The Woman Who Could Become America's First-Ever Indigenous Governor
"If you look at the faces in Congress now, there’s a clear imbalance that doesn't reflect the population of the United States," says Paulette Jordan.
Photo courtesy Paulette Jordan.
In honor of the Women’s March and their “Power to the Polls” initiative, we're highlighting progressive women and nonbinary candidates on the 2018 ballot. You can read more of their stories here.
Paulette Jordan has had people gunning for her to be governor of Idaho for years—even before she decided to run. Jordan previously served on the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council—the sovereign government of her Native American tribe—and in 2014, she became the only indigenous member of the Idaho House of Representatives. Still, she took her time thinking through the challenge: "When you have individuals and large groups across the nation encouraging you to run for this position, it takes thought and you need to ensure that you have all the resources available and that you’re prepared," she said.
This year, she's finally ready and running. If she wins the 2018 gubernatorial race in Idaho, she'll be the first Native American governor in US history.
“I see myself helping to contribute to the balance of representation and to ultimately inspire others who may not think this position is attainable,” said Jordan. “There are people who think entering office is only for older, white, wealthy men. We’re now here to break boundaries and people’s perception.”
This weekend, Jordan will be speaking at the Women’s March kick-off event in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before the March, Broadly caught up with Jordan to learn about her experience of the Women’s March last year, what she hopes for this year’s march, and her gubernatorial campaign.
What was your Women’s March experience like last year?
I absolutely loved it. Just starting with my flight over to DC, it was packed full with women. Everyone had their hats and it must have been the most fun I’ve had on a flight ever. Once we arrived to DC, I remember being stuck in my car trying to get through to different points in the march.
This part of the Women’s March felt like President Obama’s inauguration. It was filled with excitement, positivity, and happiness. Then I remember how it was a different story this time around with the Women’s March. It wasn’t hope in an individual but hope in each other. Everyone was there—women, men, young children—but they were there for themselves and each other. Everyone was creating a new movement, saying: “We’re not giving up.”
What do you hope for in this year’s march?
In this next Women’s March, I would love to see much of the same energy. I imagine it will be much different because with last year’s march we were looking at a space and time when people were very frustrated with the election results. We had a new president that was threatening our liberties and freedoms in so many ways. There was a lot of anticipation of what we have to stand and protect.
Now, we know what we have to do: We need to fight for our communities. The way we do that is with our vote. First and foremost, let’s be politically active and engaged with each other and with our government. That’s how we fight to improve it rather than staying silent and not doing anything.
"Everyone was creating a new movement, saying: 'We’re not giving up.'”
Exactly, and this year the Women’s March is advocating #PowerToThePolls.
I love this alternative that promotes action and being a voice. In this new march, which is building off of this previous event, we’re taking it one step further. We can take this energy and continue to build. It’s a matter of now taking it to a next level, to encourage people to not only run for office but to also support those who are stepping up to that challenge and fighting back.
This march allows us to elevate the names and profiles of individuals who are running. Ultimately, that is what you should be doing if you have a platform. The advantages of high-profile people is that they get to use their name and position to raise the profile of another who is giving in nature and wants to help and serve others. That’s really what I think is so great about this march.
Turning back to you, people are so excited about your run for governor. What made you ultimately decide to run?
I was encouraged years ago. It wasn’t a decision I made over night, it took me years to think about and mull it over. When you have individuals and large groups across the nation encouraging you to run for this position, it takes thought and you need to ensure that you have all the resources available and that you’re prepared. It took some time but when I felt ready to accept the role and take on this challenge, I made sure that I had everything covered and that the folks around me were ready. Now, I have a great team of people and my community is very supportive.
You never really know what to expect but when I announced, I was just overwhelmed with the groundswell of people who have come from all over the world, even from countries overseas, that have said that they are rooting for me. It’s nice to see the world watching and paying attention to what I feel like in Idaho, almost no one is paying attention to. However, everyone else will make you know it’s contrary to the case. They’re just as invested in this race as many of us in Idaho.
What do you think it means for the US if you become the first indigenous governor?
I think it's definitely breaking barriers. It sets a higher ceiling. Overall, I think it's great to see indigenous people being elected in general. If we had more indigenous people in power, it would be fairer to the population in terms of representation. But that goes all across the board; if you look at the faces in Congress now, there’s a clear imbalance that doesn't reflect the population of the United States.
Even women in [Idaho] think that other women cannot win this race, because they believe that other women should not be able to excel to higher levels of governance. There are a lot of women who thought we should never have a woman president. There’s a lot of work we need to do and that’s to ultimately teach our younger next generations that we want to lead and to do more. To do that, we need to give that courage and show that these positions of leadership can be attained and are achievable. I think me winning would prove that.
If elected, do you know what issues you want to tackle first?
We have multiple issues in [Idaho] that deal with conservation and preservation. We also have a nuclear agreement that keeps being brought up. Our current governor has taken on nuclear rods. That is a highly controversial issue because it was a matter of an agreement over money. It does not bode the state well. We’ve even had our former governors oppose this because we had a nuclear agreement that was not upheld.
I think there are other issues that will come up in terms of mining and creating more smelters and protecting the air and water quality. You really have to look at: When you are elected and become the next CEO of the state, what are your priorities? My priority will be conservation, preservation, and preserving what we have that is here and now and to try to ensure that there will be something here for the future. There has to be a balance and people know I will be fair as a governor to ensure that all voices are being heard. I’ll be listening to Libertarians, Republicans, and unaffiliated. I want everyone to know that this administration is for them, too.