- By Levi Rickert
WAUSAU, Wisc. — If Tricia Zunker fulfills her dream, she will be the third American Indian woman elected to Congress — and the first ever in the state of Wisconsin.
Zunker is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the Wisconsin 7th congressional district’s special election, which is required after the seat was vacated by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin). Duffy retired last September to spend more time with his family.
A Democrat, Zunker faces a challenger, insurance agent Lawrence Dale, in the upcoming primary election on February 18, 2020. If she wins the primary, she will face a Republican opponent in the general election on May 12, 2020.
Zunker, a tribal citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, comes equipped with a law degree and has served on the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Supreme Court as an associate judge since 2013. In 2018, she was elected to the Wausau School Board and currently serves as board president. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned her law degree from UCLA.
Wisconsin is considered a battleground state in the 2020 presidential election. In the 7th congressional district, Barack Obama earned 56 percent of the vote in 2008, Mitt Romney won the district with 51 percent in 2012, and Donald Trump garnered 58 percent in 2016.
The 7th congressional district covers 26 counties in Wisconsin—about a third of the state and is touted as the largest geographical congressional district east of the Mississippi. It is also considered a battleground district. The congressional seat was held by a Democrat from 1969 to 2011. Since then, the seat swung to the Republican side.
Since Trump won the state by a slim margin of 22,748 votes over Hillary Clinton and the 7th congressional district seat is considered a battleground district, the special election is being watched nationally to see if there has been a shift from Republican to Democrat.
The special election could have a serious implication on the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to an article in The Hill because currently there are 26 states controlled by Republicans. A Democrat winning the Wisconsin 7th congressional district special would evenly split the control between Republicans and Democrats if the 2020 presidential election would have to be decided by Congress.
Zunker feels confident if she wins the nomination she can swing the district back to the Democratic column.
“I have incredibly good feelings about this race,” Zunker told Native News Online. “I have traveled to all areas of the district and I get positive feelings when I connect with the voters. The people are tired of the bickering — the gridlock — that is happening in Washington right now. We have some serious issues. Here in Wisconsin our dairy farmers and ginseng farmers are hurting. And, it appears Washington is turning its back on them.”
Zunker has said that her background, and an inspiration to run, is her connection to rural Wisconsin, especially her late grandfather’s farm in Marathon County.
Beyond the farmers who have been hurt due to the hefty tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, voters in the congressional district are highly concerned about jobs and healthcare, according the Zunker.
“I want to get to work to get things done for the common person, for children and for families. It’s really about the future,” stated Zunker.
Ho-Chunk and Proud
Zunker’s Ho-Chunk name is Hinųk pįį which means "Good Woman."
Tricia Zunker in regalia.
She realizes she must appeal to all voters in the congressional district, she is well aware of the fact there are several federally recognized tribes have presence in the congressional district and she wants their votes. The tribal nations include: Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Sokaogon Chippewa (Mole Lake), and St. Croix Chippewa.
Zunker has heard from both Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), Pueblo of Laguna, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Ho-Chunk, who became the first American Indian women elected to Congress in 2018.
“Both Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids have reached out to me to lend their support in my campaign,” says Zunker. “Rep. Haaland called me recently to give me a pep talk, when I didn’t even realize I needed one. After the call, I realized it was so inspirational to me,” Zunker continues with laughter in her voice.
“Their victories were historic,” commented Zunker. "I would be the first woman to be elected to serve WI-07, first Native American to represent WI in Congress, and would double the current population of single parents in Congress from one to two. I am a single mother raising a son.
In an interview with Native News Online, Zunker touched on the influence being Ho-Chunk has had on her and her career.
“I am a first generation of my family to become a college graduate. I come from very humble beginnings. As a Ho-Chunk, I feel the need to give back. That is what I have done in my career, as a tribal judge and as a member of the Wausau school board,” Zunker said.
Zunker currently serves as an associate judge on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court.
“When I came home to Wisconsin, I began buying Ho-Chunk-made baskets. I would find them at flea markets and garage sales. People didn’t even realize what goes into making them. I love them because of what they mean. The word Ho-Chunk means big voice. The baskets speak about our culture. They mean a lot to me as they symbolize perseverance and resilience. And, they are beautiful. Now I have quite a collection of homemade Ho-Chunk which give me a lot of pride in our culture,” said Zunker.
Zunker is proud of her private Ho-Chunk basket collection.
“My approach to dealing with my career comes from viewing things from three lens: Compassion, quality and opportunities. When I think about opportunities, I think about equitable – having equitable opportunities, such as opportunities for success. Stellar work should turn into success. Our current system doesn’t allow for this; that is one reason I want to be elected so that I can help change the system.
“If you think about it, more people care about Indigenous issues, such as the environment, good health and jobs. The bottom line is Indigenous issues are human issues. The GOP only is concerned about corporate success,” said Zunker.
Click to view the Tricia Zunker for Wisconsin website.
Photographs courtesy of Zunker campaign.
Support Independent Indigenous Journalism
Native News Online is an independent, Indigenous-led newsroom with a crucial mission: We want to change the narrative about Indian Country. We do this by producing intelligent, fact-based journalism that tells the full story from all corners of Indian Country. We pride ourselves on covering the tribes you may have never heard of before and by respecting and listening to the communities we serve through our reporting. As newsrooms across the country continue to shrink, coverage of Indian Country is more important than ever, and we are committed to filling this ever-present hole in journalism.
Because we believe everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities, the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. But we hope it inspires you to make a gift to Native News Online so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount, big or small, gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.