Arizona congressional candidate Kyrsten Sinema wrongly labeled Latina
The incident has sparked an outcry from Latinos in Arizona.
By EMILY DERUY
Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Arizona’s Ninth Congressional District, was wrongly identified by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) as Latina.
In a PowerPoint presentation shown at last month’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida, NALEO placed Sinema under the headline, “Latinos in non-majority Latino districts.”
The nonprofit organization listed her in their 2011 directory of Latino elected officials. And Sinema even accepted scholarship money from NALEO to attend the organization’s Orlando conference. The other five Arizona lawmakers who received the money were all Latino.
But Sinema is not, in fact, Latina and according to a spokesperson, she self-identifies as “Anglo.”
A spokesperson for NALEO told the Phoenix New Times that the identification would have come from either Sinema or someone in her office. The spokesperson added that the group occasionally makes corrections to earlier directories if disputes over whether or not someone can be categorized as Latino arise. For example, NALEO does not consider someone of Portuguese descent to be Latino.
A Sinema for Congress spokesperson asserted to the Phoenix New Times that the mistake was NALEO’s, and that the organization would need to fix it.
NALEO issued a statement in response acknowledging the mistake. It reads in part:
“We have recently become aware that Former Arizona State Senator Kyrsten Sinema was mistakenly included in our 2011 Directory of Latino Elected Officials. Senator Sinema has informed us that she is not Latina and we will work to ensure this is reflected in future editions of the directory and other informational materials.
“The directory is designed only as a database for elected officials who designate themselves as Latino or Hispanic. NALEO relies on the elected officials and staff to indicate whether they are Latino for inclusion in this database.
“NALEO Executive Director Arturo Vargas has initiated an internal review of the directory process to ensure the organization continues to provide the most accurate and timely information possible.”
About a quarter of Ninth Congressional District residents are Hispanic, and Latino voters are expected to play a significant role in Sinema’s bid for the Democratic nomination. Two Republican candidates, Martin Sepulveda and Leah Campos Schandlbauer, have emphasized their Hispanic heritage.
Sinema campaign spokesman Rodd McLeod released a statement Tuesday from Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a former NALEO board member who served while Sinema was a member, praising her for having a “Latina heart”:
“I have known Kyrsten Sinema since 2005, when we were Fleming Fellows together as freshman state representatives,” the statement said. “Kyrsten has always been honest and up-front that she is an Anglo ally of the Latino community. She has long been a strong voice for the issues important to the Latino community. I am convinced that she has a Latina heart.”
But the incident, and Sinema’s response to it, has prompted anger from many Latinos in Arizona. State Sen. Steve Gallardo (D), who served with Sinema, suggested that she had identified herself as Latina for political gain.
“I think she feels it would have helped her politically early on,” Gallardo, who supports Sinema rival David Schapira, told the New Times. “That she would be able to appeal to a certain segment of her district.”
In a separate interview, Gallardo also pointed to the fact that Sinema had not publicly supported the recall of former state Senate President Russell Pearce (R), an architect of the Arizona’s controversial immigration law who isn’t exactly well liked by Latinos.
“She would protect Russell Pearce while we were working hard to get him recalled,” he told the Huffington Post.
McLeod rejected that notion to the Huffington Post, calling it a “joke.”
With Sinema locked in a tight, three-way primary race, this debate is far from over.
(Photo: Screenshot, NALEO PowerPoint presentation)