Filipina Iraq War veteran earns Democratic ticket in Texas runoff

If elected, Gina Ortiz Jones could be the first openly lesbian and first Filipina to represent the state of Texas in the U.S. Congress

On Tuesday, May 22, Filipina American Gina Ortiz Jones won the Democratic nomination in the primary race for a Texas seat in the United States House of Representatives, advancing her to a November race against Republican incumbent Will Hurd.

The 37-year-old — who is a lesbian, single mother and former Air Force intelligence officer during the Iraq War — defeated Democrat Rick Treviño in the race for Texas’s 23rd congressional district, garnering a whopping 67.9 percent of the vote over Treviño’s 32.1 percent among the district’s Democratic voters.

“Last [night’s] vote made it clear: Democrats are united to change Congress and send politicians like Will Hurd packing,” Ortiz Jones wrote on her campaign’s Facebook page on Wednesday, May 23. “I look forward to working with [Rick Treviño] and people across Texas to make sure Congress serves communities like ours by delivering on health care that working families can afford, instead of serving special interests that will never put Texas families first.”

If Ortiz Jones wins in the midterm election in November, she will make history as the first lesbian, the first Iraq War veteran and the first Filipina-American to become a Texan U.S. representative. However, she faces an uphill battle against longtime incumbent Hurd — who has almost double the campaign funds as Jones — and a right-leaning district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

Ortiz Jones was raised in Texas by a single mother, Victorina Ortiz, who was from the Philippines. Her mother, despite earning graduate degrees from the Philippines, worked several menial jobs before becoming a teacher to support the family.

In high school, Ortiz Jones won a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship and then went on to Boston University where she attended as an undergrad and as an graduate student; as an undergrad, she earned degrees in economics and East Asian studies and then earned a master’s degree in economics.

After college, in 2003, she joined the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer and was deployed to Iraq. She served for three years in active duty, she returned home in 2006 to care for her mother who had colon cancer.

“You have many jobs during your life, but you only have one mom,” she said in an interview with the Harvard Political Review in 2017. Her mother fully recovered and, soon after, she returned as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Africa Command in Germany.

In 2008, she went on to work for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency and eventually became a special adviser to the deputy director.

In 2016, she began working for the Executive Office of the President with the U.. Trade Representative, first under former President Barack Obama and then for President Donald Trump, whose presidency inspired her to run for office.

“When I worked for five-and-a-half months under [the Trump] administration in the Executive Office of the President, I saw firsthand how his policies would affect my communities: as a woman, as a veteran, as an LGBT American and as a first generation American,” she said in 2017.

Running on a platform fuelled by identity politics in the #MeToo era and the national conversation on immigrants and xenophobia, Ortiz Jones describes herself as “openly gay, openly first generation, openly veteran, openly Asian-American, openly everything,” and has used her multi-hyphenate identity as a way to highlight her inclusive platform. 

According to her campaign website, her views align with contemporary Democratic values, including immigration reform and strengthening the immigrant community, affordable higher education, responsible national security practices and protecting civil rights.

As an intelligence officer during the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (which prohibited LGBT military service members from disclosing their sexual orientation) which fuelled her eagerness to fight for women’s and minorities’ rights.

“In and out of uniform, I have served in countries where women and minorities have been targeted,” Ortiz Jones told MilitaryTimes. “I’ve also seen what happens in countries when good people don’t step up when institutions are under attack. Those experiences have obviously shaped my desire to run at this point in time.”

Inspired by her mother’s illness, she has also made affordable health care a central issue of her campaign, criticizing Hurd for wavering on the failed and widely panned Affordable Health Care Act of 2017 while promising to advocate for universal health care, especially for children.

“There is a national security aspect when not enough kids are healthy enough to grow up and serve our country,” Ortiz Jones said.

“Gina Ortiz Jones would be a consistent voice for equality in Congress and a trailblazing figure in Texas politics,” Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said in a statement. “HRC is proud to endorse Ortiz Jones and fight alongside her as she endeavors to make Texas a more fair place for all, no matter who they are, what they look like, where they’re from or whom they love.”

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