Ted Simons: Representative Kyrsten Sinema won a tough, narrowly decided race to become the newest member of Arizona’s congressional delegation. She serves in district , which covers parts of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler and Mesa. Kyrsten sinema joins me now to talk about a range of issues facing Arizona and the nation. Good to see you again.
Kyrsten Sinema: It's great to be here.
Ted Simons: There's so much going on. And it seems like immigration has kind of taken a lead here. The reform ideas are out there. I know the gang of eight is going here. Is something happening in the house with you here?
Kyrsten Sinema: Absolutely. Now, the house is getting a little less attention but it's actually a little bit farther down the road. You can expect to see some legislation come out of the house sometime in the next several weeks. The legislation in the house covers the same broad principles as you hear in the Senate, it addresses border security, future flow, so addressing how we let immigrants in to work and when and what numbers and the third issue is settling the status of people who are already here, the dreamers, the folks who have been working for many years.
Ted Simons: Compared to what you're hearing from the Senate?
Kyrsten Sinema: The house version is different in that it will be a package of several bills that will be voted on independently. But it does include significant funding and support for border security. It does address the market-based system to allow individuals to come into this country to work when we have jobs available and it does provide paths to citizenship for people who are already here, who want to get right with the law and get on the path of American citizenship.
Ted Simons: Does that path or any aspect of the house plan involve returning to one's home country, reapplying, reentering?
Kyrsten Sinema: Much of that is still under debate so that may be the case for some, maybe not for others. That part hasn't been completely decided yet.
Ted Simons: And as far as like a new visa program for low-skilled workers, first of all, do you think that's a good idea and secondly, there seems to be a dispute over the wages for some of these workers.
Kyrsten Sinema: Well, that's the gang of eight proposal. The gang of eight in the Senate has proposed the w visa. It would eliminate a temporary visa, allow folks to get a one-year worker visa with the option to turn that into a longer term path to legal permanent residency or eventually citizenship. There are some debates around what the wages would look like and whether or not that visa would be attached to a certain employer. That's in the Senate. It's a different discussion than what's happening in the house. In the house I think there's some acknowledgment that some are interested in more long-term paths to not only working but a path to citizenship.
Ted Simons: And when the two likely eventually mix along those lines, what would your thoughts be regarding again democrats are kind of coming at this from higher wages for fewer workers, Republicans are saying more workers, lower wages.
Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I support and always have supported a market-based approach. The idea that instead of having rigid quotas to allow certain numbers of people in every year that we instead adjust the number of the visas based on the market needs so when we have a big need in one industry, we bring in more folks for that industry. When we have less of a need, we bring in less folks. It's a more dynamic approach and meets the real requirements of our country.
Ted Simons: Last question. I'm not going to ask you what a secure border looks like.
Kyrsten Sinema: Nobody knows.
Ted Simons: Nobody's going to have an answer but how do you better improve security at the border?
Kyrsten Sinema: One of the ways to address it is to create a future flow for legal folks to come in, through a door, create a door for good people to come in and get jobs. Right now, border patrol can't tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy because a guy with drugs looks the same as a guy looking to work. If you have a path, the folks coming here illegally are mostly here for bad purposes. But we've seen some success in the Yuma sector. We have to figure out how we can crack down on the folks who are doing dangerous things, smuggling drugs and people.
Ted Simons: I keep hearing the Yuma sector is a success. Let's put it in the Tucson sector. Is that viable?
Kyrsten Sinema: There are some real differences in terms of geogrpahy. The Yuma sector is a much more dangerous sector and the risk of death and dying is much higher in Yuma and so some of the success is replicated but every area is different.
Ted Simons: Let's get to sequestration and what the heck is going on to get this figured out.
Kyrsten Sinema: Sequestration has gone into effect and folks will continue to feel the roll-out of sequestration over the coming months as furloughs are being implemented in the military, as we're seeing pay cuts happen across the board. So the sequestration is very real. And fortunately, the government is taking some action to reduce some of the negative impacts. We passed the continuing resolution two weeks ago that alleviates the impact of the sequester on the military, veterans, the criminal justice system, and our agricultural community. It doesn't eliminate the bad stuff but it lessens it. It's a step forward. It also prevented government shutdowns but there's much work to do and frankly, we're still waiting for some bipartisan action here.
Ted Simons: I know that Republicans are big on addressing things like Social Security and Medicare and debt services. Can those things be addressed or is this such gridlock that you've got -- I keep hearing there's bipartisan action going on.
Kyrsten Sinema: There is.
Ted Simons: We're not seeing a heck of a lot of results here across the continent. Are you willing to listen, raising the retirement age, is that something you would listen to?
Ted Simons: Actually, I am part of a group, we were called the gang of 32, but there's a lot of gangs in Congress. We're the united solutions caucus. 36 Republicans and democrats in the freshman class joined together, we issued a joint statement where we called for a grand bargain to address long-term issues like preserving and strengthening Social Security and Medicare, ensuring they're solvent in the future and also addressing revenue, addressing loopholes, addressing infrastructure and we said we're willing to take bipartisan action to solve this problem instead of kicking the can down the road. What we've asked most recently is for leadership in both parties to meet with us to talk about actually solving the problem. Unfortunately, what we hear in Congress is a lot of attacking each other and blaming each other, which, of course, doesn't solve anything.
Ted Simons: Are you hearing more of that, less of that, what's going on?
Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I'm spending my time with folks who want to find a bipartisan solution and the good news is our ranks are growing. We're seeking to attract more and more folks from higher power to join us in the effort to solve the problem. I've got to tell you, everywhere I go in the district, that's what I hear about. People want us to solve the problems. They don't care if it's a Republican or a democratic solution. They want the problem fixed.
Ted Simons: But there are some who look at the sequestration business, this was supposed to be such a radical idea that no one would even remotely consider it, it's a done deal. Is Congress serious about this?
Kyrsten Sinema: There are some people who are. And I certainly can't speak for everyone but I can tell you that in this freshman class, both Republican and democrat, we are folks who come from our communities. We've got new ideas, and most importantly, we're problem solvers. We have a history of being problem solvers when we served in our state legislatures, our city councils, or as business leaders in our community. So we believe it's our job to help kind of allow other folks to reflex their muscles of bipartisanship. They've done it before. They can do it again.
Ted Simons: Are they willing to do it again? You talked about leadership. Are you getting near there or just a gang of fill in the blanks doing their own thing?
Kyrsten Sinema: No, no. When we presented our ideas to both sets of leadership, they encouraged us and asked us to continue working. And so we believe that this change has to come from the bottom up in Congress. It has to be from those of us who are new, who haven't gone Washington, those of us who are still interested in making change.
Ted Simons: The president is out there now talking about gun control, gun control issues and he says we're not going to wait for another Newtown. Do you agree and, if so, explain, please.
Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I do believe that most Americans agree throughout this country, including here in Arizona that there are some common sense actions we can take. For instance, right now, 40% of all gun sales happen outside of a background check. That's a little bit nerve-wracking because bad guys who get a hold of guns usually do it outside of a background check. One common sense proposal that I have long supported is to ensure that all gun sales and gun transfers happen with a background check and there's a proposal in the Senate and the house to do that. I support that.
Ted Simons: What about the idea that it would push the bad guys, the black markets sales. It's not going to stop it.
Kyrsten Sinema: It's true, that bad guys will always do bad things but when law enforcement can tell the difference between a bad guy and a good guy, it's easier to stop those people. When good guys are getting their gun sales down through background checks, it's easier to catch the bad guys.
Ted Simons: Some of those good guys are concerned about a firearms registry. How do you keep that from happening?
Kyrsten Sinema: You can do universal background checks and as soon as the check's done, eliminate the data. That's very simple to do and that's actually one of the proposals we've seen in Congress.
Ted Simons: Is that something, though, that you think people will buy? A lot of folks are going to say I'm not buying it, they're not going to get rid of that data.
Kyrsten Sinema: It's healthy to be skeptical of government. The best way to ensure that that doesn't happen is through checks and balances.
Ted Simons: Assault weapons ban, for it?
Kyrsten Sinema: I think the assault weapons ban is not likely to come for a vote in the U.S. house or the Senate. It doesn't seem to be enough folks on both sides of the aisle to get this done and you know me, I'm one who always deals in the world of the possible. I'm trying to get done what we can get done to not only protect the second amendment but also protect families and kids.
Ted Simons: Last question on this, critics of any kind of gun reform here say that gun ownership is up and gun violence has actually for the past 20 some odd years been down, according to FBI statistics. How do you respond to that argument?
Kyrsten Sinema: That's great news. That means we're doing something right in this country. I think it makes sense to take some common sense measures. In Arizona we have a gun show loophole where you can go to a gun show, purchase as many weapons as you want and if you're one of those straw trafficker guys, you can turn right around and sell those guns to people who don't have the legal right to have them, felons, people doing bad things. I think closing that loophole makes sense regardless of the level of violence that we've seen. We don't want guns in the hands of bad people. I think we can agree on that.
Ted Simons: Last question here, I know that you give a state of the district address here and again, it sounds like you're pushing again for bipartisanship, you're pushing again for the mayors of the cities that you represent to get together and work together. Are they willing to do that or are we still seeing some of the old regionalism going on?
Kyrsten Sinema: These mayors are some of the best mayors in the state. You've got mayor Stanton, mayor smith, mayor lane and mayor Mitchell and they're talking together on a regular basis. Before I even took office, we got together and had a meeting and started brainstorming how I could be of service to them in their work together. It's tremendous the work they're doing together, not just around things like transit and public safety but even around economic regionalism, growing technology companies, biotech, incubating centers of innovation. They’re doing some amazing work. I see my job as helping them do that work and facilitating that effort.
Ted Simons: What are they asking you to do now that you've been in office?
Kyrsten Sinema: One of the things they're asking me to help do is identify grants. Because of the sequester and because of diminishing moneys that are coming from the federal government to local governments, they're working hard to earn moneys from the government in the form of grants. So our office is going to start helping them identify grants and help facilitate them applying for and hopefully getting some of those merit-based grants.
Ted Simons: So you're not seeing as much provincialism that we tend to think be out there? You're saying you're seeing some cooperation?
Kyrsten Sinema: These guys are great. In fact, many of the east valley city mayors were together just yesterday talking about some regionalism that they're working on together. They're doing a great job and I'm just proud to be a part of their team.
Ted Simons: Last question here. Biggest challenge you've found since going back to Washington.
Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I'll tell you the truth. You spend a lot of time walking from one building to the next and I'm very efficient, so I started having meetings while I'm walking from one building to the next so not to waste the time. That's the biggest challenge I've seen.
Ted Simons: If the lay of the land is the biggest challenge for you --
Kyrsten Sinema: We're in good shape.
Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.
Kyrsten Sinema: Thanks so much. Great to be here.