SAY WHAT? - On what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 93rd birthday, voting rights advocates and progressive lawmakers rallied in Arizona on Saturday to target the first-term Democratic senator blocking legislation aimed at strengthening ballot access amid growing GOP-led suppression efforts.
In attendance at Saturday's demonstrations in Phoenix were members of the King family, which is planning to lead a march to Washington, D.C. on MLK Day with a simple message to lawmakers: "No celebration without legislation."
Referring to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's (D-Ariz.) Thursday speech defending the 60-vote legislative filibuster, Martin Luther King III argued Saturday that "what she said is, 'I support voting rights, but not as much as I support the ability of someone to take those rights away.'"
"The filibuster is a meaningless Senate rule," he added. "It's a remnant of slavery used to block civil rights for generations."
Sinema's opposition to changing Senate rules means that the House-passed Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act—new legislation that combines Democrats' two major voting rights bills—is likely to fall victim to a Republican filibuster when the majority party attempts to move to a final vote on the measure Tuesday.
If the Senate GOP filibusters, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to try to alter the chamber's 60-vote threshold—an effort that is also doomed to fail unless Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) drop their support for the rule.
The Arizona Democrat's refusal to consider even a voting rights exception for the filibuster has infuriated Arizona residents who've watched the state's Republican-controlled legislature ram through voter suppression measures along party lines, making a mockery of Sinema's purported desire for bipartisan cooperation.
"I want the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and the only way that will happen is if we carve out the filibuster," Tessa Williams, an Arizonan who attended Saturday's demonstrations in Phoenix, told the local Arizona Republic. "It's critical to protect the right to vote. It's under threat right now, and I think it's much more important that Senator Sinema gets behind this legislation than hold on to the filibuster."
Williams said she feels "betrayed" by Sinema's decision to prioritize the Senate filibuster over voting rights, a sentiment that other Arizonans have expressed in recent months as the Democrat has repeatedly obstructed her own party's agenda.
Sinema's speech Thursday—delivered just before President Joe Biden addressed the Senate Democratic caucus in a closed-door meeting—intensified calls for her ouster in 2024, the end of her first six-year term. A recent Data for Progress survey showed that 70% of likely Arizona Democratic primary voters disapprove of Sinema's job performance.
"She is really disappointing a lot of Arizonans," Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who is believed to be gearing up for a primary challenge against Sinema, said in an interview Friday. "The fact that she's using a very archaic rule that's not even found in the Constitution to stop voting rights is very problematic for a lot of Arizonans."
During a rally in Phoenix on Saturday, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)—who implored Arizonans to "vote her the hell out of office" if Sinema doesn't budge on the filibuster—introduced Gallego as "the next senator from the great state of Arizona."
In the wake of Sinema's floor remarks Thursday, more than 70 women involved with Arizona's Democratic Party signed an open letter urging the reproductive rights political action committee EMILY's List—a leading contributor to Sinema—to "immediately make a public demand to Senator Sinema to support ending the filibuster now."
The Daily Poster reported last week that anti-abortion groups have been pushing Sinema to uphold the legislative filibuster, which is standing in the way of House-passed legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade into federal law.
Sinema is a co-sponsor of the Women's Health Protection Act, just as she's a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
About an hour from where voting rights advocates marched in Phoenix on Saturday, former President Donald Trump held a rally in Florence, Arizona that underscored the threat he and the Republican Party pose to democracy.
As the New York Times reported, "Mr. Trump's favored candidate for governor, Kari Lake, is a first-time office seeker who has threatened to jail the state's top elections official. His chosen candidate to replace that elections official, a Democrat, is a state legislator named Mark Finchem, who was with a group of demonstrators outside the Capitol on January 6 as rioters tried to stop the certification of the 2020 election."
The Times added that when Trump "took the stage in the evening, he lavished praise on the slate of election-denier candidates in attendance."
(Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)