Rep. Raul Ruiz upset Mary Bono Mack four years ago to become the California District 36 congressman.
This year, state Sen. Jeff Stone hopes to pull off an upset of his own.
The Democratic Party has high hopes this year. Party leaders think it’s possible to retain the presidency, regain control of the Senate, and increase the number of Democrats in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
Given this electoral outlook, incumbent Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz is in what seems like a fairly favorable position. He garnered 58.5 percent of June’s primary vote and had raised close to $2.5 million through June.
District 36 is a former Republican stronghold that includes all of the Coachella Valley, yet Ruiz’s challenger, State Sen. Jeff Stone, attracted only 31.6 percent of primary voters in June. (Another Republican received 9.9 percent of the vote.) He had raised only about a tenth of Ruiz’s haul through June—around $250,000.
What a difference four years makes.
Stone is measured when asked about his chances for an upset this year. “I’m not presumptuous to tell you that I will be elected—but I hope to be elected,” he said during a recent interview with the Independent.
When asked about the major differences between him and Ruiz, Stone mentioned last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. “It’s my belief that the (Iran nuclear) deal, that Congressman Ruiz supported, has aided and abetted a rogue country like Iran, the largest sponsor of terrorism on the globe, to continue their sponsorship of terrorism. But more importantly, it allows them a pathway to get to a nuclear bomb.”
Of course, Ruiz views his vote differently. “I voted for the Iran nuclear agreement,” he told the Independent, “because its purpose is for Iran to never, ever, ever—not now, not in 10, not in 15, not in 20, not in 50 years, not ever, ever—get a nuclear bomb. And already, we are seeing results.”
Stone also takes issue with the way that he said Ruiz arrived at his stance on the controversial deal.
“I was in the room (in Washington, D.C.) with members of the Coachella Valley contingent when Raul Ruiz made it very clear that he was not going to support any deal with Iran that allowed them to continue with their nuclear program. He flip-flopped for reasons I’ll never understand,” Stone said. “(Ruiz) said in a subsequent Desert Sun editorial that (paraphrasing), ‘It is with great humility that I am supporting this deal with Iran.’ Well, that humility could translate into future generations of Americans being the beneficiaries of a nuclear bomb on our soil.”
Ruiz said keeping his constituents safe is a major priority.
“We’ve got to keep the pressure on (Iran),” Ruiz said. “We will continue to conduct aggressive inspections which will give us intelligence that gives us the upper hand, now and in the future, to always maintain strict vigilance and ensure that they never get a nuclear bomb.”
Each candidate shared their views on other issues of concern. Ruiz mentioned the economy.
“We have to make sure that life is more affordable,” Ruiz said. “A lot of the American people and a lot of my constituents are struggling, working hard and still finding it hard to make ends meet. We need to make sure we expand the middle class by empowering our consumers and giving them a raise in the minimum wage.
“Locally, I’ve worked very closely and aggressively in promoting and helping our small businesses. I’ve successfully brought the first and only Small Business Administration office in the entire Inland Empire right here to the Coachella Valley so that our businesses have the tools, the equipment, the information and the capital they need to expand and create more jobs.”
Stone sees border security as a major challenge.
“I believe we need to secure our border—and I’m not for doing it the way that Donald Trump has been stereotyped,” Stone said. “We need to secure our borders in the name of national security. I am so worried that we are going to have a person from the Mideast who is going to transport radioactive material that is smuggled into Mexico and then smuggled into the United States and used as a dirty bomb.
“In addition, the scourge of narcotics that is claiming the lives of so many youngsters in our country … all of it is coming from Mexico because of our porous borders,” Stone said. “I’m not an advocate of building a big wall. I believe that with technology and allowing our Border Patrol agents to do their jobs, we can accomplish these tasks.”
Ruiz weighed in on the topic as well.
“I’ve got to make sure that we secure America and that we keep my constituents safe,” he said. “We need to make sure that our military and law enforcement have the tools that they need. That’s why I have voted repeatedly and consistently to give them those tools.”
Ruiz touted his achievements in supporting U.S. veterans.
“I’m very proud that we started the first-ever Veterans University that brought in over 500 veterans, their family members and community members who care about veterans in order to give them the tools necessary to improve their access to the benefits that they’ve earned,” Ruiz explained. “We help them navigate the health-care system so that they can get the mental-health services they need to prevent suicides and reduce the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder. In terms of legislation, last cycle, one of my bills … made it into the CHOICE Act that became law.
“Locally, I’ve been working hard to expand the VA Palm Desert clinic to bring in more mental-health specialists. We just successfully brought in a mobile veterans’ center that will be making stops in Hemet, Palm Springs and Indio. But you know, I miss seeing patients in the emergency room, so I’m doctoring by seeing my constituents on the case work when they come into my office. We’ve been very successful in bringing in over $2 million in benefits owed to our veterans and cutting through the red tape to make sure they get the health care that they need, when they need it.”
Stone shared his thoughts on how to improve veterans’ services.
“To me, it’s very tragic when you have 22 veterans (nationwide) who are committing suicide every single day,” Stone said. “Now I appreciate that he (Ruiz) has got this van that’s going to provide for some mobile services. … I commend him. But my plan is completely different. It will allow people not to wait for a van in a district as large as our 36th Congressional District. If I am elected, one of my first bills is going to be to completely privatize the VA—to sell off the Veterans Administration hospitals to private-sector hospitals and to enroll every veteran into the Medicare program or a Medicare-like program that allows them the freedom of choice to get the physician they want and go to the hospital that they choose. This will eliminate the backlog of people who are falling prey to a monstrous bureaucracy within the Veterans Administration.”
We asked the candidates about the failure of Congress to approve any funding thus far to combat the increasing presence of the Zika virus.
“I think that it’s an example of the partisan gridlock that puts partisanship against the best interests of the citizens of the United States of America,” Stone said. “I strongly support funding for the development of a vaccine quickly, because we’re seeing the horrific birth defects caused as a result of the virus. I think that something needs to be done in the next 30 days. They need to sit down like adults and come up with the appropriate funding, and let’s get that Zika vaccine out there before we see an epidemic of the Zika virus … infecting a lot of pregnant women who will have severely disabled children on their hands.”
Ruiz said he’s also concerned about the virus and its possible effects on families.
“I’m concerned not only about potential stressful and emotional experiences tied to giving birth to infants with microcephaly, because that means they’ll have to cope with the burdens and emotional stress of caring for a developmentally challenged loved one for the rest of their lives, but also about the struggle with a $10 million or more financial burden for the lifetime of that loved one,” he said. “That is why I’m advocating for the full funding that the scientists and public-health experts and health-care providers have said they need.
“I am thoroughly disappointed that the House Republicans introduced a bill that only had a third of the funding necessary. Still, there are things that I can do locally. I’m holding town halls, and educating my constituents through social media and PSAs so that they know how to keep themselves safe from the Zika virus. I’ve visited the Coachella Valley (Mosquito and Vector Control District) and discussed ways that we can collaborate so that they have the resources and information that they need to move forward. I’ll encourage (Speaker Paul Ryan) not to play politics and put riders into a bill. … There is no ‘wait and see’ here, because once a child has microcephaly, they will always have microcephaly in their lifetime.”
Stone said he supports a bipartisan approach to tackling problems.
“You know, it shouldn’t depend on whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. If you come up with a good solution to a problem, it should be embraced in the best interests of the state of California, or if you go to Congress, in the best interest of the 339 million people living in this country,” he said. “It shouldn’t be based on just partisanship. Those are areas that I think the public is frustrated with, and I think that’s why you’re seeing the popularity of Donald Trump. I think that’s why you saw the popularity of Bernie Sanders, because people are tired of politically correct speech and people just toeing party lines and not getting things done. This is going to be a very unique election.”
Ruiz expressed optimism about his chances in November.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to represent my constituents in my home area for another two years,” he said.
Rep. Raul Ruiz and state Sen. Jeff Stone will take part in a debate at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16. The debate will air live on News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2, and will be streamed live at KESQ.com and Desertsun.com.