Kyrsten Sinema to the right of Mitch McConnell in new legislative rankings




kyrsten sinema
U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema speaking with attendees at the 2019 Arizona Technology Innovation Summit in Phoenix in March 2019. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is more conservative than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a loyal ally of President Donald Trump and a national conservative icon.

That’s according to a recent ideological ranking by GovTrack.us, a nonpartisan organization that tracks government data and statistics.

The freshman Arizona senator ranked 47th on the group’s annual conservative-to-liberal scale, which is based on lawmakers’ 2019 legislative records.

That puts her to the right of all other members of her caucus — as well as McConnell, who ranked 49th, and several other Republicans.

She is considered more conservative than her fellow Democratic moderates, such as Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. She also ranked more conservative than Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. 

Sinema responded in an email that her decisions are “based on what’s right for Arizona, not on party politics,” and added: “I’ll work with anyone to get things done for our state.”

The GovTrack analysis assigns scores to members based on the pattern of legislation that lawmakers cosponsor. It does not take other factors into account that may affect lawmakers’ ideological stances, such as caucus memberships, media appearances, social media posts, endorsements in campaigns or their penchant for bipartisan friendship. 

McConnell’s relatively liberal score could be because, as a leader, he may not be as deeply involved in legislation as other senators are, according to GovTrack President Joshua Tauberer.  And the score doesn’t reflect his efforts to move the president’s conservative judicial nominees through the Senate. That said, he added, “there’s no way to rule out that the bills McConnell cosponsors may tend to be more moderate.”

Kyrsten Sinema ‘pretty decent fit’ for Arizona

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter at the University of Virginia, called Sinema’s ranking a “pretty decent fit” for the Grand Canyon State, which was once deep red but is now trending purple. 

“She’s tried to carve out an independent political personality, and I think it’s been helpful to her,” he told Arizona Mirror.

Elected to the Senate in 2018, Sinema — once an anti-war activist and a local spokesperson for the Green Party — has drawn ire from progressives for what they view as political apostasy.

Last year, the Arizona Democratic Party threatened to censure her for “failing to support the tenets of the 2016 Democratic Party platform.” 

The threat centered around her vote to confirm William Barr as U.S. attorney general and her opposition to net neutrality protections created under President Barack Obama. She was one of only three Democrats who voted to confirm Barr, and one of only two who didn’t co-sponsor the net neutrality legislation

She has also voted to confirm some of Trump’s other nominees to the executive branch and to federal courts. Observers questioned whether she would side with her party on impeachment — which she ultimately did.

Last week, she drew attention for standing and applauding Trump when he mentioned “opportunity zones” — a program in the GOP tax overhaul — in his State of the Union address.

Whether her positioning will pay off politically is unclear, Kondik said, noting that she isn’t up for reelection until 2024. 

“We have no idea what the political circumstances will be at that point,” he said.

Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Prescott, said Sinema’s record is “a problem for the Democrats” that will be resolved at the ballot box. 

“That’s up to the voters,” he said in a short interview on Capitol Hill. “I think that’s where we all face the music.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat, dismissed the rankings altogether. 

“At the end of the day, what really matters is she does a good job for Arizona and she’s continuing to work for us,” he told the Mirror. “I think these rankings are kind of arbitrary.”

Arizona delegation runs the gamut ideologically

Sinema won office in 2018, defeating then-Rep. Martha McSally in the general election. McSally was quickly appointed to fill the seat of the late John McCain, who died in 2018. McSally ranked 34th on the ideological list — occupying a spot in the middle of her caucus as she heads into what is expected to be a tough bid for re-election

“After 2018, I think a lot of Republicans were hoping that (McSally) might create more of an independent persona for herself,” Kondik said. “I don’t know if she’s done that.”

McSally’s race is regarded as a toss up by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan campaign newsletter. She trails Democrat Mark Kelly — an astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords — who is vying to oust her, according to  a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning firm. 

Arizona’s nine House members, meanwhile, spanned the ideological spectrum.

Gosar placed 7th on the list of 437 lawmakers ranked (the list includes non-voting representatives), earning him the most conservative spot among the state’s House lawmakers. 

He was followed closely by GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko, who ranked 9th. To their left were Reps. Andy Biggs — the new head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who ranked 32nd — and David Schweikert, who is under investigation for allegedly misusing congressional office funds. He placed 124th.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Rep. Tom O’Halleran came in at No. 210 — the rough midpoint between the chamber’s most conservative and liberal members.

To his left were Reps. Greg Stanton, who placed 229th; Ann Kirkpatrick, who placed 248th; Gallego, who placed 326th; and Raul Grijalva, who, at No. 431, was among the chamber’s left-most lawmakers.

In the House, there are 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, one independent and five vacancies. 

The list of members of Congress does not include vacant House seats; it does include the non-voting delegates from Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories. 

Gallego said the wide ideological stretch among the delegation reflects the nature of contemporary politics.

“It’s a function of what’s happening in politics right now, where there are just so many strident points of view, and people end up taking positions that end up making these rankings a little more stark,” he said.

States Newsroom D.C. Bureau Chief Robin Bravender contributed to this report.