Texas Tribune News
Leading Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is launching a campaign for U.S. Senate, entering a Democratic primary to oust Republican John Cornyn that has steadily grown throughout the summer.
The daughter of an immigrant mother, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and founder of the progressive Latino youth group Jolt Texas, Tzintzún Ramirez argues she has the best story, experience and ideas to harness the energy of Texas’ ascendant voters, particularly young people of color. To do so, she will have the help of some of the top organizers from Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, a potentially pivotal asset as the crowded field vies to build on O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
“I don’t think we have a reflection of those in power that represent the Texas we are today. I think I represent those ideals and the diversity of the state, and I want Texas to be a national leader in solving the major problems that our country faces,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in an interview, citing health care, immigration and climate change as major issues the state should be at the forefront of tackling.
Tzintzún Ramirez made her candidacy official in a video Monday morning.
The longtime organizer joins a primary lineup that is approaching a double-digit tally. Among the better-known contenders are former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 2018 U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sema Hernandez, who was the runner-up to O’Rourke in the 2018 Senate primary.
Tzintzún Ramirez welcomed a competitive nominating contest as healthy for Democrats, saying the candidates in the Senate race are “all essentially at the same starting place,” unknown to most voters statewide and thus forced to run on the merits of their platforms. Asked how she plans to distinguish herself, she pointed to her forthrightness on the issues and her record of mobilizing the kind of voters often overlooked by politicians.
“I know how to speak to the diversity of this state,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.
Tzintzún Ramirez could add a more progressive and confrontational voice to the primary. In the interview, she voiced support for Medicare for All, the single-payer health care proposal championed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the two-time Democratic presidential candidate. At the same time, she said she would be pleased to start with a public option that would give people the choice of signing up for government-run health care.
Tzintzún Ramirez also tore into Cornyn, repeatedly saying he should be “embarrassed” to represent Texas while not sufficiently addressing its biggest issues, such as its highest-in-the-nation uninsured rate. Discussing the recent El Paso shooting, Tzintzún Ramirez said Cornyn has “sat silently by” while President Donald Trump has used the kind of rhetoric that fueled the anti-immigrant attack, and the two have “created a target on the backs of immigrants and Latinos in this state.”
As the primary caretaker for her 2-year-old son, Tzintzún Ramirez said it was a difficult decision to enter the Senate race. But much like when she started the Workers Defense Project when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin and Jolt Texas when she was several months pregnant, she said she felt compelled by broader forces.
“Those were not the right personal times, but they were the right political moments to do that work, and I think this moment is no different,” she said.
Tzintzún Ramirez had been the subject of a draft effort by a group of progressive operatives, including alumni of O’Rourke’s Senate bid. They will fill top positions on her campaign — Ginny Goldman, co-founder and former executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, will be campaign chair; Katelyn Coghlan, O’Rourke’s deputy field director, will be campaign manager; and Zack Malitz, O’Rourke’s field director, will be senior adviser. Alexa Sousa, O’Rourke’s distributed organizing director, will also be involved in the campaign.
Additionally, Tzintzún Ramirez is working with Middle Seat, the digital firm that helped O’Rourke raise record-shattering amounts of money last cycle. Her campaign treasurer is Eugene Sepulveda, the Austin entrepreneur, philanthropist and Democratic fundraiser who chairs the Jolt Leadership Council.
Tzintzún Ramirez has left Jolt for the campaign, and Jolt’s senior strategist, Antonio Arellano, has taken over as interim executive director.
Disclosure: Eugene Sepulveda has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.