Born and raised in Houston, Isabel Longoria, 31, once wore a cowboy hat to an eighth-grade dance at The Rice School. After that, the moniker “Texas,” or sometimes just “Tex,” followed her everywhere.
“There are still people today that call me that,” laughs Longoria. A longtime campaigner, staffer, and self-described policy wonk, Longoria is making her first run for office this year by throwing her hat into Houston’s City Council District H race.
In November of this year, Houstonians will vote on the mayor, controller, and all 16 City Council seats. While many of the Council seats are open, the District H incumbent, Karla Cisneros, is seeking her second four-year term.
“There were actually some civic-club leaders that approached me,” says Longoria. “They said Karla is nice, but they wanted someone a little more proactive in the seat.
“District H is my community; almost my whole public career has been in the district. I’m a grassroots community person. Running at-large, or for a county seat, was too far removed from helping people one-on-one. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines.”
Longoria earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Trinity University in San Antonio in 2010, and then a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin. She has worked on political campaigns and in the staff offices of such politicians as former State Senator Sylvia R. Garcia and State Representative Jessica Farrar. She has trained volunteers in block-walking and phone-banking, with an emphasis on reaching Latino and LGBTQ groups.
“District H is my community; almost my whole public career has been in the district. I’m a grassroots community person.”
She also volunteered on Wendy Davis’ campaign for governor in 2014, and on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) campaign in 2015. Although that proposition failed, she would support a city-wide equality ordinance again.
“Of course I support it,” Longoria says. “But there are other things we need as well. The City doesn’t even have an LGBTQ support office for City employees right now.”
But her first priority, if elected, would be to focus on affordable housing and development issues. District H, mostly north and east of downtown, is 76 percent Hispanic with a slightly older population, which means that it has some of the fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods in the city. She recently stepped down from the Houston Planning Commission, an appointed board tasked with creating sustainable growth and development across Houston.
“We need to make some changes to avoid flooding and pricing people out of their neighborhoods,” Longoria says. “At the Planning Commission, we aren’t allowed to ask developers how their projects will impact affordability and flooding in the neighborhood.”
Longoria also wants to work on social-justice and equality issues (which is where a reboot of HERO comes in), as well as fair wages and mandatory paid sick leave. She would also concentrate on community outreach and engagement.
“Why can’t elected officials block-walk all year long?” she asks. “Why can’t we hold community office hours at bars and parks where the people are? Not everyone can get downtown, find parking, and get through security to visit their representative at City Hall. I try to look at the bigger picture. We have a real problem with stray dogs in District H. I’m all for saving puppies on the side of the road, but there’s also a public-health issue here—people being bitten by strays and such.”
Longoria worked as the associate state director of advocacy and outreach for AARP from 2015 until this summer, when she resigned to campaign full-time.
“I saved up my money so I could support myself for six months,” Longoria says. “I couldn’t work full-time and run a campaign. I think that’s one thing that keeps younger people out of politics. Luckily, I can afford to do this. It was either buy a house or run for office, and here I am. On the plus side, I can dedicate myself to the campaign every hour of the day now.”
Another issue about running for office is juggling a relationship. Longoria recently started dating someone, and says it’s been “interesting” trying to balance both. She really doesn’t have much downtime right now, but she tries to relax at her rental home in Woodland Heights where she enjoys gardening and researching fun facts about anything and everything.
“I love to garden,” Longoria says. “Not well, but I love it!” She admits that part of its charm is that it makes her focus on the yard and forget about campaigning for a bit. Also, she likes it because it’s environmentally friendly. “It’s better to grow vegetables in your yard, rather than just grass. Plus, I love cooking with what I grow.
“At one point I actually wanted to be an organic farmer,” she recalls. “But then I realized I needed to grow something bigger.” Like a community.
For more information about Isabel Longoria, visit IsabelLongoria.com.
This article appears in the October 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.