Dr. Raul Ruiz, Democrat from Coachella, spoke to around 40 people at Town Hall in Idyllwild as part of his district-wide “Listening Tour.” Ruiz was preceded by an advance team that quickly hung banners and set up registration tables prior to the candidate’s arrival just before 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 1. Ruiz, a triple degree graduate from Harvard University (M.D. Harvard Medical School, M.P.P in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government, and an M.P.H in Public Health from Harvard’s School of Public Health) is challenging incumbent Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack for her newly redrawn district, the 36th.
Ruiz joked about his age at the beginning of the forum (he is much younger looking than his actual age, 39) then proceeded to tell his story of growing up in Coachella to farm worker parents. “I’m running to revive the American Dream,” he began. “My life story is that dream.” Although not Lincoln’s log cabin, Ruiz said he spent his first years in a trailer until his parents could afford to purchase their first home. His older brother was the first to graduate from high school and the first to go to college. Ruiz told of deciding to take personal responsibility for raising money for his college education, going door to door in his only suit in a hot Coachella summer, asking his neighbors to contribute as part of a contract. “I’m offering you the opportunity to invest in your community by investing in my education,” he told them. In return for their support, he promised to return to practice medicine in the Coachella Valley. “The contract was real, a social contract that I honored,” he said.
After graduation, he returned and launched a variety of initiatives designed to help his low income community — a free clinic; a Coachella Health Care Initiative to improve healthcare access and wellness for all residents in the Coachella Valley; and a pre-med mentorship program, the Future Physician Leaders program, for students from underserved communities who, like him in 1990, want to become doctors and return to their community to serve. He is an emergency physician at Eisenhower Medical Center, the Coachella Valley’s only nonprofit hospital and a Senior Associate Dean at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine.
“I’m an emergency room physician and what I do daily is solve problems,” Ruiz said explaining his reasons for running. “We need public servants in Congress today,” he said, attempting to draw a distinction between him and professional politicians. “The American people are being held hostage by the lack of by-partisanship and commitment to solving problems by those currently in Congress,” he said. “It’s champion politics as currently practiced rather than collaborative politics.” Drawing an analogy, Ruiz asked the audience to imagine two doctors bickering over what care to give a patient while that patient lay suffering. “We need representatives who will help implement the vision we have of working and solving problems together,” he said. “We are not enemies. The enemy is the unemployment rate, the high school dropout rate and the high rate of those without adequate health insurance. This is a time of great awakening when we can change the emphasis from “me” to “us.”
Ruiz then drew contrast with the record of the current incumbent noting how her votes hue to party line, and how he would vote differently on key issues of health reform, Medicare, and immigration. “On all issues, especially emotional hot-button issues, we should have reasonable, evidence-based policy, and that is what I will support,” he said.
Although touting himself as a non-politician, Ruiz presented a smooth appeal for support of his candidacy, noting how the redrawn 36th makes success by a Democrat more likely (a 47 percent Latino registration and a voter registration Republican to Democrat discrepancy of only 1.7 percent rather than the 6 to 8 percent part characteristic of the old 45th).
Addressing Ruiz, one audience member said, “I hope you will be the kind of candidate that will not vote party lines.” Ruiz left after an abbreviated question and answer session with a promise to return often to Idyllwild.
For more information on Ruiz’s candidacy, see www.drraulruiz.com.