Native American candidate close to making history after big primary victory

Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, won her Democratic primary in New Mexico.

CREDIT: Deb Haaland
CREDIT: Deb Haaland

Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, won the Democratic primary Tuesday for a New Mexico district that has been held by Democrats for almost a decade. If she wins the general election in November, she will be the first Native American woman in Congress.

Haaland, a former chair of the state’s Democratic Party, won with a wide margin, getting almost 40 percent of the vote in a field with six candidates.

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In an interview with ThinkProgress in March, Haaland credited New Mexico’s elected officials and progressive voting laws for allowing people like her to run for office.

“Here in New Mexico, we’re very fortunate,” Haaland said. “Our elected officials, our state legislators, and for the most part the administrations have worked very hard — we have good relationships with our tribes and pueblos.”

“I may not even be running for Congress right now if my state wasn’t that way,” she added.

Native Americans make up a little over 10 percent of the state’s population, and Albuquerque, in District 1, has the largest urban Native population. Haaland served as Barack Obama’s Native American vote director in 2012 and said she knows how important it is to engage Native people in politics and to encourage them to participate in elections.

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“There have been elections in New Mexico where the Native population has actually made a huge difference in who got elected,” she said.

As a lawmaker, Haaland said she would fight to make Congress look more like the people it represents.

“If I win, I will wholeheartedly put as much effort as I can toward helping to get other women of color elected,” she said.

Haaland is joined by a number of other Native women also vying for seats in Congress this year, from both sides of the aisle. Democrat Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation is also running for Congress in Kansas, three others are running for governors and, according to the New York Timesanother 31 are vying for seats in state legislatures.