While Kyrsten Sinema Defends the Filibuster, Arizona Republicans Strip Democrats of Power

Gov. Doug Ducey is set to sign a law that targets Democratic voters and the Democratic secretary of state.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) speaks to the media before the Senate voted on a major voting rights bill.Graeme Sloan/Sipa via AP Images

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On Monday, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) published a Washington Post op-ed promoting bipartisanship and defending the 60-vote requirement to pass most legislation, saying the filibuster “compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.” The next day, Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block debate on the Democrats’ sweeping democracy reform bill, the For the People Act, which Sinema supports.

While Sinema was essentially giving Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) veto power over protecting American democracy, Republicans in her home state took drastic action that flew in the face of what she says are her values, rushing to strip a key Democratic official of power and to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to be able to vote.

On Thursday, the GOP-controlled legislature passed a budget that includes a provision preventing Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from defending state election laws and transfers that authority to Arizona’s Republican attorney general—but only through the 2022 election, in case the partisan composition of the offices is reversed after that. Hobbs, who defended the integrity of the 2020 election and is running for governor in 2022, said Republicans had “egregiously weaponized the budget process to exact partisan retribution against the Office of the Secretary of State.”

The budget also includes numerous other provisions that seem designed to advance Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen. One measure allows the legislature to designate third party groups to flag allegedly ineligible voters to be removed from the voter rolls, which is highly irregular and likely in violation of federal law. Another requires a review of registration rolls in counties with more than 1 million people, which seems to single out Democratic cities like Phoenix and Tucson for extra scrutiny. A third provision creates a new Election Integrity Fund that would essentially institutionalize the discredited audit commissioned by the state Senate of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, opening the door for future audits designed to undermine the legitimacy of election returns. A fourth provision would require security codes on mail ballots that election officials say is highly impracticable, unnecessary, expensive, and could jeopardize voter privacy. 

The budget, which now goes to GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, also passed under highly unusual circumstances—it cleared the state Senate at 2:30 am on Wednesday morning, then passed the House the next day after Republicans limited debate to prevent Democrats from walking out of the chamber to kill the bill, like Texas Democrats did last month to stop a voter suppression bill from passing.

Arizona is one of 14 GOP-controlled states where the legislature has passed new laws to “politicize, criminalize, and interfere in election administration,” according to a report released recently by voting rights groups. And it continues a disturbing trend of Republican-led legislatures in states like Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin stripping power from Democratic officials and removing authority from Republican officials, like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who stood up to Trump in 2020.  

This has led Democratic state legislators and voting rights advocates to urgently push for federal legislation that would protect voting rights and combat GOP voter suppression efforts. But they have been angry for months that Sinema in particular has not done more. “I cannot stress enough how outrageous it is that these laws are passing with only Republican support, & @SenatorSinema, who can do something, is turning a blind eye,” tweeted Democratic state Rep. Athena Salman on Thursday.

Unlike Sinema, Arizona’s junior Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, elected in 2020, has expressed an openness to reforming the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill and other legislation. “We’re not going to keep doing the same thing and get a different result,” Kelly said on a private call with Democratic supporters this week. “There’s no other democracy, as far as I know, that works the way the United States Senate does. So structurally, it’s got major issues. I would like to see us, you know, change the rules.”

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