12 Native candidates for Congress: If elected ... 'It will be a great day'
“If I get the opportunity to serve in Congress, it will be a great day,” Kaialiʻi “Kai” Kahele told Indian Country Today. “It won’t just be me standing up there. Behind me will be all of the people, ancestors and Native Hawaiians who came before me.”
Kahele is running to be the first. Since Hawaii became a state more than 60 years ago, there has never been a representative from the Big Island. Every national elected politician has come from Oahu.
That’s 15 in a row, if you are counting.
He also would be only the second Native Hawaiian to serve in office. Across the country a dozen Native candidates are running for the U.S. House and Senate. It’s already shaping up to be another record year, 2018 broke all sorts of barriers including the election of the first two Native women to ever serve in Congress. (With a possible third, Tricia Zunker, running in Wisconsin this week.)
(Previous story: History again? Voters could send another Native woman to Congress)
A few tidbits: New Mexico is breaking all the rules. There is a Native candidate in every single district in the state. Both parties are represented. There’s even a primary where one Native candidate is running against another.
A comprehensive look at all of the #NativeVote20 candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
There are at least nine of the candidates running for House seats and three are in Senate campaigns. Eight of the candidates are women and five are men. Seven are democrats and six are republicans.
The list of Native candidates and their platforms are below:
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 3
Karen Bedonie, Navajo, is running for an open congressional seat in New Mexico’s 3rd district. Bedonie owns four small businesses. She is also a certified welder, framer, construction coordinator, construction manager, kitchen interior designer and a sous chef.
Bedonie, a republican candidate, cites her policy positions clearly on her campaign website. Bedonie is anti-abortion, supports the second amendment, aims to support small businesses and believes immigration should be conducted in a “legal organized manner.”
“I am a Conservative and those same values miraculously align with Navajo culture,” Bedonie’s campaign website states. “Therefore I stand as a Republican.”
Bedonie’s campaign has generated more than $15,000, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. Bedonie is currently running against five other candidates for the Republican party’s nomination. The primary election for this seat will happen on June 2, 2020.
(Related story: ‘It’s time to put a Navajo in Congress’)
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 3
Dineh Benally, Navajo, is running as a Democrat for New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district (note: this is the same seat Bedonie is running for). Benally has previous campaign experience running for Navajo Nation president, vice president, and New Mexico state senate. He did not win any of these previous elections.
Benally is the current president of the Navajo Nation San Juan River Farm Board, an organization that focuses on water rights and bettering local economies.
The list of issues on Benally’s agenda are improving healthcare, increased access to medical and industrial agriculture, boosting home ownership and increased funding for education.
Benally told Indian Country Today that his end goal is to collaborate with various policymakers to improve the “livelihood of Navajo people, Native Americans, and the general public at large.”
“I will also continue to work towards becoming the next President of the Navajo Nation in 2022,” says Benally’s website.
There is no current data on Benally’s campaign earnings listed on the Federal Election Commission’s website. The primary election for this congressional seat will happen on June 2, 2020.
U.S. Senate, New Mexico
Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, is running for an open U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico. Clarkson recently served in the Department of the Interior under the Trump Administration where he managed the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development and the Office of Self-Governance.
“My story is quite different from most people who spend their lives climbing the political stepladder aspiring to be another career politician,” Clarkson said in a press release announcing his campaign in August.
“I'm a tribal member whose orphaned father went from living out of trash cans to being the first Native American to fly a jet. I have a law degree, an MBA, and a Doctorate in Business Administration,” he said. “I’ve taught for two decades as a conservative in higher education and been illegally fired for it, and I've served as an economic development official in the Trump administration in the heart of the swamp.”
Clarkson has been named an expert in tribal finance by The Financial Times and has taught federal Indian law since 2003 at a variety of law schools across the country. In his free time, Clarkson says he enjoys country western dancing. He won a national championship hosted by the American Country Dance Association in 2012.
Clarkson has raised more than $583,000 so far in his Senate campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee. The primary election for his party’s nomination will happen on June 2, 2020. To win the Republican nomination, Clarkson will need to receive more votes than the five other Republican candidates running for the open seat.
U.S. House of Representatives, Oklahoma, District 4
Tom Cole, Chickasaw, will run for reelection to continue representing Oklahoma’s fourth district. His office told Indian Country Today that every indication is that Rep. Cole will seek reelection and an official announcement will be made before the filing deadline in April.
Cole has served in the U.S. House for the last 17 years and has held numerous leadership positions with the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.
Cole co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus with Rep. Deb Haaland. Together they called for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to include provisions for Native people that were altered in the Senate version. He and 77 lawmakers upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District is reconsidering. Additionally, he helped introduce a bill to improve housing conditions in Indian Country and co-sponsored a bill to revitalize Native American languages.
Oklahoma’s primary election takes place on June 30.
Sharice Davids Ho-Chunk Nation
U.S. House of Representatives, Kansas, District 3
Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, is running for reelection as the congressional member for Kansas’s 3rd district. When she was first elected in 2018, she joined Rep. Haaland as the first two Native women to serve in U.S. Congress. She also became the first LGBTQ Native person to be elected into the U.S. Congress.
In her first term, Davids’ introduced the Women’s Business Center Improvement Act to increase access and resources to women entrepreneurs in Kansas. She urged the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to include tribal communities when it develops its legislative plan. And she advocated for tribal sovereignty, in support of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act and co-sponsored Savanna’s Act, which aims to help law enforcement address missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Kansas’ primary election will take place on August 4.
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 1
Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is running for reelection as the representative for New Mexico’s 1st district. Haaland was first elected to this position in 2018 when she and Rep. Davids became the first two Native women to serve in Congress.
Haaland told Indian Country Today that despite being an incumbent in this election cycle, her “enthusiasm and focus will be the same.”
In her first term Haaland introduced legislation to restore buffalo populations on tribal lands and she made history by inviting Isleta Pueblo Chief Judge Verna Teller to deliver the first opening prayer on the House floor by a Native person. Other highlights of her term include collaborating with other New Mexico congress members to introduce legislation on Native voting rights. She has also been vocal about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Haaland has also used her time to travel to Indigenous communities outside of her home district in New Mexico. Earlier this month, Haaland visited the Meskwaki Indian Settlement on the night of the Iowa caucus to campaign for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“I may not be the congresswoman for Iowa but I am the congresswoman for Indian Country,” Haaland said at the event. “My door is open for all of you.”
Haaland has raised more than $830,000 so far in her reelection campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee. The primary election in New Mexico will happen on June 2, 2020. Haaland is currently facing one democrat opponent for the nomination.
U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico, District 2
Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, is running to represent the second district of New Mexico in the U.S. Congress. Previously Herrell served four terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives. She is also a former small business owner and entrepreneur.
“Born and raised in New Mexico, I understand firsthand what our families are going through,” Herrell said on her campaign website. “I will fight for our hardworking middle class, job creators, and traditions that make New Mexico great.”
Herrell also states her views on various policies. She says she wants to complete construction of the border wall, protect the second amendment, support President Trump, defeat the Green New Deal and expand New Mexico’s role in national security projects.
Herrell has received a number of endorsements from policymakers including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-AZ and Governor Mike Huckabee. She also received endorsements from Cowboys for Trump, Citizens United and Gun Owners of America.
In 2018, Herrell ran for this congressional seat and lost in a close race. She lost in the general election by just 3,700 votes. This time around, Herrell is running against two other republicans for her party’s nomination. The primary election is held in New Mexico on June 2, 2020.
Herrell has raised more than $650,000 for her campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee.
U.S. Senate, Idaho
Paulette Jordan, Coeur d'Alene, is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Idaho. She previously held office for two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives. In 2018, she unsuccessfully ran for governor of Idaho.
“I’m excited to announce my candidacy to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate. Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to thousands of Idahoans throughout this great state,” Jordan said on her campaign website announcing her campaign in early February. “Above all, I’ve learned that our state needs new leadership. We need leaders who value people over politics.”
Her stance on issues range from improving healthcare and education for Idahoans, addressing cyber security, social security, LGBTQ rights and legalizing marijuana. Jordan founded two nonprofit organizations, Idaho Voice and Save the American Salmon.
Jordan was the youngest member on her tribal council and has worked in the energy sector as a business development strategist. She also served as the finance chair and secretary of the executive board for the National Indian Gaming Association.
There is currently no data on Jordan’s campaign donations, according to the Federal Election Committee. Currently Jordan faces three opponents for the democratic party’s nomination. The primary election will choose their party’s candidate on May 19, 2020.
U.S. House of Representatives, Hawaii, District 2
Kaialiʻi “Kai” Kahele is running for an open congressional seat in Hawaii's second district. Kahele has been a Hawaii state senator for four years and is a trained pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He has flown in the Air Force for more than 18 years.
Kahele lists 18 different policy platforms on his campaign website. They include protecting the environment, creating opportunities for indigenous voices, and combating issues such as homelessness, substance abuse and food insecurity.
On the topic of Native Hawaiian and Indigenous rights, Kahele says he will “champion” the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and would support the Self Determination Act to fund the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. He also supports the U.S. ratification of the United Nations Declaration of Rights on Indigenous Peoples.
Most recently Kahele has been endorsed by former Governors of Hawaii John David Waiheʻe, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie. He has also been endorsed by Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, and former Hawaii state representative Kaniela Ing.
Kahele has raised more than $719,000 for his congressional campaign, according to the Federal Elections Committee. Currently, Kahele faces one opponent in the primary election. Voters will head to the polls for Hawaii’s primary election on August 8, 2020.
U.S. Senate, New Mexico
Elisa Martinez, Navajo, is running for U.S. Senate in New Mexico in the the same race as Gavin Clarkson.
She is the founder of the New Mexico Alliance for Life and worked with the Congressional Select Panel on Infant Lives.
“Let's take back New Mexico's future,” Martinez writes on her campaign website. “Together we'll make history electing New Mexico's first female Senator and the first Native American woman in the U.S. Senate.”
Martinez says she is concerned about border security, the second amendment, non-universal healthcare, veterans’ rights and reducing the federal government’s role in education.
She wrote an op-ed for Fox News, calling out Elizabeth Warren’s heritage as a Native woman contradictory to the Native American policies she advocates for, and Martinez’s personal experience with the government’s relationship with the reservation.
Martinez has raised more than $154,000 for her campaign, data from the Federal Elections Committee shows. She is running against five other candidates for the republican nomination. The primary election will be held on June 2, 2020 in New Mexico.
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
U.S. House of Representatives, Oklahoma, District, 2
Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, is running for reelection as the congressman for Oklahoma’s second district. He was first elected in 2012 and served for three years on the Energy and Commerce Committee since 2015. He also owns Mullin Plumbing, a business owned previously by his father.
Mullin’s time in Congress has included introducing landmark legislation. He helped introduce a bill for missing and murdered Indigenous women, and joined lawmakers to reauthorize and increase funding for special diabetes programs. And he advocated to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to consider the Pay for Our Doctor’s Act., a bill he introduced, to fund Indian Health Services until the end of the 2019 fiscal year before the federal government shutdown.
Mullin has raised more than $766,000 for his reelection campaign since January 2019, data from the Federal Elections Committee shows. Oklahoma’s primary election will happen on June 30, 2020.
U.S. House of Representatives, Idaho, District 1
Rudy Soto, Shoshone-Bannock, is running to represent Idaho’s first congressional district. Previously Soto was the legislative director of the National Indian Gaming Association. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard.
“I’m really passionate about growing Native American representation on all levels of government,” Soto told Indian Country Today. “If I’m elected, I will always strive to represent my family, community, tribe, state and Indian Country in a good way.”
Some of Soto’s priorities include creating affordable housing, providing universal health care, supporting Idaho’s Native communities, and reforming immigration and education.
Previously, Soto was also the legislative assistant for Congresswoman Norma Torres of California, and a legislative fellow for Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
Soto has raised more than $18,000 for his congressional campaign, data from the Federal Election Commissions show. Idaho will have its primary election on May 19, 2020.
Indian Country Today is maintaining databases of Native candidates for offices across the country. If you know of any Native candidates running for U.S. Congress that are not included here, please contact Aliyah Chavez.
Kalle Benallie contributed to this report
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