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Democrat Mary Peltola makes history as first Alaskan native elected to Congress

Alaska elected its first Native person to federal office after Democrat Mary Peltola won a runoff to fill the remainder of late Republican Rep. Don Young’s term.

Peltola is a former state legislator and a Yup’ik Eskimo. She beat two well-known Republicans — former Gov. Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, whose family has deep roots in Alaskan politics — in the Aug. 16 runoff, the results of which were certified Wednesday.

The election was ranked by choice, a system in which voters list candidates in order of preference. If no one wins the majority of the first place rankings, the last one is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the voters’ second choices. The process can be repeated until one candidate obtains a majority.

In an interview with HuffPost in July, Peltola said she felt a connection to Young, who was the longest-serving member of the House when he died in March, having served as the only member of Congress in the State since 1973.

“[My parents] campaigned for Don when my mother was pregnant with me. So I always felt very close to Don Young, of course, but also to headquarters,” Peltola said, describing the connection as a “really funny, quirky, and very Alaskan coincidence.”

“I always knew how long Don had been in the job because it was my age plus 1,” she said.

It remains to be seen whether Peltola will be able to continue to hold the seat after the 117th Congress ends in January. The runoff to determine who would finish Young’s term also set November’s ballot for a full two-year term in the House. In this election, Peltola is expected to face Palin and Begich again, but his tenure could give him a slight edge by then.

Peltola told HuffPost in July that her big issues include declining salmon runs and their impact on people in rural Alaska.

“We would have so many fish that you couldn’t process them. And now we’re worried we don’t have enough,” she said.

“This is a huge problem for the entire state of Alaska. That’s all the rivers in the state.

The decrease is linked to the climate crisis, she argued, and Congress has failed to update laws governing commercial fishing to reflect new environmental realities.

Peltola also supports efforts to codify Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide — into federal law. She said her stance on abortion rights aligns with how most Alaskans view the issue, especially after the landmark ruling was overturned in June.

“Alaskans, we have a libertarian bent,” Peltola said, citing a poll that suggests a majority of voters in the state support abortion rights. “We all have a tendency not to be interested in you, regardless of your party affiliation,” she continued.

“Alaska Natives have a history, like many minority cultures, of being sterilized against our knowledge and without consent,” she added. “So reproductive rights… mean a lot to me. It is a human right.

Peltola said she knows her background as an Alaska Native will make her stand out in the race.

“I am very clear and candid when speaking with constituents: I am a Native woman from rural Alaska, but I intend to represent all Alaskans, regardless of ethnicity, geographic background, partisan background or their religion,” she said.

Peltola said her experience could help provide a new, longer-term perspective on some issues.

“Most salmon stocks around the world have been decimated in 100 years, which seems like an eternity to most Americans,” she said.

“But I think if you look at other demographics, 100 is nothing.”

The Huffington Gt

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