The Story Exchange

Debra Haaland

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 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, which has attracted a slew of candidates. Among her top primary competitors is another woman, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an anti-domestic violence advocate and former law school dean. Also running are Albuquerque City Councilor Patrick Davis, Edgewood Mayor Pro Tem John Abrams, John Flores, Damian Lara and Damon Martinez. But Haaland has an edge as the race’s second highest fundraiser, after Sedillo Lopez, with $262,100 in reported contributions as of Sept. 30.

Even in a crowded Democratic field, Haaland’s political resume stands 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

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:

(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