|Just days before
announcing her historic run, Haaland spoke with ICMN about her motivations,
prospects and prioritiesIf elected, she would be first Native American
woman to serve in U.S. House
Haaland: Im running to care for what we already
have, and make sure our existence continues long into the
(Courtesy Deb Haaland campaign)
As former New Mexico Democratic State Party Chair, Debra Haaland,
an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, has an impressive record of
helping get Democrats
elected. New Mexico was one of only two states in the 2016 elections
to have its state house turn from red to blue. In addition, the
number of Democratic State Senatorial seats increased by three,
and Democrats won two out of three statewide elections. Haalands
campaign is hoping to build on that spectacular winning streak by
getting the first ever Native American woman elected to the U.S.
In addition to her vast experience as a strategist and successful
fundraiser for the state party, Haaland, who likes to be called
Deb, is law trained and has a substantive background in business
management and economic development. Shes running in the primary
against three contenders for an open seat held by Michelle Lujan
Grisham in New Mexicos first Congressional District, where
nearly 60 percent of the population is female. The election will
be in June 2018, and while theres a long road to the finish
line shes off to an auspicious start. Even before she officially
announced on May 16, Haaland was being supported by President Barack
Obamas former Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar.
Thank you for taking the time
out of what must be an incredibly hectic schedule.
Its a pleasure to speak to all my relatives in Indian
country as I begin this journey. I appreciate everyones help,
support and guidance in clearing a path to victory.
I cant speak for all Natives, but if successful I hope
to add to the strength of Native voices already in Washington. And
I mean to add to their diversity; theres never been a Native
woman in the U.S. Congress.
Just as the land is continuous, and the rivers all run to the
sea, we have a lot of common ground and shared needs. Im running
to care for what we already have, and make sure our existence continues
long into the future.
That translates into holding
the current administration accountable, does it not? You schooled
Candidate Trump in The New York Times the first time he flippantly
referred to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas.
Is that something you plan on continuing to do?
I could try to strengthen some knowledge, but the president
doesnt care about Indians, and what he does know seems so
wrong most of the time. He was in office five minutes and he okayed
the Dakota Access Pipeline.
But I would like to educate my peers. If people knew more about
Indian country, and traveled to our lands, their decision-making
might be different. Many Congresspeople want to do right, and I
think they would if they had more knowledge.
In 2012 my work took me frequently to Navajo country, and once
I was traveling, and, I remember thinking
I bet Mitt Romney
has never been here.
Do you have firsthand experience
To a degree. There are no homeless people in my Pueblo; we look
out for each other. But in the past, as a single mom, there were
times when Ive needed food stamps, when, for lack of funds,
I had to put groceries back from the cart at the register, when
I relied on health care from Planned Parenthood. I know what its
like to wait in the waiting room of IHS for 4 hours. When youve
had those experiences you can put yourself in someone elses
place more easily with understanding and compassion. I dont
think the current president understands how many people live.
Its such a contrast from Obama. For the most part Native
people were totally devoted to Obama because of the real improvements
he brought to Indian countryin consultation, in funding, and
respect for our lands. There was an open dialogue, there were annual
tribal conferences. I never attended a Tribal Nations Conference,
but I did meet Michelle
Obama at the Santa Fe Indian School, when she gave last years
commencement address. I also went to the last holiday party at the
White House; it meant a lot knowing that the Obamas would be leaving
the White House.
I read that you were the first
Native American to chair a state party. How did that come to be?
In New Mexico, the party
chair is elected by a small body of Democrats, fewer than 400
votes are cast. I won by making personal phone calls and asking
for support. I had been involved in many campaigns, and had previously
worked, for many years, to get out the Indian vote. I believe people
saw me as a hard worker.
Its the job of the chair to follow the partys rules,
get Democrats elected, and raise money. I became chair after the
2014 mid-term elections; wed lost our State house and voters
were not in good spirits. After winning, I traveled around the state
to let people know that their vote and the work they had been doing
mattered. I worked on uniting the Party.
Most of our state is rural and driving never ends! I wanted
to touch every community, and that strategy worked. We had record-breaking
early voter turnout in the 2016 presidential primary. Both the Sanders
and Clinton campaigns did an excellent job.
New Mexico is an oil and gas
state, and yet you went to Standing Rock as chairwoman, sent a letter
of support to Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Archambault, and divested
the partys funds from Wells Fargo because of its investment
in the Dakota Access Pipeline. That was all pretty nervy, was it
I didnt think about that. There were people who had fought
for a very long time, to protect what they have, and I felt the
need to support them. It had nothing to do with nerves, really;
but just seemed the right thing to do. Water is, indeed, sacred;
a finite resource, and, like all of our natural resources, should
be respected by all of us.
Id like us to double down on renewable energy. In New
Mexico we have close to 300 days of sunshine a year, and solar is
the way of the future. Once we have a Democrat governor in office
here who believes in renewables, well make some headway.
Politics correspondent Mark Trahant
of Trahant Reports and ICMN has called your primary
a winnable race. What will it take for you to win?
Ill need to raise enough money to run a viable campaign,
I have a lot of campaign experience, Im assembling a professional
team, and I expect that my vast amount of grassroots organizing
experience will also play a role. Both my parents are veterans,
and I was raised in a Pueblo/Military household. My mom ran a tight
ship, and I learned to work hard in every part of my life.
My obligations at home (Laguna Pueblo) are many, and take a great
deal of stamina; Im also a runner! I believe that my life
experiences have prepared me to work hard enough to win, and I will
work that hard.
Does the campaign have a tag
Well, I wanted it to say something like lets help folks
be successful and have good lives, pursue their educations and dreams
that was all too long, so we went with:
Deb Haaland. For Congress. For us.