Texas Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones could become the first Filipina-American elected to Congress

  • Gina Ortiz Jones is the Democratic nominee for Texas' 23rd Congressional District, an expansive border district that is politically competitive.
  • Jones first ran for the seat in 2018 and narrowly lost to Rep. Will Hurd, who is retiring at the end of his term.
  • Healthcare is the biggest issue that Jones hears about from voters, especially rural residents.
  • "There are 29 counties in this district, and 18 counties have three or less doctors," she told Insider.
  • "There are three counties that have no doctors. It's so important that we invest in the pipeline of talent into rural healthcare."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

For Gina Ortiz Jones, the second time might be the charm.

Just two years ago, Jones, a Democratic candidate running in Texas' 23rd Congressional District, nearly defeated GOP Representative Will Hurd, falling short by only 926 votes out of nearly 206,000 votes cast. The initial results were so close that Jones even attended the House freshman orientation for new members when the final tally was still in doubt days after the election. 

In May 2019, Jones announced that she would run for the seat again. Three months later, Hurd decided to retire from the House at the end of his term.

Jones, a Iraq War veteran and former Air Force intelligence officer, suddenly became the nominal frontrunner in the sprawling, majority Hispanic border district that stretches from San Antonio, where she grew up, to the Rio Grande and the outskirts of El Paso. In 2016, then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the district by 4% and then-Representative Beto O'Rourke carried it by 5% in his 2018 Senate race.

However, the race is still expected to be highly competitive. Hurd always won the district by narrow margins, and Jones faces a new Republican opponent in Tony Gonzales, a conservative Navy veteran.

When Jones has traveled throughout the district, she said that healthcare is the defining issue for voters, especially in the vast rural regions.

"There are 29 counties in this district, and 18 counties have three or less doctors," she told Business Insider in a recent interview. "There are three counties that have no doctors. It's so important that we invest in the pipeline of talent into rural healthcare."

If elected, Jones would be the first Filipina-American in the House and the first openly gay representative from Texas to serve in Congress.

Below are edited excerpts from Jones' interview with Business Insider.

Q. During the final presidential debate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said that he wanted immigration reform passed within his first 100 days. What would your ideal plan look?

A. I'm a proud first-generation American. I fully support a clean DREAM Act. [The act allows for conditional residency for qualifying immigrants who came to the US as minors and creates a pathway to citizenship if several requirements are fulfilled.] I live right down the street from the University of Texas at San Antonio, which has one of the largest student "Dreamer" populations in the entire country, and we should keep the promise that we made to these young people who are American in every sense of the word. They are our frontline workers, military officers, and teachers. I appreciate the vice president's commitment to immigration reform and that absolutely includes a path to citizenship.

How would you tackle the issue of border security?

This is a district that includes 800 miles of the US-Mexico border. I do not support a border wall. When I speak to leaders in our border communities, they do not want a border wall. They very much want infrastructure that helps strengthen those communities given the economic, social, and cultural ties between cities on this side of the border as well as cities on the Mexican side of the border.

I will always listen to our border patrol and the experts. I was actually just in Del Rio [a border city in Val Verde County], where I met with the county sheriff and the mayor. They showed me exactly where fencing makes sense. However, there are also parts of the district like Big Bend [National Park], for example, where it would be a travesty to have a border wall running through that national treasure. We know that the vast majority of contraband comes through ports of entry, so I want to make sure that our agents have the resources to do their jobs and do so as safely as possible.

If elected, what are some of your highest priorities for fighting the coronavirus? 

Over 800,000 Texans have gotten COVID-19, and now that's 800,000 folks that have a preexisting condition, if they didn't have one already. We know that more testing, contact tracing, and PPE [protective personal equipment] is critical to addressing this pandemic, along with ensuring that people have access to quality, affordable health care. San Antonio has the highest coronavirus-related fatality rate of any major urban area in Texas. It's just critical that we get this pandemic under control so that we're not needlessly losing lives and needlessly losing small businesses and jobs.

What are the top issues that you hear from rural Texans when campaigning?

The issues that I hear about are in this order: Health care, health care, and health care. I'm committed to making sure that people have coverage by expanding Medicaid so that they can show up to these rural clinics and hospitals and get the preventative care that they need. It's critical that we invest in broadband, which helps address these inequities with telemedicine and tele-psychiatry. We also need more doctors. Even if every rural medical who student graduated from medical school and returned to a rural community, we're still only meeting 25% of our country's rural health care needs.

How would you tackle the rising cost of college tuition?

We're seeing a large number of students not reenrolling in community college here in San Antonio. That's a critical issue, because at two large universities in the city, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the University of Texas at San Antonio, almost half of the student body spends time at the community college here. If folks aren't reenrolling now because they don't have an internet connection or can't pay their tuition, that'll hurt us down the line. We have the resources as a country to make sure that we're preparing our young people for future economic opportunities, and that starts with investing in community colleges and supporting our colleges and universities.

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