Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland
New elected U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Deb Haaland (D-NM)

Voters in Kansas and New Mexico elected the first two Native American women to Congress yesterday, both Democrats.

 

By winning in Kansas's 3rd District, Sharice Davids, 37, also became the first openly gay woman elected to the House. An Ivy League-educated attorney, she served as an Obama White House fellow in 2016. The former mixed martial arts fighter went viral with an early campaign video in which she posed in boxing gear and spoke about being raised by her mother, a veteran.

 

Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, defeated four-term Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder. The district, which Hillary Clinton won by 1 point in 2016, encompasses the affluent Johnson County suburbs of Kansas City, in a state that is steadfastly conservative. Although Davids might have seemed an unlikely candidate, she ran comfortably ahead in polls from the beginning, ultimately besting Yoder by 53 to 44 percent.

 

"We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas," said Davids during her victory speech. "We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed." During the campaign, Davids advocated gun-safety laws, expanding Medicaid and ending economic inequality.

 

When polls closed out West a few hours later, Deb Haaland had been elected from New Mexico's blue-leaning 1st District. A member of the Pueblo of Laguna, the attorney and community organizer formerly chaired the New Mexico state Democratic Party and ran for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014. She won handily over her Republican challenger Janice Arnold-Jones, 59 to 36 percent.

 

Haaland pledged to make sure "Congress recognizes the fact that the United States has a trust responsibility to Indian tribes," she said in an interview with Vox last summer. "So at every possible opportunity, I’ll work really hard to make sure tribal leaders have a seat at the table when there's issues of importance." During the campaign, she advocated a $15 federal minimum wage, more environmental protections and the development of a renewable energy infrastructure.

According to Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today, 128 Native Americans ran for office this election cycle, a record.

Native Americans in the U.S. Congress

Two other Native Americans are currently serving members of Congress. Both are Republican men from Oklahoma: Reps. Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole.

Sixteen Native American men have served in the House, beginning with Virginia's John Floyd in 1827. The most well-known is likely Will Rogers Jr., son of the famed humorist, who served as a California Democrat from 1943 to 1944.

Five Native American men have served in the U.S. Senate. The first was Hiram Revels (R-MS) from 1870 to 1871; the most recent was Ben Campbell (D-, then R-CO), who retired in 2005 after 12 years as a Senator and six years as a member of the House.