U.S. Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz File Photo
U.S. Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz
File Photo

Dr. Raul Ruiz, Democratic congressman, District 36, seeks re-election. He is challenged by Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R – Palm Desert). Both claim to be centrists and have records of voting against party lines and crafting legislation across party lines.

Ruiz, the son of farm workers, was raised in the Coachella Valley. He worked his way through college and medical school and came back, as he had promised to do, to serve his medically underserved community as an emergency room doctor. He is a graduate of UCLA and the only Latino to hold triple graduate degrees from Harvard University.

He is rated by www.govtrack.gov as a centrist Democrat based on his voting record and analysis of bill sponsorships. Ruiz’s bills have had a total of 199 cosponsors in the 113th Congress. Govtrack puts Ruiz to the near center of the political spectrum on ideology rank.

In interview, Ruiz recounted that he had promised, if elected, to be bi-partisan and not hold to strict party-line votes. Independent analyses of his record of voting and bill sponsorship seem to validate that promise. “I did not come to Washington to represent Democrats, but to represent all the people of my district. As an emergency room physician I am trained as a problem solver and to put the welfare of people first. I said that if I were elected, I would put people above partisanship and I believe I have kept that promise.”

On issues, Town Crier asked similar questions of both Ruiz and Nestande.

On the economy, Ruiz noted the economy is negatively affected by growing disparity between haves and have nots. He believes his role in Washington is to sponsor legislation and vote for legislation that will help regrow the once healthy middle class.

He is an advocate of promoting the health of small businesses in the district by reducing “duplicative and redundant regulation.” Among the bills Ruiz has sponsored is the Small Business Hardship Relief Act (H.R. 5651). Ruiz said he is a proponent of increasing the minimum wage. He cosponsored legislation to restrict overseas job outsourcing, something he notes his opponent has not countered. “We need to eliminate regulations that deter U.S. corporations from bringing jobs back home.”

As a sitting member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Ruiz has seen two bills signed into law that helped VA hospitals to better their performance, by improving scheduling, measuring physician performance and holding hospitals to stricter standards — and also integrating VA and Department of Defense veterans’ records to allow better tracking of veterans’ health-related claims and improve veterans’ benefits.

On health care, Ruiz said his approach comes from his experience as a medical professional. He noted he had worked to make changes in the Affordable Health Care Act, voting against party to delay the individual mandate for a year (until 2015) and make implementation of the act more workable for small business owners.

He opposes any attempt to eviscerate Medicare “as we know it,” a position he believes his opponent does not hold. He also said he would vote to block any attempt to “slash Social Security benefits that California seniors have paid for and planned on receiving.”

On a current topic of interest to many, Ruiz said, when questioned about Ebola, that both state and federal governments must develop protocols with a “high level of vigilance” that are effective in “identifying those at risk, observation, isolation and aggressive treatment.” He believes there must be effective coordination among federal, state and local agencies to be prepared to treat any potential outbreaks. He said he has written to local stakeholders to convene a meeting to be better prepared to deal with Ebola or any infectious disease and not repeat initial response mistakes made by the Centers for Disease Control.

He believes immigration reform must be anchored in three components, not just securing the border as many of his Republican colleagues advocate. He said effective reform must include: securing the borders through use of advanced technology, specifically more use of surveillance drones, as well as better and more effective training for border patrol agents; creating a “stable labor work force” for local agricultural, tourism and construction through E-verify (employer worker eligibility verification) and expanding temporary worker visas; and by creating an “earned path to citizenship” for those who “play by the rules [once in the U.S.], who pay proscribed fines and who have never been arrested.”

Although he voted against his party in Congress to fund California High Speed Rail (believing the money could be better spent in projects that would better benefit district residents), he does advocate expanded Amtrak service for the Coachella Valley, with more stops and frequency, to bolster the region’s major industry — tourism.

Asked why voters should entrust him with a second term, Ruiz said, “I’ve kept my promises. I have voted not for party, but for the interests of all those I represent. I am not a lifetime practicing career politician.” He noted he is guided by the ethics and oaths of his profession as a doctor.