MISSION, KANSAS — Like mixed martial arts, running for Congress involves patience, determination, and the ability to fight without taking attacks personally.
Sharice Davids, a professional MMA fighter, Native American, openly gay attorney, and first-time candidate made that comparison on Sunday, just two days before she will have face other Democrats in a tightly contested race for Kansas’ 3rd congressional seat. Early this year, Davids said she looked at the field of candidates challenging Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and found there was nobody who looked like her on the ballot.
Sharice Davids, candidate for Congress in Kansas’ 3rd district, says being a professional MMA fighter has helped prepare her to run for Congress pic.twitter.com/ewXVh3OFFw
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) August 5, 2018
“We need more people who look like the rest of the country to be running for office,” Davids, who had a White House fellowship until the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, told ThinkProgress.
Davids said she saw that there were no leading women in the race for the district that includes Kansas City and its suburbs, which includes one county that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She also recognized that she would be the only candidate with federal policy experience and the only candidate with a distinctive background.
“I have a lived experience that we need to see more of on all kinds of fronts, from having started off with an associate’s [degree] at a community college to being raised by a single mom, being a first generation college student,” she said. “These things are not at all out of the ordinary for a lot of people in this country, but they are very out of the ordinary for the people who represent us in Congress.”
She is also among the more than 400 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer candidates running for office this year — a new record, according to the New York Times. She said she hopes having LGBTQ people in Congress will help narrow some of Congress’ current blindspots, especially when it comes to anti-discrimination legislation.
Still, Davids’ platform is not the most progressive among candidates running for the Democratic nomination in this district. Brent Welder, another leading candidate who previously worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, supports Medicare For All, while Davids is more hesitant about the proposal. Welder has benefited from the help of Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who campaigned for him and called him part of the progressive movement sweeping the United States.
Davids, however, said she’s focused on her district and not paying much attention to Ocasio-Cortez’s win in New York.
“That would be very reactionary for me to look at a race that’s happening in a completely different state and feel like that has bearing on what I should be doing with my campaign,” she said. “It was pretty amazing to see her win that primary. I was really excited, but I didn’t think of it as having implications on what we’re doing here in the third district.”
While she might not have high-profile politicians campaigning for her, Davids earned the Kansas City Star’s endorsement this week and secured the backing of EMILY’s List in May. The group’s super PAC has given her more than $400,000 in support, promoting Sanders to criticize her for accepting “money from the wealthy.”
Davids shrugged off the attack. “I’m trying to get my message out there and win votes and I’m definitely not going to apologize for taking the support of EMILY’s List, because they play a role in helping pro-choice women candidates get elected, and I’m exactly the kind of candidate that would need a support system because of all the structural barriers that exist for people to run for office,” she said.
If elected to Congress, Davids would be among the first Native American women in Congress (Deb Haaland, who is a Laguna Pueblo member, will likely be elected to represent New Mexico). Native Americans have very few representatives in national office who understand tribal-federal relations and the legal history of that relationship, Davids said.
“That means that when policy and legislation is being proposed that impacts Native people, the learning curve is so steep,” said Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. “The fact that Congress hasn’t had a peer that’s a Native woman representing those interests is a huge blindspot.”
Hope Melius, a Lawrence, Kan. resident, said she doesn’t live in Davids’ district but she’s been making the drive to volunteer for her campaign because she is so excited to finally see a candidate who represents her, both because she’s a Native American woman and a lesbian.
“Sharice represents me, and I’ve never felt represented before,” said Melius, who grew up on a reservation in South Dakota. “Somebody who could possibly represent me in Congress, who could bring that dynamic lived experience with her, it’s amazing.”