Paulette Jordan. Courtesy photo
National | Politics

Coeur d'Alene citizen Paulette Jordan makes historic run for governor

'My principles are very strong. My values are very strong'

Paulette Jordan aims to become first Native state governor in U.S. history
By Kevin Abourezk

A Coeur d’Alene woman seeking to become the first Native state governor in the nation’s history cites the example set by her grandmother for her decision to run.

Paulette Jordan, 38, said her grandmother, Lucy Covington, stood strong against the political might of Congressional leaders and even some of her own people who agreed with efforts to terminate the Colville Tribes of Washington.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Covington would speak before Congress dressed in full regalia, her hair in braids. And rather than spend the tribe’s limited resources to travel to Washington, D.C., she would sell her own cattle to pay a pilot to fly her there.

Back home, she fought to convince her own people that termination and the loss of tribal lands would hurt the Colville people for generations to come. She even succeeded in getting enough like-minded tribal members elected to the tribal council so that they made up a majority of the council.

“I just love that she was a very independent woman at that time because she went against even some of the wishes of the tribal people who were in favor of termination,” Jordan said.

Jordan has carried on her family’s tradition of leadership, having served on the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council and most recently as an Idaho state representative for two terms.

Now she wants to serve all of the people of Idaho.

She said she joined the Democratic Party in large part because she believes it is a more inclusive party than the Republican Party. If elected, she said, she would seek to improve the lives of all of Idaho’s people, regardless of age, political affiliation or race.

She will face at least two Democratic challengers in the May 15 primary election, and even if she survives the primary, she will face stiff competition against her Republican opponent in the November 6 general election considering the state is considered one of the most conservative.

Republican Gov. Butch Otter is not seeking re-election, and a slate of eight Republican candidates have declared plans to seek the open seat.

In the primary, Jordan will face businessman and Boise school board president A.J. Balukoff, who is running for the second time for governor, and activist Troy Minton.

Despite being more than 30 years younger than her most prominent Democratic opponent, Balukoff, Jordan said age shouldn’t define her candidacy.

“I don’t think that age is an issue or ever should be an issue,” she said. “It’s more about who you are, what your value system is and the principles you lay before you.

“My principles are very strong. My values are very strong.”

She said her political experience more than qualifies her for the post, having begun her political activism as a college student attending the University of Washington, where she volunteered for political organizations and campaigns.

After college, she returned home and ran for tribal council and won. She became a voice for her people’s elders.

“I love all my elders, and I love the wisdom that they carry,” she said.

Later, she became involved in Idaho’s Democratic Party, serving as a precinct chair and later state committeewoman for her county. When an Illinois senator sought the country’s highest post in 2008, Jordan quickly joined his campaign, becoming a staunch supporter of Barack Obama in her state.

She eventually became a national delegate for Obama, representing her state’s party at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008.

“I was able to use that experience to be a broader voice within my district,” she said.

When a legislative seat opened in her district, she announced her candidacy. She said her first race wasn’t an easy one as she was a relatively unknown political figure. But after months spent knocking on doors and speaking to political interest groups, she won the District 5 seat.

She said winning re-election was much easier, having established herself as a political leader, and she was better able to focus on the issues.

Jordan also has been involved in national Native American issues, having served on the National Indian Gaming Association and on the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. She said her work on the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators helped educate her about a wide variety of issues, including energy, transportation and the opioid epidemic.

This year, only a handful of Native American candidates are seeking state or federal offices. They include Deb Haaland, a Pueblo of Laguna citizen who is seeking a seat in Congress in New Mexico, and Peggy Flanagan, a White Earth Nation citizen who is seeking the lieutenant governor’s seat in Minnesota.

Jordan was the keynote speaker at a women’s rally in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Saturday and took part in the Women’s March in Las Vegas on Sunday, an event that drew thousands and was televised nationally. She said her campaign has built up strong momentum and she’s hopeful about her chances.

“We just continue to build up more and more volunteers and interest,” she said. “We’re seeing a very huge well of support, not just locally but nationally.”

Jordan said she hopes her candidacy will inspire Native American youth to consider political careers.

“We should never limit ourselves to reservation life,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that it’s any less either. It just means that you can do anything in this world.

“We’re looking at you next to be president someday.”