These days, if you’re a rising star in Democratic politics, it is downright weird if you don’t have Eva Longoria in your corner.
The 39-year-old actress starred on the long-running ABC satire Desperate Housewives and in more lackluster theatrical fare such as Harsh Times and Over Her Dead Body. She’s done commercials for L’Oréal, and hosted Saturday Night Live. But her work as an entertainer isn’t what’s earning her the biggest headlines these days—it’s her role as a serious political activist and powerhouse in Democratic politics.
“I've always been politically active,” Longoria told The Daily Beast. “I've been involved since Clinton ran in ’92, volunteering, going door-to-door, canvassing, phone-banking…And coming from the state of Texas—the country of Texas, I should say—I’m definitely at the forefront.”
Her efforts have attracted plenty of attention and praise from grateful Democrats. “Eva is so much more than a celebrity who occasionally lends her name to causes,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)--whom Longoria enthusiastically campaigned for during his Senate run last year—told The Daily Beast in a statement. “Eva immerses herself in the pursuit of social and political justice. She knows the issues, is a great strategist, and is willing to sacrifice popularity for her larger sense of purpose. When I first met her, I was impressed and inspired by the fact that her activism is at the center of her being, and it is that authenticity that I believe makes her such a potent force for progressive change.”
During the 2012 presidential election, Longoria was an Obama campaign co-chair and one of the president’s top bundlers, and she delivered one of the more memorable speeches at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. “[Mitt Romney] would raise taxes on middle-class families to cut his own—and mine,” she said, building up to one of the convention’s biggest applause lines. “That’s not who we are as a nation, and let me tell you why: Because the Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers—she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not.”
Longoria’s impressive dive into politics and advocacy also includes working with first lady Michelle Obama on the anti-obesity Let’s Move! campaign, traveling to Capitol Hill to drum up support for the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, and even trying her hand at endorsing student body presidents. And when the actress met with Obama in 2012 following Congress’s failure to move on immigration reform, she pushed the president to get more productively “emotional” and to take swift executive action to protect undocumented kids. (Two months later, that’s exactly what he did.)
Her new role as a leading Latina power broker has brought her glowing coverage:
Longoria has been instrumental in building an operation and network dedicated to encouraging more Latino and Latina political participation, and to getting more Latinos elected to local, state, and federal offices—and she isn’t slowing for the 2014 midterms, or at any point in the foreseeable future.
“We had this amazing turnout in 2012…yet in the midterms, nobody shows up!” Longoria said. “It’s across the board. You can’t elect the president, then sit and stay home and not elect the people he has to work with…I love and adore Hillary [Clinton], but I’m definitely not going to be speaking about 2016 until we can continue to fix what’s on our agenda…We need to show our disappointment in the midterm elections; [at] this lame-duck Congress that won’t get anything done.”
During this election season, the actress/activist has been working mostly as a behind-the-scenes operator, and is involved in voter registration efforts, fundraising, getting out the vote, campaign events, and—in a not so behind-the-scenes effort—social media. (She told The Daily Beast that she is supporting “many people” this November but declined to name a few, so as not to appear to be publicly playing favorites.)
She’s been an active supporter of Voto Latino, an organization geared toward Latino Millennials, since its inception in 2008. When the group launched its Latinos 2014 project, Longoria was standing by.
“Eva and her organization [the Latino Victory Project] kindly jumped on board immediately,” Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, told The Daily Beast. “Not just reaching out to their networks, but also reaching out to other celebrity voices to help us during the [midterms].” This outreach includes a soon-to-launch photo campaign that will showcase celebrities holding up handwritten signs reading, “I’m asking you: Register to vote.”
“In 2010, Eva was one of the biggest advocates for United We Win, which went up against the SB 1070 law in Arizona,” Kumar said, referring to the state’s immigration law. “Eva lent her voice to make sure that didn’t happen [in other states]. She would be up at 5 in the morning hitting different radio stations across the country to remind folks to register to vote.”
And her work with the Latino Victory Project—which includes the Latino Victory PAC—runs even deeper. Founded by Longoria and DNC finance chairman Henry Muñoz, the project focuses on building Latino political power nationwide in order to “institutionalize what happened in 2012,” as Longoria has previously described it. (The Republican National Committee has called the project out as a “Democrat[ic] front group.”) As co-founder, she does everything from approving press releases to sending voter information to the project’s databases.
“We have never had a Latina elected to the U.S. Senate. Eva wants to change that,” Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, told The Daily Beast. “She is one of the only people in the country who can spearhead an effort, build an organization from scratch, who can do that…She has been creating a leadership pipeline.”
Longoria and Muñoz also co-founded the Futuro Fund, which hauled in more than $32 million from more than 100,000 donors for Obama’s reelection. “The two of them really figured out how to get Latinos to flex their muscle with their pocketbook, too—not just at the ballot box,” Alex said. “She was certainly one of the primary drivers for the fund, one of the key spokespeople.”
Alex recounted one of the first times he met Longoria, when the two attended a meeting at The Atlantic Philanthropies in New York City in late fall 2013. “This was the first time I had ever sat in a room with her to have a high-level conversation about strategy and politics, and about how to advance immigration reform, and she absolutely ran that conversation…Everyone in the room looked to her on her thoughts on strategy and guidance.”
Longoria has discussed with Alex the possibility of headlining events to engage voters in Texas, her home state and “the state with one of the largest numbers of unregistered Latino voters." The Latino Victory Project has a number of these activities planned for late October but is still hashing out the details.
And though Longoria dreams of one day seeing a Latino or Latina commander in chief sworn in, she has shot down any talk about running for public office herself. “Would I ever run for something?” she wrote in The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “God, no. I have more power as a citizen. Once you become a politician, your hands are tied. I’d rather have a voice.”
There’s at least one colleague who hopes she’s changed her mind since then. “I’m sure if she weren’t so busy being a movie star, she could be in the White House,” Alex said. “Or governor of the state of Texas, or certainly in the Senate. Maybe she’ll be the first Latina senator…I don’t say that jokingly. She’s brilliant.”
For the time being, it looks like Longoria doesn’t have time to consider running for office, even if she wanted to. “Ninety-nine percent of my time right now is devoted to helping Latinas through educational programs,” she said, referring to the Eva Longoria Foundation. She also has her hands full with Eva’s Heroes—a nonprofit she co-founded to help people with special needs—and promoting Food Chains, a Human Rights Watch-endorsed documentary that she executive-produced. The film examines labor in the U.S. agriculture sector and the “immoral practices” that affect thousands of farmworkers. (Longoria calls agriculture the “backbone of America.”)
“There are still so many labor laws that are broken daily, and there are so many labor laws that exclude agriculture that we have not changed or updated,” she said.
Going forward, Longoria and her political allies are, of course, going to renew their campaign for comprehensive immigration reform, a stalled ambition of the Obama presidency. Longoria says she has not spoken with Obama since news broke that he had delayed further executive action on immigration until after the November election. (That political calculation naturally pissed off a lot of Latino activists.) However, Longoria says she is not angered by the president’s delay; she’s forming another game plan. “We were extremely disappointed that we couldn’t get immigration reform done,” she said. “But we’re still pushing and working on something.”
And it’s this optimism that drives so much of her advocacy and action.
“We can’t dismiss the growing population, the changing demographics of our country,” Longoria noted. “And with that comes exciting times for everybody in America.”
Eva Longoria will be appearing at Women in the World Texas in San Antonio on Oct 22.