The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.
On Dec. 9, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona woke up the political world with an announcement.
She changed her party affiliation, dropping the Democratic ties that swept her into office in 2018’s wave of newly elected women and opting to become an independent instead, saying it was more in keeping with the values of her constituents. This seems true, as there are 1.2 million registered Democrats in Arizona versus 1.4 million “others.”
This is significant for Sinema’s own political career. Her seat is up for reelection in 2024 and she was likely to face a primary challenge. But what does it mean for the national landscape and what, if anything, does it mean in Pennsylvania?
Sinema has been a quandary in the Senate. While she helped the Democrats get their numbers to the majority, that isn’t always a big deal, as she can require as much courting to vote with the party as centrist Republicans such as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. And like Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, she can sometimes go her own way in the end.
Does her move change the balance of power in the Senate? Not really.
While it’s still tight, Tuesday’s special election win by Sen. Raphael Warnock over Republican challenger Herschel Walker maintains real numbers.
In addition, Sinema, who chairs two subcommittees, said she intends to maintain her committee assignments and, therefore, caucus with Democrats. And that’s all without Vice President Kamala Harris and her ability to break ties.
It does make things a little less sure than they were Wednesday morning, when Warnock’s win made the sometimes questionable calls about which way Sinema or West Virginia’s Joe Manchin would lean matter less. Perhaps that’s why she made her announcement Friday – making it clear her vote still mattered enough to woo her.
It also makes clear that Pennsylvania’s votes may be more important than ever. This isn’t from a partisan standpoint, although the Keystone State has elected two Democrats to the Senate for the first time in ages.
Disregarding Arlen Specter’s brief stint as a Democrat after switch-ing parties midterm in 2009, the state hasn’t elected two Democrats since 1945.
No, the precarious balance makes senior Sen. Bob Casey and newly elected Sen. John Fetterman votes to reckon with, which could mean good things for issues important to Pennsylvanians.
And maybe the best way to achieve that is with a little of the spirit shown by the Senate’s independents and centrists – hewing closer to the needs of the constituents than the party.