The Fort Worth Business Press profiles Rep.-elect Ramon Romero and his winning race against longtime incumbent Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90.
Ramon Romero Jr. describes himself as “that poor boy from Poly,” one of eight children of immigrant parents who grew up in working-class southeast Fort Worth, started his first business when he was 20 and ultimately became an up-by-the-bootstraps success story.
Now, at 40, Romero is poised to become the first Latino state representative from Tarrant County after carving out an 111-vote Democratic primary victory over the dean of Tarrant County’s legislative delegation, Rep. Lon Burnam, a 17-year House member who is known as one of the chamber’s liberal firebrands.
The victory was widely seen as a triumph for Texas Hispanics, who have propelled much of the state’s population growth over the past 15 years, as well as perhaps an inevitable transition in House District 90, an inner-city Fort Worth district where Latinos constitute nearly 76 percent of the population and almost 72 percent of the registered voters.
Burnam took office in 1997, succeeding legendary State Rep. Doyle Willis, who served in both the House and the Senate for a total 42 years to become the second longest serving member in the Legislature.
During his time in the House, Burnam developed a reputation for passionately defending the interests of his district but acknowledges that as an Anglo lawmaker, he was becoming increasingly vulnerable to the rapid-fire expansion of the Hispanic electorate.
Burnam survived his first serious challenge in 2012 against school board trustee Carlos Vasquez. But he was unable to withstand the assault from Romero, a well-known member of the community who was fresh from a runoff bid for the Fort Worth City Council in 2012 and had the backing of prominent Tarrant County Hispanic leaders, including Councilman Sal Espino and Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon.
Romero’s biggest financial backer was wealthy Dallas lawyer Domingo Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully for the 33rd District congressional seat in 2012 and has been a vocal advocate for expanding Hispanic representation in Congress and the Legislature. He donated a total of $35,000 to Romero.
Romero grew up in the Polytechnic neighborhood, graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1992. He was barely in his 20s when he started a swimming pool construction company and later developed a stone distribution venture. Although he vaulted upward on the economic ladder, Romero says he has never wanted to leave the neighborhood where he grew up and looks forward to serving those he grew up with.
“People in District 90 related more to Ramon Romero than they did to Lon Burnam,” he said. He acknowledged that Burnam “worked for the district and definitely fought for the district” but said the lawmaker didn’t face and understand some the same challenges as those “who face them on a daily basis.”
Romero said he began eyeing a run for Burnam’s seat “almost immediately” after his unsuccessful council bid against Kelly Allen Gray, who wonthe District 8 council seat. He said he consulted Espino, who helped him analyze his chances of mounting a successful campaign.
A major element in his strategy was to develop a tri-ethnic coalition composed of whites, blacks and Hispanics, Romero said, dismissing post-election talk that the campaign was designed solely to propel an Hispanic into office.
“I could not have won this by the Hispanic vote alone,” he said. “It’s time we get past that conversation. It’s about the person that related to the community.”
Although Garcia’s financial support raised claims of outside influence and prompted talk that the Dallas attorney was trying to build a base for a future congressional run, Romero said Garcia took no role in the campaign other than to offer encouragement and to “support me financially when I needed it.”
“Domingo really had no role,” Romero said. “He didn’t come out to campaign. He simply gave me support.”
Burnam largely attributed his loss to the “demographic shift” in the district, saying “people mainly tend to vote based on their own personal identity.” He said he recognized the “obvious trend” and was even prepared to ultimately to support an Hispanic “replacement” to take over the seat.
“I would have been perfectly happy to stand aside in 2014 had we found what I consider the person who is truly representative of the value system of the district,” he said. “I don’t think Mr. Romero is.”
During the campaign, Burnam depicted Romero as a Republican-friendly “fake Democrat.” Romero flatly dismissed the assertion and said he has never voted Republican.”
First, let me again congratulate Rep.-elect Romero on his victory. I join many others in saying I’ll miss Rep. Burnam, but Romero earned his win and I wish him nothing but success. It’s fair to say, as one commenter on his Facebook page noted, that he has “giant shoes to fill” and “will be watched like a hawk by many skeptics”. One hopes the latter is true of all elected officials. I didn’t follow this race but I look forward to seeing what Rep.-elect Romero brings to the Legislature.