By Terri Jo Neff
A longtime Phoenix city politico calls Monday’s arrest of nearly 40 people -including Reverend Jesse Jackson and State Sen. Martin Quezada- outside U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office “performance art,” as it was arranged ahead of time by protest organizers.
Sam Stone, chief of staff for Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, told KFYI’s James T. Harris on Tuesday that the protesters’ sit-in at Simena’s office on East Camelback was “an optical joke” intended to garner local and national media headlines “screaming up and down that Rev. Jackson was arrested” for not following police commands.
The truth, Stone told Harris, was that “Rev. Jackson arranged to be put in handcuffs for a few minutes for the photo.”
Stone also said police officers were forced by city officials to standby outside Sinema’s office until the protesters “were ready to leave on their own.” Only then were officers allowed to issue citations to the protestors and instruct them to disperse, he said.
“They actually went and communicated with our police department and were like ‘we going to come out there and protest and we would like you to arrest us cuz we’re going to break the law, but we don’t actually want to go to jail,’” Stone told Harris.
Those arrested were cited on suspicion of criminal trespassing, a Class 1 misdemeanor, the lowest level of criminal conduct in Arizona. Stone predicted all charges “will be thrown out before they ever see any type of court or fee or fines or anything of the sort.”
More than 200 people started the protect event by rallying at a local city park. Many of the protesters then marched several blocks to Sinema’s office, where about 40 engaged in the sit-in. Their purpose, according to protesters, was to draw attention to Sinema’s position on the filibuster, a Senate rule which requires at least 60 votes from the 100 senators to cut off debate on most non-budgetary measures in order to bring a matter to vote.
With 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, getting partisan legislation to a vote is nearly impossible, so there is a growing push to change the filibuster rule. Sinema, a Democrat, has held firm on her belief that the rule should stay as is, at least for now.
Stone, a Republican, also used the interview to praise Sinema for “holding the line” on the filibuster.
“We have these norms for a reason to provide some balance, some moderation, so that D.C. doesn’t go completely off the rails every time you have a different party take control of the Senate,” Stone told Harris. “I applaud her for that.”
It is unknown how much Monday’s three-hour event cost taxpayers in terms of manpower. Eight city blocks of Camelback were closed at various times, leading to restricted access to businesses and residences.
And that did not set well with Stone, who noted the impact on emergency responders and residents alike. “People don’t understand the reason we have laws on not blocking streets is not to stifle protest – it’s to protect people,” he said.
Stone is the founder and managing partner of Caim Consulting, a political consulting firm with offices in Phoenix and Washington, DC. One of his clients is Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former Phoenix-area news anchor.