Gina Hinojosa saw stunning examples of public servants dedicating their lives to their communities almost everyday in the form of her parents, both legal aid lawyers.
Despite growing up in that world, Hinojosa — who has served on the Austin ISD School Board since 2012 — didn’t think she would ever want to be a part of it.
“When you’re in public service, it’s like you belong to everybody,” Hinojosa said. “I didn’t like that my dad belonged to everybody, I wanted him to belong just to us.”
After serving on the board, Hinojosa decided to jump into a crowded field of candidates for an open state House of Representatives race so she could move the needle at the state level on one of her top priorities: education.
“We’ve been making good progress [at the board], but our biggest challenge is funding,” Hinojosa said. “That’s a state issue. So whenthis seat came open, I just felt like I had to try.”
Earlier this month, Hinojosa emerged victorious from the pack of six other qualified candidates — one a recent UT graduate and another a law professor —for House District 49 with around 57 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff election that would have extended the campaign into May.
Although he remained neutral throughout the campaign, longtime state Rep. Elliott Naishtat — who is currently serving in the interim session until the legislature reconvenes next year — said he was pleased his successor aligns with his stances, including opposing campus carry, and prioritizes public health and education funding.
“She is focused on issues I’ve always tried to address,” Naishtat said.
The two first interacted with each other back in 2015, when Hinojosa was actively advocating against a bill that would have stopped the proactive monitoring of birth defects. Hinojosa, whose first child passed away from birth defects, said she went to testify in front of the House Public Health Committee, which included Naishtat as a member.
“There’s was such comfort in knowing that there was no hidden agenda on his part,” Hinojosa said. “He was honest and … to know that your legislator was on board and has integrity — that’s huge.”
After her primary win, Hinojosa said she has received an outpouring of support and advice from members of the Travis County delegation and Naishtat on how to operate as a new member in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have an enormous membership advantage.
Hinojosa said she hopes to address state public education funding, and the rising costs of living prices and higher education tuition rates as some of her top focuses in the student-heavy district.
“In 2011, we had major cuts to public education,” said Maliha Mazhar, University Democrats communications director and government senior. “In the last legislative session we got some of those back, but there’s still a lot of funding that can be given back to schools, which should be a top priority.”
While she has a head start on getting her staff in order for the next session — unlike members who have general election opponents — Hinojosa said she is taking in as much advise as possible as she prepares to succeed Naishtat in January.
“I mean, those are big shoes to fill,” Hinojosa said. “There’s a lot of work to do to begin earning that trust.”