Mary Peltola is sworn in as the first Alaska Native in Congress

She launched into her new life around noon Friday last week, flying from western Alaska to Anchorage, where she hopped on another plane around 3 a.m. Saturday, then rushed through Seattle airport for its connecting flight to DC, and a seat in the US House of Representatives – an exciting prospect that may, in fact, be quite temporary.

She made a hit on MSNBC on Monday, during which the host compared her to both Barack and Michelle Obama, then was sworn in around 6:41 p.m. Tuesday on the house floor while wearing the traditional lined shoes. of Yup fur. ‘ik people. In less than an hour, she cast her first three votes as a member of Congress, then drove her four children, three stepchildren, and two grandchildren to a jubilant reception hosted by Indigenous organizations across the country. Alaska and headlined by Nancy Pelosi — while running, sideways, yet another campaign: to keep the job she was just elected to (Alaska’s only seat in the House) after the Jan. 3 expiration of his new current and abbreviated mandate.

“I’m really running on adrenaline right now.”

11:33 a.m. Wednesday, her first full day as Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska).

His nameplate sat outside his new office, Rayburn 2314, the expansive former haunt of his legendary predecessor, the late Don Young(R), who was as obnoxious as he was sweet. The poles near the office door were still waiting for flags. The waiting room was empty except for a box of Dunkin’ Donuts, two apples on a paper plate and a new visitor’s log already containing the names of six voters – one of whom had scribbled “YAY!!!!”, presumably in celebration of Peltola’s historic election.

“I feel all nine cloud emotions,” Peltola, 49, said in perfect posture in a green leather chair. Capitol Hill bureaucracy buttercream.

“And I know it’s not a permanent state. Nothing is. Everything is temporary.

What can you do with less than four months in Congress?

Mary Peltola is about to show us.

His election alone is a major achievement in the eyes of Democrats, Native Americans, many Alaskans and even some Republicans. Peltola is the first woman to represent Alaska in the House and the first Alaskan native to represent the state in either house of Congress. She is also the first Democrat to hold the seat since the Nixon administration.

“It’s going to be impossible for me to get through this without crying,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo de Laguna tribe, said at a Tuesday reception for Peltola in a ballroom at the Kimpton Hotel. Monaco.

“I’ve known Mary for a long time,” said Lisa Murkowski, one of two Republican senators from Alaska, as she entered the ballroom. . She has courage. I am very proud today.

“Mary looks like us,” Republican Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native who also ran for House seat, said on the phone from Anchorage hours before Peltola was sworn in. “She understands what it is like to be in communities with no law enforcement, to have to pack water, to be mobbed in remote communities where you are invited to school or in church. She understands those challenges of growing up in rural Alaska.

Peltola was raised on the Kuskokwim River near Bethel, a 70-minute flight west of Anchorage, by a Nebraska father and a Yup’ik mother, whose people have fished in the area for 12,000 years. At age 6, Peltola began catching salmon commercially with his father. In her mid-twenties, after working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Peltola won a seat in the Juneau State House, where she established a reputation as an independent thinker and collaborator. After 10 years in the state house, Peltola has focused on the Kuskokwim, helping run a nearby gold mining project and advocating for endangered salmon migrations, which are the region’s economic arteries. .

Its congressman, after nearly 50 years in office, died in March, triggering a crowded special election with 48 candidates including Peltola, Sarah Palin and Santa Claus. Peltola did not make national headlines. But she had credentials and campaigned on the issues – “pro-jobs, pro-fish, pro-family and pro-choice” – with courtesy and grace. That sets her apart from the sniping between Palin and the other leading Republican candidate, Nick Begich III, whom Peltola will face again in the Nov. 8 general election.

Alaska is having the craziest election of 2022

“It all comes down to how she ran her campaign,” said former Young spokesman Zack Brown, who called Peltola “a really good person.” She “went a positive, upbeat, policy-focused campaign that made no personal attacks,” an “important” strategy in Alaska’s new ranked voting system, which is designed to encourage civility in the campaign and providing consensus winners. On the second and final ballot, enough Begich voters ranked Peltola second – and/or omitted Palin entirely – to push Peltola above the 50% winning margin.

Recently, rookie representatives have tried grandstanding and disruption in order to make a splash in Congress, but Peltola’s commitment is continuity and goodwill. She hired Young’s former chief of staff as her own, on an acting basis; his acting press secretary, who consulted on his campaign, also happens to be a Republican.

On Monday, when MSNBC host Joy Reid tried to enlist him in a partisan fight, Peltola refused.

“I’m very sensitive to how the people of MAGA feel disenfranchised, forgotten, left behind,” Peltola told Reid, adding, “If you’re American, I want to work with you. … I try to stay away. messages of fear and hate.

In her office Wednesday morning, Peltola was determined to avoid the deadly contagions of cynicism and hostility.

“Old habits die hard for me,” she said. “And I default to this softer way of engaging, and the subtle means of communication. I think a lot can be expressed through body language, facial expressions, and sweet words that maybe still have more impact than being more direct.

Beneath the aura of idealism lurks a sudden, heavy workload: a backlog of voter applications, a pile of unfinished legislative work from Young, and a push for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs the fisheries management in federal waters, plus trips back to Alaska every weekend and the ongoing campaign to keep the siege.

Everything is temporary, as Peltola says, but how temporary will his time in Congress be? Whether voters in Alaska affirm Peltola on Nov. 8 or rank candidates to reinstate a Republican, during this week in Washington, there has been bipartisan cheer around a single election. Republican senators from Alaska hugged, smiled and stood with Peltola on the floor of the House during his swearing-in ceremony. The reception that followed at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco had the warmth of a family reunion and the electric anticipation of a New Year’s Eve party.

“We came here as natives – we predate government, predate any law, predate any congress,” said Denae Benson, 26, a junior Hill employee who approached Peltola for a photo. “Yet 2022 is the first time an Alaskan native has represented the people on the body that governs them? It’s surreal that it’s taken so long, but it gives hope that the country changes and grows.

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