Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D)
Texas 27th District
Inland from the Laguna Madre in Kleberg County are the vast grazing and oil lands of the 825,000-acre—that’s 1,289 square miles—King Ranch. This still seemingly vacant land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande was the territory in contention during the Mexican-American War. The United States won that war and declared its sovereignty. Today most people here are of Mexican ancestry, some from families who have lived for generations on this side of the border, some recent immigrants. The culture here is Tejano, proudly American but with Mexican flair and vitality. (Adjacent to the King Ranch is the Armstrong Ranch, where in February 2006, Vice President Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner.) Fronting the Gulf of Mexico is an altogether different bit of geography: the sand spit of Padre Island, an 80-mile barrier-reef island and national seashore, at the southern tip of which is a high-rise resort where college students throng for spring break.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 27th Congressional District of Texas includes the land from Corpus Christi south to the Rio Grande. Its population is concentrated at the northern and southern ends of the district. In the north, Corpus Christi and surrounding Nueces County, with a 59% Hispanic population, is the southernmost natural port on Texas’s Gulf Coast and the nation’s sixth largest in trading volume. There are big petrochemical plants here, but along the bay front, there are also palm trees and recreational areas. At the southern end is Cameron County, which includes South Padre Island. The population is 86% Hispanic. In addition to tourism, construction is under way on the nation’s largest offshore wind farm; more than 100 turbines will generate power for 100,000 homes.
The biggest city is Brownsville, on the Lower Rio Grande opposite Matamoros, Mexico, one of the major border crossings in Texas. The 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement has lifted the economy in parts of this area, and there has been a boom in commercial construction. But pockets of grinding poverty remain: Not far from the border is the colonia of Cameron Park, where people live in trailers or makeshift structures without water or sewage service, rated by the Census Bureau as one of the poorest places in the nation. At the Brownsville campus of the University of Texas in December 2007, there were protests over the completion of border fencing erected by the Homeland Security Department.
Politically, the 27th District is Democratic, but not as Democratic as one might expect from a 71% Hispanic district. In 2004, Texan George W. Bush carried it with 55% of the vote. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won it 53%-46%, with Cameron County providing more than the margin of victory.
Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D)
Elected: 1982, 14th term.
Born: June 3, 1937, Robstown .
Home: Corpus Christi.
Education: Del Mar Col., Natl. Sheriffs Training Inst., 1977.
Family: Divorced; 2 children.
Military career: Army, 1960–62.
Elected office: Nueces Cnty. constable, 1965–68, Commissioner, 1969–76, Sheriff, 1976–82.
The congressman from the 27th District is Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat and the only representative this district has had since its creation in the 1982 redistricting. He grew up inland from Corpus in the Canta Ranas (singing frogs) neighborhood of Robstown, which is known for its political activism. His father died when he was 14, leaving him the eldest of four children who scratched out a living as migrant farmworkers, sometimes working as far away as Colorado and Michigan. Ortiz worked as an Army investigator and translator, adding French to the Spanish he already spoke fluently. He took a correspondence course in police work and returned home to run for constable. In 1976, he was the first Hispanic elected Nueces County sheriff. In his first run for Congress, he got only 26% in the primary, but he made a propitious alliance with Democratic leaders in the Brownsville area and won the runoff with 52%. He has not been seriously challenged since.
|Solomon Ortiz (D)||104,864||(58%)||($719,709)|
|William Vaden (R)||69,458||(38%)|
|Robert Powell (Lib)||6,629||(4%)|
|Solomon Ortiz (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (57%), 2004 (63%), 2002 (61%), 2000 (63%), 1998 (63%), 1996 (65%), 1994 (59%), 1992 (56%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (100%), 1986 (100%), 1984 (64%), 1982 (64%)
Ortiz’s voting record has leaned toward the conservative end of House Democrats. He is a sturdy internationalist, an enthusiastic supporter of NAFTA and of normalizing trade relations with China. During the immigration-reform debate in recent years, he expressed reservations about President George W. Bush’s guest-worker program, saying it served corporate interests and adding that he preferred to focus on family reunification. He also opposed the Bush administration’s “catch and release” program for illegal immigrants caught along the border, where there are insufficient detention centers.
As the chairman on the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, Ortiz looked out for the large military installations in the Coastal Bend region around Corpus Christi and has adamantly opposed additional rounds of base closings. The Coastal Bend region was hit hard by the 2005 round of base closings: Naval Station Ingleside, which has supported the Navy’s fleet of mine hunters and minesweepers, was closed, with a net loss of 7,000 civilian and military employees; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi was realigned, with a net loss of 1,000 jobs. Ortiz blamed “mixed signals” from members of the Corpus Christi community, including some who saw opportunities for development of the prime real estate. When the General Accounting Office reported in 2007 that the Pentagon had spent $10 billion more than expected on the 2005 round of base closings, Ortiz said it bolstered his long-held view that “the process was flawed and would not achieve the savings DOD (Department of Defense) boasted it would.” Ortiz has sought without success to bring a Veterans Administration hospital to the valley, but he has been able to expand some clinics that serve his district’s more than 100,000 veterans.
In recent years, Ortiz has also attracted a spate of negative publicity back home over ethics issues. In 2001, five months after the Port of Corpus Christi dedicated its new conference center in his name, the San Antonio Express-News reported that he got favored treatment when the port awarded a contract for security to a firm he owned even though it was not the low bidder. Ortiz defended the contract as awarded in open competition, but in 2003, he agreed to sell the business. In 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ortiz and his top aide took a free trip to Asia after getting a courthouse named for the father of the lawyer who paid for the trip. Ortiz called it a coincidence.
Still, he remains strong politically. In 2000 and 2002, Ortiz’s Republican opponent was former Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, who tried to take advantage of the controversy over the port’s contract with Ortiz. Ortiz won with over 60% of the vote each time. Ingleside Mayor Willie Vaden ran against him in the past three elections and lost each time, though he narrowed Ortiz’s victory to 58%-38% in 2008. Ortiz reportedly is grooming his son, Solomon Ortiz Jr., to succeed him. His son represents Nueces County in the Texas House.