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Sinema, Kyrsten  (b. 1976)  
 
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After serving several terms in the Arizona state legislature, Kyrsten Sinema ran successfully for the United States House of Representatives in 2012, becoming the first openly bisexual person elected to that body.

Kyrsten Sinema is a progressive legislator who also has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and engaging in dialogue with people of differing views in order to see that the needs of her constituents are met. After serving several terms in the Arizona state legislature, she ran successfully for the United States House of Representatives in 2012, becoming the first openly bisexual person elected to that body.

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Sinema is a native Arizonan, born July 12, 1976 in Tucson. Her parents divorced when she was young, however, and, following her mother's remarriage, the new family moved to Florida. There they faced hard times after her stepfather lost his job and the family had to live for a couple of years in an abandoned gas station without electrical service or running water outside the town of Defuniak Springs in the Florida Panhandle.

Despite the adverse circumstances, Sinema excelled in high school, graduating as valedictorian of her class at the age of sixteen. She had simultaneously been taking college classes, and so she had enough transfer credits to be able to complete her bachelor's degree in social work at Brigham Young University in just two years.

The choice to go to Brigham Young was likely influenced by the fact that, as Sinema told Jessica Coomes of the Arizona Republic, her parents were "very, very, very, very strict Mormons."

Sinema would later leave the church, but, she stated to Coomes, "Growing up in that environment helped me learn about personal strength. It helped me learn to do a lot of research and find my opinions and hold them, even when they're unpopular."

Sinema told Manuel Roig-Franzia that she has great respect for the LDS church, especially their commitment to family and taking care of each other, but that "I just don't believe the tenets of the faith that they believe."

Sinema subsequently returned to Arizona, where she pursued a career as a social worker and also continued her education. She earned her master's degree in social work at Arizona State University in 1999 and her law degree in 2004. She would add a doctorate in Justice Studies from the same institution in 2012.

Sinema entered the political arena in 2001, running unsuccessfully for a seat on the Phoenix City Council. The next year she made a bid for the Arizona House of Representatives, running as an independent. Once again she was defeated.

Declaring as a Democrat in 2004, she won the primary election for a seat in the House and the subsequent general election in the 15th District. She ran successfully for re-election in the next two biennial races.

Sinema threw herself into her role as a legislator, introducing numerous bills on issues of importance to her, including glbtq rights, energy conservation, and immigration rights, but initially she met with little success. A self-described "righteously indignant crusader," Sinema soon saw that she needed a different approach to achieve the goals in which she so strongly believed.

"I didn't like losing," she stated to Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times "so I learned pretty quickly that the best way to win is to work with others."

Sinema began reaching across the aisle, a strategy that worked. "She got clever about making Republican allies that could carry issues she cared about, understanding that it's a Republican Legislature and that's the way she could find success," stated former state legislator Stan Barnes to Duda. "It's a hard thing to do as an elected official because someone else is getting the credit."

Lobbyist Mike Gardner also commented to Duda on Sinema's change in tactics. "She learned a lot and changed a lot as a statesman [sic], as a politician. She started out as this firebrand bomb-thrower. And then she realized that in order to get things done she needed to work with all sides. She developed this really fascinating relationship with other smart people in the Legislature, like [Senator Andy] Biggs and [Representative Eddie] Farnsworth" as well as Senator Russell Pearce--all conservative Republicans.

Her initiatives drew some complaints from Democrats, especially for her friendship with Pearce who sponsored Arizona's notorious "show your papers" anti-immigrant bill and was subsequently recalled. But Sinema, who identifies as a progressive, continued to use coalition-building as a way to achieve her objectives.

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