If Paulette Jordan is elected governor of Idaho, she’ll be unique in more ways than one.
The 38-year-old Democratic candidate won her primary last week, and now she’s vying to become the youngest governor in the country, the first Native American ever elected as governor, and the first Democrat to win Idaho’s governorship since 1990. She’d also join the growing list of women to win public office in historic fashion as the first woman to become Idaho’s governor.
She says her perspective on leadership is influenced, in part, by her family history.
“I stand on the shoulders of great giants,” Jordan told A Plus, referencing her ancestors, many of whom were chiefs in Native American tribes. “They did a great job of being great stewards and compassionate leaders of the people. They were bold leaders, which is missing in today’s politics.”
Tthe Idaho race has become a national news item due to Jordan’s unusually progressive perspective on governing a predominantly rural state like Idaho. BuzzFeed, The Atlantic and HuffPost have all profiled her, despite the fact she’s considered a long shot to win an office that would have little effect on national politics as a whole.
Her pathway to the governor’s office won’t be easy. Cecil Andrus was the last Democrat to be governor of Idaho, serving terms from 1971 to 1977 and again from 1986 to 1995. The last Democrat to win a presidential race in Idaho was Lyndon B. Johnson. Still, there could be an opening: the state’s population grew by 2.2 percent last year, largely because of an influx of California and Washington residents looking for a cheaper cost of living in a place with a growing tech sector, as Vox reported.
Jordan, who served two terms as a state lawmaker and is a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, is doing her best to focus on issues she believes unite Idahoans: health care, education, public land and protecting the environment. She’s also hoping to push for an investment in rural transportation and rural Idaho as a whole, which she believes has been left out of the roadmap for the future.
And still, it’s not hard to see why she’s getting so much attention. On primary night, Jordan helped pull in a massive voter turnout, which isn’t the only proof the campaign’s work is paying off. Jordan’s press secretary Gayraud Townsend said the campaign is spending about $8 for every vote they bring in, versus their opposition, which is more in the $75 per range. Jordan has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way, Democracy for America, Indivisible, and People for Bernie Sanders
The Nation, a progressive news outlet, called Jordan “the new face of rural politics in America.” In an interview with A Plus, she spoke candidly about expanding Medicaid for Idahoans, a common Democratic goal, but also about how the “single party majority system that we see now has failed us for decades.” She railed against the corporations and special interests that dominate mainstream politics and said she’d like to ask President Trump why “all Idahoans don’t have access to medicine.” Jordan is also pushing to legalize marijuana and raise the minimum wage.
In many ways, she oscillates between sounding like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but with a distinct touch of the region she was raised in. And Jordan has no interest in being compared to either.
“The people they want to see an Idaho that reflects them,” Jordan said. “They are going to vote for someone who carries their voice and their experiences their shared stories within. I was raised by Idaho, raised by a community — a village, if you will — of people who are veterans, teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, loggers and miners. All good people of Idaho who worked together to be good neighbors and defend the land.”
Key issues like protecting the environment, legalizing marijuana and expanding access to Medicaid are most popular amongst younger Americans — and are also big parts of her campaign.
“I understand that our future has been mortgaged,” Jordan said. “Our future is compromised. Right now, we have 55-, 65-year-olds who are under attack. Folks whose health care has become inaccessible. They no longer have access to the benefits their parents once enjoyed, and the same problem that they face are the problems our kids, my children, will face 25 to 35 years from now.”
Jordan is aware of the doubters, too. Her ideals are do not conform to party lines, and she hopes that Idahoans see themselves in her. Asked about what she thinks her chances of prevailing are, Jordan could only laugh.
“The people have already spoken, and they will continue to speak for us,” Jordan said. “For me to come to their table and ask for their support, they don’t see me as Democrat or Republican. They see me as a leader who represents them, who listens, and who carries this value and this aspect of respect that my elders and my grandparents and great-grandparents have instilled in me.”