Jess Herbst: "Diversity should be the norm, not the exception"
Jess Herbst serves as Mayor of New Hope, Texas, a small town in Collin County with a population of 700 people. However, being elected to office is not her greatest accomplishment in life, thus far: Jess recently transitioned into her true identity as a woman, coming out in the public eye. Jess finds immense pride in her community, knowing that in a rather conservative region, she is still accepted and supported by New Hope citizens. She hopes to carry on the legacy of her father – an activist for civil rights and equality during the 1950s, when Texas was heavily segregated. Jess looks up to her father’s acceptance of diversity, hoping to instill the same values in her mayoral responsibilities.
Jess was born in Greenville, Texas in 1958. As a child, Jess looked up to her father, who, in the 1960s, was the only dentist in Greenville to service African-American patients. She distinctly remembers her father answering the phone at all hours of the night, ready to serve any of his patients if they needed him. Jess realized that her father’s recognition of equality pushed her to seek diversity in all aspects of her life. When she entered first grade, Greenville began integrating schools and businesses for the first time. Jess recalls that her childhood friends happened to be starkly contrasting ethnicities from her own after the integration of the town’s educational institutions. This inspired Jess’ drive to pursue diversity in all aspects of her life, saying “diversity should be the norm and not the exception.” By the time Jess reached junior high school, her best friend at the time decided to run for student body president. Jess served as her friend’s campaign manager where she recruited volunteers and made signs for her candidate. Her friend eventually won his campaign for student body president. At the time, Jess didn’t realize that by campaigning, she had begun her journey towards a life of politics. By her sophomore year in high school, Jess attended Texas Boys State, a statewide conference in Texas for young men to develop their skills as a political candidate. The conference required participants to volunteer as political candidates after being divided into towns – these candidates had to gain the support from the voters in their “town”. Jess was voted by her town to serve as the State Senator after a short day of campaigning. Through this experience, Jess feels that she learned the foundation of deal-making and overall politics. In 1999, Jess and her family moved to the farming community of New Hope, Texas, located in Collin County. As a resident of New Hope, Jess noticed the number of gravel roads leading to homesteads. She started to advocate for paved roads both with the Public Works teams and the New Hope City Council. Soon enough, Jess had created a name for herself in the small town she called home. Jess eventually sought out the appointment of a vacated alderman’s seat, in 2003, to distribute more paved roads - she successfully received the appointment. This sparked her drive to run for office, including winning city council campaigns in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. When Jess previously ran for office, she noted that her campaigns tended to be smaller scale with only a handful of yard signs and resources. Now, leading up to her current election day in May 2018, Jess leans on the strength of her children and wife for immediate support with her campaign including graphic content, block walking, and online personal websites. She also began religiously attending New Hope council meetings to gather insight on the responsibilities of a council member. Additionally, Jess had the unique opportunity to witness the inside workings of another city council: she serves as a Broadcast Engineer for the City of Plano. In this position, Jess records and broadcasts every Planning & Zoning meeting as well as every City Council meeting. She says that she pays a lot of attention to some of the people she admires most on the Plano City Council, including Mayor Harry LaRosiliere. Jess knows that with the help of family support and observational learning, she has high hopes to win her current campaign for Mayor. The City of New Hope has a population of 700 people with the entire town encompassed in 1.4 square miles. Jess described the town as a community of “homes on acreage”, only sporting one major grocery store. Even though New Hope presents all of the qualities of a farming community, the town is situated in Collin County, one of the fastest growing counties in Texas. Collin County is expected to hit an overall population of one million people in the next decade. With the exponential population growth, Collin County has now incurred new obstacles such as an increased number of housing development projects in unincorporated land, tremendous new traffic, and limited law enforcement resources. Amidst the growth of the county, Jess advocates to maintain the small town feel of New Hope. She is currently working with other entities across North Texas, including TxDOT, to help steer development of the county to be most advantageous for New Hope. Jess said “New Hope is a small town in the middle of growing pains that aren’t ours.” Jess is currently running for re-election as Mayor of New Hope, but has transformed her appearance since she was last elected. Jess is a transgender woman who recently transitioned this past year. In fact, her greatest accomplishment in life, thus far, has been coming out so publicly and still maintaining the support of her rather conservative community. Jess teared up as she began to explain the stacks of letters from children around the world, thanking her for coming out publicly. She said most of the letters addressed the fact that these children have been hiding their true identity yet, after hearing Jess’ story, felt confident enough to come out. Jess described her emotion by saying, “you can’t have a greater accomplishment than affecting someone else’s life in a positive way. It was touching.” Jess advises women interested in running for office to “do it and do not be afraid.” She compared living under a male identity for most of her life almost like being a “spy” for women, realizing that she needed to do everything she could to eliminate invisible borders and promote diversity. Jess feels like the “good ole boys” of politics, as she described it, pretend to be inclusive but are only throwing women a bone. She said that if women don’t want to run for office, they need to still “get out and vote.”