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U.S. Rep Ruben Gallego
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego is challenging Kyrsten Sinema for her spot in the U.S. Senate in 2024. Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Ruben Gallego.

A showdown in Arizona: Ruben Gallego talks his 2024 run for U.S. Senate against Kyrsten Sinema

Gallego would be the first Latino ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona should he be successful in 2024.

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U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego thinks he’s a Democrat Arizonans can get behind. 

He’s a Harvard graduate and Marine combat veteran, a former assistant minority leader in the Arizona State House, a multi-term serving U.S. congressman, and a candidate for the U.S. Senate. 

Gallego is challenging senior U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema — the Democrat-turned-independent — for her seat after much criticism from Gallego regarding her party switch and overall leadership in the chamber. 

If elected, he’d be the first Latino to represent the Grand Canyon State in the U.S. Senate. 

In a conversation with AL DÍA, the four-time re-elected congressman discusses being raised in Chicago, Harvard, the military, his Senate campaign and issues facing the state. 

Growing up in Chi-Town 

Gallego was born and raised in Chicago as the son of an immigrant mother from Colombia and an immigrant father from Mexico. However, his father was not present and was raised by his mother along with his three sisters. 

“I had, a lot of what unfortunately Latinos face, a long road and a lot of adversity,” Gallego said. 

His mother struggled to raise four children on a secretary’s salary alone, prompting him to start working in his youth, including jobs at a meat packing plant, pizzerias, being a busboy, working as a line cook, and carpentry. 

“I did what I could,” said Gallego. “I would bring home money for my mom to help out.” 

All of this only pushed the future congressman to succeed in life, not just for himself but for his family. 

“I needed to succeed for my family. I needed to also be the man of the house,” he said. 

A Latino at Harvard 

When it came time for college, it was also something Gallego had to work to afford.

“I knew that in order for me to go to college, I needed to get scholarships because we were poor,” Gallego said. 

Everyday after work, Gallego would study as well as keep up his good grades and began practicing for college exams. He was accepted into every college he applied to, including Harvard, and secured a scholarship. 

“It was an impactful and prideful moment for my family,” he said. 

Once he got to the Ivy League, Gallego found it hard to fit in as one of the more poorer students at the school and he knew like before, he had to find money. 

“Harvard was hard. It was not the academics but just a very different culture,” said Gallego. 

Among other jobs, he mainly worked as a janitor at Harvard where he was cleaning other students' bathrooms. 

“It's a little prideful, but you have to suck it up. It helped me get money and honest work is always worthwhile work,” Gallego said. 

The future congressman was also a reservist during college to afford school and later used his money saved while fighting in Iraq to pay off the $15,000 he had left in debt.

The Marines and treatment of veterans 

Gallego’s military and combat service would prove to be one of the defining moments of his life, as it would later inform him as a newcomer in politics, and now a U.S. Congressman vying for a Senate seat. 

He was sent to Iraq as an infantryman following graduation and was in the unit that saw some of the heaviest casualties of the war, losing best friends in the process.  

“To this day, it haunts me,” Gallego added. 

Gallego later wrote a book about his time at war, They Called Us “Lucky” — about his time in Iraq and those he served with from immigrant households and the Navajo Nation. 

Upon his return, he committed himself to be in service to his fellow veterans and began by running for office. He has advocated to ensure that veterans are never again sent into war without a plan for winning and providing resources for when they return. 

“Growing up in that kind of situation, growing up poor, and then with my military experience, it made me focus on what I wanted to do in life,” he said. 

Education and work was hard to come by and the system was not prepared, he said. Gallego said the GI bill was not modern enough to deal with the returning veterans. 

“They didn't know how to deal with so many young veterans that had PTSD, with veterans whose limbs were shot off,” he said. 

Gallego’s first ever bill passed in Arizona’s House of Representatives was HB 2410 in 2011, allowing honorably discharged veterans to receive in-state tuition at any state school no matter how long they have resided in Arizona. It applies to all branches of the military including the National Guard and reserves.

Achievements in Congress 

Gallego's first foray in public service was working on ballot initiatives in Phoenix, later serving as a Chief of Staff for a member of City Council and Vice Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

He was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2010 and became an Assistant Minority Leader, fighting for Medicaid expansion, among other issues. He resigned in 2014 to run for Congress where he’s been re-elected four times. 

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego
Gallego's achievements over the last nine years include helping veterans, teachers, the Navajo Nation and more. Photo: Getty Images.

During his time in Congress, some of his prouder achievements include helping the Navajo Nation, teachers, and veterans. 

“And being a leader among Congressional Hispanic Caucus members when it comes to helping get more Latinos elected,” he said. 

Senate run and Arizona pains 

For Gallego, there are a number of issues hurting Arizonans today and it first starts with raising the minimum wage. 

“You can work your tail off making minimum wage in parts of this country and that's not enough for you to pay for an apartment,” he said. 

It is an issue that Gallego said Sinema voted against, and on the issue of regulating the price of pharmaceuticals. 

“People all over the country are paying more because people like Kyrsten Sinema, who instead of negotiating for Arizonans, negotiated for the pharmaceutical companies,” he said. 

Immigration 

As the son of immigrants, immigration is not just a political issue, but a personal one. This is especially true in Arizona, a border state. 

Gallego’s been on the forefront of comprehensive immigration reform, backing bills that passed in the House, but were held up in the Senate because of the filibuster — a tool that he opposes. 

“If we pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill out of the House, I'm going to make sure that it gets passed in the Senate. I'm not going to let some old rule stop it,” Gallego said. 

He has also supported funding to secure the border and ports of entry, and secured increased resources for border communities.

“We passed three immigration bills out of the house and Sinema, because she’s more interested in preserving the filibuster than in saving people's lives, upheld the filibuster and did not pass immigration reform,” Gallego said. 

He added that political leadership is also missing from the Arizona Senator. 

“If it wasn't for her, we would have immigration reform and millions of Latinos would be able to come out of the shadows,” he added. 

Abortion 

Arizona currently allows abortion up until the 15-week mark and Gallego defends the right to choose following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. He’s voted for legislation to guarantee the legal right to travel across state lines to get an abortion and supported access to contraception.

In Congress, he’s co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act and the My Body, My Data Act, that protect women’s health care providers and sensitive medical data. 

“We have the vote to protect Roe v. Wade, and to pass a national status so it actually would be illegal for you to ban abortion,” he said. 

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego
Gallego has also never been shy about sharing his opinions on social media, where he has developed a following. Photo: Getty Images.

If elected, he said he’d continue the fight for women’s reproductive rights, starting by waiving the filibuster to codify federal protection for Roe v. Wade, unlike his opponent. 

“If you don't have the political courage of Kyrsten Sinema to actually do it, that's why there's some people that are going to be hurt because of her stances,” Gallego said. 

Inflation and the economy 

High inflation has also hurt Arizona’s small businesses and working families and stems from a variety of reasons, and was exacerbated by corporations price gouging Americans on basic necessities. 

For Arizona, Gallego points to housing institutions as being the biggest cause. 

“That's been the biggest drag on it, our gas prices have gone down,” he said. “Our energy prices are pretty stable. Eggs are a big inflationary cost right now in Arizona.”

Gallego suggests the solution for families is for them to have the ability to get a child tax credit. They had one for six months and proved to help. He argues that it should come back. 

He’s also helped pass the Inflation Reduction Act and invested in clean energy as well as fought corporate price gouging with the Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act, a package of bipartisan bills. 

In him, Gallego said Arizona voters will get a Senator who remembers who they are and where they came from – saying the state deserves better. 

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego
Ruben Gallego has been a familiar face in U.S. Congress for the last nine years. Now, he wants to take it to another level. Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Ruben Gallego.

“They deserve someone that's been thinking about them all the time and their kids and not think about the powerful and the rich,” Gallego said. 

Sinema’s seat is up in 2024. She has yet to indicate if she will run for re-election.

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