Why I Quit Advising Kyrsten Sinema

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S1: It’s funny to make a list of all the places Arizona Senator Kirsten Sinema can’t seem to go these days without running into a constituent brandishing a smartphone and a long list of questions. I think it’s I Sinema has been pulled aside while rushing past security at Reagan National Airport. All right. Have you ever been negotiating? Sorry about the best part of the course. She’s been confronted while on a flight squashed into a seat next to the aisle.

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S2: Senator, hello, how are you? And she’s also been approached

S1: at Arizona State University. She teaches a class and social work there. And then we want to talk to you before we talk to you. Actually, I

S2: have had no.

S1: If you watch enough of these confrontations, you realize there’s a pattern. It doesn’t matter what the people who approached Sinema want to talk about immigration, climate change, voting rights. The senator is remarkably consistent. She simply acts like the people who want her attention aren’t there.

S2: There was just a wedding she was at last weekend that we had some protesters at, and, you know, it was nightmarish.

S1: Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh is an Arizona Democrat. Not really the type to follow a senator down a hallway and live stream it. But her political network is talking about these videos, commenting on them. Shame on cinema. Sylvia says the protesters who crashed that wedding the other day, they were there because Senator Sinema was scheduled to officiate. They brought placards. They were loud and they recorded everything

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S2: for Fred’s show or that show. All right. They got a picture of her in there dancing with this guy dressed up in it look like a dinosaur costume. It’s just surreal. This person is not my daughter. My daughter is getting married. The mother of the bride came out and said, Please, this is my daughter’s wedding and you can’t be doing this. It’s my daughter’s wedding. So please do. The protesters are saying, Well, we’ll be quiet during the ceremony, but send her out here to talk to us and we’ll be glad to leave.

S1: Videos like this one tick Sylvia off because she sees the senator dancing having fun, and she can’t help but contrast all that with what Sinema is up to in Washington. The senators come out against raising corporate tax rates. She’s come out against lowering prescription drug costs. In other words, Sinema has become a major roadblock to her own party’s agenda.

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S2: You know, we thought that this was going to be different. But since she’s been there, I’m also kind of work in the Democratic Party and she she will not answer anybody and I go to any meetings and people know me and they’re like, What is going on with her?

S1: The funny thing about Sylvia is that she’s not just any Arizona Democrat. For the last couple of years, she’s been working with Senator Sinema as part of her veteran’s advisory council. That did not mean Sylvia was any more successful, getting the senator’s attention than those protesters have been.

S2: It came to the point where I didn’t even want to tell anybody I was on her council anymore because I would get just angry. I mean, they’re not angry at me. I wasn’t taking it personal, but they were feeling so much outrage and so much frustration at the inability to be able to connect with her about issues that are so important.

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S1: So last week, Sylvia resigned, and she convinced four other veterans to leave alongside her.

S2: She doesn’t speak to her constituents, all we can see is her speak at going to donor events and running marathons and doing cute little courtesies in Congress to turn down the minimum wage. And and this is just, I think, desperation on most people’s part to try to tell her how how we feel.

S1: Today on the show, everyone wants to know what’s on Kirsten Cinema’s mind, Sylvia. She was hoping to change it. She’ll explain what happened instead. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. As a member of the military, she was in the Air Force and then a nurse in the VA, Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh, says she tried to stay out of politics. Trump changed that. He helped her realize just how progressive she was, and she started volunteering with the local Democratic Party. That’s how she found herself knocking on doors for would be Senator Kirsten Sinema back in 2018.

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S2: You know, you get your your list and they tell you to go out and knock on all these doors. And I said, Well, who am I knocking on doors for? And they said, Oh, these are left leaning independents and some Democrats that have black poor voting records and you know, you want to get people activated and and stuff. And it was it was not pleasant. You know, I have a veteran friend who was, you know, practically assaulted, you know, while she was out canvassing for her. Just unbelievable. I mean, I got the door slammed in my face personally several times.

S1: Were you excited when Sinema won?

S2: Oh, we were ecstatic. We felt like we had done some good work and that was hard work. And we were proud of the fact that we had, you know, helped elect the first woman senator from Arizona as a Democrat. We were very proud.

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S1: Were you like up late watching the returns or were you like at a party?

S2: No, no. I’m kind of the kind of person I do what I have to do, and then I have to go in my little shell and just kind of hope for the best and then come out when you know, it’s it’s a little overwhelming sometimes to have that much feel like you have that much on the line. And that’s just my personal response to it. I have to step back a little bit.

S1: But Sylvia, she’s gotten a taste for politics, which is why when she heard that the newly minted senator was establishing a volunteer advisory council on veterans issues, she thought I could do that. It was advertised as a way for the senator to have boots on the ground back home in Arizona. Sylvia sent in her application and a headshot. Then she drove two and a half hours from home for an interview. You’ve said you left the interview thinking, Well, I didn’t get that gig. Why do you think that?

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S2: Well, because I stated very clearly that I was progressive, that I wanted changes on women’s issues and I didn’t want to be, you know, lying and say, I just want to be here and I’m going to agree with everything, she says. I wanted them to know that I was more of a progressive and I was going to give her that side of the story.

S1: That’s interesting. So even back then, you knew that the senator was tacking towards the center and you said, Listen, I’m here for something else.

S2: Well, I was there to be honest about as a woman veteran where my position was, I wasn’t going to be a rubber stamp for her, at least that that was the one the impression I wanted to give them, and that’s why I didn’t think that I would hear from them.

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S1: Of course, Sylvia did hear back. She’d gotten the position. There’s a picture I’ve seen of you with Senator Sinema. She’s with a big group of veterans. Can you tell me the story of that picture? Like how it was taken?

S2: Yeah, that is actually the only time I was ever in a meeting with her in person. Wow. We finally had a meeting in Phoenix and they asked us all to come. And so we went up there and, you know, we kind of get there. Were you

S1: excited? I mean, you must have been.

S2: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m like, Oh, she’s going to be there. Maybe we weren’t sure. And so we were in the in the conference room. We’re all sitting around the table and she comes in with her entourage and she sits down at the table and she starts the agenda and she’s just like, Bam, bam, bam, bam. And you know, she’s going through and she’s telling everybody what to do, and she gets through that whatever it is she wants to accomplish. And then we go around the table and say our names and where we’re from, and that was about it. And then she gets up from the table. She’s OK now. It’s time for a photo op and we need to get this picture. And we’re like, OK, so we get up and go over to the area and we’re I’m kind of standing there, you know? And she just says, No, no, you need to be over here. She grabs me by the shoulders and she moves me and she puts me exactly where she wants me. And I’m like, the senator. Yeah, I’m like, Well, okay, then I’ll stand right here, you know, and she did that to everybody. And then, well, not everybody, but I don’t know if she did. But I do remember her physically saying no, grabbing me about the shoulders and moving me over there. And I’m like, OK. And you know, the picture was taken and then she left.

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S1: It’s funny because my impression from that story, you could come out thinking, Oh, she’s quite commanding. Yeah, she knows what she wants. She, you know, lines things up the way that she wants them. But then you could also come out with a different perspective, which is, does she have time for listening?

S2: Well, I mean, you know, at first, you’re right, that was the feeling. I said, she’s very powerful. She’s a very strong woman, you know? And as a as a woman who wants to promote women, I’m like, Well, you know, that’s really that’s really impressive, that she knows exactly what she wants and what she’s doing it. But you know, as time went on, it became a little bit more. I became a little bit more cynical about what that was all about.

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S1: What did she want your counsel on when you were in a meeting with her?

S2: Well, I don’t think I ever got a direct question. Towards me, it was more about it was more about her. She she at that same meeting she presented us with with this bill that she was very proud of, that she had gotten passed was a bipartisan bill and she gave us big copies on, you know, nice paper for each one of us. And I looked at it and I was reading it. And basically it was a petition bill to have the VFW be able to get new members from all the Afghanistan and Iraq veterans because they weren’t in declared war. So they couldn’t apply to be in the veterans of foreign wars because that wasn’t a declared war. And so that was a bill that she wrote to help veterans get into the VFW.

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S1: To you, it sounds like you saw that and you thought, OK, this is pretty small potatoes.

S2: I mean, it’s good. It’s not bad, but there’s so many more things going on. We have half a million disabled veterans in the state of Arizona. We have. So many disabled veterans in the state of Arizona, in the whole country, in the whole country, we have over four million disabled veterans. They need things and they don’t need that so much. I don’t I don’t think their membership to the VFW is more important than their prescription medicine costs and their their right to vote and their right to not stand in a 100 degree weather to to vote, especially when they have PTSD or they’re in a wheelchair. It’s it’s heartbreaking.

S1: When we come back, Sylvia’s expansive view of veterans issues is up against cold, hard reality. The story of how Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh drifted away from her role as an adviser to Kirsten Sinema. It’s partially a pandemic story. After meeting up that one time in Phoenix, the Veterans Affairs Council started gathering online after COVID. It just didn’t make sense to meet in person. But the distance wasn’t just physical. The Silvia Over the course of months, it started to feel like her advisory group was just giving the senator cover. She’d been working with a progressive veteran’s organization called the Common Defense. They seemed to listen. When the senator wouldn’t,

S2: I got to the point where I was so frustrated. My friends, my really close friends, they would say something and I would say, I’m just so mad at her and so disappointed. I just want to. I just want to resign in protest. And then they kind of look at me and I’m like, But it wouldn’t do any good. It’s just it’s just me and I’m who am I? I’m nobody. Nobody cares. But come defense. Listen to me when I said that and they said, Well, maybe you should. You should check that out. And so I did. I went to the one guy that I knew in the Phoenix area and I said to him in a private, personal way, Listen, I’m really upset about this and I’m thinking about doing this. And he goes, Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that too. I hear these rumblings. And so, you know, it was surprising to me. It was validating to me when I went to other veterans on the council and they said, yes, they felt exactly the same way.

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S1: What was that call like when you got five folks on the line? And these are folks who maybe you’ve only been in formal meetings with before now, but now you’re kind of like, OK, guys, here’s how I’m really feeling when I’m on those Zoom calls. Like, What was that like?

S2: I was a little, you know, hesitant, but I knew this other gentleman that I had reached out to. His name is David. He felt the same way. So we got on the call and we kind of all spoke our piece. And then I kind of said what I felt, and I we all came to a consensus. And that was, you know, that was how it happened. And then they said, Well, who’s going to write the letter? And I said, Well, I’ll write it, you know, I mean, I felt like I had a duty since I was the one that was kind of like complaining in the first place. So I said, I’m going to stay up and write this letter. So I it’s kind of an absurd kind of comedy. I’m sitting there looking at my computer going, How do you write a letter of protest, a letter of resignation in protest to a signature, right?

S1: There’s no like Google

S2: Form for that. I actually googled it. I’m like, Can I Google? How I write a, you know, resignation letter? And I got, you know, some business corporate Google responses, and I’m like, I’m just going to have to just write what I feel. And you know, we had come up with points in our meeting the prescription drug prices, voting rights, the build back better plan. Dear Senator Sinema. As members of your veterans advisory council, we feel as though we are being used as window dressing

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S1: for your own image after Sylvia and the other veterans finalized their decision. Common defense made Sylvia and her letter the focus of a splashy ad campaign call

S2: on the Senator Sinema to support the

S1: build back better act now. I was reading the letter and those three points voting rights, lowering prescription drug costs, passing President Biden’s agenda. Some might look at those and say, well, those aren’t military issues. And I wonder what you’d say to someone who says that,

S2: well, who are the military? We’re citizens. We’re we’re we’re all citizens in the same, in the same country and we, you know, put our lives on the line for those values of voting rights. I mean, it’s it’s obscene. It’s obscene.

S1: You also make some pretty just like straightforward allegations that you saved Senator Sinema. You’ve become one of the principal obstacles to progress answering to big donors rather than your own people. What? Made you so confident in saying that, why did you want to write that down in this letter of resignation?

S2: Because it’s the truth. I mean, nobody has had a meeting with her or seen her, you know, for a year, if not more. She doesn’t have, you know, outreach to to actual voters. Common defense has tried to meet with her several times to talk about disabled veterans. And she she couldn’t they couldn’t get a meeting with her. It was kind of like the last straw as far as trying to tell her that these were very important issues to veterans.

S1: You know, I realized something at some point, which is that so many people want to speak with Senator Sinema right now, they just want to get some something out of her, an indication of what she’s thinking, right? And you may be one of the few people to have her on the record saying, like much of anything in the last few days, because my understanding is that after you resigned, she called you.

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S2: Yeah, she left me a voicemail mail at nine and 6:45 in the morning, so she must have been calling for back east because Arizona is three hours difference. And I kind of rolled over and picked up my phone, and I saw it was a block call and I’m like, I don’t even have my glasses on. I’m not answering that call. And so then finally, when I got myself together, I went back and I listened to the voice message and I’m like, Who is? Who would you play it for us? Let me put you on pause here and let me listen to it. I don’t know how I came out here to sentence, OK, when we play this.

S3: Hi, Sophia, it’s been a pleasure. I’m calling because I want to let you know that I got a letter that you and a few others spent yesterday resigning from the Veterans Advisory Committee and well, I’m very sorry to learn about your decision. I want to call and let you know how much I appreciate all of the service that you’ve given, not just to our Veterans Advisory Committee, but your great service, to our country and to our state. I want to thank you for about my heart or service and to wish you well. Thanks for being.

S1: The thing that mostly stands out to me, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge anything that you said in the letter. It’s like. I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of it, because in one sense, it’s very polite. It’s a polite message and kind in some ways, but also kind of keeps it pushin, I guess, like it’s not engaging with anything in there. And I sort of wonder how you felt after hearing that

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S2: I just felt like, well, that’s par for the course.

S1: Do you think about what you’d say to her if you had a chance to speak to her face to face again?

S2: Of course. You know, we want to talk to her about how voting rights affect everyone, but especially veterans who, you know, fought for this country and for democracy. We we need to be able to have access to the ballot box. And maybe she can, you know, realize that we’re trying to help her here. We want her to do well. We want her to. I mean, we there’s there’s a big PAC that’s already raising money to primary her. Hmm. You know, people are very upset. I mean, people are withholding funds in protest. You know, they’re like, they’re not donating, they’re not reaching out and helping organizations that are trying to do this. You know, this work for the Democratic Party and for it for getting, you know, the Voting Rights Act and all these things passed because they’re so mad. They’re like, unless, you know, unless something changes with Sinema, nothing’s going to happen. So they’re they’re just, you know, it’s becoming a problem in the state.

S1: You know, something I’m kind of curious if you think about it, too, because something I think about a lot when I think about Senator Sinema is the fact that she’s a woman because obviously I’m a woman too. And I wonder a little bit if I’m being harder on her because she’s a woman or holding her to a higher standard or treating her differently in some way. And I wonder if you think about that too, like how that intersects with how so many of us think about her role in Washington?

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S2: It’s a painful reality that you think that a woman would be supportive of women’s issues and things that women hold, you know, values that women hold, and I don’t see that in her. I don’t know. It seems like she acts more like a man, and maybe that’s what she wants. That’s fine. But you know, when I when I was coming up, you had to be tough and you had to take it like a man and you had to act like a man. But as an older woman, I feel like we did all this stuff in the seventies and 60s. And younger women don’t seem to remember that it wasn’t always this way. And and, you know, Roe vs. Wade was, what, 73 74 and younger women have never known that, you know, you used to not be able to get a credit card in your own name and you used to not be able to do all these things, which I can remember as a very young woman and and being very proud of the fact that, yeah, we made these changes. But now it seems like they’re just trying to take them all away. And and for women in an office to not have that kind of a respect for for how hard it was to get women’s rights and how women have to, we don’t want to go back. I don’t certainly want to go back and you know, my daughter doesn’t want to go back. Hmm. These things are all in jeopardy. Voting rights, women’s rights, human rights. It seems like everything is in jeopardy right now.

S1: You mentioned how. There’s a robust debate going on in Arizona at the moment in Democratic circles about whether to primary Senator Sinema. And I wonder how you feel about that as someone who worked with the senator and pounded the pavement to get her elected. How do you think that’s going to resolve itself?

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S2: Well, I don’t know, I was in a in a Zoom meeting for over four hours with the Arizona Democratic Party because I have a vote in that in that group, and they voted almost 90 percent, 80 something percent to put forward a resolution to the executive board that if she does it, if she doesn’t vote in favor of voting rights in the Build Back Better Write Act. And you know, several things that we put in there that they, you know, we gave the board the ability to center her. So that was a long, hard meeting with lots of discussions in there. And when the vote came up, there was no, no quivering or, you know, no, no, just, you know, those sent it was it was pretty unanimous as far as 80 percent.

S1: Do you think censuring her is going to make a difference?

S2: I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, there were people in there and they said, Oh, well, if you censure, that’s just going to make things worse. But at this point, everybody was so frustrated. It just it was just it was just like me writing the letter. We don’t know what else to do, but you know, we feel so strongly that we have to make some kind of a statement.

S1: Sylvia, I’m really grateful for you making the time to talk to me.

S2: You’ve been very kind. Thank you.

S1: Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh is an Air Force veteran. She’s also a former member of Senator Kirsten Cinema’s Veterans Advisory Council. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Davis Land, Carmel Delshad Mary Wilson, Olena Schwartz and Danielle Hewitt. We are led by Alicia Montgomery and Alison Benedict, and I’m Mary Harris. Come on over to my Twitter. It’s at Mary’s desk. Say hello. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this feed. Tomorrow, we’re going to have what next TBD that is our Friday show. You won’t want to miss it. And I’ll be back here on Monday.