On Tuesday, Arizona governor Doug Ducey announced his decision to appoint Republican Rep. Martha McSally to the vacant senate seat left behind by John McCain, who died in August.
The decision came as a surprise to voters who watched McSally lose her own senate campaign this November, with openly bisexual Kyrsten Sinema beating McSally to become the state’s first LGBTQ senator — and only the second LGBTQ person in the U.S. Senate after Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin. Sinema’s win successfully flipped what had been a Republican seat held by retiring senator Jeff Flake.
The move is highly unusual on several counts; not only does it position the rival candidates to serve together — Arizona only has two senate seats, after all — but they are also the first women to ever serve as the senators from Arizona. That makes Arizona one of the only states in the nation to have women-only representation in the U.S. Senate.
In a biting statement on Tuesday, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSSC) spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua summarized the bizarre quality of Ducey’s decision to appoint the losing candidate.
“Why appoint a loser when you could find a fresh face with a better shot in 2020?” said Passalacqua. “That’s the question that will haunt Governor Ducey and the Washington Republicans who installed Martha McSally to a seat she couldn’t earn.”
That race was closely-watched not only because Democrats were hoping to rebalance the senate, but also because it pitted an LGBTQ candidate directly against one known for her stance against same-sex marriage and her pro-discrimination votes in congress. Most notably, McSally was slammed by LGBTQ advocacy groups for her 2016 votes supporting an amendment to a military spending bill that created a discrimination loophole allowing for sweeping anti-LGBTQ discrimination at all federal agencies.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed Sinema in her winning campaign against McSally, hopes that McSally’s loss this fall might serve as a wake-up call to the Republican, indicating that she should evolve her stance on LGBTQ rights.
“It is unfortunate that Governor Ducey would appoint an anti-LGBTQ person who voters rejected just over a month ago in favor of an openly bisexual woman,” Elliot Imse, Senior Director of Communications for LGBTQ Victory Fund, told INTO on Tuesday. “One hopes that McSally takes the recent election of Kyrsten Sinema to heart and understands that a majority of Arizonans are opposed to policies and legislation that further marginalize LGBTQ people.”
McSally’s opposition to marriage equality is longstanding. In 2012, she told voters she supported amending the U.S. Constitution to ban marriage rights for same-sex couples. After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, McSally argued that the decision should have been left to the states to decide.
At a tense town hall with constituents in February 2017, McSally was booed by the crowd after saying she supported the Trump administration’s withdrawal of nondiscrimination protections for transgender children in schools, saying the move to discriminate against trans students “needed to be done.”
Drew Anderson, Director of Campaigns and Rapid Response at GLAAD, told INTO that McSally’s views “have no place in the U.S. Senate.”
“Appointing someone who was rejected by Arizona voters just a month ago is not only a slap in the face to Arizonans, but a deliberate and direct attack on LGBTQ people, who have been in Martha McSally’s crosshairs for years,” said Anderson in a statement on Tuesday. “Arizonans will remember Martha McSally for a lot of things, and morphing herself to be a sheer clone of the anti-LGBTQ Donald Trump will be on the top of that list.”
On social media, rumors swirled around whether McSally would be sworn in before Sinema in a sneaky move to give her senior senator status. But at a news conference on Tuesday, Ducey shot those rumors down.
“I’m also going to respect the will of voters,” Ducey said. “Senator-elect Sinema was elected to the office and she’s going to be sworn in first.”