Debra Haaland of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico grew up in what she calls a “Republican household.” Her father was in the U.S. Marine Corps for 30 years and her mother had been in the Navy. Both were registered Republicans.
But she knew she didn’t share the same political ideals as her parents. At the age of 18 she registered as an Independent but soon realized she was a Democrat at heart and changed her party affiliation. She hasn’t looked back since.
Today, Haaland is making a historic run for the Lt. Governor’s office in New Mexico. It’s historic because, according to numerous news reports, no Native American has ever been on a major party gubernatorial ticket in the New Mexico statewide elections. She essentially ran unopposed in the primary for Lt. Gov. in early June. Her running mate became current state Attorney General Gary King, who is challenging current Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
“I feel Native American issues are more aligned with the Democratic Party,” said Haaland, who serves as the tribal administrator for San Felipe Pueblo. “Native Americans value clean water, clean air – we don’t want to desecrate sacred sites. We care about people and we help each other. To me those values are more in line with Democratic values.
“My mom has since changed parties (to a Democrat) so she could vote for me in the primaries, which made me very happy,” said Haaland, who earned a bachelor’s degree and her law degree from the University of New Mexico. She is also currently the Chairwoman of the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors. She is the first woman to hold that position.
Haaland, as a single mother of a college-going daughter, who also finds the time to serve as Chairwoman of the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico and is a member of the Democratic Party of New Mexico’s State Platform and Resolutions Committee. In her spare time she’s a marathon runner, carrying on the long-time Pueblo tradition of distance running.
For those who are familiar with New Mexico’s pueblo communities, history and traditions – it is common knowledge that women are not necessarily encouraged or allowed to be appointed as leaders within these communities. However, Haaland explained that this has not posed any problems with the pueblos or the tribes within the state in offering their support for her election in November.
“I’ve gained support across the state from the Pueblos. I’ve been endorsed by a dozen Pueblo tribes so far, including the 10 Southern Pueblo Governors. I’ve also been endorsed by the All Pueblos Council of Governors (formerly the All Indian Pueblos Council),” Haaland said. “It’s true. There are very, very rarely women who are in pueblo governments and I don’t have an issue with that at all.”
Haaland said she believes tribal people across the state, including Navajo and Apache leaders as well as individual voters, don’t have a problem with her campaign and that they are actually looking forward to having the first Native American in the New Mexico Lt. Gov.’s office. She said her and King’s priorities will include rebuilding the state’s public education system and helping create ways for small businesses to succeed.
“Nothing beats meeting with people who make up our Land of Enchantment,” Haaland said. “I went down to this tattoo fiesta at Isleta Pueblo a couple of weeks ago – I did not get a tattoo – and there were a couple of artists. They told me they’ve been in business for about four years, but have not made any money. But they are determined to make it work. There’s a lot of drive within people of New Mexico. I’m anxious to talk with business leaders with respect to how we can help small businesses get started.”