By Tony Castro, Voxxi
When Eva Longoria was unveiled as one of co-chairs of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, the reaction among the national press corps was the usual rolling of the eyes and chuckles that always accompany celebrities called into service as political surrogates.
“People go, ‘Who cares about your opinion, you’re just pretty,”’ says the “Desperate Housewives” star who perhaps is known more as one of Hollywood’s beautiful people. “And it’s like, ‘Why can’t I have an intellectual argument about immigration or health care reform just because I’m pretty?”’
But Longoria has now suddenly begun to rival Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the president’s leading Latino spokesperson — using her farewell tour for the “Desperate Housewives” finale as well as her platform pitching the new Pepsi Next and her perfume line to also sell Obama.
According to people who know the 37-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas native, becoming a national presidential campaign representative is a role she has taken to heart as seriously as any part that has made her a star.
To accomplish that, Longoria did what many politicians do — she hired experts who coach and advise celebrities specifically on how to sound like a public policy specialist. Since last year, she has been working with Trevor and Maggie Nelson, whose Santa Monica-based Global Philanthropy Group developed Latino issues talking points for the Mexican-American actress.
Early in the campaign, Longoria took to Twitter to challenge Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on his characterization of low-income Latino households, among them that children in poor neighborhoods “have nobody around them who works.”
“@newtgingrich you clearly know little about the Latina community,” Longoria tweeted. “Latina entrepreneurs start businesses at 6 times the national average.”
New Yorker writer John Colapinto says those are the same points repeated, “almost word for word” that he overheard a Global Philanthropy Group staff analyst work up for an unnamed Latina spokeswoman the company never identified, though Longoria is a client of the company.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week, Longoria repeated what she has previously revealed — that she has gone back to school to get a master’s degree in Chicano Studies. That school is Cal State Northridge, where she has done work online and met with some professors privately.
“Eva Longoria is smart and a beautiful actress but her interest in promoting Latinos and believing President Obama is the best person who can best achieve the goals of a Latino achievement is no act,” said a Cal State professor familiar with Longoria who was not authorized to speak publicly about the school’s students.
“I really wanted a better, more authentic understanding of what my community has gone through so I can help create change,” Longoria said in an interview last year when she first confirmed that she was pursuing a graduate degree in Chicano Studies.
Last week, explaining further, she told Good Morning America’s special guest host Katie Couric: “I find that I needed for myself to be literate in the topics I’m talking about. If you’re only superficially commenting on the topics you’re talking about, it’s dangerous. So I don’t want to contribute to that dialog.”
As talk of the Latino vote in the election has heated up, Longoria has also taken issue with likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s claim that his primary victory in Puerto Rico means he would get the Latino vote in the fall.
“Of all the candidates,” she told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview on women’s rights, “Mitt Romney is probably the one on the wrong side of every issue pertaining to Latinos: education, the economy, health-care access.”
But Longoria has also been smart in acknowledging the Obama administration’s disappointing progress on immigration reform.
“He’s done what he can do without having his hands tied by Congress,” she says.
“(I’m) doing my civic engagement by mobilizing voters and making sure they’re educated on the issues and operating from the belief that if you want to change something in this country you have the power to do that as a citizen. So those are probably the things I’m most proud of.”
Los Angeles-based writer Tony Castro is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America” (E. P. Dutton, 1974) and the best-selling “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son” (Brassey’s, 2002). His rite of passage memoir, “The Prince of South Waco: Images and Illusions of a Youth,” will be published in 2013.
This article was first published in Voxxi.
[Photo By Imagine Cup]