Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

 

deb_haaland_-_courtesy_cpilar_law1

Debra Haaland has filed paperwork to run for Congress from New Mexico as a Democrat. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and, if elected, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. (Campaign photo via Twitter)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Debra Haaland filed paperwork to run for Congress from New Mexico. If elected, she would be the first Native American woman to ever serve in that body. And what makes this news especially cool: This is a winnable seat.

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, has served the past two years as the state’s Democratic Party chair (where she successfully retired the party’s debts). She has also been a candidate for lieutenant governor and chaired the Laguna Development Corporation and has been a tribal administrator. Her Twitter profile says: “A proud UNM Lobo mom; Pueblo woman; Marathon runner; Gourmet cook.” She also tweeted: “Thank you for the outpouring of support! Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks … and is using the hashtag, #Deb4Congress and her web site is found at debforcongress.com.

“I’ve spent my life advocating for the underrepresented, advancing progressive values, and working tirelessly to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot,” Haaland said in a statement. “I want to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and it would be an honor to be that voice for our communities, our families, and for all of us.”

New Mexico’s First Congressional District includes Albuquerque and the north-central portion of the state. It’s currently represented by Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, who won with 65 percent of the vote and is now running for governor. The seat is rated “solid” or “safe” for the Democrats by several political reports.

Since this will be an “open” seat there will be a lot of competition. So the test for Haaland will be a primary election in June of next year. That means she will need early campaign money. Rep. Grisham raised $1.8 million for her re-election in 2016, however, the last time a Republican held this seat, former Rep. Heather Wilson, she raised and spent nearly $5 million.

As a former party chair, Haaland should be well-suited to take on the fundraising challenges. She has basically been raising money — albeit for others — for the past two years. She was the first Native American woman to serve as the party chair.

Some history: I looked up the numbers this morning and since 1789 there have been more than 10,000 people elected to Congress. There have been a handful of Native American men, but never a woman. By my count, at least eight Native women have formally made a bid for Congress: Jeanne Givens (Idaho), Ada Deer (Wisconsin), Kalyn Free (Oklahoma), Diane Benson (Alaska), Mary Kim Titla (Arizona, Rep. Wenona Benally (Arizona), Victoria Steele (Arizona) and Denise Juneau (Montana). Perhaps number nine has the winning ticket. (Previous: She Represents: A survey of Native American women who have been elected.)

Then this election cycle is still early. There’s no reason why there won’t be several more Native American women, and men, running as a challenge to the Trump White House.

 

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

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