Over the next few weeks, Hyphen will profile a handful of Asian American candidates in key races in the midterm elections. Our first installment follows Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas’ battleground 23rd Congressional District.
KEY PLATFORM STANCES:
- Expand affordable health care coverage
- Ensure access to reproductive health services
- Implement immigration reform, while continuing to fund Border Patrol and ICE
- End Citizens United
Texas is home to a number of key races this year, but its 23rd District, which spans from San Antonio to El Paso, has long been its only true swing district. Hillary Clinton won there by about 8,000 votes in 2016, though the district also reelected Republican Will Hurd that year. Now, Hurd is facing a challenge by first-time candidate Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran who would become the first Filipina American elected to Congress.
Ortiz Jones’ election would represent a slew of firsts: if elected, she would also become the first woman and Iraq War veteran to represent her district, as well as the first openly LGBT person to represent Texas in Congress.
Raised by a single mother who worked multiple jobs, Ortiz Jones attended Boston University on a four-year ROTC scholarship before entering the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer and then deploying to Iraq. Since her active duty service, she has worked in national security advising, as well as in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
For Ortiz Jones, health care is the number one issue in this election. “People either can’t afford it today, are fearful that they’re not going to be able to afford it tomorrow, or they physically can’t get to it,” she told reporters in a recent interview. According to policy analysts, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country, in large part due to state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Supporting a single-payer system, Ortiz Jones has spoken about how watching her mother fight colon cancer led her to become passionate about the importance of healthcare coverage. She has also been quick to point out that her opponent voted eight times to undo the Affordable Care Act, though he made waves last spring by breaking with party lines and opposing the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s attempt to repeal the ACA.
Hurd, for his part, has tried to make a name as an independent Republican who is unafraid to break from Trump. His profile was raised last year when he took a road trip to Washington, D.C. from Texas with Representative and current Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. In July, he also authored a New York Times op-ed piece decrying Russian influence in the White House. But analysis from the website FiveThirtyEight shows that Hurd has voted in line with President Trump 95.7 percent of the time since Trump took office.
“When I’m in Congress, I’m not going to be writing op-eds, I’m going to be writing legislation,” Ortiz Jones recently told a Democratic club when asked about Hurd, referring to her opponent as “outraged on CNN and complicit in Congress.”
Ortiz Jones has also separated herself from Hurd on other key issues, including immigration. Texas’ enormous, majority-Latinx 23rd congressional district spans one-third of the entire length of the U.S.’ border with Mexico. Neither candidate supports a border wall (“You might as well light up 25 billion dollars on fire,” Ortiz Jones told a local ABC News reporter), but Hurd has advocated for more “smart border” technology.
In response, Ortiz Jones said, “People know that if you really want to secure this district and communities, you invest in smart, healthy kids — not a smart wall.”
Ortiz Jones, a child of immigrants, says she supports protecting Dreamers as well as continuing to fund U.S. Border Patrol and ICE, “while providing those members of our communities who have made contributions to our culture and economy the respect and dignity they deserve.”
She also supports access to reproductive health services, another key issue in a state in which the ACLU estimates that “about 900,000 reproductive-age women … live more than 150 miles from an abortion clinic.” Meanwhile, the incumbent has supported multiple bills to defund Planned Parenthood and to ban abortions at 20 weeks.
Most recent polls show that Hurd has a modest lead, although Ortiz Jones’ base seems to be concentrated in demographics with historically low voter turnout. On top of that, she’s now facing attack ads from her opponent claiming that she’s using her Spanish Filipino name to pander to Latinx voters. Despite an endorsement from Former President Barack Obama, Ortiz Jones will face an uphill battle in the weeks to come against an incumbent who paints himself as an independently-minded conservative who’s buddy-buddy with Beto.