Flagstaff, AZ – Mary Kim Titla's history-making Congressional bid grew out of very humble beginnings. Her father was just 16 when she was born. She grew up in a two room house without electricity or plumbing. Speaking at a recent forum on the Navajo Nation, she said her poor upbringing sets her apart from the other candidates.
"I think what is important when you elect someone to Congress is that they understand the struggles that you've been through. I've lived the same struggle. A lot of other people can say,'I saw the struggle, I see the struggle.' I think that's a big difference," Titla said.
Arizona's 1st Congressional District spans seven Indian reservations, and is nearly one quarter Native American. Titla says it's time Arizona had a Native American representative in Congress.
"What I want to do is be a voice for the Native people. For 60 years since we had the right to vote we've been electing non-Indians to Congress. I think it's time that we have one of our own who can go in there and really speak out about our issues," Titla said.
Titla is not the first Native American to run in the 1st District. Unlike past candidates who appealed mainly to Native voters, Titla thinks she can win enough of the crossover vote to take the election. She says her more conservative beliefs on social issues, including her pro-life stance, will play well among more conservative Democrats and independents in rural parts of the district.
"I do have certain values and convictions that I've carried with me since I was a child. Tt was based on the way I was raised, on the reservation, my parents who had very strong beliefs. A lot of it has to do with my culture. When I talk to people I tell them that for the most part the Apache people have always been pro-life," Titla said.
Titla is a self-described moderate Democrat. She supports easing restrictions on oil refineries and is open to offshore drilling, as long as it's balanced with increased investment in renewable technologies.
Like other Democrats, she wants to withdraw troops from Iraq quickly, but she is also a military mom. Her son is about to be deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army.
"My son is certainly following in the footsteps of my family members who served in the military, and it's an honorable thing to do for Indian people. They view it as carrying on this warrior tradition," Titla said.
"But as someone who's running for office, I have to be rational about it that way. I'm going to make decisions based on what is best for our country," Titla added.
Titla believes all voters in the district, not just Native Americans, identify with her personal story. She put herself through college, and emphasizes hard work and personal responsibility. She broke racial barriers in her nearly 20-year career in TV news in Phoenix, but Titla says race hasn't been a major issue in the campaign.
A large portion of the money she's raised, more than $100,000, has come from Indian tribes across the country. Most of her endorsements are from Native American leaders, including Pete Homer, who directs the National Indian Business Association.
"She is a person with impeccable character and integrity. I think she will represent Arizona people very well. When I see Mary Kim Titla, she presents to me someone exciting, someone who has the education and background to do responsible government," Homer said.