Celia Israel’s civic service resume reads a mile long. The long-time Travis County Democrat is probably most recognized for the work she did on former Gov. Ann Richards’ administration.
But that was only one of many destinations along Israel’s political journey.
Now Israel is racing toward the District 50 State Representative seat Mark Strama vacated earlier this year. Fittingly, one of Israel’s top priorities will be to address some of the district’s frustrating transportation issues. In fact, Israel is passionate about fostering a road flow that not only benefits drivers, but the district’s many users of public transportation as well.
“I was raised on the bus,” Israel said. “My dad was a truck driver and my mom never learned how to drive. So, back in those days you got on the bus, you went downtown, you paid your bills. For us, the bus was a way of life.”
Public transportation resonated with Israel so much she found herself attending Capital Metro and CAMPO meetings, “to school myself on transportation policy,” she said. “If you look at District 50, you’ve got congestion on (Highway) 183 and MoPac and you’ve obviously got congestion on I-35,” Israel said. “District 50 is like the cap on top of Travis County and we are seeing the traffic every day. We’re sandwiched in between the inner city and our outer Central Texas brethren who are coming in to the hub.”
Since knocking on 10,000 doors, Israel said she’s discovered transportation is second only to public education in the district.
“I would say 80 percent of the conversations at the door involve support for public education,” she said. “And, these are not necessarily people who have children in the public school. They are people who know how important public education is to our future.”
And Israel wants to cultivate a better working relationship between the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court while giving the county more authority to make and act on decisions about development in unincorporated areas. She says the lead-up to improving historically hazardous FM 969 in eastern Travis County is a prime example of what happens when local governments don’t work together to fund and execute on projects outside of city limits.
“(FM 969) was certainly not something the city was going to jump in on,” Israel said. “It was not in the city’s jurisdiction so that burden was affecting a lot of country residents without any support from the city.” City issues are different from county issues, she says, and require county oversight.
“I live in an unincorporated area,” she says. “We see illegal dumping, cut-through traffic, subdivisions sprouting up without the authority of the county. Land use planning should be done with the city and county working in concert. You need to give the county the authority to say ‘maybe that landfill shouldn’t be located there.’ Or ‘maybe that refinery shouldn’t be there.’ In this half of Travis County it’s way too easy for people to say ‘If it’s an industrial thing, we should just put it here.’ ”
But before Israel can tackle any of these issues, she must win the seat. A staunch Strama supporter, she says this race is more challenging than the last one her predecessor faced.
Strama’s 2012 victory came easily without Republican opposition. The current race has three Democrats – Israel, attorney and former assistant district attorney Rico Reyes and business owner Jade Chang Sheppard – as well as Republican chiropractor Mike VanDeWalle.
“We (Democrats) got complacent,” Israel said. “Without that challenge, you don’t have an opportunity to go out there and till the soil, meet the voters and reintroduce yourself. There’s a lot of retail work that needs to be done and we haven’t done it in over three years.”
Israel says her community service curriculum vitae is what sets her apart from her rivals, from work she’s done to combat mental illness and hunger to serving on the police monitor board after Sophia King was killed in a controversial police shooting incident in 2002. She served on the AISD school safety task force after Ortralla Mosley was stabbed to death by her boyfriend at Reagan High School in 2003.
Israel, a real estate professional, advocates for small business, is chair of the Advocacy Committee for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as the treasurer for the Stonewall Democrats of Austin which supports and advances LGBT rights issues. Israel recently won the coveted endorsement of both the Central Austin Democrats and the University Democrats, an automatic Austin Progressive Coalition endorsement. She has also received endorsements from South Austin Democrats and the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council.
“These weren’t just things I colored up my resume with,” Israel said. “I rolled up my sleeves. I did the work. I was enriched by the experiences. That’s going to make me a more well-rounded, informed member of the Texas House of Representatives.”
Israel will face fellow Democrats Rico Reyes and Jade Chang and Republican Mike Vandewalle in the Nov. 5 election. See In Fact Daily tomorrow for more profiles.
To read more about Israel, go to www.celiaisrael.com.
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