Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Democrat Deb Haaland’s mother was born and raised in an old railroad boxcar in Winslow, Ariz.
Her grandparents, from Laguna Pueblo, went to work for the railroad as part of the nation’s assimilation policies, Haaland said. The railroad laid tracks on pueblo land through New Mexico and promised jobs to every Laguna person who wanted one.
As a girl, Haaland remembers helping her grandfather irrigating his field, picking worms off the corn as it grew.
She credits her grandmother for helping her get through college. Majoring in English at the University of New Mexico, Haaland said, she would spend almost every weekend with her grandmother, interviewing her.
“So I feel like she helped me get through college, and I essentially told all of her stories in my college papers.”
Her family and their hard work are never far from Haaland’s mind as she navigates the path from campaign phone volunteer to community organizer to Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in the 1st Congressional District.
“It seemed like this election, voters wanted somebody who understood what it was like for the vast majority of New Mexicans living here, right? People struggling to find enough work, to make a little bit of money, to be able to support their families. There’s people in this state who have never had an opportunity to take their family on a summer vacation. I just feel like I know what it’s like. I know their struggle.”
The former state Democratic Party chairwoman won a six-way primary race in June and has received hefty campaign contributions from tribal groups and others around the country. Her most recent federal filings show she’s received more than $1 million for her campaign.
Haaland, if elected, would be the nation’s first Native American woman elected to Congress. This distinction has led to interviews with The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone magazine and other national publications.
“I don’t look at myself as being in the spotlight,” Haaland told the Journal. “That’s not the most important thing to me. We are grateful that we’ve been interviewed. It helps us to reach our voters.”
Haaland, in a recent Journal poll, led the three-way race, with the support of 49 percent of those surveyed, compared with Republican Janice Arnold-Jones, with 41 percent. Libertarian Lloyd Princeton trailed at 3 percent.
As a progressive Democrat, Haaland says, her focus has been chiefly on finding ways to bring New Mexico’s marginalized groups into the political process.
“My passion for getting people in underrepresented communities to vote just grew in every single election year.”
Her life might have taken a different path altogether, she concedes, had she scored five points higher on the state bar exam to be licensed in New Mexico.
“It’s a test that a lot of people aren’t able to pass the first time. If I were to study and take it again, I might pass it. However, I almost feel like if I had passed my bar exam that I would have gone a completely different direction than I went.”
At age 57, she is still paying off her student loans, however. And, in the past, as a single mother, Haaland has relied on food stamps.
“Money has just never been my focus, unfortunately. I didn’t get that gene. I mean I can work harder than anybody, so I have worked hard doing a lot of different things.”
She said she was able to support her daughter while she attended law school by starting her own salsa company in about 1995, Pueblo Salsa. “I didn’t want to put my daughter in day care and have a regular 8-to-5 job, so I started my company and was able to take my daughter with me wherever I went.”
Other jobs included tribal administrator for San Felipe Pueblo and operating a service provider for developmentally disabled adults in Albuquerque. In 2012, she served as state Native American vote director for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. She ran for lieutenant governor in 2014.
Haaland is the daughter of a 30-year career Marine Corps father who served in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star. Her mother served in the Navy. Haaland graduated from Highland High School.
As a progressive Democrat who advocates for those “sidelined by the billionaire class,” Haaland has focused on President Donald Trump and his policies.
She promises to fight Trump’s proposed border wall and wants to ban assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. She supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and a permanent path to citizenship for “Dreamers” and their families. She has spoken out against the Trump administration’s plan, she said, “to shrink public lands and sell that land off to the fossil fuel industry.”
Haaland also has called for abolishing the chief immigration enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, because, she says, “it’s not living up to its mission.”
She also believes in “Medicare for all” and wants the North American Free Trade Agreement to be renegotiated to better protect labor, the environment and protections for investors.
In between campaign events and reaching out to voters, Haaland said, she still tries to travel to Laguna Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, every week to visit her 83-year-old mother. Haaland notes that her ancestors migrated down to the Rio Grande Valley in the late 1200s.
“I have a long history here in New Mexico, and that history, I think, can inform a lot of decisions that I can make on behalf of people in District 1 or across the state.”
Q-and-A’s online: To find out these candidates’ positions on key issues, go to ABQJournal.com/election2018. The site also includes links to Journal stories on statewide, legislative and county-level races, district maps, key election dates and other voter resources. It will be updated regularly with new candidate profile stories and other information.