Woman. Native American. Mother. Lawmaker. Activist. Disruptor. Categorize (or worse yet, marginalize) Paulette Jordan at your own risk. Her already-historic run to be the nation's first Native American governor and Idaho's first female chief executive has upended traditional Gem State politics at nearly every turn.
Follow Jordan for several days, and it's likely that you'll spot her in intimate settings rather than at a never-ending string of massive campaign rallies. Yes, you'll hear her stump for increased economic opportunity, Medicaid expansion and support for affordable health care, like most Democrats. But you'll also likely hear her talk about her staunch support of Second Amendment rights, which she says go hand-in-glove with what she calls her deep-set values for hunting and fishing rights.
In living rooms, kitchens, church basements and meeting halls across Idaho, you'll hear Jordan conversing in hushed tones with probable supporters who tell her they haven't voted in an Idaho election in many years. She won't hesitate to tell you that her own perceived path to the Idaho Statehouse may not be the road most traveled, adding that it has been paved mostly by those who have been, too often, kicked to the curb in elections past.
To be sure, Jordan has her detractors, including some in her own Democratic party, who have pointed to a Sept. 20 article in the Idaho Statesman that scorched Jordan's campaign like a prairie fire. The story, penned by Idaho Press Club 2017 Reporter of the Year Cynthia Sewell, linked the resignation of Michael Rosenow, who'd been Jordan's campaign manager since July, to concerns over the campaign's alleged ties to a political action committee, the Strength and Progress PAC, which has accepted donations from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. Jordan's campaign was quick to state that it "had received no support in any way from Strength and Progress." That said, the article consumed a considerable amount of campaign oxygen in the days that followed.
With the Statesman story still casting a shadow across the political landscape, particularly on social media, Jordan agreed to an on-the-record conversation with Boise Weekly. We spoke of the much-talked-about report and more, including Jordan's challenges against long-established political machines, some in her own party.
Fill in the blank. The campaign is going...
Stronger than ever. We're going to ensure that people are focused on the issues at hand, which are far more important than rumors or rhetoric displayed in the media, this time in the Statesman. There are great people at the Statesman, but this time they got it wrong. People are counting on us to be stronger leaders, regardless of the rhetoric or the rumors or the sensationalism that we have, even here in Idaho.
- Harrison Berry
- Paulette Jordan
So, let's get into that Statesman story. The newspaper is still considered by many to be the paper of record. People in all corners of the state probably went online to read it.
But [they] may have just read the headline and picked out one or two things.
I don't know Cynthia Sewell personally, but I know her professionally to be a superb journalist. What's wrong with the Statesman's story?
You always want to stick to facts. First of all, I'm here to defend the integrity of the media, but then you have those bad actors who want to drive home baseless rumors that they want to latch onto. In this case, it was Cynthia's story; and the biggest piece of that story that she latched onto didn't include her doing the research or hearing our side of the story. I think that takes some digging instead of taking some anonymous email and riding with it. Of course, she's going to be fed all kinds of rhetoric from the Republican Party and they're going to smear our campaign and our good will in every way possible. Yes, it's the nature of politics that I'm most mad about.
But what's the bottom line of the relationship of the Strength and Progress super PAC and your campaign?
First off, I hear from people all the time that they're not even aware of what a PAC is. And because of that, I think they're trying to use that against us. And the "they" that I'm talking about is the Republican Party. It's interesting to note that even in the Republican Party, funds from corporations [and] wealthy billionaire taxpayers are helping candidates through their super PACs. I think that's why we have such a capricious perception of elections being bought. But in this case, it's a tribe, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, a sovereign entity, that has created this PAC, which is certainly above level. It's their right. It's a very legal process.
- Harrison Berry
- Paulette Jordan
But in the wake of the Statesman report, there has been a fair amount of dialogue, primarily on social media, about transparency.
We've been very forthright. On this campaign, we cannot take any money from that PAC, nor will we. We've been going strong on this, yet it's not being reported. We've been taking money from the people. We've had over 12,000 people who have, individually, given an average of about $40 per person. I think that's pretty exceptional. Why would you not report that? Fundraising may seem impossible, but there are a lot of people who are far more progressive and far more independent than there are Democrats or Republicans.
That said, fundraising is critical, and it's particularly difficult for a Democrat to raise a lot of money in Idaho.
I try to promote a grassroots movement, which is why rely on 1,000 volunteers giving their personal time and their own resources to invest in our campaign. And donations? I'll have someone give $3, $5, even $5,000. And yes, our story has drawn some national attention, building into a wider, national conversation. I know that in the Statesman story, they were harping on the fact that I was in California [earlier this month]. Well, California invited us there. They wanted to support Idaho by helping us in our message.
One more note about money. We're now less than six weeks until the election. Television ads are very expensive. Will you be pushing out a good many TV spots soon?
We'll see, but I'm part of a younger generation that's not really beholden to TV. I don't watch TV and I don't know anyone who does, other than, say, Netflix or Hulu.
So you're ripping that page out of the playbook?
I've created my own playbook.
Speaking of which, I think it's fair to say that most political playbooks are still the work of old, white men.
My playbook... Well, we're writing history at the same time, aren't we? We're definitely breaking molds and barriers. But it's important to be steady as possible at the same time. For me, it's about being very cautious but being very bold.
- Harrison Berry
- Paulette Jordan
When you say you're "cautious" in your steps, what exactly are you talking about?
Cautious because you're always going to be burdened with [low] standards and hypocrisy.
Because you're a woman?
And a person of color. And living in a conservative state. For instance, people assume that I'm not a gun owner. Well, I am a gun owner. They forget that my roots are here in Idaho, that I have children, a family from here. They forget that I'm a landowner. I know the issues directly because I'm directly connected to the issues. There are those who honestly think, "She should wait her turn. It's not her time. A woman still won't got elected in this day and age. She should wait a few years until Idaho gets more progressive."
I don't know if this will surprise you or not, but a week or two before the May Democratic gubernatorial primary, there were members of your own party, pretty high up in the ranks, who approached me in an effort to push out a negative story about your campaign.
I'm not surprised at all. Look, folks here in Idaho need a lot of help. And they're not asking for a handout. They're asking for someone to defend them and protect them, to give them some kind of hope, to believe again. They watch what I'm going through, and they can relate to these arrows of hypocrisy, arrows of shame. People are turned off by the media. They don't want to believe what they read or see anymore. That's rather shameful, because people should have trust in their government. And the media? They're supposed to be the front-line defenders. But when all of that is working against you, you know that you're flowing backwards. You have to right the ship for the better. That's what I'm here for. I've had people come up to me and say they haven't voted since Carter, or voted since Reagan, and then they tell me that they'll have good reason to vote again. If you look at my background, my heritage, it's always about fighting for independence and the rights of all people.
- Harrison Berry
- Paulette Jordan
I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about two major propositions also on the ballot this November. Let's talk first about the effort to expand Medicaid.
I've been firmly in favor of this everywhere I go. Expanding Medicaid is not only the right thing to do, it's fiscally responsible; it's even fiscally conservative. When you compare me to my opponent, it couldn't be more clear that I'm the champion and clear advocate when it comes to Medicaid expansion.
And Proposition 1, advocating for the return of betting machines at Idaho race tracks?
I'm firmly against it. I remind people that this is not an initiative to legalize horse racing. It's an initiative to legalize slot machines.
You've talked a bit about how you're writing your own playbook. So, do you see your path to victory as a very specific, targeted campaign, or is it a wide-berth, all-in statewide barrage?
I have something that no other candidate has, that no one can ever replicate. I've got a direct connection to people that can't be judged or challenged. People think we're going to buy a ton of ads, buy a lot more political junk. They think we're going to try to manipulate the media and that that, somehow, will sway people's minds. When people come up to me and tell me how they can win me over, I'll say, "You're wasting your time." My only path to success is by rolling up my sleeves, getting into the communities and fighting for those who are most vulnerable. Honestly, you can either stand on the sideline, side with corruption or cronyism, or side with those who fight for freedom and independence.
One last note, and stop me if you think this is a bit personal. I saw a photograph of you—I'm pretty certain it was last Christmas—and the picture must have been taken by a friend or relative. It was just a few days after you decided to run for governor, and you and your sons were in a bit of a snowstorm outside of a small church in northern Idaho.
My mom took that picture. It was just after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It's was a blinding snowstorm. In church that night, everyone was just praying on me. I had just announced, and that night, the people in church said, "We're with you. You may not always see us as you travel across Idaho in the coming months, but we're always here and we're always with you."
To that end, can you speak to a campaign needing you to travel as much as possible while also asking you to take time away from your two sons?
It gets me a bit emotional. I get sensitive when it comes to them. I appreciate you asking the question. I'm just not decided if people should ask you about your kids. They're everything to me. Sometimes I don't get home until 10 p.m., but they're in bed by 9 o'clock. Sometimes I'll wake them to give them a kiss and be there in the morning before school. That's the driving force: just knowing to spend as many waking moments as possible together. They tell me that they love to talk about what I'm doing at school; and they'll tell me how important it is to them that their mom is revered and respected. And they tell me they're a big part of that.