Who is Mary Peltola? Democrat becomes first Alaska Native elected to Congress

Alaska Democrat Mary Peltola made history this week, becoming the state's first Alaska Native member of Congress. Peltola beat out former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a special U.S. House election. But who is she?

Peltola is a Yup'ik Alaska Native, and grew up on the state's Kuskokwim River, according to her campaign website. She began fishing at 6 years old and worked as a herring and salmon technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game while in college. She is a self-proclaimed salmon advocate, as the fish is a big part of Alaska's culture and its third-largest industry.

Her political career began at age 22, when she interned with the Alaska legislature and ran for office that same year. While she lost that race, two years later she became a state representative for Alaska's Bethel region. She was a state representative from 1999 to 2006.

She developed a reputation in office and on the campaign trail for being kind, reported local TV station KTOO.

"The region where I'm from, there is a big premium on being respectful, on not using inflammatory language or harsh tones, not speaking to things that you haven't seen with your own eyes or heard with your own ears, you know, hearsay, not gossiping," she told the station. "I think that those are really good principles to live by."

While in the legislature, she helped rebuild and became chair of Alaska's Bush Caucus, a nonpartisan group of legislators that focuses on rural communities. She later worked as executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and helped tribe members and rural Alaskans advocate for the protection of salmon season fishing in Western Alaska.

She also worked for Alaska Humanities Forum's Alaska Salmon Fellowship, which was created to help resolve issues in the industry like "racial justice, the urban-rural divide, and balancing sustainability against the needs of resource development."

When asked by Alaska public radio station KTOO about her stance on abortion, Peltola said: "Everyone deserves quality health care. That includes access to safe, legal abortions, with no exceptions. A repeal of abortion access would disproportionately impact people of color and low-income women who already experience unfair barriers to health care. I will fight to codify Roe v. Wade and guarantee the right to individual choice."

During her campaign for the special U.S. House election, Peltola's campaign raised just $379,088 and spent $254,299. That is much lower than what most campaigns spend, including her competitors, such as Sarah Palin, who raised more than $1 million and spent $996,291, according to Ballotpedia.

In June, after Peltola won the primary, Republican media consultant Art Hackney commended her campaign for its spending. At the time, she had spent less than $40,000 by May 22. "I give the Peltola team huge marks for ending up where they're at," he told KTOO. "I just think Mary's an impressive person," Hackney said.

Though she won the special election, she'll only be in Congress for the few months left in the late Rep. Don Young's term — unless she wins a full two-year term in November, when she will again face Palin and Republican Nick Begich III. Peltola and Palin have been friends for years — Palin even called her "a beautiful soul" after Peltola's win Wednesday, Alaska Public Media reported.

Peltola has four children. Two are members of the U.S. Coast Guard, and she is married to Gene Peltola. She also happened to win her race in the U.S.'s 49th state on her 49th birthday, Aug. 31.

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