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Meet the Newest Adventist Congressman: Dr. Raul Ruiz


Dr. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat representing the Coachella Valley (CA-36), identifies as a Seventh-day Adventist. According to Roll Call, “Ruiz is sure to get ample national attention because of his unusual-for-Congress backstory: A son of migrant farm workers, he persuaded local business owners to donate $2,500 toward his first college payment by promising to return home as a physician. He was back 17 years later as a local emergency room doctor — and Harvard officials believe he is the first Hispanic to earn three degrees from the university.

According to a profile in the Desert Sun: “In the late 1970s, the Ruiz family moved to a single-story home in a working-class neighborhood, about a block from Bobby Duke Middle School. They regularly attended Spanish Seventh Day Adventist church on Clinton Street in Indio, and Ruiz attended Desert Adventist Academy there for several years of elementary school on scholarship.”

For his third year in medical school, Ruiz traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to work with the international aid group Partners in Health. “I spent eight months investigating the use of herbs by health promoters in Chiapas during low intensity warfare,” Ruiz recalled in a 2007 piece he wrote for Partners in Health.

Later, in 2008, he further recounted of the experience: “I went in romanticizing the poor and their struggle and issues with social justice. But I came out of there realizing the tremendous nature of poverty and how real policies can actually affect human lives.”

Harvard Medical School news notes: “From the very start he made it clear that he was committed to returning to work with the indigenous community from the Coachella Valley where he was raised,” said Alvin Poussaint, HMS associate dean for student affairs, who remembers Ruiz as a passionate and driven student with a gift for inspiring others. “He always knew that he would become a doctor, and return to serve his community.”

Roll Call adds: Ruiz says his first-term focus would be to leverage his celebrity and new congressional clout to diversify the economy of the Coachella Valley, a vast expanse of fruit and vegetable fields between Los Angeles and Arizona. He wants to help bring federal medical research, as well as more spending on wind and solar power, to the area. 

He advocates more federal spending on education and veterans’ programs, gay marriage, an accelerated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent for those earning at least $1 million a year. Like many Democrats, he says his main prescription for slowing the growth of Medicare is to allow the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices. Like many physicians (but not very many Democrats), he says the other big step toward controlling health costs should be curbing medical malpractice litigation and damage awards. He says he’ll seek committee assignments that give him a hand in shaping health and education policies.

Recently NPR profiled Dr. Ruiz as part of a segment on the most diverse Congress in history. And Politico named Ruiz “most likely to succeed” in the new 113th freshmen Congressional class. 

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