Eat your heart out, Liz Warren. New Mexico’s Rep. Yvette Herrell really is a Cherokee.
Unlike Warren, Herrell, 56, though proud of her (genuine) Cherokee lineage, has never sought to capitalize on it. “I got tickled because we never brought that up when I was campaigning. I was just a candidate running from my district. After I won, the media made a big fuss out of it.”
The big fuss included such headlines as this one: “Wins for indigenous candidates in Congress give hopes for change,” in a New Mexico newspaper. The story touted winners across the nation, including Herrell’s fellow New Mexico politician Democrat Rep. Deb Haaland, who has been nominated for Secretary of the Interior.
What does Herrell make about the media fascination with her heritage? She says she feels “blessed” that she was eligible for membership in the Cherokee Nation, but laughingly adds, “I was always a little nervous about that, thinking people might say ‘Okay, now she’s trying to be Elizabeth Warren,’ but my family really belongs to the Cherokee Nation.”
Excuse me, Yvette Herrell: You do not need to worry about being mistaken for Massachusetts’ ultra-liberal, faux Cherokee senator.
Though proud of her (genuine) Cherokee lineage, Herrell has never sought to capitalize on it.
Herrell has long sought such goals as reducing burdensome rules and job-destroying regulations. She has her work cut out for her now that the Biden administration has declared war on fossil fuels. Moreover, Herrell backed the border wall, believes a fracking ban would be disastrous and staunchly opposes the Green New Deal.
Before running for Congress, Herrell served four terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives before defeating Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in November. It was Herrell’s and Torres Small’s second match up. They ran against each other for the seat in 2018. Herrell appeared to have won on election night, but absentee ballots subsequently handed Torres Small the victory.
Herrell did not contest the results, but her campaign and a consulting firm issued a report that claimed that “nongovernmental groups are almost certainly engaging in at best aggressive—and at worst fraudulent—procurement of absentee ballot applications.” Herrell quickly decided to run again. “I really prayed about it, and I called a lot of our supporters and grassroots people and donors,” she says. “Everybody was so supportive, and I knew it was the right thing to do. We announced in January 2019. So, it feels like we’ve been running for office forever.” Herrell would, not unexpectedly, like to see reform of the voting system, including requiring voter IDs.
Herrell was born and raised in the district she will represent in Congress. Her father was in real estate, property development, and insurance. Yvette graduated from Cloudcroft High School in the village of Cloudcroft, a picturesque spot with shops, bars and restored buildings that Fodor’s once rated as the third “Most Overlooked and Underrated Destination Spot” in the U.S.
She is one of the new breed representatives who break Washington’s Ivy League mold. She has a legal secretary diploma from ITT Technical Institute School of Business in Idaho. She followed her father into the real estate business. “I always joke around and tell people that I was flipping houses before it became a TV show, before it became really fun like that. But I’ve been lucky. Over the years, I’ve owned and operated several different businesses. So, I really understand the aspect of what the cost of business is. And I tell people all time, even during the pandemic, that the cost of business doesn’t go away, and so we have to be very mindful of what this struggle looks like for our small businesses. And so, in the last several years, I’ve been in real estate. We had a real estate office, my dad and I, and then we sold it, five years ago, when I ran for Congress the first time. I knew I wouldn’t have time. But I kept my license active with the company that bought it. I was the owner of an earthwork company—a heavy equipment operating company, an insurance adjusting company, and a boarding kennel.”
She is one of the new breed legislators who are breaking Washington’s Ivy League stranglehold.
About that boarding kennel—Herrell is nuts about dogs. “For years and years, I raised and showed dogs, different breeds. I actually showed dogs for a lot of other people. I handle dogs. And then I had an opportunity to buy a piece of property and put in a really great boarding kennel. And it was just such a fun time and very successful, but a lot of work… I just have one Great Dane. I’ve always been a lover of large dogs. I’ve always had Bullmastiffs or Great Danes, and now I just have one big great Dane left, and now she just shares her time between my house and my parent’s house because I’m gone so much with the campaign and now going up to D.C. So, it’s kind of fun, though.”
Reba, Herrell’s Great Dane, was originally supposed to be just a visitor. “I actually adopted her from a Great Dane rescue,” she says. “And I was just going to foster her for a little while because I had another big Great Dane, and I just wanted just a friend for him just on and off. That was seven years ago, and she’s still here. I call it a foster failure, but others call it a foster success. She’s the greatest dog ever, and I’m just the dog nut.”
Herrell has a small motorhome. After Katrina, she piled her three Bullmastiffs into the RV and drove to Louisiana to help. “I went down to help with the de-musting of the houses,” she elaborates. “And I worked with FEMA to help relocate people. It was really fascinating. I went down six times to Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina. And then I traveled a lot in my little motorhome with Habitat for Humanity and built homes in Colorado and Missouri and Texas. So, I’ve just been very blessed and been able to meet a lot of different people and see a lot of the country and do some things that are a little bit different.”
Herrell had always been interested in politics, but her decision to become more involved, which led to selling the kennel, was in part triggered by 9/11. “When 9/11 happened, I think there were two reactions. One was disbelief about our nation being attacked. But I think a lot of folks also thought, ‘I need to get back in church and I need to be paying attention.’ I had been raised in a Christian home, but like a lot of people, I had started not going to church as often as I should. But 9/11 got my attention. I immediately got right back into church, and then I started getting really engaged with the political aspect of things.”
She started seriously volunteering in campaigns and in 2010 ran for a seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives. She won and served in the state House from 2011 until 2019. She quickly carved out a place as a leading conservative in a state with a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators. “I felt like I had a heart for serving,” she says, “and I appreciated the opportunities that I had when I was in the state legislature. I joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) right away, and was able to connect with a lot of like-minded people who were working on policies that were good for the country, good for the state.”
Herrell was a founder of the Article V Caucus in the state house. Article V Caucuses were part of a movement to restore federalism and curtail growth of the federal government. “The stronger we are, the sooner we can take the credit cards away from Washington and put our nation back on track,” the national Article V Caucus website declares. She was a fierce opponent of overbearing regulations. In 2015, the pro-business, nonpartisan New Mexico Business Coalition (NMBC) named her “Hero of the Year.” The NMBC press release praised Herrell for conducting open, transparent, and respectful public hearings.
She garnered endorsements in 2020 from President Trump and a number of New Mexico officials, including at least 15 New Mexico sheriffs. “I am honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with our sheriffs and honored to have their support,” Herrell wrote on her website. “We will continue to fight for the Constitution and our God-given rights.” She has a 100 percent pro-life record and is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.
Although her district isn’t an oil and gas region, she is very worried about a fracking ban and other attempts to limit the industry that is so important to her state. “Deregulation is good for New Mexico,” she says. “We have a great deal of oil and gas here, we have two of the top-producing counties in the nation, and we’ve got to be mindful that they don’t take away the drilling on public lands. We lost more than a billion dollars because of stringent regulations in the past. We also have to make sure our food producers are given an equal chance. The USDA has so many stringent regulations that harm our agricultural businesses.”
She continues, “We lost our timber industry because of the Endangered Species Act. I’m hearing talk about more regulations starting to come out because of powerful special interest groups. We are seeing ranchers who have lost 30 percent of their livestock because of the Mexican Gray Wolf, which we are not allowed to hunt here. Believe me, I’m an animal lover, but when we’re putting the value of these animals over the value of our ranching communities or our ability to have commerce, something is wrong.”
Herrell has a small motorhome. After Katrina, she piled her three Bullmastiffs into the RV and drove to Louisiana to help.
The 2nd district, which Herrell will represent in Washington, is huge and includes a portion of the border between the U.S. and Mexico. “Our immigration system is a wreck,” she says. “I do agree that people who want to come to our nation should have every right to do so through the legal channels. And right now, we’ve got such a backlog of folks who want to do just that, but it’s taking, you know, 4, 5, 6 years, and because they’re trying to do it right. And in the meantime, what we’ve done is we’ve opened the door for people to come here illegally and then almost rewarded them with housing, with medical, with services that we should be giving to those who are tax paying citizens, here legally.
“We need more judges on the bench so that they can streamline that process. But what we’ve done here, the wall has been incredibly effective everywhere they’ve built any portion of it. We can see that the wall has helped with the rush of illegals coming through, though it’s still very porous. What is very alarming is the illicit drugs and the human trafficking that no one ever really talks about. And that’s a huge business throughout the nation, not just New Mexico or the border states. But we’ve got to reform it. And what we’ve seen is Congress hasn’t really taken a solid role.”
Her view of DACA has room for nuance. “DACA was never supposed to be a pathway to citizenship,” Herrell says, “but there are so many who got caught up in it because of their age. They may have been toddlers when they were first brought over. They know no other way of life from the American way of life. We need to think about them in a different way because their situation is very unusual, but I still believe that we need to identify them and then streamline a process to, get them here and get them legalized.” In response to a question, she clarified that, yes, this means citizenship because of the novel situation of people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Yvette Herrell will be a breath of fresh air blowing in the corridors of power, and with her deep roots in New Mexico and business, she will bring a much-needed outsider perspective to the swamp.