill signing at the White House in March 2010 “in part due to her hard work in improving the bill.”
Sinema sponsored a bill in 2010 to give veterans in-state tuition; it was held in committee and did not receive a vote. Sinema was also named one of Time magazine’s “40 Under 40” in 2010. In 2011, Sinema received the Center for Inquiry’s Award for the Advancement of Science and Reason in Public Policy.
Sinema refused to back Republican Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce’s recall effort, saying she “loved” him and thought he should “run for Congress.”
- Sinema attributes her rise out of poverty to the government, her church, her teachers, and her family.
- Sinema is a proud bisexual woman.
- Blake Dain, a BYU classmate, whom she married and later divorced.
- Sinema has been described as the only non-theist member of Congress, despite her denial of such labels.
- A New York man was arrested and charged with stalking her in January 2018.
Fitness and health
Sinema is a marathon runner who has completed several races. She ran a marathon at 3:28:17 in 2019, good enough for her age group to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She ran a three-mile race in 20:42 two weeks before her Boston qualifying race, setting a new record for women in Congress. She broke her right foot while running a marathon in 2021, necessitating the use of a hands-free crutch. Sinema finished an Ironman Triathlon in just over 15 hours on November 17, 2013. She was the second active member of Congress to complete a long-distance triathlon, following Senator Jeff Merkley, and the first to complete an Ironman-branded race.
Sinema reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on December 25, 2013.
Sinema was known for wearing bright wigs during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was an unusual choice in the Senate.
Sinema wore wigs to emphasize the importance of social distancing, according to her spokeswoman, Hannah Hurley: “By wearing wigs, she could avoid the need to go to a hair salon.”
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