Jones back on campaign trail with stops in Presidio, Marfa

FAR WEST TEXAS — As the 2020 race heats up in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones is back on the campaign trail.

In a phone interview last Thursday, Jones was getting ready to meet constituents in the city of Presidio after having a meet-and-greet Wednesday evening in Marfa. She was heading next to Alpine and Van Horn.

When asked why she was running, Jones said her candidacy was “very much about protecting the opportunity that allowed me to grow up healthy, get an education and serve our country — something everybody in this country should be able to do.”

This will be Jones’ second run for the district seat. The Iraq War veteran clinched the Democratic primary in 2018 only to lose to incumbent Republican Congressman Will Hurd by just 926 votes.

Hurd has managed to hold the purple 23rd by steering clear of divisive cultural issues and focusing on bipartisan topics like cybersecurity. But that stance has become harder for Hurd to maintain in the Trump era, and he announced in August that he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020. That makes Jones a serious contender in a field that currently includes at least five Republicans and three other Democrats.

The daughter of a Filipina immigrant, Jones grew up in San Antonio before serving in the U.S. Air Force. But like Hurd, she has also found herself readjusting to the Trump era.

After spending a decade working for the government, she resigned her job at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in 2017 because she didn’t want to keep working for the Trump administration.

“The type of people that were brought in to be public servants were interested in neither the public nor the service,” she told online news outlet HuffPost at the time. “That, to me, was a sign that I’m going to have to serve in a different way.”

Whoever faces Jones next November is in for a tough fight. Her campaign has already raised more than $1 million — “the largest off-year quarterly fundraising total the district has ever seen,” according to a campaign news release. She raised more than $100,000 within the first day after Hurd announced his retirement, the news release stated.

Jones’s nail-biting defeat in 2016 still weighs on her mind. “926 votes is not a number I don’t think about often,” she said. But she added: “To be clear, I was never running against Will Hurd. I was always running for this district.” And she thought the close race showed that people in the 23rd are “really ready for change.”

“They want somebody who’s not only going to show up in communities, but make sure we as a country are moving in the right direction on things like health care and immigration,” she said. “Policies that reflect our values.”

In her interview, Jones emphasized the need for better healthcare in the Big Bend region. She discussed expanding healthcare coverage, lowering prescription drug costs and improving access to telemedicine and telepsychiatry.

Like other Texas candidates, she is also worried about the effects of Trump’s rhetoric around immigrants and Latinos. “The largest massacre of Latinos in American history didn’t happen in 1819 or 1919. It happened in 2019,” she said — referring to the El Paso shooting earlier this year. Before the alleged gunman killed 22 people, authorities say he posted an online diatribe complaining of an immigrant “invasion.” It’s the same phrasing sometimes used by President Donald Trump and Governor Greg Abbott to describe migrants.

It isn’t just rhetoric, though. Jones said the 23rd is “literally and figuratively on the front lines of so many of these failed trade and immigration policies.”

“No one can imagine a wall through Big Bend,” she said. “And no one should have to, because it’s ridiculous.”

She thinks Mexican and American communities on the border should be strengthening ties — not putting up walls.

“El Paso doesn’t talk about itself without [Ciudad] Juarez. Presidio doesn’t talk about itself without Ojinaga,” she said. “These are binational communities. It’s a source of strength.”