Mary Peltola's very happy birthday
First Alaska Native elected to U.S. Congress.
WASHINGTON — Mary Peltola, a Yup’ik citizen from western rural Alaska, was yesterday elected as the newest member of the U.S. Congress. It was her forty-ninth birthday.
“Thank you to all Alaskans who have put their faith in me as the first woman in Alaska’s history to represent our state in the House of Representatives,” Peltola said. “[W]e’ve shown that we can win as a campaign that is pro-choice, pro-fish, pro-worker, and pro-Alaska.”
Peltola, a Democrat with a tradition of supporting bipartisan issues while serving in her state’s legislature for ten years, is the first Alaska Native elected to Congress. There are at least 228 tribes in Alaska alone and 12 major Alaska Native Corporations with approximately $10 billion in annual revenue.
She is well-known as a fishery advocate, having worked for her dad’s salmon business before becoming a herring and salmon technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She later became a leader with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
Contrary to some Dems, she has in the past supported drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and developing controversial roads in rural areas of her state. She is a card-carrying member of the NRA.
Peltola bested former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on August 31 in a special election primary to fill the vacant position of longtime U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who passed away in March. She and Palin had worked together when Palin briefly served as governor, and they have expressed mutual appreciation for each other. Palin’s children with her former husband, Todd Palin, are also Alaska Native.
Peltola has given indications that she intends to serve from the center.
“Don Young worked in a very bipartisan way,” she told the Washington Examiner in August. “He had more seniority than any other member of the House has ever had, and he welcomed every single congressman into their position, personally. So, he had a very long history of bipartisanship, and I want to emulate that, and I want to emulate his hard work on constituent issues.”
“It's very hard to build infrastructure and maintain infrastructure in Alaska, and he was so good at that, he really transformed the airports in Alaska to be much more safe than they had been,” Peltola added. “His role on Resources and Transportation made all the difference for our growing state. So, I think it will mean a lot to Democrats, if a Democrat is elected, but I just really want to continue his legacy of fighting for all Alaskans.”
A new ranked-choice voting system in Alaska played a role in helping Peltola secure a majority of the vote.
Zack Brown, a former spokesman for Young, said that the system allows for policy nuance to take precedence over party politics.
The system is expected to also be a positive for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) reelection bid in the fall, despite former President Donald Trump saying he will do everything in his power to take the moderate Republican down. She supported his two impeachments, and she is widely viewed as a strong advocate for Indian Country.
Young, who served in Congress for 49 years and was a major advocate for Indian Country, had previously said that he hoped an Alaska Native woman would take over for him when he left his position.
Young was a teaching colleague of Peltola’s father and hunted with him. She also reportedly once spent a Thanksgiving with Young.
Peltola joins U.S. Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Yvette Herrell (R-NM) and Kaiali‘i Kahele (D-HI) as the current Indigenous members of Congress.
Davids and Herrell are locked in tough reelection battles due to redistricting, Mullin is running for the U.S. Senate (and leading in polls in his race), and Kahele is running for governor of Hawaii, having reportedly grown weary of his short time in Washington.
Peltola and Palin — along with Republican Nick Begich — are expected to battle each other once again in November when the regular midterm election for the seat occurs.
The Cook Political Report has updated its forecast of this race for the midterms from “likely Republican” to “toss up”:
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