Kyrsten Sinema was the supernova who burned out (and could catch fire again)

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In the political universe that is Washington, D.C., Kyrsten Sinema was a supernova — a solar splash of vibrant color and enormous energy.

She served only one term in the United States Senate, but what a term.

She put herself at the vital core of virtually every important policy debate in Washington — infrastructure, guns, economic recovery, immigration.

She would be feted by the White House and praised by the president. The New York Times would declare her “the key to President Biden’s agenda.”

Sinema wasn't always liked. She didn't care

She built relationships on both sides of the aisles, finding the most serious people in both parties and pulling them together to work on policy in the quiet corners of the Senate building.

Her stock and trade was trust.

Her friendships began to pay off as Republicans and Democrats came together to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, the first major gun reform in nearly 30 years and a deal to get America back in the game of producing microchips.

Always the joyful eccentric, she dressed that entire time with panache, in loud prints and even louder colors, too loud for the starched shirts of Washington and Georgetown.

They didn’t like her, and she was too busy to care.

Her term in the Senate was a supernova

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, pictured after a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 24, 2021.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, pictured after a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 24, 2021.

Supernovas are dazzling to behold, but they are short lived.

Eventually all of that energy and spectacular light collapses upon itself and becomes a void.

And so, in the brief period of a single U.S. Senate term, Sinema went from all that brilliant light to desolate desaturation — becoming a woman without a party and with no path to reelection.

In her darkest days, she was one of the most despised people in the country, especially by Democrats who spoke of her with venom.

She’s “a snake in the grass,” Salon said.

“An enemy of democracy,” said the women of “The View.”

She could have been the vote that cleared the way for Democrats to pass trillion-dollar spending bills and election reform without a single Republican vote. But she did things her way. She always had.

She knows plenty about performance politics

In her video posted Tuesday, Sinema lamented what politics had become — performance art and put-downs on cable news and social media.

She knows something of that brand. Those were her politics when she began her career.

She was a bomb-throwing agitator with the Green Party and Code Pink, screaming at the war and the establishment that took us there.

She was young. And she grew out of it.

In time she would run and get elected to the Arizona Legislature as a Democrat, where she would smooth the edges of her persona and tone down her politics.

Sinema was a leftist who appreciated the right

She was always an odd one, because she was a committed leftist unafraid to find friends on the conservative side of the aisle.

She didn’t think like the far right in Arizona, but she got along with them. She liked Russell Pearce and appreciated Eddie Farnsworth when most Democrats just hated their guts.

She was just as comfortable being friends with Russell Pearce as she was wearing purple on Capitol Hill.

This would pucker the eye of the most partisan Democrats, but it also created associations that turned into policy and progress for Arizona.

She would eventually write a book about bipartisan politics and believed it would be the future.

How wrong she was.

Bipartisanship was a pyrrhic victory

When she finally got elected to Congress and then the U.S. Senate, it was during the most divided time since Vietnam, with Americans in both parties now believing the country is coming apart.

There was no mood in Washington to break bread or seek compromise, only to cut throats and shoot the prisoners.

This was the challenge before her, and yet, she still managed to pull off several bipartisan triumphs.

They proved pyrrhic victories.

Sinema was a victim of politics: And her own ego

In the process she lost her party and her voters. Turns out that in an age of pitched hatred, the person who would work with others is now the heretic.

“These solutions are considered failures either because they’re too little or not nearly enough,” she said on Tuesday. “All or nothing. The outcome is less important than beating the other guy.”

Why I wouldn't count Sinema out

Over three decades, I’ve never seen Kyrsten Sinema downcast. I suppose any farewell video will have a certain pall to it, but hers seemed almost optimistic. Two words, especially, rang out.

They came as she spoke about this low moment in our country's history:

“I believe in my approach," she said. "But it’s not what America wants right now.”

“Right now.”

Those aren’t the words of defeat. Those are the words of return.

For the country and for Kyrsten Sinema.

I don’t know when that might be, but I wouldn't bet against either one.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist with The Arizona Republic. Email him at

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kyrsten Sinema will leave the Senate, but this isn't the end of her