Deb Haaland is a candidate for Congress in New Mexico. Diane Benson has run in four statewide races in Alaska, including a congressional seat.
Published October 23, 2017
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports
New Mexico congressional candidate Debra Haaland is criss-crossing Indian Country determined to get her name out there — and to raise enough money to be competitive. She began in Milwaukee at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention and she ends the week in Anchorage at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.
Politics is a tough business. Most Native American candidates cannot dip into their personal wealth to run for office (at least the Democrats). It’s raising money five bucks at a time. A good haul is when someone writes a check with more than one zero. Yet it’s hard to understate how important that money hunt is to a campaign. Haaland, unlike most Native American Democrats, is running in a district with a lot of other Democrats. That means she has an excellent shot at capturing a seat in Congress — the first Native American woman to do that — but first she must win a crowded primary. Haaland is Laguna Pueblo.
A Thursday night fundraiser in Anchorage was typical. It was much more of an introduction than a call for hard cash. That’s important. It was great to hear stories. We need that in politics. But it will take money, too. If we really want to see more Native Americans in Congress, thousands of five-plus dollar donations will make all the difference.
At that event one of the most touching moments was when Diane Benson, who ran for Congress in Alaska against Rep. Don Young, talked about why she ran. Her son had been injured in the military and yet politicians were making war and peace decisions without an understanding of the consequences. Benson is Tlingit.
I have been collecting information about Congress and Native American representation. And, it turns out, I was wrong about the actual numbers. I checked this morning and according to the House of Representatives historian since March 4, 1789, there have been 10,273 people elected to that body. (I was using a smaller number.) There has never been a Native American woman. Ever.
This is my “I am wrong post” because I also was missing an important name, Georgianna Lincoln, from my list of Native women who have run for Congress. Lincoln, a former state Senator, is Athabaskan, and she also ran against Rep. Young in Alaska.
So here is my list, starting in 1988, Jeanne Givens, a Couer d’Alene tribal member in Idaho was the first. Then Lincoln in Alaska, Ada Deer, Menominee, in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free, Choctaw, in Oklahoma, Diane Benson, Tlingit, in Alaska, and Denise Juneau, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, in Montana. Three Native women have run in the Democratic primary in Arizona: Mary Kim Titla, White Mountain Apache, Arizona Rep. Wenona Benally, Navajo, and Victoria Steele, Seneca. And in this election cycle, Carol Singer, Navajo, in Utah and Haaland.
I better stick with “at least” because I am sure more names will surface. But the point remains: It’s long past time to elect the first Native American woman to Congress. After 10,273 (add another 435 for next November) elections we need a first. And a second. And more, real representation.
Let’s do the numbers. We have the first round of campaign finance reports out and there are seven Native American candidates for Congress, three Republicans and four Democrats.
And in the money chase, it’s the Republican candidates raising the dough. Former Washington state Sen. Dino Rossi, running in Washington’s 8th, in this quarter reports $578,822. To put that amount in perspective: That’s more than the incumbent, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and nearly as much as Rep. Tom Cole. Mullin raised $511,017 this quarter. And Cole is at $640,649 (with $1.7 million cash on hand).
Rossi is Tlingit, Mullin is a member of the Cherokee Nation, and Cole is Chickasaw.
On the Democrats’ side the numbers are smaller.
Haaland has raised $262,098 so far in this election cycle. She’s second in the money race in her Albuquerque district. Remember this election is as much about the June primary as it is the general election because it’s a Democratic-leaning district.
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols, Cherokee, is running against Rep. Mullin. He has yet to file any campaign reports. No reports are listed for Carol Singer in Utah and J.D. Colbert in Texas.
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