Tarrant County’s leadership becomes more diverse

03/22/2014 3:46 PM

03/22/2014 3:47 PM

With this year’s primary election in the history books, one thing is clear: Tarrant County’s leadership looks different than in the past.

Local voters on both sides of the political aisle chose a broader mix of candidates in the March 4 primary election — including the first Hispanic state representative and first female district attorney — than has been seen in recent years.

“Tarrant County is becoming more diverse, Texas is becoming more diverse and the United States is becoming more diverse,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “Politics is a picture of the American population and that population is changing dramatically.

“There’s an evolution taking place.”

Political observers say this year’s primary election shouldn’t be reduced to a footnote, not at a time when Tarrant County is poised to retain Hispanic judges, an Asian county commissioner and an African American member of Congress.

No race is final until the Nov. 4 general election, but decisions made in the primary election also moved forward a Fort Worth woman hoping to become the state’s next governor and a Fort Worth man (with a famous last name and a mother who was a Mexican immigrant) who wants to be the next land commissioner.

As the state’s population continues to shift, already having become a “minority-majority” state, so does — and will — the face of Tarrant County’s elected leadership.

“The growing ethnic/racial diversity among the ranks of elected officials in both parties is a reflection of the growing diversity of Texas, where Anglos now account for less than half of the population,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“This trend is also present, albeit with more of a lag, in Tarrant County.”

It’s a good trend, one that will pay countless dividends for the community down the road, observers say.

“We know decision-making is different when women, people with different ethnicities, people with different lifestyles and families are in the room,” Riddlesperger said. “Having different people in the room affects the decisions being made.”

Here’s a look at some of the the diversity among Tarrant County’s leadership that is poised to be retained or gained after the March primary.

Federal races

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, an African American and Fort Worth man who became the first person to represent the 33rd Congressional District last year, easily bested his challenger — Tom Sanchez — by claiming nearly 80 percent of the vote in the Democratic Primary.

The Democrat faces no Republican challenger in November; Libertarian Jason Reeves will be on the ballot.

State races

High on the 2014 ballot is a key sign of diversity, political observers say — female candidates for the state’s top two posts: governor and lieutenant governor.

Fort Worth Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis is seeking the top job, and her coworker, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, is hoping to become second in command.

In November, Davis goes head-to-head with Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer of Dallas, and a Libertarian who will be chosen by party members during an April state convention.

Van de Putte will face off later this year against the winner of the GOP May 27 primary runoff, which pits incumbent David Dewhurst against challenger state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston. Also on the November ballot will be Chandrakantha Courtney of the Green Party and Libertarian Brandon De Hoyos.

Beyond that, Fort Worth’s George P. Bush — son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba, a Mexican immigrant — handily claimed the GOP primary nomination to become Texas’ next land commissioner with 73 percent of the vote.

He heads to the Nov. 4 election as a front-runner against Democrat John Cook, Green Party candidate Ulises Cabrera of Bryan and a Libertarian who will be chosen next month.

And state Rep.-elect Ramon Romero Jr. of Fort Worth becomes the newest member of the Tarrant County legislative delegation after defeating fellow Democrat and longtime incumbent Lon Burnam by 111 votes to represent House District 90.

No Republican, Green or Libertarian candidates have filed to run for this post. Romero is poised to become the first Hispanic to represent the district and Tarrant County.

Local races

Tarrant County Commissioner Andy Nguyen, who in 2010 became the first local commissioner with an Asian surname elected to the court, handily retained the Republican Party’s nomination.

He claimed nearly 70 percent of the vote over challenger H. Suzanne Kelley and faces Democrat Kenneth Sanders in November.

Republican incumbent judges Jesse Nevarez (231st court) and Ruben Gonzalez (432nd court) narrowly fended off primary challengers, both claiming their party’s nomination with less than 51 percent of the vote. Neither faces a Democratic, Green Party or Libertarian challenger in November.

Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon handily bested his challenger, Marcario “MAC” Belmontes, claiming more than 71 percent of the vote. He faces Republican challenger Cheryl Surber in the November general election.

And there was Sharen Wilson’s victory in the race for Tarrant County District Attorney.

After claiming nearly 60 percent of the vote against two opponents in the GOP primary, she faces no Democratic, Libertarian or Green Party challenger — and is on the verge of becoming the first local female district attorney.

“It is becoming more diverse in Tarrant County,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “The hallmarks of this was when Andy Nguyen was elected a commissioner, Marc Veasey a member of Congress, and now Ramon Romero a state representative.

“It is occurring in both the Democratic and Republican parties,” he said. “Once, the various parties had Anglos representing the minorities and now the minorities are beginning to represent themselves in both parties.”

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