Sometimes, Sinema succeeded in co-opting her conservative friends into backing a liberal agenda.
In 2006, when Sinema was still a true-blue progressive, she asked Jonathan Paton, a Republican legislator from Tucson, to take the lead on her bill ensuring women who breastfeed in public couldn’t be charged with indecent exposure.
“She was very matter of fact about it: ‘Look, if I sponsor it, it’s not going to pass. I’ll do all the work, I just need a Republican to sponsor it for me because that’s the way the world works,’” he recalls. “And I was like, ‘Okay, you know, whatever,’ and I didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to it, to be honest with you, until the day of the hearing.”
He was shocked when hundreds of women showed up for the hearing — a mix of what he calls granola hippies and Mormon moms. The bill passed committee with their support, but Paton warned Sinema it still faced opposition within conservative ranks of the Republican Party, particularly from Pearce.
“And she looks at me and she says, ‘I’ll handle Russell,’” he says.
Sinema drummed up a campaign for moms and higher-ups in the Mormon Church to email Pearce, who is Mormon, to support the bill, and Pearce folded, Paton says.
“I was impressed,” Paton says. “She was smarter than most people in either party.”
The two went on to work on a host of other issues together, including the drop house bill that later put Sinema in trouble with members of her own party. But Paton still thinks back to that first project — the breastfeeding bill that he didn’t really want to sponsor — as the moment when he understood what a powerhouse Sinema could become.
All the Washington, D.C. intrigue about why Sinema is holding up Democrats’ legislation is based on a misreading of where the state is politically, Paton adds. It’s an independent, center-right state that can support a Democrat who leans conservative.
“Let’s just say she knows this state at least as well as she knew Russell Pearce,” he says.