Gina Ortiz Jones is a U.S. Air Force veteran and the Democratic nominee for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. She is gunning for office — and the history books. If elected, Jones will be the first Iraq veteran, the first Filipina-American and the first lesbian to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
NBC News interviewed Ortiz Jones for NBC Out’s #Pride30 special and asked about her military service, the American dream and representation in politics.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR MILITARY SERVICE HAS PREPARED YOU FOR PUBLIC OFFICE?
“Everything from pushups to discipline. I have been honored to be part of the national security community, both in and out of uniform. As an Intelligence officer in the Air Force, I reported from Iraq. I also served under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and then after that, I served in the intelligence community for over a decade before serving in the Executive office of the President.
“My Air Force experience was invaluable and prepared me for this office, but I also worked in national security in other ways. When I think of national security, I don’t think of just Iraq and Afghanistan, I also think of economic security as well. When I worked in the Executive Office of the President, that was my main portfolio.
“[Running for office] is for me another step in my life in public service, and I am honored to do so.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OPENLY TRANSGENDER SERVICE MEMBERS COULD BRING TO THE U.S. MILITARY?
“They are going to bring a diverse perspective, just as anyone would. Given the challenges and opportunities that we are facing as a country, we need everybody. We need all hands on deck. Having served under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ this is very dear to my heart. There are people that are able, willing, ready to serve, and we need to allow them the opportunity to do so …
“My highest honor has been wearing the nation’s cloth. If someone is ready and willing to do that, we should welcome them with open arms, because that American voice is as important as any other American voice.”
IF ELECTED TO CONGRESS, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR MAIN LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES?
“Forty percent of the U.S border [with Mexico] is in my district, Texas 23, and I have yet to meet anybody that wants the border wall. A really interesting microcosm for the rest of the country, so not surprising that things that we are talking about in Texas 23 include immigration. We have the second largest DACA population in the country behind California, so it is very important that we honor the promise we made to those folks.
“Health care -- we have one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the entire country … And lastly, equitable economic opportunities is what it’s all about for this district.”
DO YOU THINK THE AMERICAN DREAM IS BEING THREATENED?
“A member of Congress does three things: they create opportunities, they protect opportunities or they erase opportunities.
“Reduced lunch was part of the equation for me, and there are not a lot of kids that go from reduced lunch to the Executive Office of the President. I worked hard, but I could not have done it all by myself. My community invested in me, my country invested in me. So yes, there is the American dream when somebody is willing to work hard, but there is also the American opportunity infrastructure that is key for that.
“It is not only Americans that are watching, the world is watching and seeing how we treat our most vulnerable, which is why it is so important that we protect the opportunities that allow people to go from the most vulnerable to most promising. That enabled me to serve my country, and we should also protect those opportunities for folks that also want to grow up, be healthy, get an education and just be good citizens.”
IS REPRESENTATION POWER?
“I agree that representation is power. I forget who exactly said it, but, “If you are not at the table, you are on the table.” We have to help shape the conversation, and I think that starts with ensuring that the conversation is being had by folks that are representative of the people that are being affected by these policies. Let’s be clear, when Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male, that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to ensuring that the conversation is as influenced by the number of diverse perspectives as is needed. Yes, representation matters.”