Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene tribal member, is running for the Idaho House of Representatives from the 5th District. She would be the only American Indian currently in the Idaho State Legislature. Indian Country Today Media Network contributor Gyasi Ross calls her the one to beat.
“Paulette is a powerful and dynamic Coeur d’Alene sister running for Idaho’s House of Representatives,” he wrote for ICTMN in August. “She is a traditional woman, a great mom, and a heckuva basketball player.”
As part of her tribal outreach, she held a fund-raiser in September at the Circling Raven Golf Club on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. She recently gave ICTMN her take on the issues facing her state and how she feels that serving in the legislature could benefit American Indians residing within Idaho’s boundaries.
Do you have legislation in mind, particularly pertaining to Native Americans here in Idaho?
I don’t have anything that particularly relates. A lot of bills indirectly affect us on a daily basis. One is education. We have three propositions on our ballots. One is regarding the use of technology; buying laptops for every student. Another is a merit-based pay scale. Those will affect our people because we have a school system within our reservations.
What do you see as the major issues facing tribes in Idaho and how do you propose to bring attention to them at the state level?
Although the Idaho tribes and their employees combined have contributed over $23.7 million in sales, property and excise taxes to the state, per an economic impact study completed in 2010, the State Legislature is considering infringing upon tribal tobacco taxes by increasing its receivable amount through tobacco distributors to tribal business owners. This would negatively affect the tribal tax income committed to enhance local community programs within and surrounding tribal reservation lands. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe relies on the tax to find our elder and youth programs.
What sort of support are you seeing from Idaho’s tribes?
So far tribes that have contributed are the Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, and Shoshone-Bannock. The Nez Perce have verbally committed their support and financially said they would support. They’ve all been very vocal in their support. As tribal leaders we work with one another. They’re all good friends, and I know they all stand with me.
What has been your reception in non-Native communities?
Very strong. In fact they’re the ones who encouraged me the most. The nice bit of news is that locally and throughout the state is the support on both the Democratic and Republican end. People understand my visions for the state. They understand my position to lead by example, of being open, of listening. I believe that leadership listens. I’ve been throughout the state speaking to various organizations. They know I will understand their concerns and carry their issues across the board and that I am not here to represent any one group but to be open and fair to everyone. All sides have been very receptive, both financially, and volunteering, and opening their doors to me. Statewide and nationally, organizations have been sponsoring my campaign unlike any other campaign in the state.
Will it be an advantage being the only Native American in the Idaho House, or do you see that as a problem?
I see it as an advantage. Of course I’d like to see more Natives involved but if we can even get just one the great advantage is I will be able to take over the Indian Affairs Council. We have an Idaho Five Tribes Council connected to the legislature and the governor. The people in elective office want to see me be the champion for the tribes and to be able to carry the tribal perspective in the legislature.
What would you bring to the position in terms of your background and previous political experience?
I’ve worked on campaigns with Maria Cantwell when I was at the University of Washington. I’ve been actively engaged with local city council of Seattle working directly with the President of the University. When I came home I was doing the same: building partnerships with local municipalities, government agencies, county, statewide and federally. On the business front I’ve represented tribes locally and nationally as the co-chair of gaming for ATNI and as a Board representative for the National Indian Gaming Association. Any leader should have a strong sense of patience and courage to speak up. I think the combination of education and being good at finding the need to help, finding solutions, and building partnerships to make sure the solutions come to light and are successful is important.
How do you think having a Native person in the legislature can change things on the ground for the state’s American Indian population?
I think it will make a great difference, not only for the morale of the people but also to light a path for younger people. Our people deserve to be at the table, and we need to be part of local, state and national dialogue. I think this will help encourage people of all ages to get involved. Once I’m elected, we will have a stronger voice, and it will be nice to have real tribal representation, a voice within, rather than one that’s looking in from outside the glass. Legislators fail to approach tribes directly when it comes to legislative matters that affect them. Tribes deserve direct consultation and advanced warning to be actively involved. That’s one thing I will do once elected.
Are there items of legislation you would particularly support that are not neccaarily for Native communities but rather of general interest?
There are a whole slew of bills related to health care and Medicaid. Last year Medicaid was reduced, and we want to see that increased and find a solution as to how we can use federal funds to best assist our people here in Idaho. Health care will be a very big topic. Education is another. We are 50th in the nation when it comes to spending per student. We are 47th when it comes to quality education. Budgeting will be one of my priorities because I’d like to see more money funneled into our public schools, where our children need it the most. My vision has always been looking toward the next seven generations and not just a quick fix for tomorrow.
What is your position on the FMC Superfund site on the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation?
There is always a level of frustration on how EPA handles business with tribes. I feel tribes tend to know more about their own matters because we live within these lands. EPA is kind of like this arm outside, reaching in. They should respect tribes’ positions on matters and listen to them more. Reservation lands should never be a dump for anything. If it ever came down to a vote, I would not support tailings or any waste being dumped on any reservation. There should be stricter regulations on how mining companies deal with their waste.