U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is one of nine Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives who voted to shut down the government. She also is the first openly bisexual member of Congress, elected for the first time in 2012. She was backed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign and other gay and progressive groups and was touted during the campaign to progressive and LGBT donors as a progressive Democrat. She ran as a pro-equality candidate who cared about the poor and working people, often telling her own story of her family’s economic troubles.
But how is voting to shut down the government, and voting to end affordable health care before it even begins, a vote for workers and the poor? (And make no mistake: The GOP effort to delay the mandate, for which Sinema voted, was all about sinking Obamacare.) How is that a vote for equality and a vote for LGBT Americans and people with HIV who are terribly affected by both a shutdown and any attempt to hurt the Affordable Care Act?
Since taking office, Sinema has voted with the GOP against economic justice issues that progressives, including LGBT activists, view as crucial. Both she and U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), an openly gay former Clinton aide, also elected for the first time in 2012, have voted with big banks and Wall Street time and again. Right out of the gate, Maloney, who took a lot of Wall Street money, voted with the GOP on the debt ceiling early this year, and actually co-sponsored a bill that would roll back reforms of the very Wall Street practices that led to the economic collapse. He even voted with the GOP to take authority over the Keystone XL project from the president. Like Sinema, he also voted to jeopardize Obamacare or shut down the government. And he too was supported in his election campaign by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, and other gay and progressive groups, touted as a progressive.
Think about this: On what is arguably the most important debate in Congress, two of nine Democrats who voted with the tea party-led blackmailers are openly gay or bisexual. Two of only five openly gay or bisexual members of the House voted with the extreme far right to undermine the president. Veteran recording industry executive Howie Klein, the founder of the progressive Blue America PAC and an openly gay man himself, has been criticizing both of them for their votes for months. He told me that Sinema had been calling him throughout last year’s campaign, looking for money. He’d known her and liked her, having served with her on the board of People for the American Way, but he told me that when he had her fully vetted, he was “horrified” by her record. Blue America is now actively recruiting a candidate to run in the Democratic primary against Sinema.
Some say it’s better to have Democrats like Sinema and Maloney than to possibly have a Republican in the seat. If it means they have to vote with the GOP, especially if the vote isn’t pivotal, then so be it, the thinking goes. But that breeds the most cynical kind of politics and drives people away from participating when we need to bring them in. It only furthers the disgust with Washington. It’s dishonest too, as these candidates are promoted as progressives and sold as such to LGBT and progressive donors, disingenuously using their queerness during Democratic primaries as a way to give them street cred with progressives while their records and intentions are otherwise. (And they’re continuing to do it: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hosting an “Equality Reception” next week in D.C. for them, once again using their being gay or bi to raise money.) President Obama comfortably won both Sinema’s and Maloney’s swing districts in 2012, and a real progressive could win them as well.