Veteran political organizer and White House official Emmy Ruiz discusses her upbringing, leading winning campaigns, and working under Biden
The WH Political Director and Assistant to the President is a gay Latina whose life’s work has led her to the nation’s capital.
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Emmy Ruiz is living the American Dream.
Two-years ago, she accepted the opportunity of a lifetime and moved to D.C. to work in the White House under the Joe Biden Administration as the Director of the Office of Political Strategy & Outreach and as of September 2022 — the Assistant to the President.
She has spent a lifetime in advocacy and electoral efforts, leading winning Presidential campaigns like that of President Barack Obama and others like that of Hillary Clinton. She’s also always made efforts to empower women and girls, the Latino community, and young voters along the way.
In an interview with Al DÍA, Ruiz opened up about her early upbringing, her career in politics and organizing and working with President Biden.
Ruiz was born to Mexican immigrant parents in Harlingen, Texas and raised in La Feria — a small town that lives on the southernmost tip of the state near the U.S.-Mexico border with a population just under 10,000.
She described the town and her upbringing there as her brother explained it to her once — like Mayberry, North Carolina, the fictional community and setting for American television sitcoms, The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.
“A very wonderful place to grow up and a great place that my parents chose. An agricultural and rural community where we got a lot of opportunities because of it,” said Ruiz. “My dad and my mom were laborers when they immigrated.”
Her father’s foreman would give him and the family pieces of land overtime and worked on the weekends. The rural and agricultural economy is a huge attraction for immigrants like her parents entering the country looking for immediate work.
“There was a big sugarcane mill that I think still exists in some federal setting. Those are big magnets for immigrant workers,” she said. “And now, not only do they have one of the largest firms in La Feria, and probably across Texas, so I'm very proud of my upbringing there.”
Her parents and two of her three brothers still reside in the South Texas town.
Ruiz began her career in politics shortly after college, but first received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English language and literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2006 and her certification in Non-Profit, Public, and Organizational Management in 2007.
Throughout her years in college, organizing “was always on my mind,” she told AL DÍA
“Like many kids across this country, I didn't really know how to get involved and didn't know where to even start, where to go, how to volunteer, what kind of jobs were available. I have always loved writing and reading, and I used to be much better at it,” said Ruiz.
Upon finishing her studies, Ruiz became a Development Coordinator and Grant Writer for the American Red Cross where she would meet someone who’d go on to change her life’s trajectory.
Working as a grant writer, Ruiz met former First Lady and then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a Red Cross event in 2008.
“That really threw me into public service, the nonprofit world and the nonprofit work,” Ruiz said.
She applied as a field organizer and got the job, serving in Las Vegas for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign during the 2008 Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses.
“It really did create a springboard for me, and in an unconventional way, that I had always been interested in politics and public service without really understanding how to get involved,” she said.
Ruiz helped lead a successful campaign that saw them beat out Barack Obama in Nevada — who would go on to win the Democratic nomination and presidency.
“And when the opportunity presented itself, those around me, my mom, my brothers, really encouraged me to jump right in,” Ruiz said.
During the 2008 general election, Ruiz served as the Young Democrats of America’s National Field Manager and in 2010 advised USAID’s Yes Youth Can effort focused on registering and mobilizing young voters in Kenya.
Ruiz then spent two years as the Texas Field Director for the Democratic National Committee and Field Director for Organizing for America in Nevada. She then took her winning ways to another campaign — a historic one.
In February 2012, Ruiz went to work as the General Election Director for President Barack Obama’s successful re-election campaign, working in Las Vegas again.
She said that, current position excluded, working on those campaigns was the “greatest opportunity I got.”
“The opportunity to knock on those doors to hear people, to learn, to understand what it means to have a government that serves people, that opportunity to make their voices heard,” she added. “Those lessons have given me purpose in my life and in my profession. It's something that I tried to institute, the day to day of how I interact with my colleagues, with my team members, and also at home.”
Over the course of the next four years she would serve as Deputy Director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee at the Office of Public Engagement, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Campaign Manager for Organizing for Action.
She also served as the Political Director for Annie’s List, a Texas-based group that recruits, trains, and supports progressive women running for state and country office offices.
In April 2015, Ruiz would start a year tenure as Nevada State Director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign, and then in April 2016 became the Colorado state director.
In February 2019, Ruiz co-founded NEWCO Strategies, a D.C.-based and majority LGBTQ+- and women-owned consulting firm that helps campaigns and organizations, where she also served as a partner for two years before receiving a very important call.
As President Joe Biden entered office for the first time in January 2021, Ruiz would get a phone call from Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President, asking if she would be interested in being the White House Political Director.
She was also the former Deputy Campaign Manager on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign.
“She and Jen O'Malley Dillon [WH Deputy Chief of Staff] had been kicking this around, and I just couldn't believe it,” Ruiz said. “It's not that I just wasn't interested, or I didn't know, it just never crossed my mind that this can be an opportunity.”
“That's why it's so important, this community that we're a part of, because sometimes dreams are so big that they never cross your mind until somebody else brings them to you,” she added.
Ruiz credited the Biden Administration for executing his vision of a diverse White House. Senate Democrats also confirmed Biden’s 100th judge on Feb. 14, 2023. It’s confirmed more judges by this point in a presidential term than any other previous administration.
“This wouldn't be possible without the President and his vision for this administration, the most diverse administration today,” she said. “I feel honored and very proud of my parents because I know that more so than it being my accomplishment, it was truly theirs.”
“It's even more inspiring to see these people seated across the table fighting for these communities, making sure that they're reflected and represented in every single policy that we do,” she said about the diverse appointments.
Ruiz was elevated to be a new Assistant to the President in September 2022, where she is a part of a team that oversees key areas concerning Biden.
“We manage the President's politics. I would think of this as the relationships that have been with him for a long time,” said Ruiz. “He's also the leader of the Democratic Party and we manage those relationships with the different committees with campaigns and candidates.”
She cited the President's travels across the country during the midterms showing up for rallies and events for Democrats up and down the ballot, including in Pennsylvania with now-elected U.S. Senator John Fetterman and Governor Josh Shapiro, some of the candidates they manage relationships with.
“We also do a lot of work to support his travel. So who he's interacting with, making sure that we’re working with other departments to engage local elected officials, and people that have been impacted by the policies, the historic achievements of the Biden administration,” Ruiz said.
A gay Latina serving holding one of the senior-most West Wing positions is a reflection of the changes that have come under Biden, who has made good on his campaign promise of diversifying the judicial and federal courts as well as those who work with him.
Ruiz is one example of the continuing diversification efforts from the nation’s Commander in Chief.
“I have been very lucky to get to learn from people like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Barack Obama and many other elected officials along the way,” said Ruiz.” I have been a great beneficiary of their work and their service and their mentorship.”
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