Ruben Gallego explains why he challenges Krysten Sinema


JThis week, Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego announced he would challenge Senator Kyrsten Sinema for her seat in the US Senate.

Sinema, the former Democrat who recently switched her allegiance to an independent party, had come under fire from fellow Democrats for voting against the $15 minimum wage, protecting the income tax loophole that gives tax breaks to hedge fund managers and private equity executives, and blocking voting rights legislation. Former canvassers have said they felt betrayed by the senator they helped elect, and her critics within the Arizona Democratic Party have accused her of avoiding public events. Her popularity is underwater in her state and she has the second lowest approval rating in the Senate, according to Morning Consult.

All of this has left Sinema vulnerable to a challenge in 2024. Democratic Representative Gallego, a Marine Corps veteran in Iraq who is in his fifth term in Congress, is the first serious contender to put his hat in the ring.

TIME spoke to Gallego at a cafe in the bowels of Rockefeller Center on Jan. 24 about his platform, his dark times after returning from the war, and how he stopped supporting Senator Sinema to challenge her for his seat.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

TIME: Why are you challenging Senator Kyrsten Sinema for this seat?

Gallego: She just left Arizona. You don’t see her almost anywhere, she doesn’t have any improvised moments, you see her fighting for pharmaceutical companies, for hedge fund managers. She skipped votes to go do Iron Man in New Zealand. His priorities are no longer the priorities of Arizonans. There is a possibility to change that, and I will do it.

What do you think are your three most important issues?

Skip the child tax credit. My mother did an incredible job, raising four children on her own on a secretary’s salary; we were part of the free lunch program at school, but she prides herself on never being on welfare or food stamps. I slept in the living room as we couldn’t afford a bigger apartment. This woman had so much stress on her. She didn’t want to raise those kids on her own, she would have loved to stay married, except my dad was an asshole; it was an extremely dangerous situation for her to stay with him. He was violent with me, he was violent with my mother. Every night I heard her cry because she was just trying to figure out how to make it work. There are millions of Americans who deal with this every day.

And for six months, we had this beautiful period when the Americans had a little relaxation. I’ve heard parents all over the country say that during those six months I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay for child care this month. During these six months, I did not have to work overtime, I was able to stay at home with my child. It reduces child poverty by 60%. It’s the kind of thing that could be revolutionary in this country, and we kind of gave up on it.

Second, we have to deal with climate change and the drought in Arizona. Our future is all about how we handle this.

And finally, immigration reform. We cannot ignore what is happening at the border, we clearly have a refugee and asylum crisis. We can fix it, but right now everyone’s solution is one-sided. We passed three bipartisan immigration reform bills in the House and they made it to the Senate, and even though we had control of the Senate, we didn’t really do it because of the filibuster .

Where are you with the obstruction?

I think at a minimum we should reform the filibuster. It’s clearly been abused over the past two years, and now it’s being used as a tool of obstruction instead of creating room for compromise.

You mentioned in your launch video that there were some dark times after you returned from service as a Marine in Iraq. Can you tell me about it?

The biggest problem is that you don’t really know who you are when you come back from the war, because you were a totally different person when you went there. I was much more anxious, I got angry quickly. You have survivor’s guilt. There were a few times I should have died instead of my friends dying because we switched places. There have been times when, instead of dealing with it in a smart, sensible way, I’ve decided to drink instead of going to see a therapist. I’ve never walked into a DUI or anything like that, but that’s also not a healthy way to handle anything. And instead of healthy relationships, I focused on a superficial idea of ​​success. Focusing on getting a job, getting a better job, when I was really falling apart.

It took me years to accept where I was with this problem, and I finally got help. I never felt the urge to kill myself or anything like that, but it’s a weird situation where you don’t feel like yourself anymore. Every time I feel a flare coming, I go back to see a therapist. But it will never go away, it’s part of my life. Often people think that veterans or people with PTSD can’t function, like we’re ticking time bombs and you can’t trust them. That’s one of the reasons I’m really open to talking about it. But it’s something you have to actively work on.

What were the most difficult times?

The breaking point was when my son arrived, because I was afraid of being a bad father. Especially coming from my background where I didn’t have a good father, it was a scary moment. I knew I was going to be a bad dad if I didn’t work on my PTSD.

But you don’t really have good or bad years, you just have years. We are 17, 18 years younger. Shit, my PTSD can vote!

You used to be a strong supporter of Senator Sinema, what do you expect from her reaction?

Nobody trusts him. She’s got a lot of trust to mend with voters, and she’s not going to take the steps to do that: talk to people you’ve pissed off for the past four years, people you’ve ignored, people you never return. not on the phone calls from. Many of us were with her from day one. I have been a big supporter of her since even before she came to the Senate. There are thousands of people in Arizona who think that way and who are going to have their say.

What was your breaking point? Take me through your period of disillusionment.

It sounds like a Gabriel García Márquez title right there. We always knew that Sinema might be more conservative than we would have liked, but we all felt that when the time came, she would be with us.

But after January 6, after talking about being friends with John Lewis and that John Lewis was her mentor, she uses the filibuster to stop the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

And then it was other things that kept going in that direction, whether it was rejecting the $15 an hour minimum wage or negotiating to get the drug companies to hold their prices down. Or finally, when she went to the ground fighting for private equity managers and hedge fund managers as Arizona’s poor hope for a child tax credit.

So how did you come to decide to challenge her?

Knowing Kyrsten and knowing Arizona, I also knew that no one would take her. In Arizona, she has the reputation of being a very fierce fighter. We know she has a lot of support from money groups. At the end of the day, you can complain all you want, but she doesn’t change because of it; she doesn’t really care about the opinions of Arizonans, she doesn’t care about the opinions of anyone but a few people. And so to make things change, we have to get him out of the way.

Obviously there will be a Republican challenger, and Arizona has plenty of independents. What is your strategy to make sure the Democrats come out on top?

Our first strategy is to shore up the Democrats, and we think we already have that in hand. She’s really, really unpopular and has been for quite a while. There’s also a large segment of Latinos who haven’t been engaged, who are going to be engaged, and who are going to be excited about our race. People say how proud they are that there’s a Latino running, and they’re proud that it’s a Latino who comes from a working-class background that they actually understand. And I think energizing this young base is going to be extremely important. In Arizona, nearly 5,000 to 6,000 Latinos turn 18 per month, and many of them are registering as independents. We will be able to attract this vote. We will energize the Native American vote; we’re probably one of the first campaigns to kick off on Native American lands. And we’re going to talk to people in the red zones, we’re going to talk to anyone who wants to come to a town hall. We’re going to hit every county in Arizona.

What if potential Republican challengers like Kari Lake or Blake Masters create a narrative that you’re a far-left progressive?

So the same narrative they used on Senator Mark Kelly and all the Democrats last year? And in 2018, 2020 and 2022? They can say all they want about it, but the problem is that the narrative doesn’t work.

Are you progressive?

I’m definitely in some areas and in some areas I’m within the mainstream norm. My voting record is almost the same as Mark Kelly’s.

What areas are you progressive in?

These labels keep circulating. I feel like now they get thrown at anything where people just want to say “that person is bad”.

What is your message to independent Arizonans?

It is neither independent nor moderate that you negotiate for pharmaceutical companies in Arizona. We have seniors from Arizona driving to Mexico to get cheaper drugs in Mexico than they could at Walgreens or CVS. It’s not moderate. It’s not moderate to negotiate for private equity managers. Your senator is supposed to negotiate for you, not for the people in power. You may not agree with me 100% as an Arizona citizen, but I guarantee you will always know where I stand.

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.


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