The 2018 election cycle sees women running for Congress in unprecedented numbers. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reported that, as of April, 527 women made up 23 percent of all federal candidates—dwarfing the previous high-water mark of 16 percent, and they have won almost half of their primary campaigns thus far, according to The New York Times. The sharp upswing has been almost entirely on the Democratic side of the aisle. “While women now make up 30 percent of the candidates fielded by the Democrats, Republican women only make up 13 percent of their own party’s candidate pool,” the CRP noted, “meaning that 75 percent of female candidates are Democrats.”
Part of this potential “blue wave” is Deb Haaland. Haaland is running in New Mexico’s District 1, which includes three-quarters of Albuquerque, on an unapologetically progressive platform, calling for expanding Social Security, a federal jobs guarantee, Medicare for All, universal childcare and pre-K education, criminal-justice reform, and aggressive action to combat global warming. (NM-1 is currently represented by Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is giving up her House seat to run for governor of New Mexico.)
Republicans have identified the district as a top target in 2018, but if Haaland—who served as the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, and the tribal administrator of the San Felipe Pueblo—succeeds in the June 5 Democratic primary and goes on to win in November, she will become the first Native American woman to serve on Capitol Hill.
I caught up with Haaland last week to talk about her race, and to get her perspective on what this milestone would mean to her and her community. You can listen to our discussion in the player above, or read the transcript below, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Joshua Holland: We’ve seen a number of first-time candidates emerge in response to Trump’s election, but that doesn’t describe your experience. You’ve run for office before. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you first got into politics?
Deb Haaland: Sure. For almost 20 years, I’ve worked on various campaigns. I started out as a phone volunteer. I’d go into campaign offices, ask for lists of Native American voters, and just start calling people because I felt that I just wanted to help more Native folks get to the polls. That ended up turning into sort of a full-blown organizing job in Indian country for me.
I worked on a lot of campaigns focused on that, and then in 2012, I was the state Native American vote director for President Obama’s reelection campaign, and I helped us win New Mexico. After I worked for the president, that’s when I decided to run for lieutenant governor, and then after we lost our general election, I decided I would run for state chairwoman of the Democratic Party. I won, and we won our elections across the state in 2016, so I was proud of that.