History again? Voters could send another Native woman to Congress

Aliyah Chavez

Wisconsin special election Tuesday will decide the next step in Tricia Zunker’s campaign #NativeVote20

When Tricia Zunker isn’t working as an associate justice of the Ho-Chunk Supreme Court or campaigning to be elected to Congress, she collects baskets.

Sometimes she sees them while she passes by an antique store or at an estate sale. She buys and adds them to the small basket gallery she built in her home.

Zunker says Ho-Chunk basketmakers created the containers as a way to make ends meet. The baskets have always been sold and traded. Zunker’s grandmother and other relatives were basketmakers.

“Not only are they (Ho-Chunk baskets) beautiful, but to me, they represent perseverance and resilience,” Zunker says. “I know without that ability to earn a livelihood through these baskets, I might very well not be here today.”

Ho-Chunk Basket Gallery in Basement_1
Tricia Zunker, Ho-Chunk, turned part of her house into a Ho-Chunk basket gallery. Her grandmother and other relatives were Ho-Chunk basketmakers. She says the baskets symbolize perseverance and resilience. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Zunker.) 

Zunker is running as a Democrat in a special congressional election to represent Wisconsin’s 7th district. Tuesday voters will head to the polls to decide if Zunker will win her party’s nomination and advance to the state’s general election in May.

If elected, Zunker would be the third Native woman elected to Congress— and she would serve alongside Reps. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, and Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, in the 116th Congress.

Zunker’s congressional bid came after Republican Rep. Sean Duffy resigned in September to spend more time with his family.

Since then, Zunker has been campaigning “non-stop” throughout Wisconsin’s 7th congressional district. It is a place home to 26 counties and accounts for roughly one-third of the state of Wisconsin. There are also nine reservations in this district.

Her congressional bid is an opportunity to not only address pressing issues but for “real representation,” she says.

If elected, Zunker would be the first woman to ever represent Wisconsin’s 7th district in Congress.

“This is another overdue representation,” Zunker said. “And people shouldn't vote for me because I am a woman. They should vote for me because I am a qualified Indigenous woman who is going to get the job done. It is high time my Indigenous relatives, our young girls and our women see themselves reflected in congressional leadership. Representation matters.”

Some of the policies important to Zunker include access to affordable healthcare, tackling Big Pharma, protecting the environment, reforming campaign finance, instituting livable wages, reforming criminal justice and improving education.

And she has the background to get the job done.

Zunker, a first-generation student, received her law degree from the University of California in Los Angeles. She also has a bachelor's degree in three programs and a certificate within four years at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

In 2013, Zunker was elected to be an associate justice of the Ho-Chunk Supreme Court. She has served for nearly seven years. Zunker also serves on the Wausau School Board.

“In that capacity, I have worked on state-wide efforts to retire Native American mascots, logos, nicknames, imagery and symbols in our public schools as a matter of educational policy,” Zunker said.

(Related: Tricia Zunker’s journey from school board to Congress)

Zunker has raised more then $145,000 for her campaign since Oct. 2, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

She runs against another Democrat to win her party’s nomination. Her opponent is Lawrence Dale, who is an insurance salesperson. Dale unsuccessfully ran for this position as a Green Party candidate in 2014.

Tomorrow night Zunker says she will be surrounded by friends and supporters at a campaign party in a local restaurant. She says she “fully expects a victory” and looks forward to May’s general election. 

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com

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