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The year 2020 is quickly becoming the best and the worst story I will ever tell my grandchildren. The plot twists have been unusual, the dialogue riveting, and the sheer amount of historical firsts unparalleled. So the news Thursday that President-elect Joe Biden had named New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland as his pick to head up the Department of the Interior was both monumental and timely. Representative Haaland has taken the political world by storm. Most U.S. Congressional Representatives don’t have the grassroots backing power that she has. When you get made into some fierce imagery like Kill Bill or Star Wars, you have crossed into a different realm of how people perceive you. That fierceness was apparent these last few weeks as many locally and nationally called for her appointment. Cher called for it, even. Cher. All jokes aside, this is a massive moment for Native people in American politics. This appointment will become the high-water mark for some time to come.
The Interior Department is massive. We are talking about the National Parks Service, EPA, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Mining and Reclamation, and the big kicker, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is no modest task; working in this office will require some callous decisions to be made, both on behalf of the government and as a proud Indigenous person. When the federal government has deep ties to the systems we actively discuss as destructive forces in our communities—e.g., pipelines, oil and gas development—how would you choose? Yes, you at home. Do you side with the boss or your people? Those will be the decisions she will face, and I wish her the best and hope for clarity and empathy in her decision making.
Let’s move from “big picture” to “local”: where does this sudden promotion leave us? New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District has traditionally been a hotly contested prize. The number of people who have a chance at that seat is multiple, and no one person has an advantage currently. Essentially, they will have less than three months to raise money and campaign before a run-off election occurs. As I mentioned, Haaland had that local movement locked up; I don’t see anyone who currently has that base.
A few local contenders are Albuquerque House District 28 Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a pragmatic problem solver from ABQ’s foothills. Making the rounds of the Democratic rumor mill are quite a few candidates. Lan Sena is one name that comes up in conversation. The young ABQ City Councilor and cancer-survivor went to work immediately, representing the Westside of ABQ as she worked to pass a paid leave ordinance. New Mexico House District 11 Representative Javier Martinez is also being tossed around as a possibility.
A few dark horses that might have the ability to run away with it are two Native state Representatives: District 26’s Georgene Louis of Acoma Pueblo and District 65’s Derrick J. Lente of Sandia Pueblo, both of whom have a good chance at taking an election if their base shows up to vote. I even heard rumors MMA superstar coach Gregg Jackson himself might enter the ring. Mind you, the replacement only has to be an N.M. resident, not just of that district. With that in mind, we are in for a crazy set of plot twists and turns for a few more weeks. Once again. It is time to get out and vote.