Native governor candidate Paulette Jordan: ‘It’s about time’ for change
BOISE, Idaho — Paulette Jordan is striving for a lot of firsts. She hopes to become Idaho’s first female governor and the first Democrat in the seat in more than 20 years.
And if the Coeur d’Alene tribe member wins in November, she’ll also be the first Native American governor in the history of the United States.
Jordan, 38, won the primary election on May 15, beating out 72-year-old A.J. Balukoff, a businessman and former school board member, for the Democratic bid with 58 percent of the vote.
She will face off against Republication Lt. Gov. Brad Little, 64, for the open gubernatorial seat in November.
“When people tell me over and over about history making and the first this, the first that — for me, all I can think is it’s about time,” Jordan told First Nation’s Focus.
The Idaho native comes by her political roots naturally; she’s descended from a long line of tribal leaders in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest, including Chief Kamiakin of the Yakama, Palouse and Klickitat peoples, known for his role in the Yakama War in 1855.
After the territorial governor of what is now Washington state forced treaties of land cessions on native tribes, Kamiakin banded together 14 tribes and waged a three-year war against the U.S. Government.
Though ultimately defeated, Kamiakin was the only leader who refused to surrender, instead escaping to British Columbia.
The importance of land is something that’s been passed down from generation to generation in Jordan’s family.
“Really what matters is the connection we have to our land and the connection to our people,” said Jordan. “Those aren’t just tribal values, those are values of our entire country.”
Jordan grew up on her family’s farm in northern Idaho, then left to attend the University of Washington. She returned home, and in 2008, won a seat on the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council, becoming its youngest member. Four years later she ran for the Idaho Legislature and lost, but ran again and won in both 2014 and 2016.
“The voices of the people should always be at the forefront and in my platform, that’s exactly what I focus on, the heart of the peoples’ needs: ensuring that we are protecting our environment, clean air and water; maintaining access to public lands; and focusing on our future through education,” said Jordan.
As a mother of two, Jordan is a vocal advocate for improving Idaho’s education system — which received a D+ in Education Week’s national report card — by increasing teacher compensation, instituting universal preschool, and making higher education more affordable.
She supports expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage and increasing tourism.
Planned Parenthood, Indivisible, Democracy for America, and People for the American Way have endorsed her.
“People aren’t worried so much about being a Republican or Democrat, people are concerned about where their next pay check is coming from, if they have access to health care,” said Jordan. “They want to make sure their kids have the best. They can graduate, go on to college or a vocational program or a job they can feel secure with.”
But the fact remains that Idaho has a historically Republican voter base. The last Democratic governor in Idaho, Cecil Andrus, left office in 1995.
This point does not dissuade Jordan.
“We are definitely making history, but most importantly, it’s about what we’re doing to bring back the values and heritage of the land,” said Jordan. “People want to get back to ultimately the point of democracy, and how we’ve been the defenders of the West, how we’ve been able to implement independence and prioritize people over corporations and people over the monetization of our land.”
And as for how to get more Native American representatives in government?
“You just send them to me,” said Jordan.
Claire Cudahy is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes First Nation’s Focus. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.