Joe Ernest Moreno, state representative, was born in Houston, Texas, on August 12, 1964, to Frank E. Moreno, Jr., and Alice (Perez) Moreno. The oldest of three children, he was raised in Denver Harbor, a historic, blue-collar, and largely Hispanic neighborhood located near the Houston Ship Channel. A graduate of St. Thomas High School, the University of St. Thomas, and Texas Southern University, Moreno lived a life focused on community service and political activism. As a teenager, he frequently volunteered to canvass neighborhoods and distribute campaign flyers during state and local elections. In the late 1980s he began working as a staffer and legislative aide for a number of state representatives, including Albert Luna III. Eventually, Moreno became chief of staff and campaign manager for State Representative Jessica Farrar. He was also an election judge in Harris County Precinct 62, and served as Democratic chairman of that precinct from 1994 to 1998. Moreno was an active member of the Resurrection Catholic Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Harris County Tejano Democrats, and the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 60 in Houston.
In November 1998 Moreno was elected to represent Texas House District No. 143, comprising several communities in eastern Harris County, in a special election held after the resignation of State Representative Gerard H. Torres during the Seventy-fifth Texas Legislature. As a member of the Texas House from 1998 to 2005, he served on the House Committee on Business and Industry, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues, and the House Committee on Border and International Affairs. Moreno also acted as vice-chair and chair of the Harris County delegation, a bipartisan group of twenty-five state representatives—fourteen Republicans and eleven Democrats—representing districts within Harris County. In 2003 he joined more than fifty Democratic legislators (nicknamed the “Killer D’s”) who crossed the state line into Oklahoma during a highly-publicized walkout staged to prevent passage of a controversial Republican-backed redistricting plan.
Over the course of his career Moreno authored more than 100 pieces of legislation. He supported initiatives to improve bilingual education programs, increase the availability of tuition grants for local college students, and expand access to affordable health care. He also spearheaded efforts to designate the Port of Houston as an international green coffee exchange in 2003, making it one of just four such exchanges in the United States. Although he supported other projects to expand the Port of Houston, Moreno was particularly concerned with air quality, especially after separate investigations by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Houston Chronicle revealed toxic levels of air pollution in parts of his heavily industrialized district.
In recognition of his work, Moreno received an outstanding legislator award from the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities in 1999, as well as the 2003 Legislator of the Year award from the Justice of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas. He also received commendations from the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, the Hispanic Contractors Association of Greater Houston, and the Houston-Gulf Coast chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, among others.
Moreno died in an automobile accident on May 6, 2005, and was buried in the Texas State Cemetery. An avid basketball fan, Moreno was returning to Austin after a late-night playoff game between the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks when his vehicle lost traction outside of La Grange, Texas, and flipped several times. As a tribute to his public service, the Houston Independent School District named Joe E. Moreno Elementary School in his honor in 2005. Additionally, The Mostyn Moreno Foundation, which supports educational programs for special needs children in Texas’s Gulf Coast region, was founded in 2006.