José Cruz, 30, won House District 89’s race by a landslide with over 65% of the vote, making him the first Latino ever to win in the district.
Over half of HD-89’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, which Cruz believes served to his advantage.
“The Latino community has been the sleeping giant for years…people were excited to vote for me because I was the first Latino [to win].”
DACA and Trump
In the bigger picture, Cruz and his community were not just heading to the polls to elect the first Latino representative, they were also concerned about the Presidential election.
“There’s a big sigh of relief…especially for the DACA kids—the dreamers—there’s a little more hope there. Under the Trump Presidency, that was threatened several times.”
Cruz described more in detail why he was concerned about the Trump presidency in an interview with Free Press before the elections.
And despite President-elect Biden’s victory, Cruz will be headed to the Capital with an even smaller number of Democrats in the House.
He explained that there have been discussions of being more bipartisan by Republicans. “I’m keeping expectations low,” Cruz said when asked how he anticipates working with a Republican-controlled House.
We got a chance to speak with Cruz over the phone to discuss the election results and how he plans to tackle issues at the Capital.
City Issues and COVID-19
Being located in an urban community, Cruz described how most of the issues his constituents mentioned were tied to the jurisdiction of Oklahoma City’s city council. Some of the examples he included were infrastructure and public safety.
Also, COVID-19 cases have been drastically increasing in the state and Cruz hopes that the legislature will have a say in how CARES Act funds are used. More specifically, he’d like to help with unemployment services.
“Our [COVID-19] numbers keep going up and I know the caucus is pushing for a mask mandate and I’m hoping that we can continue putting pressure on the governor to make that happen because…public safety is more important [than personal choice] at this point,” Cruz said.
Cruz worked for Congresswoman Kendra Horn during her first campaign in 2018 and shared his thoughts about her defeat last week.
“It’s a devastating loss because she worked so hard,” Cruz. “Unfortunately though, between the half-truth commercial and straight party voting, I think that’s what really hurt her because all of that rhetoric of her voting against Oklahomans wasn’t true.”
He said that Horn’s accessibility and the care she put into her job were overlooked by all of the campaign ads aimed against her.
The oil and gas industry is no doubt a hot-button issue in elections, and it could be one reason Horn lost her campaign.
When asked about how he would handle climate change and fracking-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, he said that he wants to do everything he can to protect his constituents from environmental disasters.
“[My constituents] are the ones who work hard and are out there doing manual labor for other people. A good portion probably work in oil and gas and construction, so their livelihood also depends on it, but public safety is also important,” he said.
Educating the voters
Cruz is labeled as a progressive by some metrics, including wanting to raise the minimum wage, and he says his community is in favor of these views because they want actual progress
He recognizes that there are true concerns about progressive issues like raising the minimum wage, but he strives to educate voters in hope of helping them understand issues more in depth.
“It’s a matter of educating the voters because if they don’t get it, if they don’t feel good about it, if it’s unclear, they’re not going to risk it,” he explained.
“In Oklahoma, at least in House District 89, my constituents want progress, right, because what they currently have and have received has been minimal to nothing.” he said. “And so they are the ones who need the help. They haven’t seen any progress. Maybe other areas have, but in House District 89 we’re lacking a lot of things.”
Homelessness is a huge public safety issue in his district due to a lack of mental health resources and increased poverty rates. “Currently, if you have a mental health problem [in Oklahoma] you’re going to jail. That’s the only way the state knows how to handle things,” he said.
Cruz was sworn in at the state Capital Wednesday which was unusual for him on many levels. Not only was it his first time but, it is the first time in anyone’s memory that the swearing in has not occurred in the respective chambers because of construction and the need for social distancing. The swearing in was held in the rotunda area.
Shawn Ashley with eCapitol posted this photo from the swearing-in provided by House photographers. Cruz is in the foreground.
Sustain our journalism by becoming a supporter
Oklahoma City Free Press is dedicated to providing high quality journalism that positively impacts our community. Click this linkto support our mission.