“Unite and Conquer”

That’s the title of a book by Arizona State Senator Kyrsten Sinema which describes her relationship with conservatives. As one of the very few Democrats in the Tea Party-controlled legislature, she describes her approach to working with conservatives as “letting go of the bear and picking up the Buddha.” She says that she used to be a very angry Senator. Then she realized that her anger in dealing with opposing opinions was only hurting her. Sinema says that, by “letting go of the bear,” she is no longer offended or hurt by others’ decisions and opinions and that, by focusing on the few areas of agreement, she has been able to accomplish more than would have been possible otherwise.

One such accomplishment is a bill she sponsored in the recent session which increased penalties for “drop houses” for immigrants. The new, stiffer penalties are aimed at the hardened criminals who take advantage of immigrants through tactics such as kidnapping, ransom and rape.

The bill was one of a very few bright spots in this year’s legislative session which Sinema describes as “the worst session in my lifetime.” Instead of focusing on the real issues facing Arizona, she said, conservatives passed legislation such as a so-called “Birther” bill, Tea Party license plataes, and naming a state gun. “The real needs were job creation, fixing the state’s economy and improving schools. But the legislature did not create one single job,” she said. “In fact, the legislature did the opposite through cuts to ACHSS (Arizona’s Medicaid program) and to schools.”

“Last year, conservatives cut $1.2 billion from education,” she said. “This year, they cut another $200 million from K-12 and cut almost another $200 million from Universities. In some schools this will result in class sizes of up to 40, along with tuition hikes for higher education.”

In discussing the severe cuts to ACHSS, Sinema said that the state government doesn’t have the right to make those cuts. “The current ACHSS program was passed by the voters in 2004,” she continued. “Only the voters have the right to make such cuts.” And, in addressing the Republican plan for changing Medicaid and Medicare, she said, “If the Republicans are successful, the costs to seniors and our most vulnerable citizens will double every few years.”

Nevertheless, Sinema remains optimistic. Her attitude has not only made her more effective in the State Senate. It has earned her recognition as one of Time Magazine’s “40 under 40,” a list of politicians to watch who are under 40 years of age.

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