Debra Haaland

The Democratic Party activist is running for an open seat in the U.S. House representing New Mexico. She would become the first Native American woman in Congress.

By Zoe Searles and Riva Richmond

Editor’s Note: Our coverage of Debra Haaland is part of Running Women, a project following 15 compelling women candidates for U.S. political offices in 2018. Read the latest on her campaign below.

Debra Haaland, candidate for Congress from New MexicoDebra Haaland could become the the first Native American woman to take a seat in Congress. The former New Mexico Democratic Party chairwoman is running for an open seat representing the state’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Though Haaland has a long history as a politician in the state, this election is her biggest yet.

The district is considered safely Democratic, and incumbent Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has held the seat since 2013. But she will not run for reelection, having thrown her hat in the race for governor instead. (We are also following Lujan Grisham’s candidacy this year).

As such, Haaland’s biggest fight will likely be the Democratic primary. It initially attracted a slew of candidates, but three major contenders have emerged: Haaland; Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an anti-domestic violence advocate and former law school dean; and Damon Martinez, a former U.S. attorney. Haaland was the race’s second highest fundraiser with $684,000 in reported contributions as of March 31. Sedillo Lopez had raised $707,000 and Martinez reported $541,500.

In the crowded Democratic field, Haaland’s political resume has stood out. A Laguna Pueblo member, she is currently the chairwoman of the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico and the former tribal administrator of San Felipe Pueblo. That resume won her an endorsement from the National Organization for Women’s political action committee (PAC) in February and a rare primary endorsement  from the Congressional Black Caucus’ PAC in January. Caucus Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks said it embraced her, although she is not black, because of her personal story and history with the party. “The opportunity to elect the first Native American woman… it is a voice we believe New Mexico needs and we know Washington, D.C. needs,” he told the Albuquerque Journal.

Related: Emerge America is Embracing a 50-State Strategy

Haaland was raised in a military family — her mother served in the Navy and her father was a marine who received a Silver Star and the honor of burial in Arlington National Cemetery — and received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of New Mexico. A single mother to a daughter, Somah, Haaland has faced her fair share of struggles, at one point relying on food stamps to feed her family, but she persisted.

“Like so many women, I’ve worked hard and climbed the ladder in my career, and I’ve faced many moments in which I was told to get to the back of the line and had my accomplishments diminished,” Haaland said in a recent statement. “Ultimately, the best way to stop sexual harassment in Congress, and in every workplace, is to hire and elect more women.”

Haaland in 2005 authored and led the passage of an important piece of New Mexico legislation that allows tribe members to pay lower in-state tuition rates at higher education institutions, regardless of their residency. In 2007, she received training from Emerge New Mexico, a branch of Emerge America that works to elect more women in the state.

In 2014, she became the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, although she lost the general election. During her term as state party chair from 2015 to 2017, she helped flip New Mexico’s State House from red to blue. She also led the New Mexico Democratic Party’s divestment from Wells Fargo because of its investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline and was active in the Standing Rock protests. 

The Latest on the Campaign

June 6, 2018
Lujan Grisham, Haaland Win Democratic Primaries

By Riva Richmond

Women held and extended their gains in New Mexican politics on Tuesday night.

Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, one of four women of color running for governor in the 2018 election cycle, decisively won her primary. And Debra Haaland, another woman of color, is likely to replace Lujan Grisham in Congress. 

Last night, Haaland won the Democratic primary for New Mexico’s solidly Democratic 1st Congressional District with 40.6 percent of the vote in a five-person race, besting her top competitors U.S. attorney Damon Martinez and social justice activist Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. The win takes Haaland a big step closer to becoming the first Native American woman to win a seat in Congress. She will now face Republican nominee Janice Arnold-Jones, who ran uncontested in her primary, in November.

“Our win is a victory for working people, a victory for women and a victory for everyone who has been sidelined by the billionaire class,” Haaland said in a statement. “The blue wave is coming.”

Lujan Grisham received 66 percent of the vote in her primary, defeating two men, runner-up Jeff Apodaca, who received 22 percent, and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, who won 12 percent. Lujan Grisham will face Republican Rep. Steve Pearce in the general election. She is widely expected to win in November — and become the first Democratic woman of color and first Democratic Latina elected governor in the country. She would replace a term-limited Republican Latina woman, Governor Susana Martinez.

Four in six of the state’s major-party nominees for House seats are women this year — two Democrats and two Republicans. All four women are running in two races, which all but guarantees that two women will win. That means two of New Mexico’s three seats in the House will be held by women, and New Mexico’s five-person congressional delegation will be 40 percent female.

Read our Full Primary Roundup: On Super Tuesday, Many Women Candidates Won Their Primaries. But Parity Remains Distant

May 31, 2018:
Race Too Close to Call

The Democratic primary for the congressional seat representing New Mexico’s 1st District is too close to call in the run up to the June 5 primary.

A poll of likely Democratic voters conducted by the Albuquerque Journal between May 20 and 24 showed a three-way dead heat. Roughly 22 percent of respondents favored former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, 19 percent backed Debra Haaland and 17 percent preferred Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Given a third of these voters were undecided — and the poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points — it looks like it is anybody’s race.


March 12, 2018:
Debra Haaland Wins Pre-Primary Convention

By Bernadette Berdychowski

Debra Haaland rose to the top of a crowded candidate field at New Mexico’s Democratic pre-primary convention on Saturday.

She won 35 percent of party delegates’ votes, securing the top spot on the primary ballot for the 1st Congressional District’s open seat. The primary will be held on June 5.

Runner-up Antoinette Sedillo Lopez will appear on the primary ballot as well, after winning 25 percent of the vote. No other candidates surpassed the 20-percent benchmark to be listed on the ballot, though they could still be included if they collect enough voter signatures.


February 20, 2018:
Haaland Wins Endorsement of Feminist PAC


February 8, 2018:
Debra Haaland Congress candidate

(Credit: Deb Haaland campaign Facebook page)

Running Women Q&A: Deb Haaland on Bringing a Native American Voice to Congress

We spoke with New Mexico Democrat Debra Haaland about about why she’s running, her fight for jobs and the environment, the need for a Native voice in Washington and the brave women of #MeToo. Read the interview highlights.


January 22, 2018:
Supporters Found at Women’s March in Albuquerque

Posted: January 17, 2018

Zoe Searles and Riva RichmondDebra Haaland