Court Documents Indicate Arizona Democrat Exaggerated Childhood Homelessness Claims

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) / Getty Images

Documents filed by the parents of Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema contradict claims she's made on the campaign trail that she spent years as a child without basic utilities.

The three-term Arizona congresswoman has long run on her humble beginnings, saying that for many years in her childhood she was effectively homeless and lived out of a rundown gas station.

"I'm a little bit different than most people in politics," Sinema tweeted in February. "For nearly 3 years, my family lived in an abandoned gas station without running water or electricity. Those were tough times, but I knew it could be different."

But court filings obtained by The New York Times contradict that claim. While Sinema’s mother and stepfather did struggle to provide for their daughter, the court filings detailed the monthly electric, phone and gas bills they paid while living in the former gas station owned by her stepfather's parents in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

"We are unable to provide adequately for the children," Sinema's stepfather wrote to the judge overseeing his wife's divorce, claiming "bills will exceed $2,000 and I will only bring in $1,500."

When asking about the seeming contradiction, Sinema was at a loss. "Oh gosh, I don’t have an answer for that," she told the Times. "That’s not something a little kid would hear about from her parents."

Still, she defended her frequent characterization that the family was homeless in those years. "Being homeless is when an individual or family are living in a situation that’s not really stable, when you’re living in a place that’s not meant for living in," she said.

This is not the first time details of Sinema's upbringing have been questioned, directly or obliquely. "They had no electricity and no running water, she says, but, ‘we had a toilet.' How that toilet was flushed with no running water, she wouldn’t say," The Washington Post noted in 2016.

A year later, the Arizona Republic reported that Sinema "has been reluctant to go beyond the basic details even as questions about the story's authenticity have persisted." The Republic did find one inconsistency: the previous owner of the gas station told them there was "a spigot by the gas pumps and a wood heater." Sinema told them in response that by the time the family moved in, the spigot and heater were gone.

Sinema's step-aunt Susie Fleming agreed that the building had utilities, telling the Post last month, "I realize this tugs at people’s heartstrings and that was what she was going for, but, you know, it’s not the truth."

"When they decided to move out here, my dad said, ‘We’ll remodel the building and y’all can live in it,’" she added. "I just get angry when she says it was an abandoned gas station."