In the back of the conference room inside the Fort Worth Police Officers Association’s headquarters, Manny Ramirez’s parents sat and watched as their son worked his way across the room, talking to supporters and friends.
For the Saginaw couple, their son’s victory for the Precinct 4 seat on the Tarrant County Commissioners Court represents the changing of the guard and offers an opportunity for more Hispanic representation in elected office.
After all, Ramirez is the first Hispanic elected to the Commissioners Court.
“Manny is actually breaking the glass ceiling,” said his father, Manny Ramirez Sr., who grew up in Saginaw. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for Manuel to shine. And it’s a proud moment for us, as a people. We didn’t have very many Latinos when I grew up here.”
Ramirez’s win on Nov. 8 marks a continuation of the longstanding hold Republicans have on northwest Tarrant County. The 34-year-old won with 59% of the votes against his Democrat opponent Cedric Kanyinda, who received 41% of the votes, with 100 percent of the voting centers reporting.
The former police officer turned president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association doesn’t want his heritage to be the only thing people see. Instead, Ramirez prides himself on running a campaign focused on issues rather than political polarization.
“I’m a husband, father, Christian and businessman, and I just happen to be Hispanic. And at the end of the day, my family’s heritage, culture and values obviously play a role in who I am as a person,” Ramirez said. “But ultimately, I don’t think just winning a race is the accomplishment. I think the accomplishment will be whenever we’re in office and we do an incredible job.”
Kanyinda congratulated Ramirez on Twitter on Nov. 9.
“May you be guided by God in your decision-making for all of us in Tarrant County. Stay blessed,” he tweeted.
Ramirez succeeds Republican J.D. Johnson, who has been in office since 1987. Johnson’s son, Jody Johnson, lost to Ramirez in the primaries.
Following this election, Ramirez will be the youngest member on the Commissioners Court that welcomes two other new members. Republican Tim O’Hare will be the new county judge and Democrat Alisa Simmons will be the new Precinct 2 commissioner.
Tarrant County Precinct 4 is home to the county’s largest Hispanic population, almost 40%, according to 2020 census data. It is also the second largest precinct in the county, accounting for 531,353 people, after Precinct 2 in southeast Tarrant County.
Xavier Medina Vidal, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, said any sort of representation is important, especially as Tarrant County continues to grow more diverse.
“When we talk about the first Latino, the first Mexican-American to be in a certain office, it’s always significant. It’s always historical,” Vidal said. “Unfortunately, Tarrant County has been sort of way behind in a lot of these sort of historical moments in terms of descriptive representation.”
Hey there! I’ll be live-tweeting results from the Tarrant County Commissioners Court Pct. 4 seat from @MannyRamirez_TX‘s watch party at the @FWPOA HQ, starting at 7 p.m.— Sandra Sadek (@ssadek19) November 8, 2022
Follow our live result blog online at @FortWorthReport: https://t.co/MYMdkSuUB8
Ramirez is set to take office in January. His top priorities will be to get several infrastructure projects started, including the 2018 $800 million bond package allocated toward the JPS Health Network improvements. For him, it’s all about running an efficient county government that saves taxpayers’ dollars, he said.
“We think Tarrant County has the ability to be the leader in the state of Texas for smart infrastructure growth, for economic development, for quality of life for our residents. That’s really going to be the focus for us,” Ramirez said.
Kyle Carr, a 67-year-old White Settlement resident, had infrastructure and border security at the top of his mind while waiting to cast his ballot at the White Settlement Public Library on Nov. 8. Since moving to the area, he has seen tremendous growth, he said.
“It’s all about how many houses can we build by the end of the month, and then by the end of next month. The roads are not just keeping up with the development that’s going on… It’s concerning. My little oasis out in far west Fort Worth is gone now,” he said.
Despite those concerns, Carr is not optimistic that whoever is elected will bring about change.
“I think that’s very sad. I’m disappointed even to hear myself say that. But I’m not gonna lie to you,” Carr said.
Other issues on Ramirez’s platform include increased resources for public safety, as well as supporting border security initiatives. While the county does not have direct influence on immigration policies, Tarrant County is enrolled in the 287(g) immigration program. This allows Tarrant County sheriff’s deputies to turn over undocumented inmates in the Tarrant County Jail to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They do not need to be convicted, just charged with a crime.
In a previous interview with the Fort Worth Report, Ramirez acknowledged the need for more data on the true benefits of the policy on the jail population.
“I’m not emotionally or morally attached to any position here. If it’s shown to be inefficient, and if it’s not the right thing for Tarrant County, I’m not an ego-driven type of guy, so, if there are more efficient ways to operate, I’m all ears,” he said in September.
Supporters Michael and Sheila Springer met Ramirez when he was a police officer and Michael Springer was involved with the National Association of Police Organizations, which endorsed Ramirez. The couple attended the watch party at the Fort Worth Police Officers Association’s headquarters and said his local connection to the area as well as his law enforcement background were among the appeals that encouraged them to vote for him.
“If people really did get to know him, what you see is what you get. He’s an honorable man. I wish we had more Mannys out there across the country,” Michael Springer, 66, said.
Over the last several years, Latinos have voted more by issue rather than by political party, pulling away from the homogenous portrait that has defined them for years, said Roxanne Martinez, Fort Worth ISD school board member and a panelist during a Sept. 29 event hosted by the Fort Worth Report.
“The Latinos are groups made up of so many different minds, cultures and beliefs – sometimes I wish people wouldn’t keep putting it all in one bucket,” she said on Sept. 29.
However, policies can be more important than identity, Vidal said. Ramirez’s election to the commissioners court is not an automatic win for some Latinos, Vidal added.
“We needed to push all of our elected officials to say, ‘What are you doing?” Vidal said. “What is your commitment to the Hispanic community in Tarrant County? Those are the questions we ask everyone — Republican and Democrat.”
Ramirez declared victory shortly before 9 p.m. Nov. 8. In his speech to supporters, he thanked them for their help and support on the campaign trail. He also noted his supporters’ energy showed Ramirez that his campaign is a reflection of a larger national movement.
“The citizens around the country and the citizens around Texas are saying, ‘You know what, we want fiscally conservative public servants to come into office and really be good stewards of our tax dollars,’” Ramirez told the Report.
Ramirez previously told the Report he will step down from his position as head of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. He had one condition — win.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 9, 2022, to show results after 100% of voting sites reported their numbers and add a statement from Democrat candidate Cedric Kanyinda.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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