U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema explains her priorities in office and her desire to always put Arizona first. Diana Payan, The Republic | azcentral.com
U.S. Senate Candidates Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema(Photo: The Republic)
Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally on Thursday will officially become U.S. senators, making history for women in Arizona, but also offering another reminder of the state's newfound political competitiveness.
A state that had never had any female senators will have two.
At the same time, Arizona's nine-member contingent in the U.S. House of Representatives will switch from a 5-4 Republican majority to a 5-4 Democratic edge.
Overall, five of the 11 members of Arizona's Capitol Hill delegation have changed roles or departed in little more than a year.
If the upheaval has reduced the delegation's seniority, it may also leave the state better positioned to represent a wider swath of people.
Sinema, the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Arizona in 30 years, and McSally, a Republican appointee who must face voters again in 2020, will each have the support of their party's leadership in the Senate in an effort to preserve their hold on their seats, said John J. "Jack" Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in southern California.
"It's fortunate to have a foot in both camps," Pitney said. "One would expect the Trump administration to do everything possible to support McSally because they would very much want to be around for a long time. ... Arizona will continue to have a voice.
"It's not always going to speak with a single voice, to put it mildly, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it speaks with multiple voices, it can speak to multiple sides."
U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) holds a press conference to discuss his work in the Senate on Jan. 2 in Phoenix. Arizona RepublicSinema, McSally bring distinct brands to Senate
Both Sinema and McSally enter the Senate intent on guarding their political brands.
Sinema, who replaces the retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, casts herself as a pragmatic problem-solver who aims to avoid by ideological warfare between the parties.
She amassed arguably the most moderate voting record by any Democrat in the House over her three terms. Her critics argue her votes more accurately reflect her political aims rather than clear policies.
In December, for example, Sinema didn't vote on a GOP-led House measure that would have kept the federal government fully open with $5 billion for the border wall that President Donald Trump wants.
She declined to explain her nonvote at the time.
McSally, who replaces U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl in filling the seat once held by the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, already has cast herself as an incumbent senator in her fundraising pleas appearing online days before she took office.
Gov. Doug Ducey announces his appointment of Martha McSally to the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late Sen. John McCain. Arizona Republic'It's going to be a different dynamic'
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said it's unclear how much either incoming senator represents a real shift in the state's political fortunes.
"It's going to be a different dynamic, but Sinema does have the House experience, so it's not as if all of this is going to be foreign to her. And McSally has lots of relevant (House and military) experience as well. It's not as if they're starting from scratch."
McCain and Flake were both Republicans, but didn't really reflect the hard-right flank of the GOP that has ascended during the Trump era, Tobias said.
Apart from the history on the Senate side, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick makes history of another sort on Thursday. She becomes the first person in Arizona to represent one part of the state in the House and gain election to represent an entirely different district.
Kirkpatrick spent three terms representing Arizona's 1st Congressional District, which spans the state's northeast from the Utah border to the outskirts of Tucson. In November, she won in the Tucson-based 2nd Congressional District, formerly represented by McSally.
Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema will represent Arizona in Washington. Here are five things you should know about her. Arizona RepublicHouse Republicans no longer call shots
Sinema's replacement in the Phoenix-based 9th Congressional District is former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat beginning his tenure in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, will be starting her first full term in the House. She took over last year in the northwest Valley-based 8th Congressional District after Trent Franks resigned his seat in disgrace in December 2017 over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Lesko managed to get a bill requiring border agencies to send Congress assessments of threats and their operations signed into law within months of taking office.
Pitney said GOP members like Lesko may find it tougher going in the new Democratic-controlled House.
"Republican House members are in for a reality check on what they can accomplish by way of legislation," Pitney said. "You go from basically being a legislator to being a spectator."
That may be especially true for members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, Tobias said.
All four of Arizona's House Republicans are members of that conservative faction of the GOP.
But with Republicans still holding the Senate and Trump sitting in the White House, no one should expect to pass major legislation in the next two years, Pitney said.
"If I were a member, I'd concentrate on constituent service," he said, "because the legislative side is going to be very frustrating."
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