Editor’s note: Dr. Raul Ruiz, our congressman-elect, participated in a telephone interview, Friday, Dec. 14, just weeks before he will be sworn into office as the representative of California’s 36th Congressional District, in which the Hill is located.

We discussed the campaign, in which he upset incumbent Mary Bono Mack, and his views and feelings about the first few months of being a congressman.

“This is still very surreal,” Ruiz said. “I won’t get used to it until my official swearing-in.”

Dr. Raul Ruiz, congressman-elect for the Hill, meets with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar about the problems protecting the Salton Sea. Sen. Barbara Boxer also participated in the meeting. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior
When did you decide to challenge Rep. Mary Bono Mack?
Ruiz said he had been thinking about challenging Bono Mack for several months.

“While working in the community, I saw people struggling and then seeing her vote for legislation that undermines these efforts,” he said. “My father said, ‘Never complain unless you’re willing to make the change.’ So it became important to me to do more to help.”

When did you feel you might win?
“My staff was always positive,” Ruiz replied. “When our second poll came in [mid-October], we were up and then the third poll had us ahead by six percent.” As a physician trained in science, Ruiz trusted the data. “We knew the time [for change]; it was now.”

Did the debate on Friday, Oct. 12, have any effect?
Although the two candidates debated about three weeks prior to the election, Ruiz does not believe that had a significant affect on the results.

“It did help. It definitely shed some light,” he said. The exchange between the two candidates helped voters recognize their contrasts.

“People are tired of Washington’s language and the gridlock,” Ruiz stressed. “People saw a viable opponent to her that night.”

How did you feel going into Election Day?
“I was really excited. I felt like a carpenter with a new tool box or a doctor with a new stethoscope,” Ruiz said. Adding that his priority is to serve the community, “I’ve lived my life to serve the community to the best of my ability.”

What about your medical career now?
Although he begins his new career as a congressman in two weeks, he said he intends to keep his physician’s license. “Even as a doctor, I was thinking of how to help people,” Ruiz said. “I’ll continue to do that.”

In that spirit, Ruiz mentioned that as an emergency room doctor, he has treated patients from Idyllwild late at night and very early in the morning. So he is aware of the lack of a 24-hour medical facility on the Hill.

What did it feel like when you set foot in D.C.?
“When I stepped off the plane, the first thing I really said was ‘It’s cold here. I’m back in the cold.’ I was thinking about the winter clothes I have back at home. I have a desert dweller’s energy level.” Ruiz had spent many winters in Boston in college, so he has experienced the East Coast climate.

“I think it really brought a sense of reverence about our country’s history and my role as a congressman-elect,” Ruiz admitted. “Then I saw the Capitol at night and saw lights on it.

“It seemed to complete the circle on how good our country is. How a guy like me growing up in trailer Coachella can now fulfill a dream to empower lives of people he grew up with,” he continued. “It’s just a testament to how remarkable America is and the American Dream.”

What are your plans in January?
“I’m currently working with Sen. [Barbara] Boxer on the Salton Sea issues,” he began. On Friday, Dec. 14, Boxer and Ruiz met with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge to discuss restoration efforts in the area and ongoing efforts to build a sustainable water future for the state and people of California.

He also plans to continue his efforts during the campaign to hold town meetings and forums. “I really want people involved in the process,” he emphasized.

As part of this effort, Ruiz said he would create many local advisory councils to provide him input on legislative issues.

“I’ll continue to focus on job creation, access to affordable and quality healthcare,” he said. He won’t forego his concern about educating the youth in the district. Student graduation rates and access to college-level education will be another of his priorities.