Battle to replace Joe Barton ramps up as voters head back to the polls this month

For more than three decades, voters in one North Texas congressional district have seen the same name on their ballot year after year.

This year, they won't see that familiar name — Joe Barton — when they head to vote.

Earlier this year, voters narrowed a field of 16 candidates hoping to represent the 6th Congressional District to four. Now, during the May 22 primary runoff election, they must pick one Republican and one Democrat to face off in November for the right to represent the district.

Republicans will choose between Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey; Democrats will choose between Jana Lynne Sanchez and Ruby Faye Woolridge.

Early voting for the primary runoff election runs from Monday through Friday.

“Voting in these congressional elections is critical,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Once an individual is an incumbent, they may stay in office for multiple decades.

“These seats don’t turn over very often and tend to not be that competitive either between the parties or within the party of the winner," he said. "Now is the time where voters have their say in who may represent them for a long time.“

At stake is a two-year term that pays $174,000 a year representing a district that includes part of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

The winner of each primary will head to the Nov. 6 general election.

Barton, who won his first bid for office in 1984 after Phil Gramm decided to run for the Senate, came under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones sent to a female constituent. He announced in November that he would not seek another term in office.


Wright 45 percent of the votes in the March primary.

But that tally didn’t pass the 50 percent threshold, which means he heads to the runoff with the second largest vote getter — Ellzey, who picked up nearly 22 percent of the vote in the March primary race that included 11 candidates.

Wright, a longtime Tarrant County resident, has served on the Arlington City Council, as Barton’s chief of staff and district director and, since 2011, as tax assessor collector.

Top issues, he said, include securing the border, ensuring the government lives "within its means" and maintaining conservative values.

Wright said he has "the willingness to say no to the Washington establishment, who will doubtless demand loyalty in exchange for joining their club. I'm not interested in doing that. This job will not be a career move for me, but a chance to take the small government, conservative values I hold up to D.C. and stick to them on behalf of the voters.

"Texans are tired of seeing Congress shed their campaign promises," he said. "I won't give in to the 'swamp.'"

Ellzey, a retired Navy pilot, is a commercial airline pilot and a member of the Texas Veterans Commission. If elected, he promises to serve just five terms, or 10 years, which makes him ineligible for a pension.

Border security, strong national defense, reducing the country’s debt and caring for veterans are key issues in this race, as well as "front-line leadership and real-world accomplishments," said Ellzey, who flew combat missions for two decades.

"This is a calling and a passion and a duty," he said. “I’ve been very blessed in my life. It’s my duty to give back.”

Already touting an endorsement by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ellzey recently announced he has the support of retired Lt. Col. Stuart Jolly, the national field director for President Trump's 2016 campaign.

Money in the race: Ellzey had around $25,000 in cash on hand and $20,000 in outstanding debts. At the same time, Wright showed he had less than $10,000 in the bank and more than $137,000 in campaign debts, according to April filings with the Federal Election Commission.


The top two Democrats each drew 37 percent of the vote in the primary. Woolridge claimed 15 more votes than Sanchez in the field of five candidates.

Woolridge, a longtime community activist and education counselor who ran against Barton two years ago, said there are several key issues, including the economy, education, housing and properly caring for veterans.

"I've been listening to a lot of citizens," said Woolridge, of Arlington. "They are concerned about the economy. They don't feel they are better off than they were two years ago. They don't feel the tax break.

"They feel they are left out and things are not trickling down to their level," she said. "They don't see the light at the end of the tunnel."

If elected, Woolridge said she can help change that. She's served the community for decades and said she understands what families are going through "because I've been there."

Sanchez, a public relations specialist and Waxahachie resident, said she believes voters are concerned about many issues, including healthcare, GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, public education and working wages.

"As a political newcomer who has rallied extremely diverse support during this campaign, I am best positioned to bring a fresh approach and represent everyone in the district," she said. "Democrats are ready for a candidate who will fight hard for them and win in November.

Money in the race: Sanchez had $56,000 on hand and no outstanding debts; Woolridge had $47,000 on hand and around $15,000 in campaign debts, according to April FEC filings.

Other races

Here's a look at other primary runoff races Tarrant County residents will weigh in on May 22:

Republican: 342nd District Judge, Pat Gallagher, Kimberly Fitzpatrick; Probate Court No. 1: Patricia Cole, Chris Ponder; County tax assessor-collector, Mike Snyder, Wendy Burgess; Justice of the Peace Precinct 4, Christopher "Chris" Gregory, Jacquelyn Wright; and Justice of the Peace Precinct 6, Jason Charbonnet, Chris Garcia.

Democratic: 25th Congressional District, Chris Perri, Julie Oliver; Governor, Andrew White, Lupe Valdez; and Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Frieda Porter, Kenneth D. Sanders.

Who can vote? If you voted in either primary, you are eligible to vote in that party's runoff. Registered voters who didn't vote in the primary can vote in either party's runoff.

For election information: Local voters with questions about the election should call the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-8683. Voters statewide may call the Secretary of State’s Office at 1-800-252-8683. Sample ballots are on the Tarrant County Elections website,

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
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