Political Matters – December 2018

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By Mordecai Specktor

Native women in the House

The 2018 midterm elections served to pump the brakes on America’s slide toward fascism under the Trump administration. Most notably, the U.S. House of Representatives will shift to Democratic control, as the Dems gained 39 seats, far more than the 23 seats they needed to take over.

In the new Congress, Democratic House members will chair important committees, including judiciary, intelligence, and ways and means, the latter of which can subpoena Trump’s tax returns. Where the Republican-controlled House intelligence committee provided cover for the Big Bloviator in hearings ostensibly aimed at probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Kremlin ties to Trump’s presidential campaign, the Democrats can undertake a real investigation, and subpoena witnesses and documents.
And since Congress began convening in 1789, there has never been a female Native American member. (Prior to passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, in 1924, about one-third of Indians were not U.S. citizens.) However, when the 116th Congress convenes in early January, there will be two Native women in the House: Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), representing New Mexico’s First District; and Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk Nation), serving residents of the Third District in Kansas. Both are Democrats.

Davids, 38, who is a lesbian, earned a degree from Cornell Law School, in 2010. Another notable part of her biography is that she has fought in a number of mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts, as an amateur and a professional.

Haaland, 57, also is a lawyer, earning a J.D. degree in Indian law from the University of New Mexico School of Law, in 2006. From 2013 to 2015, she served as San Felipe Pueblo’s tribal administrator. In 2014, she ran for New Mexico lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Gary King, and lost to the Republican candidates.

And speaking of lieutenant governors, Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe) became the first Native American to win a statewide elective office in Minnesota. She will serve with the North Star State’s new governor, Tim Walz.

Flanagan, 39, from St. Louis Park, has represented her suburban House district in the Legislature since 2015. She previously served on the Minneapolis School Board, from 2005 to 2009.

Getting back to the new Native U.S. House members-elect, Deb Haaland made the cover of Newsweek magazine in early November, and was featured in the cover story, “Native American Women Made History in the Midterms. Here’s Why It Took So Long,” by Rebecca Nelson.

The story sketched the long sordid history of the U.S. government’s treatment of Native peoples – “genocide, forced assimilation, systemic discrimination,” which “played a decisive role in keeping the community from office.” Nelson noted that while Native people are 2 percent of the U.S. population, they make up just .03 percent of elected officials.
Deb Haaland journeyed to Standing Rock two years ago, along with thousands of other Indians from across the country, Nelson wrote. She packed some green chiles and one night cooked a big stew that gave people a taste of “a traditional pueblo meal.”

The Newsweek story noted that “the collective power of Standing Rock, along with opposition to Trump and a growing tribal political network, converged to bring more native women into politics than ever before. In total, more than 50 ran for Congress, state legislatures and statewide offices this year – the largest movement of its kind in American history. In her bid for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, Haaland made her identity a focus of her campaign, heralding herself a ‘35th-generation New Mexican.’ Her campaign logo was a rendering of the sun, a yellow orb with bursts of light from four sides, an ancient Zia Pueblo symbol that’s also on the state flag. In New Mexico, where 11 percent of the population is native, it resonated.

On the stump and on Twitter and in campaign ads, she started using a powerful refrain: ‘Congress has never heard a voice like mine.’”

On the Democratic side of the aisle, the U.S. House will look more like the people of the U.S. Two Muslim women also will enter the House for the first time, Rashida Tlaib, from Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, from Minnesota’s Fifth District. And Omar, a Somali-American and a refugee from war in her homeland, will be the first person in Congress to wear a hijab, the head scarf worn by many Muslim women.

Of course, the Republicans increased their majority in the Senate. And the midterms also exposed the GOP’s corrupt efforts at voter suppression, in North Dakota, Georgia, etc. Most concerning is Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior, his profligate lying and general ignorance in any area of public policy. It was a very bad idea to elevate this nincompoop to the presidency.