In an interview with 50 States of Blue, Kansas candidate Sharice Davids said that overcoming “firsts” such as being the first Native American woman in Congress “depends on us creating more opportunities.”
Sharice Davids is running to be the first Native American woman to hold congressional office. As the Democratic candidate for Kansas’s 3rd District, she’s up against a career politician who is funded by the NRA and other corporate interests.
Davids hopes that her mix of political work, using a law degree from Cornell to defend small communities, and competing as an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter will turn some heads. She announced her campaign three weeks ago, and has rapidly established herself as one of the most intriguing candidates of 2018.
I sat down with Davids to ask about who she is, what she stands for, and why the Arrowverse TV shows are so compelling. Yes, really.
Who is Sharice Davids, and where did you come from?
My mom was in the Army from when I was born until after I got out of high school. I went to school at Leavenworth, then Haskell Indian Nation University, and then the University of Missouri Kansas City, before going to Cornell for law school.
After Cornell, I came back home and took a position at Dentons, which is one of the largest law firms in the world. I did mergers and acquisitions and private equity. Then I started doing entrepreneurship on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and that’s when my corporate learnings started being applied to community development.
I was interacting with the federal government a lot because things that are tribal are inherently federal. I pursued a White House Fellowship and spent time in D.C. doing that during the Obama-Trump transition.
'On the coast, folks look at Kansas and see a red box. Kansas has a rich history of progressive ideals and change-making.'
I worked on high-level policy work in the Secretary of Transportation’s office. I increased the transparency of the process so people affected by policy could understand how these laws came to be. It’s complicated, and people having a better understanding of how that works helps them get the impact.
Having been there during the transition I saw – this is funny to say – some benefits to our bureaucracy. We can’t make massive positive change quickly, but we saw how hard it is to make bad changes in the same time frame.
I saw how important it is to have qualified people in positions of power in the federal government. I saw how the policies being rolled out impact people on the ground – and a disconnect between D.C. and the rest of the country. That’s the short answer of why I’m doing this: I saw that disconnect.
You’ve mentioned that Kansas is a hotbed of activity. It’s a place where a lot of things can get experimented on (including our economy), so there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad that can’t happen elsewhere.
Is Kansas the place to try this, and can you pass legislation to further us?
On the coast, folks look at Kansas and see a red box. Kansas has a rich history of progressive ideals and change-making. We have forward-looking people hoping to shift the narrative, not just to make people think Kansas is a great place, but that we’re looking to the future.
We wanted elected officials that are being innovative and just get stuff done. Unfortunately, innovative at this point just means getting stuff done. My memory of recent political history is that Congress has been stagnant. The “us versus them” mentality is a zero-sum game that no one can win. That approach doesn’t feel right.
You grew up as the daughter of a single mother Army vet and as a Native American: was your upbringing complicated?
'I grew up expecting that I would join the Army or the Marines. I asked my mom which group had the hardest training and I said I would do that.'
It gave me a lot of perspective. Sometimes people would ask me if I missed having a father. I love my mom and I couldn’t have asked for a better parent. I feel the same thing about being a Native person. I have uncles and grandfathers and cousins who all served in the military. People in my tribe have also served.
That gave me a perspective because I think that’s why I feel empowered to do things. I’ve seen how individuals can participate in this society as members of the government, and military service is a part of that. And when a community is affected, especially negative federal policies, I have the opportunity as an American citizen to participate and change that.
That’s always been my mindset. Here are things that have negatively impacted Native people and this is how I can change that. And I grew up expecting that I would join the Army or the Marines. I asked my mom which group had the hardest training and I said I would do that.
You seem to always take the hardest road on purpose.
There’s lots of reasons to join the military. When I talked to my mom about it, she asked if I was doing it to serve my country, and even just asking that question as a teenager forces you to figure out your life. I’m trying to make a positive impact wherever I go.
As a former MMA fighter, do you promise to kick some ass in D.C. for Kansans?
I’m not going to take any… blank, if you know what I mean. I think having a background in martial arts keeps you even. If you’re training or sparring or you get it, you can’t get angry about it. You have to think: how do I stop this thing from happening again?
What are your favorite TV shows?
'I like a good multiverse. I’m a big fan of sci-fi and I like the idea of meta-humans and anything with time travel.'
My brother and I are very big fans of the Arrowverse. “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Arrow” and so on. I like a good multiverse. I’m a big fan of sci-fi and I like the idea of meta-humans and anything with time travel. “Legends” really hits that for me. I like “Dark Matter.” All the “Stargate” shows. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to watch TV moving forward, so please don’t spoil anything for me!
What is your big plan for Kansas?
Over the course of the next few years, we’re going to see an amazing time for Democrats and women running for office. We need more women running for office and 2018 is going to be great for that. Other groups need better representation too, nationally.
There’s a building-out of young candidates, and I mean young people coming from non-political backgrounds, and that demonstrates that Kansas has got some strong candidates coming out of the gate who are excited to do the hard work.
What are your thoughts on your opponent, Kevin Yoder?
'We're going up against a guy who got like $500 from people, and the rest of his money comes from the NRA and payday loans, and I don't think that represents the district.'
This is a microcosm for what’s happening nationally. I have a completely different perspective and a variety of experiences that have brought me to this place. I’ve participated in federal policy creation, I have a corporate legal background, and I can say that I will be a very effective legislator because I understand what happens on the ground.
Kevin Yoder is a career politician. I have a grassroots campaign with a lot of people who are excited for change. We’re going up against a guy who got like $500 from people, and the rest of his money comes from the NRA and payday loans, and I don’t think that represents the district. It’s a microcosm for the decisions that the country needs to make right now. Large corporate interests.
What are your thoughts on gun control? Your military background makes you an informed voice on this.
I grew up around guns. When you live rurally, lots of people have guns. My mom was a police officer. Her history with guns has informed my opinion about the importance of weapons.
I have respect for the power that guns hold. I could quote “Spider Man” here about power and responsibility. There should be extensive background checks. People who committed domestic violence shouldn’t have guns. I don’t understand people who hunt and go to the range and need an assault rifle. I think we’ve gone way off course on our conversation about guns.
'I have respect for the power that guns hold. I could quote “Spider Man” here about power and responsibility.'
Here’s my most important point: we need to be able to study the problem. Any businessperson knows what’s important in their business because of metrics. So why can’t the CDC even keep track of data related to guns? It makes it impossible to have a discussion based on any data. The CDC needs to be able to have data.
How is it possible that you would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress? That seems… otherworldly.
A friend from the East Coast asked me that question. There’s been a few men but no women. One woman in Montana ran and lost. There are currently three Native Americans running around the country.
The fact that we’re still having “firsts” in 2018 just boggles the mind. I hope that soon we are not in the place where we’re still having “firsts,” and that depends on us creating more opportunities.
On Wednesday, Chris Haulmark, a deaf activist who was previously a candidate for the 3rd District, gave Davids an endorsement. Haulmark is putting his support behind Davids to create the same kind of change he hoped to enact.
Chris is a passionate and effective advocate, who has had a huge impact on our community. I am honored that he would trust me to represent his voice in Congress and I am so proud to have his endorsement. _SD
Posted by Sharice for Congress on Wednesday, March 7, 2018
You can volunteer for Davids’s campaign at this link.