On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Mary Peltola, a Yup'ik woman, Democrat, and Alaskan Native, won Alaska’s special election, in a stunning defeat of Republican and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Republican Nicholas Begich III. Peltola will fill Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, taking over the last few months of Rep. Don Young’s term, as the Republican congressman passed away in March.
According to AP News, which confirmed the ranked choice election’s results, Peltola will be the first Democrat to fill Alaska’s House role since 1972. (Young held the seat for 49 years, since 1973.) Peltola is also making history as the first woman and the first Alaskan Native to be elected an Alaskan Congressperson.
Considering Alaska’s beautiful landscape and wildlife, many Alaskans may be wondering about Mary Peltola’s position on the climate crisis, as well as other political matters. Keep reading to learn all about Mary Peltola, her career background, and where she stands on the issues.
Mary Peltola’s' background: She is Yup’ik and an Alaskan Native.
Mary Peltola was born in Alaska on August 31, 1973 — exactly 49 years to the day before Wednesday’s victory. “I don’t think there will be another birthday like today,” Peltola stated on Election Day, as per AP News.
Peltola was raised on the Kuskokwim River in Kwethluk, Tuntutuliak, Platinum, and Bethel, according to her campaign website. She began fishing at the age of 6, and is still passionate about fishing to this day.
Peltola is a Yup’ik woman. The Yup’ik are Indigenous Arctic people, according to Britannica, or Alaska Native peoples from Southwest Alaska, according to Travel Alaska. Peltola is known for her calm composure, which Mother Jones notes is a principle of the Yup’ik people.
"The region where I'm from, there is a big premium on being respectful, on not using inflammatory language or harsh tones," she told NPR, explaining why she never attacked her competition during the campaign. In fact, Peltola and Palin are friends, as they both worked in the State House, and were both pregnant mothers at the same time, according to Alaska Public.
Mary Peltola's career background: The politician has held a variety of roles.
After attending college, at the age of 22, Peltola started interning with the Alaska legislature. Then, in 1999, Peltola was elected to the Alaska State House of Representatives, representing the Bethel region, when she was just 24 years old.
Since she left the State House 23 years ago, Peltola has worked a variety of jobs, including as the manager of community development and sustainability for Donlin Creek Mine; a councilwoman for the Bethel City Council; as a state lobbyist; and as the executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fish Commission, as per Alaskan news outlet KTOO.
What is Mary Peltola’s stance on climate change and other issues?
On Peltola’s campaign website, she states that she is “adamantly Pro-Jobs, Pro-Fish, Pro-Family, and Pro-Choice,” highlighting those as her key issues.
She has also made it clear that protecting the climate is another important issue to her, often drawing attention to communities in Alaska that are disproportionately hurt by climate change, as noted by Mother Jones.
“We are living with the effects of climate change; where I’m from, the effects are devastating,” Peltola stated on her website. “While we adapt to our changing environment, we need national leadership that prioritizes solutions as large as the problem we face.”
Peltola is a big advocate of fishing — an industry that contributes to a number of negative environmental side effects, including the slaughter of wild marine animals, plastic pollution, overheating oceans, and more. That said, she supports “efforts to reduce the wasteful bycatch of Alaska’s seafood by Seattle-based high seas fishing corporations.”
Peltola also supports efforts to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine and other future mines, as it “would pose an existential risk to the greatest sockeye salmon run in the world,” she stated on her website. She has pledged to work on creating permanent protections for Bristol Bay in Congress.
Throughout her campaign, Peltola has stated the importance of bolstering food security by building a more resilient food system; as well as improving ocean productivity, as per AP News.
Peltola has also stated her full support for: protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ Alaskans and passing the Equality Act; fully protecting abortion rights in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned; and strengthening access to healthcare, as per her website.
All that being said, she is typically categorized as a moderate Democrat, and during the election, she stated that she hoped Alaska’s ranked choice voting system would put more moderate candidates in office, as per AP News.
When will Mary Peltola be sworn into office?
According to KTOO, Peltola will probably be sworn into office the week of Sept. 12, though a precise date has not yet been determined.