In honor of the Women’s March and their “Power to the Polls” initiative, we're highlighting progressive women and nonbinary candidates on the 2018 ballot. You can read more of their stories here.
In early 2017, as excitement started to build around the Women’s March on Washington, Gina Ortiz Jones knew she wanted to attend. But the career civil servant wanted to do more than just march and wave a sign—so she volunteered to be a crossing guard and help direct traffic.
“I don’t think anyone could imagine that many people would show up,” Jones tells Broadly. “You don’t need a crossing guard when the road itself is completely full, right?”
The fact that Jones volunteered to work during what turned out to be such a momentous event is par for course for the Texas native. She’s spent her whole life serving in one way or another: from high school student council to joining the US Air Force to, most recently, working as a director in the Office of the US Trade Representative, the federal agency responsible for negotiating trade policy with foreign governments.
Now, Jones, a Democrat, is hoping to serve again by representing Texas’ 23rd district in Congress—a seat that’s never been held by a woman. Jones is running against incumbent Rep. Will Hurd in the general election.
As a Filipina-American woman, Iraq War veteran, and member of the LGBTQ community, Jones says she knew her time in public service would be different when Donald Trump won the 2016 election. At first she tried to make the best of it, continuing to work on economics and national security issues for the Trump administration after being hired under Obama. But in June 2017, after growing increasingly concerned about the direction the Trump administration was taking the country and how new government hires were not “interested in neither the public nor service,” Jones quit.
Rather than continuing to work for Trump, she moved back home to San Antonio into the house where she grew up, and launched her own campaign. “This administration is, frankly, working hard to erase the opportunities that are critical for so many in my community and in my district,” Jones says.
If the 2016 election planted the seed for her to run for office—she says it made her rethink how she could best serve—Hurd’s stance on many of the issues she cares about poured gasoline on that ambition. She points out that Hurd voted nine times against the Affordable Care Act, and has remained silent on passing an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage for millions of lower income children and pregnant women.
Health care coverage is particularly important to Jones because her mother, who worked as a public school teacher, is a cancer survivor. “That obviously shaped my views on the importance of insuring people regardless of their income level, regardless of their profession,” she says. “The fact that she chose to be a public educator should not mean she has access to less quality care.”
In fact, a number of Jones’ views on various issues are informed by the lived experiences of her mom, who immigrated to the US from the Philippines 40 years ago and raised two kids as a single mother. Jones says her mom was intent on pursuing the “American dream,” even if it meant coming to the US initially to work as a domestic helper, despite having graduated from a top university in her home country. “My sister and I grew up being reminded every single day that our trajectory in life was in no small part due to being born in this country.” Because of their mother’s example and guidance, Jones continues, it’s not surprising that she and her sister, who’s in the Navy, would seek out ways to serve.
"The fact that Congress is 80 percent white and 80 percent male when that’s so far from what the rest of the country looks like. That’s the real issue.”
If Jones ends up running against and beating Hurd, she would become the first lesbian, Iraq War veteran, and first-generation Filipina-American to hold a US House seat in Texas. It’s not lost on Jones how that comes across to some people. “Sometimes people say, ‘well, you need to stop playing identity policies.’ But look, politics are inherently about your identity. It’s about how you understand that which you should be afforded ... I think the real issue is not that I’m proud of who I am or who I love, but why our identities are not [currently represented] in politics—the fact that Congress is 80 percent white and 80 percent male when that’s so far from what the rest of the country looks like. That’s the real issue.”
With less than two months until the primary, Jones has already picked up a handful of high-profile endorsements, including that of Khzir Khan, the Pakistani-American, Gold Star father who criticized Trump at the 2016 DNC, and Wendy Davis, the former Texas Democratic state senator who held an 11-hour filibuster to block restrictive abortion measures. Jones says even though this is her first political run, her lifelong history of being a public servant has prepared her for the role.
“As a public servant, it was always about understanding what is the problem we are trying to solve, what is the best way to do that, who are the best folks to work with,” Jones says. It was never about what party a person was affiliated with, but rather, their ability to get things done, she says.
“I think for many people,” Jones continues, “it becomes a different job when they forget that that’s actually what they’re supposed to be doing: They’re supposed to be serving the public.”