Sharice Davids, a 2010 graduate of Cornell Law School, won a historic victory on Tuesday when she became one of two Native American women elected to Congress and the first openly gay representative from Kansas.
Davids, a Democrat and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, defeated four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd District, which includes the Kansas City area. Final results show Davids captured 53 percent of the vote, while Yoder received 44 percent and a Libertarian candidate took 3 percent.
“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think about Kansas,” Davids told supporters at her victory party in a hotel in Olathe, Kan. “We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone, and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, and today, we showed that.”
Raised by a single mother who was an Army drill sergeant, Davids attributed her success to hard work and a focus on education. “I worked from Johnson County Community College to Cornell for law school and then onto the Obama White House, and that opportunity stems from access to quality public education,” she said.
Davids announced her candidacy on February 15, the day after a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at a high school in Parkland, Florida. During her race, she made gun control and health care the two main issues of her campaign.
She entered a crowded field just six months before the August primary, after the Democratic frontrunner left the race because of a sexual harassment scandal. With financial support from EMILY’s List, a group that works to elect progressive women, Davids won the six-way contest, even though one of her opponents was a former Bernie Sanders staffer who drew the former presidential candidate to Kansas to campaign for him.
“From the beginning, this campaign has been built on bringing new leaders to the table and new voices to the table,” Davids said at her victory party on Tuesday. ‘And I am so honored to stand here today knowing that I will fill that role for our community here in January.”
Davids shares the distinction of becoming the first Native American woman elected to Congress with Debra Haaland, another Democrat who won a House seat in New Mexico’s 1st District. Both were part of a record number of 98 women who were elected to the House on Tuesday.
A month after entering the race, Davids visited Cornell Law School last March to give the keynote talk for the Women’s Law Coalition’s Career Day at Myron Taylor Hall. Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver, Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, introduced her by saying, “Sharice is a fighter—I mean that figuratively. You see it in her incredible life story. But I also mean it literally.”
As Peñalver pointed out, Davids is a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, and while attending Cornell Law School, she trained with coaches in Cortland and Syracuse. She later became a professional MMA fighter and travelled around the country competing in the women’s division.