“I’m in a state that does not look to women to lead,” Paulette Jordan says. Not lately, at least. “There was a whole legacy of women leaders who were chiefs,” says the former Idaho state representative, present candidate for governor and member of the Coeur d’Alene people. “It’s this line of responsibility that you inherit.”
Reclaiming that legacy won’t be easy: Trump won Idaho by 32 points in 2016, and the state hasn’t been led by a Democrat in 23 years. Jordan, 38, is aiming to make history in her race against Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little. If elected, she would not only be the U.S.’s first Native American governor but the state’s first female one. “Women not only have the right, the power and the ability, but we can show a different kind of leadership that’s compassionate and sincere,” she tells Rolling Stone.
Born to a family of cattle ranchers and wheat farmers, Jordan grew up horseback-riding on her family’s farm on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. At the University of Washington, she pursued Native American studies, communications and comparative literature and became an activist for indigenous and student rights. After graduating, she returned home to serve on her tribal council and on the executive board of the National Indian Gaming Association before winning her statehouse seat in 2014.
As a lifelong resident of rural Idaho, she’s more than familiar with the concerns of its residents. She rattles off a litany of local issues that she says state leaders have overlooked: defunded public education, high rates of youth suicide, one of the lowest minimum wages in the country, the struggle to afford health care, opioid addiction. “When you’re from where I’m from and you see this on a daily basis, this is why I’m running for governor,” she says.
Jordan’s promises to expand Medicaid, fund STEM education and protect the environment have helped her gain the support of progressive groups like the People for Bernie Sanders, Planned Parenthood and even an endorsement from Cher. But her support for the Second Amendment — with strong background checks — has endeared her to conservatives. “I’m a gun-owning progressive who values public lands, hunting and fishing rights, and autonomy at the local level,” she says. She has even advocated for more gun ownership among women in rural areas, where domestic violence rates are higher than in cities.
In Idaho, where 63 percent of the land is federally owned, she believes protecting that natural landscape from those who would seek to privatize it — for mining, among other uses — is an issue everyone can agree on. “People want to see beautiful Idaho, where we’re protecting our clean air and water,” says Jordan, and she’s ready to take on anyone who disagrees — even the president. “As long as [Trump] is president, the position I will take as governor is [to] always fight for the voices of the people and defend our state.”