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Rep.-Elect Deb Haaland Of New Mexico Makes History


New Mexico's 1st Congressional District has a new congresswoman. Debra Haaland won the seat, replacing former Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham. Haaland is one of two Native American women to be elected to Congress this midterm, the first in U.S. history. And she edged out a crowded primary roster, beating out four other Democratic candidates. Representative-elect Haaland is on the line with us now. Thank you. Good morning, and congratulations on your victory.

DEBRA HAALAND: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me.

KING: This was not the first time you ran for elected office. You tried for lieutenant governor in 2014. What went right for you in this race? What was different?

HAALAND: Well, of course, this race - I wasn't running against an incumbent, for one. We started early. I was on my campaign for 18 months, including the primary. We raised enough money. We got our message out. We worked really hard. We recruited thousands of volunteers. So yes, it all went right.

KING: Your party, the Democratic Party, ran an unprecedented number of women and people of color in the races for House of Representatives across the country. Many of them have won. What do you think that says about the political landscape in this country as we go forward?

HAALAND: Well, it's clear to me that - you know, that Americans want change. I mean, there are going to be some voices in Congress that no one has ever heard. And it's taken this long - taken 240-some years to elect a Native American woman to Congress. I just think that, you know, in this political climate, people want to elect folks who are going to work hard, who can bring a new voice to the table.

KING: We are operating in a very, very divisive political climate, as you well know. How do you see policies changing as a result of you being elected when so much of what's happening in Washington is back-and-forth and gridlock and nothing gets done? What makes you optimistic on policy in particular?

HAALAND: Well, I'll take one example. That would be missing and murdered Native women. I mean, it's an epidemic. And so I feel that with two Native women in office with - on the Democratic side and two congressmen on the Republican side, four of us can push it easier than two can.

KING: It's interesting to me that you point out that there are two Republican Native congressmen...


KING: ...Who also would be interested in this. I mean, it sounds like your goal here, at least from the beginning, is bipartisanship. It is reaching across the aisle.

HAALAND: Absolutely. Look, there are people hurting in this country. We have to find solutions to make their lives better, right? We - our children need a quality public education. We have to move toward renewable energy in a big way here in America. And people need health care. You know, I feel like, yes, we need to listen to the voices of our constituents all over the country and get some things done that will help their lives be successful.

KING: Last question for you. Given the divisiveness of the political climate, is there anything about going to Washington that makes you nervous?

HAALAND: You know, there's nothing. I've been going there since I was a kid. My dad was a 30-year career Marine. He was stationed in Quantico Va., and another military base. So we kind of went back and forth between the East Coast and the West Coast for a long time. And I love the city. It's beautiful. My father's actually buried in Arlington, and so I'm looking forward to it.

KING: Representative-elect Debra Haaland of New Mexico with a lot of optimism this morning. Thank you, Representative-elect.

HAALAND: Thank you so much, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "DUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.