New Mexico's Deb Haaland wins primary, moves closer to becoming first Native American congresswoman

Haaland's district is solidly blue, so she's likely to win in November when she faces off against a GOP candidate

Published June 6, 2018 12:47PM (EDT)

Deb Haaland (AP/Juan Labreche)
Deb Haaland (AP/Juan Labreche)

There have been many political milestones for people of color in the United States over the last 10 years, and soon a Native American woman may be elected to Congress for the first time in history. Deb Haaland moved closer to that milestone by clinching the Democratic nomination for a New Mexico congressional seat on Tuesday.

The former New Mexico Democratic Party chair — the first Native American woman to chair a state party — and an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, defeated former U.S. attorney Damon Martinez and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an activist and former law professor, in their bids to represent New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. Haaland is seeking to replace Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is leaving her post representing the solidly blue district to run for New Mexico governor.

"Tonight, New Mexico made history," Haaland said in her victory statement Tuesday, calling hers a "victory for working people, a victory for women and a victory for everyone who has been sidelined by the billionaire class."

Haaland, an ardent critic of Donald Trump ever since he became a presidential candidate, especially for his treatment of Native Americans, included a message for the White House."Donald Trump and the billionaire class," she said, "should consider this victory a warning shot: the blue wave is coming."

In 2016, Haaland penned an op-ed blasting then-presidential candidate Trump for his use of "Pocahontas" to mock Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

"Trump doesn't understand how or why Native folks choose to identify themselves or how tribes place individuals on their tribal rolls," she wrote. "Ignorance is not an excuse." She also emphasized that Trump's wealth does not excuse his offensive rhetoric. "Any presidential candidate should be held to a high standard and being a billionaire doesn’t excuse you," she wrote. "As Americans, we are all responsible for learning our collective history and being respectful toward one another."

Haaland garnered a long list of endorsements, including the National Organization for Women PAC (NOW) and the Congressional Black Caucus. Her district includes Albuquerque and is solidly blue (it's rated D+7 by the Cook Partisan Voter Index) so she's likely to win in November when she faces off against Republican Janice Arnold-Jones.

In February, Haaland told Salon she is confident in her ability to win the race.

"If I'm the first, I'll be very grateful, and I will work hard to make sure that I'm not the last."

A congressional victory by Haaland would be historic. While eight Native American men ran for Congress in the November 2016 election, only two currently serve in the House: Rep. Thomas Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin. Both men are Republicans from Oklahoma.

While the 115th U.S. Congress has been called "the most diverse in history," critics argue it still does not accurately resemble America's increasingly diverse population. According to Pew Research Center analysis, "Congress as a whole remains disproportionately white when compared with the U.S. population."

By Shira Tarlo

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Deb Haaland Democrats New Mexico U.s. House Of Representatives Women In Congress