She had an advanced degree and a compelling American story, yet Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., never thought she was qualified to hold elected office.
"I remember when I was a young social worker, the first time I went to the state capital in Arizona, where I eventually served for seven years, I was so nervous to go and lobby my state legislators," Sinema said Wednesday at the Center for American Progress. "Because I only had a master's degree at the time in social work," she added to laughs.
Sinema appeared on a panel discussing CAP's new FairShot initiative, which will seek out public policy solutions for problems women encounter in the workplace and beyond. Sinema made the point that more women don't run and hold office because they underestimate their ability to get elected and do the job.
"I remember thinking, 'oh I just don't know, I have to talk to these folks about these issues,'" Sinema said of that first day. "And I got inside and about five minutes later I thought, 'oh my God, I've got to run for this job, these guys don't know what they're talking about at all."
Sinema's compelling backstory made for a headline-grabbing congressional run in 2012. The House freshman spent a portion of her childhood living in a gas station sans running water and electricity after her parents divorced and her high school-educated mother fell on hard times. "My family was actually homeless for several years when I was a kid," she said. "It's a bit unusual for a Member of Congress."
Sinema said that despite her family's financial struggles, she excelled as a student. "So [I] never missed a day of school, even when we were homeless and sometimes hungry," Sinema said. "I knew it was a pathway to success and so I spent most of my childhood just like a laser, focused on school and education."
By the time she won statewide office, she had earned a law degree from Arizona State University College of Law. "By that time I got a law degree, so I was a little less nervous about my abilities," she told the crowd.