Dr. Raul Ruiz, emergency room physician at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, has announced his intention to gain the Democratic nomination and challenge Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack for her seat in the newly redrawn Congressional District 36.

Dr. Raul Ruiz will challenge Rep. Mary Bono Mack. Courtesy Raul Ruiz

Ruiz, 39, grew up in the Coachella Valley and currently lives in Palm Springs, earned his medical and public policy degrees at Harvard University. In 2007, he returned to the Coachella Valley and has been working on a variety of health care initiatives since then.

“The economy, jobs, health care and education will be the principal issues during the campaign,” said Tizoc DeAztlan, Ruiz’s campaign director.

Ruiz has not run for public office before. But, he believes that being a native of the Coachella Valley and his record of extensive involvement in making changes in the community will attract district voters to his candidacy and the Democratic column.

“He’s not a politician,” DeAztlan stressed. “He not concerned with what people in Washington think.”

Bono Mack is serving her seventh full term. She was first elected in 1998 to complete the term of her former husband, the late Sonny Bono. She is now the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.

Some of the local programs in which Ruiz has been involved include the Coachella Valley Healthcare Initiative, where he brought together stakeholders to improve public health and health care access in the Coachella Valley.

“Government studies indicate a national average of one doctor per 2,000 people, but in the Coachella Valley, the ratio is one doctor per 8,000 population,” DeAztlan said. “Even in Idyllwild there is limited access to doctors and you can’t have care.”

Dr. Ruiz also started a premed mentorship program, the Future Physicians Leaders program, for students from underserved communities who, like him in 1990, want to become doctors and return to their community to serve. Ruiz has helped open a free clinic and has given free care and health education to communities throughout the Coachella Valley.

“People are not happy with members of Congress or the president,” DeAztlan emphasized. “They’re looking for good leaders and fresh faces who care about them. It isn’t about politics, it’s about serving the community.”

DeAztlan said Ruiz would visit Idyllwild during the campaign, once it begins in earnest.

In 2010, Democrat Steve Pougnet came closest to Bono Mack’s vote total, but he was significantly helped in that race with conservative candidate Bill Lussenheide on the ballot. Lussenheide was a third party candidate who received 6.4 percent of the vote.