Coming out of the wilderness and getting back to the kind of balance that brought Western Dems to power won't be easy, but in this state, there's at least one candidate who isn't waiting around and wants to surf the blue wave right into the Governor's office.
Shake Paulette Jordan’s hand and you likely won’t forget it. Her handshake is firm enough to be just shy of crushing, and she’s an expert at that disarming, straight-in-the-eye engagement. Jordan wants to make sure you know that she sees you. She’s tall — just under 6 feet — and her years on the basketball court compound the air of dominance with which she navigates a room. You could call it cocky. Or you could just use the word her supporters use: confident.
On a blustery day in March, Jordan is in Boise, Idaho, for an evening fundraiser featuring local indie-rock darlings Built to Spill. She’s spent a fair amount of time in the state capital, both as a representative of her tribe, the Coeur d’Alene, and the tribes of the Northwest, but also as a member of the Idaho state legislature.
But Boise isn’t home. That’s up north, in the Idaho Panhandle, just outside of Plummer, Idaho, where her family grows timothy hay and bluegrass. As a teen, Jordan’s parents or grandparents drove her an hour each way, every day, to go to school at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Washington — a city where another Democrat, Lisa Brown, is making national headlines running as a candidate in an area previously assumed to be a Republican stronghold.
“Lisa Brown is really great,” Jordan told me at a coffee shop just blocks away from the capitol building. “She’s a nice lady. But I don’t do nice. That’s not me.”
At 38, after serving just two terms as a state representative, Jordan is not a conventional gubernatorial candidate. Until she resigned to dedicate herself full-time to running for governor, she was the only left-leaning legislator from North Idaho to survive the 2016 Trump wave that took out even the most established Democrats in the area. She’s a progressive, but declines comparisons to Bernie Sanders; she’s a woman of color, running to become the US’s first Native American governor, in a state that is 82% white. In the Idaho house, she refused to toe the party line. She’s referred to state Rep. Heather Scott, a far-right legislator and favorite liberal enemy, as a friend.
And while the bulk of the Idaho Democratic establishment has endorsed Jordan’s opponent, Boise school board member A.J. Balukoff, Jordan has earned the support of the progressive PAC Democracy for America, Planned Parenthood, Our Revolution, and was among the first five candidates endorsed on the national level by Indivisible. In January, Jordan was asked to speak at the national Women’s March gathering in Las Vegas; while there, she met and was endorsed by Cher.
Her candidacy has come to symbolize the breadth of the post-Trump wave of candidates who are energizing Democrats on both the local and national levels. When Mic ran a brief piece about Jordan in January, it stamped a picture of Jordan with “Young, Progressive, and Running.” At least 250,000 people shared or liked the piece on Facebook — several thousand more than live in all of North Idaho.
Jordan’s not a centrist or a moderate, nor is she a veteran or a handsome white guy with two kids, like many of the candidates who have been forwarded by the Democratic Party to win over swing states and districts. And she’s not intimidated by calls, such as those from her opponent, that she should bide her time. “I think I bring more experience this time around and had leadership roles that Paulette hasn’t had,” Balukoff, who previously ran for governor in 2014, told Idaho Politics Weekly. “I think people should stay with me this time around. She may be what we need next time.”
“We’ve seen this attitude all across the country, especially with female candidates,” Jordan said in reference to the article, which had been published just days before. “We saw it with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We see it now. People say, well, not this time. But my grandmothers were always at the forefront. They’d say, we make the difference we want to see.”
Jordan has caught the national eye as a Native woman, and a progressive at that, who is vying to make history in a conservative state. In Idaho, however, she’s marketed herself as an independent, straight-talking, ranch-raised woman, in touch with the needs of people outside of urban areas and willing to work across the aisle to find solutions that work. But ahead of the May 15 primary, she still needs to persuade Idaho Democrats — many of whom remain convinced of their party’s impotency and irrelevance across the state — that the person they choose to run in a long-shot race against Republicans actually matters.
I have no idea if Jordan can succeed outgoing GOP Gov. Butch Otter, , who is hanging up his hat after 3 terms, let alone win her primary against Balukoff. But keep an eye on her. She's the kind of candidate the Dems need right now and in the future.