WASHINGTON ― She came in 926 votes short of unseating Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) last fall. So Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran and career civil servant in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, is running to take him on again in 2020.
“Just seeing how Will Hurd continues to vote against this district, I felt called to serve again,” Jones, 38, said an interview Thursday.
Jones’ last run against Hurd, which was her first time running for office, was such a nail-biter that The Associated Press originally called the race for Jones. But more ballots turned up in the middle of the night, and after a couple of weeks of counting provisional and overseas ballots, Hurd eked it out.
If Jones had won, she would have made history as the first lesbian, the first Iraq War veteran and the first Filipina American to hold a U.S. House seat in Texas. She previously served in the Air Force in Iraq under President George W. Bush, as an intelligence officer under President Barack Obama and then as a director in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative through the early part of Donald Trump’s presidency.
It probably didn’t help Jones that then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who amassed a huge base of supporters in his unsuccessful 2018 bid against Sen. Ted Cruz (R), would not endorse her because, he said, Hurd was his friend. He’s still getting grief over it. Earlier this month, O’Rourke, now running for president, got an earful from a New Hampshire local official about not giving Jones a boost.
Asked if she thinks O’Rourke’s support could have helped her win, Jones said his name didn’t come up at all as she campaigned in her district, which runs along the Mexican border and has flip-flopped between Democratic and GOP representation for years.
“I can’t speak to his actions. I’ve met folks that may share your sentiments,” she told HuffPost, when asked why O’Rourke would side with a pal over a candidate whose policy agenda matches his. “I don’t see a benefit in relitigating his actions because they’re his actions, not mine.”
A spokesperson for O’Rourke’s presidential campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether he plans to endorse in this race.
Jones wasn’t counting on O’Rourke’s support by any means. She focused her campaign on traveling around her district talking to people about health care. And when Hurd and O’Rourke were celebrated for live-streaming a 1,600-mile road trip together in an apparent show of bipartisanship (even if it was a political calculation by O’Rourke, who proposed the trip and announced a Senate run weeks later), Jones scoffed.
“When bipartisanship means two dudes get in a car and help each other get elected, we’re all fucking screwed,” she quipped in a 2018 interview.
“I think that’s still true,” Jones added Thursday.
As she kicks off her new campaign, Jones said she’s motivated by the same things that drove her to get into politics at all. President Donald Trump’s plans to gut education and housing aid hit close to home for Jones, who relied on reduced-cost school lunches and subsidized housing when she was raised by a single mom in San Antonio. When the House voted this month on a bill to lower prescription drug costs, Hurd opposed it, which she said hurts people in their district. (The bill paired lower drug costs with provisions aimed at strengthening the Affordable Care Act, which drove Republicans to oppose it.)
“Health care is a personal issue, an economic issue, that comes up literally every time I talk to voters,” she said. “The reason we were as successful as we were is because we focused on what voters cared about. I showed up all over the district. Show me how you campaign and I’ll show you how you govern.”
Jones said she hasn’t decided who she’s backing for president in 2020, but said she’s “extremely proud” of how former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro is doing in the race. Hurd has already said he’ll vote to re-elect Trump, even if his buddy O’Rourke ends up being the Democratic presidential nominee.
Hurd, a 41-year-old former CIA officer, is the only House Republican who represents a district in Texas along the southern border and is one of few in his party who have criticized Trump over his border wall plans. But the fact that he plans to vote for Trump anyway shows that his complaints about the president are empty, said Jones.
“Regardless of how concerned he is, that dude is as complicit as they come.”
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