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A Different Kind of Texas Candidate

Gina Ortiz Jones (CAS’03, GRS’03) is running for office because of Trump

If Gina Ortiz Jones beats the Republican incumbent to win the US House of Representative seat in the Texas 23rd district this November, she will be the first woman to represent her district. She will also be the first Filipina American and the first lesbian to hold a US House seat from Texas. The Democrat and former Air Force intelligence officer might also be part of the so-called Blue Wave to tip the balance of power in Washington, D.C., against President Donald Trump.

In fact, it was Trump’s 2016 election, which Jones (CAS’03, GRS’03) calls a “gut check,” that persuaded her to quit her job at the Office of the United States Trade Representative and return home to San Antonio to start her campaign. She won the Democratic primary in March and a runoff in May and will face two-term Republican Representative Will Hurd, a former CIA agent, in the general election.

Ortiz Jones graduated from BU with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies and a master’s degree in economics. She served with Air Force intelligence in Iraq and elsewhere from 2003 to 2006, and in a variety of other intelligence positions before joining the trade office in 2015.

Her district, which stretches from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso in southwest Texas, traditionally leans Republican, but the seat has been swapped back and forth between the parties for a decade. Trump’s stance on immigration—including separating children of asylum-seekers from their parents—should help Ortiz Jones with the more than two-thirds of voters who identify as Hispanic.

“This is a district that very much mirrors the challenges and opportunities we face as a country,” she says. “It’s a majority-minority district, something the whole country will be by 2040. We talk about the Wall and immigration policy because 40 percent of the US-Mexico border is in this district. A lot of the issues being discussed nationally are playing out in this district.”

BU Today spoke with Ortiz Jones last week about her Congressional race and some of the issues confronting voters.

BU Today: Is the United States a country in crisis?

Ortiz Jones: It depends who you talk to. There are some legal experts who would argue we are in a constitutional crisis. I think the election was such a significant emotional event for me because I’ve seen what it looks like in other countries when women and minorities are targeted. I’ve seen what it looks like when a government disregards conflict of interest, and hollows out the middle class, and ultimately their democracy. I’ve also seen what happens when good people don’t stand up and fight back. I am trying to respond by seeking public service again.

How do you respond to things like the separation of immigrant families?

It’s egregious. The pictures we’ve seen! With 40 percent of the border in the district, I think we see this issue just a little bit differently than the rest of the country. But frankly, as Americans, we all know that seeing a young child, a toddler, crying as they’re being held in a cage like an animal—that’s not the right thing to do. It’s so far from American, it’s unbelievable. It’s atrocious. I think we need leaders who are going to speak up and not be silent when this is happening. I look forward to doing that.

I think I also see it differently as a first-generation American myself. My country is special. There are not a lot of other countries where the daughter of someone who came to the country as a domestic helper can run for Congress. That doesn’t just happen. It happens because this country has historically understood that immigrants are the lifeblood of our country, and I think we need representatives who recognize that. When you look back, not only are compassionate immigration policies the right thing to do, but they make economic sense.

Gina Ortiz Jones, candidate for the Texas 23rd district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, poses for a photo with her mother and sister

Ortiz Jones (left) with her mother, Victorina Ortiz, and sister, Christi Jones, on graduation day in 2003. Photo courtesy of the Ortiz Jones campaign

You have both intelligence experience and international trade experience. What did you think of Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un?

It’s concerning on a number of levels. Is it historic that the two met? Yes. But we have no idea what they talked about. It sure does look like a wonderful photo opportunity and not a lot of substance. And what’s not lost on me is that we validated a dictator, someone with a known record of attacking his own people, someone who sent back an American who was tortured and in awful physical shape and died shortly thereafter.

But I don’t only think of the North Korea deal, but of what President Trump did before that at the G7 summit. Frankly, the way he’s treated our allies is just unbelievable. It shows what happens when you don’t know our history, don’t care about our history. We need members of Congress who are going to be a check on these things.

Given your service in intelligence in the Middle East, where do you stand on “enhanced interrogations” and waterboarding, things Trump is talking about bringing back?

Look, torture is against our values and has no place in our national security. That’s how I feel about that.

You came to BU on an ROTC scholarship, so you were bound by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military at that time. That meant keeping secrets?

It was actually a very deep secret. I could not be as open as I would have liked, because I needed that scholarship to stay at BU. I knew what I had to do. And when I served in the Air Force, that policy applied to me too. If someone is ready and willing to serve their country, there shouldn’t be any policies—especially policies rooted in bigotry—that would prevent that.

When I think of national security, I don’t just think of Iraq, China, Russia—I think of the pipeline of talent into national security. I don’t think we think about that nearly enough. I think it’s outrageous that someone like President Trump, who’s never served a day in uniform, or anyone else in his administration is intent on crafting these policies that strip away rights from the LGBT community, including serving in our military. I think it’s just egregious, and I look forward to ensuring that it doesn’t happen.

We think of Texas as the reddest of red states. Has it been difficult campaigning there?

I must say Texas can at times get a bad rap. There’s a lot of opportunity here. I am the product of Texas just as much as some of the other people you hear about. We won our primary. I know that being a first-generation American lesbian veteran running for office in Texas is challenging some assumptions, but look, that’s the real Texas. There’s a fierce independence about every Texan. We’re a great state, and I’m looking forward to changing our representation so it reflects that.

Growing up with your mother and sister, was the social safety net important to you?

I know exactly where I came from and how I got here. For a time it was quite difficult, as my mother was working to get back into education, which is what she was trained in academically. There were times when she worked several jobs, and it was hard to make ends meet. Reduced-price school lunch, subsidized housing—I don’t see these as handouts, I see them as critical investments. Those were investments by my country and my community, and I went on to serve my country in and out of uniform for 14 years, and now I’m looking to preserve those opportunities for someone else. That’s why the election was such a gut check—I know exactly how I got here, and I didn’t do it by myself.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

10 Comments on A Different Kind of Texas Candidate

  • Josh on 06.18.2018 at 8:25 am

    Yeah not going to happen, especially in TX. The liberals are so concerned with checking all the boxes (woman, minority, lesbian) and feeling so great about it that they fail to understand why Trump won. Trump won because many Americans (especially outside of the east/west coast cities) are still feeling the economic hurt of the Great Recession. They couldn’t give a crap about transgender bathroom rights and only want to know how they can get a good job that pays enough to support their family. Until I hear a democrat talking about the economy without raising taxes I’m going to keep on voting Republican even if I don’t entirely agree with their stance on social issues.

    • Alexandria Medellin on 06.18.2018 at 11:33 am

      Excuse me – we do give a crap about transgender bathroom rights (literally was a current sitting district 23 rep in TX has tackled time and time again…). People who become uncomfortable with identity politics are expressing their inability to accept real ECONOMIC outcomes of societal oppression – and that is sad! Trump won because people who have felt silenced in their hate and mediocrity got a nice platform to scream it from the top of a hill… blaming it on the folks who have actually worked for decades for the rights we are afforded today is gross.

    • Dan on 06.18.2018 at 9:56 pm

      If it’s not going to happen, what are you so scared about Josh? You don’t give a damn about others, are you secretly worried you’ll find out Trump doesn’t give a damn about you?

      Who do you think is holding you back, Josh? The person who wants to use the bathroom that matches their gender, or the real estate shyster taking backroom deals from foreign oligarchs who fell into power? Who is in the same boat as you, your neighbor making minimum wage and hoping somehow his son can attend the best college he qualifies for, or the administration eliminating the responsibilities of their companies to provide safe workplaces?

      If you’re not in for everyone’s rights, you’re in it for no one’s. Good luck Jones.

    • George on 06.21.2018 at 8:41 am

      I feel the same, the Democratic party used to be the common ‘working mans’ party now they have been completely hijacked by the ultra left-wing nuts. I used to vote for democrats for years but just can’t do it anymore. They care more about the rights of illegal immigrants over US citizens, they make a national issue out of transgender bathroom use which effects less than 1% of the population, they haven’t been able to come up with an economic plan that doesn’t involve raising my taxes, and they tell us that certain industries are just gone forever and we shouldn’t even try to compete to bring them back to the US. No thanks, that’s not my party anymore. Last election I voted more against Hillary than for Trump because she is so corrupt, but I like the fact that Trump is at least trying to bring US jobs back. Trump 2020.

      • Ellen on 06.21.2018 at 9:47 am

        I suspect George and Josh (OP) may be the same person. Anyone still rooting for Trump in mid 2018 is not paying attention.

  • Sam Lynch on 06.18.2018 at 8:25 am

    Dear Ms. Ortiz Jones, Thank you for your service, and thank you for running for office. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, and using your voice. Good luck!

  • Dan B on 06.18.2018 at 8:48 am

    Wonderful interview! Where can we donate?!

  • Student on 06.18.2018 at 10:05 am

    I met Gina Ortiz Jones in person. She is very genuine and will work hard and get things done in Congress.

  • Susan Milstein on 06.25.2018 at 8:43 am

    Trump may have won due to Russian hacking & James Comey disclosing that Hillary Clinton used a private email server for some correspondence right before the election. Nonetheless he hasn’t done anything positive since taking office. His administration is mired in scandal & ineptness. He is setting the country back many years with his lack of knowledge & respect for the rule of law.

    Our government needs Gina Ortiz Jones and other candidates like her to help repair our very broken government. I wish her the best of luck.

  • Mary Helen Cerda on 08.07.2018 at 10:11 am

    Ms. Jones, I too am a retired USAF officer, and want to comment on your advertised TV ad. I commend you on your service, but your message of “No one told you to run for congress” is not effective. Every person who wants to run for office wants to because they want to help change laws in their state or US. You can’t do it alone,or want to fight, as your ad implies. You will have my vote when I can see you want to go into congress to work with other politicians, compromise, make law together, regardless of political party. Additionally you can get my republican vote if I see you have integrity when it comes to talking about a sensitive subject like illegal immigration. If I see you encourage people not to cross the border, breaking US laws, and most importantly talk to those illegal immigrants here, living here for many years, to do the right thing, become citizens, learn the English language. The citizenship exam is in English. Lets see you be have integrity to speak honestly to myself and other hispanic people who are here as legal citizens. I am sure you were stationed in other countries, where if you were to want to make permanent residence there, you have to adhere to their laws and learn their language. Lets see you follow that stance, if you want votes, not because of who you love or reside with, but because you have US citizenship, integrity. You will not get any votes from people like me if I see you propose to go into congress to fight. You need to show you will work with others who may not have your opinion or political affiliation. Or you not be productive, but part of the problems in Washington. And, I think you learned, as I did when we were active duty, you show respect to the President in Office, regardless of what party he represents. Be a deliver person of a positive, honest message, a good US citizen, not add to, feed the negative messages that have been shown by some media and Hollywood.

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