Small business owners join pressure campaign against Sinema over filibuster

By: - July 22, 2021 12:17 pm
kyrsten sinema

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A coalition of over 500 small businesses throughout Arizona is calling on U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to take meaningful steps to pass the For The People Act, a proposal she co-sponsored but Senate Republicans have successfully stalled through procedural means. 

Sinema is one of the two Senate Democrats who have publicly voiced their opposition to eliminating the filibuster, a Senate procedural requirement that a bill meet a 60-vote threshold to advance rather than a simple majority.  

In a July 20 letter, the Arizona business owners ask Sinema to “do whatever it takes — including reforming the filibuster” to pass the For the People Act. The proposal, which has cleared the House of Representatives, would implement sweeping election reforms like automatic voter registration and increase campaign finance transparency at a time when mostly Republican-led state legislatures, including Arizona’s, are passing laws to restrict access to voting.

“The For the People Act is a historic piece of legislation which includes provisions that would protect our businesses and our communities from the undue influence of corporate money in politics,” the letter states. “It would also protect our communities from laws that create obstacles to voting.”

Amneris Cocco is among the business owners who signed the letter. She owns Sal’s Painting, a Phoenix-based subcontracting company that has been around since 1990. Her business employs 10 people, she said.  

Cocco signed onto the letter because she said her employees already feel disenfranchised from the electoral system. She believes in making voting more accessible, and that the proposal in Congress will achieve that.

“When I talk to the guys on the jobs sites, they all seem to be disenfranchised, that their votes won’t count,” Cocco said. “I talk to them every election cycle, most of them feel like they don’t matter. It’s really sad to me, because I grew up with the understanding that voting is really important to do.”

One of her employees, she said, can’t vote because his criminal record from his teenage years prevents him from casting a ballot. Cocco believes in voting rights and that the government should be finding ways for making voting more accessible to people. The For the People Act would restore the rights of people with felony convictions on their records to vote in federal elections once they’ve completed their sentences.

In 2018, Cocco canvassed to get Sinema elected, she said. Now, she’s bothered by the image of Sinema on the Senate floor doing a curtsy and giving a thumbs-down to legislation that would’ve raised the minimum wage in March. Cocco said it’s important for her to be able to provide better benefits to her employees, and the federal government in raising the minimum wage could’ve done that. 

“I believe as a small business owner that what is helpful to me is helpful to all in our society,” she said.  

In sticking with the current filibuster rules, Sinema is siding with the status quo that allows state legislatures like Arizona’s and governors like Gov. Doug Ducey to enact restrictions to the voting process.

“She is disappointing us in Arizona by not making sure that all the people who back her can continue to back her through voting,” Cocco said. “She’s not listening to us, she’s supposed to represent us. We put you in office, you are supposed to represent us.”

This year’s legislative session in Arizona saw a record number of proposals to restrict voting and to change the way people vote, many apparently inspired by the baseless election fraud claims and conspiracy theories that former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters have spread falsely claiming that the 2020 general election was rigged.

While just a fraction of those were considered, legislators and Ducey enacted several changes, including purging the Permanent Early Voting List, and last-minute policy changes added to budget bills like a new law requiring counties that include anti-fraud security measures on their ballots to use features such as watermarks, holographic foil and specialized inks, and creating a new task force to determine whether social media platforms are unfairly hindering Republican candidates, and whether such alleged practices constitute unreported in-kind contributions.

Irma Lopez’s restaurant is about a mile north from the buildings where lawmakers passed these proposals. Lopez owns Irma’s Kitchen. She said she’s never felt so worried about her voting rights. With the Senate-backed audit fueled by conspiracies that has spent months reviewing nearly 2.1 million  ballots from Maricopa County voters, Lopez is unsure how her ballot and her vote are going to be treated in the next election.

“I don’t know how they are going to treat us in the future elections. It looks like I don’t have a freedom anymore like I used to. It is so sad to see Arizona in this position that we are not counting our voting rights,” Lopez said. She worries that the acts of the Senate related to the audit and the new laws passed in Arizona will mean more voters of color will be discriminated against, as has historically happened. 

For four decades, Arizona was subject to federal oversight on new voting laws due to the state’s history of racial discrimination in voting. That oversight ended after the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required Arizona and 14 other states to get pre-clearance on changes to voting and election laws.  Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld two Arizona laws imposing restrictions on ballot collection and out-of-precinct voting, policies that a lower court found impact Latino, Native American, and Black voters in Arizona.

Lopez signed on to the letter asking Sinema to end the filibuster. She hopes the congresswoman listens to business owners who are still unsure whether they can stay afloat following the economic crisis from the pandemic. 

“We are trying to survive with this business,” Lopez said. “We still don’t know if we are going to make it or not.”

Last week, Black leaders and advocates for poor Americans gathered in Washington to push Sinema to end the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation. 

Since February, a coalition of community groups in Arizona have been pushing Sinema to end the filibuster so high-priority Democratic legislation, including immigration reform that would give citizenship to thousands of undocumented residents, can make it to President Joe Biden’s desk. 

Jordan Greenslade, community organizer with CASE Action, said the coalition of small businesses pushing Sinema to meaningfully advance voting rights legislation started coming together around May. It includes people from Flagstaff to Tucson and they represent various industries from coffee shops to construction.  

“It shows the strength and the amount of support that national voting rights legislation has, that reforming the filibuster has. Sinema can see how many folks feel strongly about this,” Greenslade said. “We need to give the voice to regular average people instead of taking away their vote.”

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