South Texas voters will no longer be able to choose a Ruben Hinojosa to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa.
A 33-year-old law student who wanted to go by Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa on the Democratic primary ballot in March will instead go by a different name: Ruben Ramirez.
That's because state Democratic party officials are forcing him to change it.
Party officials say their decision this week to lop off “Hinojosa” — the surname of the candidate’s mother — from the ballot listing could prevent confusion for voters in Congressional District 15. And they say Ramirez failed to prove he goes by the name Hinojosa.
But Ramirez, a McAllen native, accuses the party of launching a “culturally insensitive” effort to hinder his campaign, noting that Democrats have commonly allowed candidates to go by nicknames such as “Chuy.”
“I think it’s a lapse in judgment,” the U.S. Army combat veteran and University of Houston law student said late Wednesday. “They’re letting their political friendships pressure them, and they’re caving in to their friends.”
After Texas Democrats initially accepted the candidate’s filing to compete under the name Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa, several party members said they were concerned that some voters would support him thinking they were casting ballots for U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, who is retiring after representing the district for two decades.
That apparently included the congressman himself, whose staff openly talked about asking the party to change the candidate’s name on the ballot, suggesting that he be listed instead as Ruben Ramon Ramirez — the name he used in the 2012 Democratic primary when he drew about 5 percent of the vote.
Last week, a party official told The Texas Tribune that it had “no authority” to change the listing, unless an opponent challenged it in court. Now it has reversed course.
“After further review and on the advice of our legal counsel the Texas Democratic Party requested that Mr. Ramirez clarify that he meets the statutory requirements to use 'Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa' as his ballot name in order for us to certify that all information in his filing is correct,” Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said in an email Thursday. “Mr. Ramirez refused to sign a sworn affidavit attesting that he has gone by the name 'Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa.'”
Ramirez, who describes himself as pushing back against the party’s establishment, questioned the Democrats’ legal authority on the matter, and said he was made to jump through several hoops on short notice to verify the authenticity of his name.
(Ramirez says he isn’t trying to confuse voters and that he’s proud of his mother’s name — Hinojosa — which he uses interchangeably with Ramirez, his father’s last name. Also, he doesn’t think much of Rep. Hinojosa, who he has called a “do-nothing, do-little congressman.”)
At 1:09 p.m. on Monday, the candidate received an email from Jim Boynton, the party’s primary director, demanding proof — by noon Tuesday — that Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa was his “given name” or a nickname he had commonly gone by for at least three years — a requirement under Texas election law. Ramirez forwarded the exchange to the Tribune.
On Tuesday morning, Ramirez responded with a copy of his birth certificate showing that Hinojosa is his mother’s name, noting “it is well established that Latinos use both their father and mother’s last name — even when their legal name does not so reflect.”
Less than an hour later, the candidate attached a sworn affidavit in which a friend attested to knowing him by Ramirez Hinojosa for at least three years.
Boynton responded at 2:22 p.m. Tuesday, saying the information did not meet legal requirements. He asked the candidate to swear in a signed affidavit that Ramirez Hinojosa met the requirements for a listing on the ballot. He gave a deadline of 5 p.m. that day.
“It became very apparent from their actions and their wordings that they weren’t going to let this go,” Ramirez told the Tribune.
Ramirez responded about 17 minutes before the deadline.
“I respectfully reject and contest the decision reached," he wrote in an email that did not include an affidavit. “I formally request your specific legal basis and interpretation for the decision?”
Boynton responded Wednesday morning, saying the party would list the candidate as Ruben Ramirez, “in light of your unwillingness to swear or affirm that your 'name is Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa.'"
Ramirez said he believes he has legal grounds to challenge the party’s decision, but he doesn’t plan to do so.
“You have to pick your battles,” he said, adding that this one was “taking away from the message” of his campaign.
His campaign will try to capitalize on the attention from the name drop. It has created a new logo featuring the full Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa name, but with “Hinojosa” crossed out.
Other Democrats in the race include: Edinburg lawyer Juan “Sonny” Palacios, former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairwoman Dolly Elizondo of Mission; Joel Quintanilla, former Hidalgo County Commissioner and Mercedes mayor; McAllen attorney Vicente Gonzalez; and Rance G. ‘Randy’ Sweeten, a McAllen accountant.