Democratic students frustrated with Kelly, Sinema

Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema are receiving party pushback for stances on key progressive issues such as minimum wage and student debt cancellation

ASU Democratic students are unhappy with Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, after the two Arizona Democrats broke party ranks on a variety of important issues in recent weeks.

The two Democrats joined six others in voting in favor of an amendment to block stimulus payments to undocumented immigrants, even though undocumented immigrants are already ineligible to receive federal aid.

"I'm really disappointed that Sinema and Kelly voted against giving undocumented immigrants the stimulus especially since undocumented immigrants helped get both of them elected in a lot of ways," said Olivia Perryman, a senior studying political science. "I feel like it's an awful thing to betray your constituents."

But Kim Fridkin, a professor with the School of Politics and Global Studies, said she thinks the two voted with reelection in mind.

"This issue could be controversial back in Arizona and because their vote would not be consequential (e.g., it would have been blocked without their support), it probably was the safer position," Fridkin wrote in an email.

Many students who advocated for Kelly and Sinema had high hopes the two would help strengthen and pass Democratic legislation in the Senate, but their stances and voting records are beginning to suggest otherwise.

"Both Kelly and Sinema have presented themselves as moderates who can work across the aisle," Fridkin said. "(They) will not be the most courageous senators in their votes in the next few years because their reelection will be difficult in Arizona."

This month, Sinema announced she is against adding a $15 minimum wage to the next COVID-19 stimulus package, an idea proposed by President Joe Biden in his American Rescue Plan.

"I think it's ridiculous," said John Adamson, a junior studying political science and political director of Young Democrats of Arizona. "It's a crucial vote to millions and millions of people and she refuses to put it through."

According to ASU Financial Aid and Scholarship Services, more than 10,000 students are employed by the University, making anywhere from $11.50 an hour to $50 an hour. The Arizona Minimum Wage and Time Off Initiative, voted on and approved in 2016, raised the state minimum wage to $12.15 at the start of 2021, but the increased wage does not apply to ASU student jobs.

It's unclear whether raising the federal minimum wage will apply to ASU student workers, as the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows colleges to pay enrolled students 85% of the minimum wage.

Additionally, Sinema has come out against abolishing the filibuster, a move which would prevent minority pushback against controversial legislation. Kelly hasn't publicly given his stance on the issue, to the frustration of many Democrats.

"I respect her commitment to tradition and bipartisanship, but I believe that in our current political climate the filibuster prevents Congress from helping Americans," said Sarah Nelson, a freshman studying public service and public policy.

Perryman concurred with Nelson's assessment of the Senate rule.

"Despite the filibuster's rich history in the Senate, I think it tends to only be slightly beneficial for the minority party and opinions," Perryman said. "It oftentimes doesn't work in changing legislation and just tends to waste time."

With issues like student debt cancellation on their minds, many left-leaning students are questioning what the Democratic-controlled Senate will truly be able to accomplish with Kelly and Sinema's politically moderate tendencies.

"I'm afraid that their positions and their unwillingness to support the Democratic party is going to cost a lot of people going forward," Adamson said.

The Arizona Students' Association called on Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to cancel student loan debt, but the president has not promised to do so by executive order, instead saying he will sign any legislation Congress approves on the issue. This brings college students' focus to Kelly and Sinema.

"I wish for some more progressive policies and votes from them especially in such a crucial time for Arizonans and Americans, after four years of much more conservative legislation and leadership," Perryman said.

Progressive students may be dissatisfied with Kelly and Sinema's performance thus far, but they still have faith the two Senators are the right choice for Arizona.

"Although I disagree with some of their decisions, I do think they are representing Arizona well by behaving respectfully and with integrity, unlike some other Arizonan politicians," Nelson said.


Reach the reporter at rpriest2@asu.edu and follow @reaganspriest on Twitter.

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