When Dr. Raul Ruiz was sworn in Jan. 3 as the new U.S. Congressman for California’s District 36, his family members, friends and a few of his strongest LGBT supporters from the Coachella Valley were there to witness the fulfillment of their collective dream.
Among the attendees in Washington, D.C., were Joe Enos and Michael Benthall of Palm Springs. Both recently told Desert Outlook about their experience and why it was important for them to be a part of the historic occasion.
What was the general atmosphere like for the swearing in?
Benthall: It’s was pure excitement in the House as we arrived. People from all over the country were here to see their newly-elected congressperson.
Enos: The atmosphere is celebratory. For all the dislike of Congress right now, people have come from all over the country to celebrate the election of new members and the re-election of their representatives.
What, if anything, about the occasion surprised you?
Benthall: It was great to see so many people from the district looking forward to representation for everybody.
Enos: I was surprised by the number of people from the district who flew to Washington, and the number of lobbyists who were making office visits on this first day.
Why did you want to be there for the swearing in?
Benthall: I wanted to be here to show support and to witness an historic occasion — this was a true American success story.
Enos: I wanted to be here to see history made. I’ve believed Raul Ruiz’s story from the beginning- a real American success story – and I think he’ll be a rising star in the Democrat party. It was really thrilling to be here and have him named “most likely to succeed” in the freshman class of the 113th Congress by the political blog Politico (Jan. 3).
How does Congressman Ruiz seem to be adjusting to his very high-profile position?
Benthall: He’s going to adjust just fine. After all, he’s been an emergency room doctor, dealing with all kinds of situations and people. A perfect match. There’s now a doctor in the House!
Enos: He’s the same Raul Ruiz we’ve known all along — hospitable, kind, caring. He welcomed everyone to his office with a handshake and a hug.
What’s been the highlight of your visit?
Benthall: For me it was speaking to the mayor of Coachella, who had come to Washington, D.C., to support his friend, Raul Ruiz, and what this means to young children from the east valley, and what he said about Raul Ruiz being a role model to them. Dreams are possible.
Enos: It was very exciting to be in Raul Ruiz’s office, when House Whip Steny Hoyer, came to get Congressman Ruiz to take him to the House floor for his first vote. It seemed so historic — so important that a senior leader came to get the freshman Congressman to show him to the floor. Everyone was just stunned.
What does it mean to you to have Ruiz representing your community in Washington?
Benthall: It’s nice to have support in Washington. And it was stated to me several times by Raul Ruiz’s staff members that there’s an “open door” here for everyone.
Enos: The election of Raul Ruiz for me means that everyone in our district will have a voice in Washington. That LGBT issues like equality will have a champion. For me, it is symbolic that Raul is opening a district office in Palm Springs and that his district director is Greg Rodriquez, a gay father who lives in Palm Springs.