In a crowded seven-candidate field to replace retiring State Representative Garnet Coleman in District 147, Jolanda “Jo” Jones stands out in the Democratic primary race.
Jones, 56, is a medal-winning athlete, University of Houston graduate, criminal-defense attorney, reality-TV star, and a politician who previously served on the Houston City Council, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board, and the Democratic Party committee for Senate District 13.
Despite having grown up surrounded by violence in Houston’s Third Ward—including the suicide of her father when she was only 13 months old, and the murder of a sibling—the Black lesbian Houstonian has had some notable successes. The longtime LGBTQ advocate was once married to an abusive husband, and until a year ago was in a relationship with businesswoman and trainer Cherisse Traylor, her best friend since 1982.
“My [current] girlfriend is my campaign,” Jones laughs. “I can’t even think about dating until it’s over.”
She has indeed persevered through a rough childhood, an abusive marriage, and suicidal thoughts. “Whenever I was at my most desperate, there was always someone there for me,” Jones recalls. “My aunt or my grandmother—it was a village of people.”
She knows her past political experience will benefit the constituents of Texas House District 147.
“Having an attorney drafting legislation will be good, and having someone with past government experience is a plus,” Jones says. “When I was on City Council, people would call and complain about things that were State issues that I could do nothing about. [And then while I was on the HISD board], the same thing would happen [with people complaining about school funding] that we could do nothing about.”
Her priorities at the state level would be voting rights, healthcare access, public education, and public safety.
“There are states where you have to opt out of voting,” she explains. “In Texas, you have to opt in. That’s wrong. We should also have same-day registration, longer voting hours for workers, and restore voting rights to those who have done prison time. Voting is stacked against the poor and minorities.
“I also want to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid in Texas. Before Obamacare, I didn’t even have health insurance. My son broke his foot and it got infected. They were going to amputate it. I nearly went bankrupt saving my son’s foot. That shouldn’t happen in this country.”
Jones was living in Spain when her son was born, and she had free prenatal and natal care while she was there.
“When it comes to Texans’ health care, I say ‘What would Governor Abbott get?’ When he got COVID last year, he had the antibody treatment,” Jones notes, referring to the governor’s Regeneron therapy, a two-drug cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that costs $1,250 per infusion. “Whatever health insurance the governor and the legislators have, everyone in Texas should have,” she says. “What they get, we all should get.”
Jones also has a laser-focus on public education. “Teachers and school staff need pay raises,” she says. “And I’m not for tax dollars going to pay vouchers for private schools. Plus, we need to focus more on trade schools. Not everyone is cut out for college. Trades—like electricians and plumbers—make good money. And the tugboat captains down at the port can make up to half a million dollars a year, in some cases.”
She’s also adamant about improving public safety. “People don’t need assault rifles,” Jones emphasizes. “As a criminal-defense attorney, I know what the system is like. People want to blame judges for letting violent offenders out on bail. But often, the district attorneys won’t set a bail hearing, and that forces the judges to set bail for them. That’s the law right now.”
Jones is also passionate about LGBTQ rights, and very proud of her son, Jiovanni, who is now 30 and recently graduated from law school. She raised him to be an advocate, and he has been a straight ally member of the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus since he was 12. “He’s always been supportive of me, and I’m very proud of him,” she says.
“I fight for the oppressed,” Jones concludes, “and against the oppressors.”
For more about the candidate, visit jolandajones.com.
This article appears in the February 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.