Bud Kennedy

Who’s the best bet for Barton’s seat? Wright has name recognition, but watch a former Navy pilot

Then-chief of staff Ron Wright, left, and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton at a 2004 Eagle Scout luncheon in Arlington.
Then-chief of staff Ron Wright, left, and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton at a 2004 Eagle Scout luncheon in Arlington. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Ron Wright of Arlington has waited years for a chance at Congress, and suddenly, it only took one nude pic.

As Rep. Joe Barton’s successor-in-waiting, Wright has been biding his time seven years or longer, ever since he left Barton’s Washington office to come home and relaunch his local political career.

Finally, the phone rang Thursday with the news he’s long anticipated.

Barton’s first words: “Ron, I’ve decided I’m not going to run again.”

“It’s been a whirlwind of a week,” Wright said Friday. He was calling from Austin after quitting as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and filing his paperwork to run in the March 6 primary for Barton’s District 6 seat representing Arlington, Mansfield, east Fort Worth and two counties to the southeast.

Wright said he never knew anything about a nude photo of Barton from a past relationship, or that Barton had ever made what two women described as unwanted advances.

“I don’t think anyone on his staff knew,” said Wright, director of Barton’s local office for nine years and chief of staff in Washington for two.

“Joe Barton was a good man who made some terrible mistakes and choices,” Wright said.

Wright had come to Barton’s office after four terms as an Arlington mayor pro tem and councilman, chairman of the Arlington Republican Club, as a guest columnist for the Star-Telegram opinion page, and chairman of an Arlington homeless shelter board.

Since he left Barton’s office in May 2011, Wright has become “In God We Trust” Ron. As county tax assessor-collector, he added that Civil War-era U.S. motto to tax bills and payment envelopes.

Now, at 64, the former construction manager is looking at life as a House freshman older than his party’s senior leaders.

His political philosophy is “very close” to Barton’s, he said.

“But the campaign is going to be about the future — it won’t be about the past,” he said.

Wright joined three other Republicans who had already filed. Two are Deborah Gagliardi of Arlington, a former city council candidate, and Monte Mark Mitchell of Fort Worth, who has run for Congress before.

But the other candidate was already running against Barton and brings a high-profile challenge.

Jake Ellzey, 47, of rural Ellis County near Ovilla, is a former U.S. Navy officer and fighter pilot who flew in the opening war strike in Afghanistan.

Jake Ellzey tweeted a 2014 photo aboard the USS Ronald Reagan with former Gov. Rick Perry. http://www.twitter.com/JakeEllzey

He ran for a Texas House seat and lost in 2014, but said that was when he had just moved to the area.

In an interview taped for broadcast at 9 a.m. Sunday on WFAA/Channel 8’s “Inside Texas Politics,” Ellzey said he was running against Barton because they disagree on term limits — Barton is on his 17th — and on Barton’s support for the Dream Act allowing children brought to the U.S. illegally to stay.

Ellzey is a friend of former Gov. and now Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and campaigned for fellow veteran and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Ellzey’s military experience offers a potential advantage. Wright’s father served and worked for defense contractors General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin Aeronautics) and Bell Helicopter, but Wright is not a veteran.

Ellzey declined to comment about Wright in the TV interview. But in 2012, when Ellzey was campaigning for Dewhurst against now-U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Ellzey openly mocked Cruz’s lack of military experience.

I dare Ted Cruz to come into any VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] post anywhere in the state and talk about fighting,” Ellzey said then.

Wright knows something like that might be coming in the campaign.

“I’d be the first to thank him for his service,” Wright said.

“I think I have more practical experience and knowledge in terms of Congress and how it works, and the people in the 6th District.”

Last week’s news was sudden.

But Wright has been planning this campaign for years.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.