Sinema’s retirement is a sign of the dismal state of politics

This column originally appeared in The Hill.

The guessing game in Arizona and national politics of “will she or won’t she” is over. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) has announced she’s not running for reelection this fall. 

Pundits at home and inside the Beltway will now likely ruminate on her political legacy. Any critical analysis will find Sinema to have been a serious, substantive and consequential U.S. senator.

No wonder she found herself out of step with today’s politics.

She proved herself an asset to an institution that many Americans have come to view as sclerotic and ineffectual, and not without justification. But Sinema set out to make her six-year term one defined by legislative accomplishments, proving that the world’s greatest deliberative body can still accomplish big things.

When President Biden touts his proudest accomplishments, he should be thanking Sinema. Without her, there’s no CHIPS and Science Act, no bipartisan infrastructure law. Had Sinema caved on the Build Back Better bill and gone along with it in its original form, it would today be an albatross around his neck. Instead, she rescued him from his party’s own worst instincts.

While some of her colleagues are giving speeches to an empty chamber or looking for a press gaggle, she is brokering meetings with members from both parties, understanding where their positions are flexible, where they’re firm, and where there’s common ground.

It was no surprise, then, that amid a crisis of migrants overwhelming the southern border, Sinema was a leader in crafting an immigration deal that the Wall Street Journal opinion page called “the most restrictive migrant legislation in decades.” She saw a problem and got to work on the solution.

She’s good at the job, not willing to settle for the status quo when bipartisan solutions are within reach. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rightly praised her as a “dealmaker.” If only more senators could be described as such.

Since her arrival in the Senate, she has confounded her critics and won over new admirers, McConnell among them.

She preserved the filibuster, the parliamentary norm that forces bipartisan agreement. She understands that if you’re willing to change the rules to run roughshod over your opponents, then soon enough you’ll be the one getting run over.

Her election was as a Democrat, but over the years it became clear she was uncomfortable with and unwilling to acquiesce to a party apparatus that would subject her to a progressive purity test at every turn.

So, she became an independent, a tag far more fitting of her brand of politics than the strictures that come with a party label.

It’s a move that was quintessentially Arizona, a state that over the decades has produced nonconforming leaders like Sen. John McCain (R), Rep. Mo Udall (D) and Sen. Barry Goldwater (R), who, for having the temerity to endorse a Democrat over a carpetbagger, once prompted Republican activists to call for the removal of his name from state party headquarters.

But despite practicing the bipartisanship Americans say they want and expect from their leaders, Democrats determined that Sinema wasn’t sufficiently progressive and ran her out of the party. Republicans, after she served up a border security bill that they claimed was a necessity, determined, apparently, that the urgency had diminished.

Like McConnell, Sinema understands politics. And so, she’s made the decision not to seek reelection, leaving the Senate, and our politics, worse off.

The previous occupant of the seat that Sinema will leave also chose to exit the Senate after only one term, saying of the political environment of the time, that the “fever will someday break.”

It’s been nearly six years, and the fever still rages. Partisanship is a hell of a drug, but it’s no cure for what ails us.

Danny Seiden is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Photo via Gage Skidmore

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