With tough-on-Trump platform, Alpine lawyer enters race for 23rd

ALPINE — As Gina Ortiz Jones tries again in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District after a nail-biting defeat in 2018, she’ll face a local challenger in the Democratic primary: Alpine criminal defense lawyer Jaime Escuder.

Escuder, 42, will have a kick-off for his campaign at the The Ritchey Wine Saloon & Beer Garden in Alpine on Sunday, October 20 from 5 to 7 p.m.

“If these were ordinary times, I wouldn’t be running,” Escuder said in a phone interview Tuesday. But with the United States currently facing what Escuder describes as a “moral crisis” under President Donald Trump, he said it is important for the 23rd to have a representative who is well-versed on border issues — and could mete out tough questions during congressional hearings.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Alpine, Escuder said that virtually all of his criminal defendants had an immigration component to their case. He also said his court experience could help him cross-examine congressional witnesses — including executive branch officials called to answer for the Trump administration’s seemingly endless stream of legal and policy controversies.

“One of the most important things that representatives do is question people,” Escuder said. “But mostly, they’re terrible at it, frankly. So, people get away with stuff. They hide the truth. They don’t answer questions. They’re not confronted with documents.”

Describing Jones as a “run-of-the-mill candidate that the Democratic Party would typically run,” Escuder didn’t think she was as well-suited to the “unique challenges” of the Trump era.

“So much of what happens in Washington is just theater,” he added. “There’s no substance or results that come from anything.” That could change with a trial lawyer serving the 23rd, he said.

Escuder said his top three campaign issues are wealth inequality, the environment and immigration and criminal justice reform. The latter two are really one issue, he said. But he stressed that many of the issues facing the United States are interrelated. Economic issues like oil and gas affect the environment, and income inequality is tied to health care.

On a variety of issues, Escuder appears to be staking out a position to the left of Jones. Asked which politicians he admired, he gave a shout-out to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democratic congresswoman from New York who identifies as a socialist.

He said he’s “totally” and “100 percent” for “absolute marijuana legalization,” describing the War on Drugs as “racially discriminatory” and “a disaster.” He’s refusing corporate PAC (political action committee) money. And he said that strict border laws — including laws that could give migrants felony charges for crossing if they had crossed before — were about criminalizing people “frankly, for being Mexican. That’s how it feels.”

Originally from Miami, Escuder spent almost a decade as a public defender in the Chicago area before moving to Alpine six years ago. Now, he’s ready to take his trial-lawyer experience to Washington.

“Kids are being locked up and separated from their parents. The Earth is heating up,” Escuder said. “This is a crisis moment where we actually need real results — and not just the appearance of results.”