Mr. Wright Goes to Washington

Rep.-elect Ron Wright, R-Texas, walks to a session during member-elect briefings and orientation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Rep. Ron Wright

Washington, D.C. Office

428 Cannon HOB

Washington, D.C. 20515

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From the moment he arrived in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Ron Wright knew precisely where he was going.

As a principled conservative, the newly elected GOP congressman from Arlington arrived ready to have his say on hot-button issues such as reducing government spending, opposing abortion and Medicare-for-all health care, protecting gun ownership rights and securing the U.S. border – including support for building a border wall and stepping up technology.

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He also brought along a clear vision of his priorities: representing the interests of his district, especially the economy-driving defense and auto manufacturing industries, while also helping his constituents solve problems and navigate the federal bureaucracy.

But what set Wright apart, and gave him an advantage over the rest of the freshman class of the 116th Congress, was that he already knew his way around the place.

“I got here knowing some of the most important things, like where the coffee pot and restrooms are,” he quipped.

Wright’s familiarity with his surroundings is the result of having worked for his predecessor, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, from 2000 to 2011. He first served as Barton’s district director and then as Barton’s chief of staff in Washington.

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Arriving back in Washington felt like a bit of déjà vu, but Wright quickly realized that being a member of Congress is a lot different than being a staffer.

“There’s a lot more variety and diversity in what we do,” said the 65-year-old congressman. “No two days are alike. It makes the job interesting and exciting.”

On a recent day, he recounted, his schedule included committee meetings, voting on the House floor, and an intimate lunch with a group that included a diplomatic delegation from the Czech Republic.

Wright said he was included because he serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and because the Texas 6th District, spanning parts of Tarrant as well as Ellis and Navarro counties, includes many constituents of Czech heritage.

Wright said he has finally been able to settle into his new role after arriving during one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history for the federal government.

“No freshman class has had to go through what we went through,” Wright said of the government shutdown that was underway when Congress convened in January. “We were thrown into this pitiful, chaotic situation.

“Nothing got done during that month-long circus,” he said.

But since the shutdown ended in late January, a sense of normalcy has evolved for Wright and his colleagues. Besides the Foreign Affairs Committee, he was appointed to the Education and Labor Committee.

One of the issues he expects the Education and Labor Committee to tackle is the growing problem of insolvent pension funds, particularly among private businesses, “because of a lot terrible business decisions,” he said.

He has already voted in committee against legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15. He defends that decision as a matter of practicality: The increase would cause businesses to close and jobs to be cut, he said.

As part of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has attended top-secret briefings on critical developments in the hotspot nations of Russia, Venezuela and North Korea, he said.

Among his first moves, he introduced a resolution on Religious Freedom Day (Jan. 16) condemning anti-Semitism in any form in the United States.

Since then, Wright has been part of the chorus of congressional critics of U.S. Rep. Ihan Omar’s controversial comments about Israel that were widely interpreted as anti-Semitic.

“The hateful things Ms. Omar has said are not acceptable at all,” Wright said. “Anti-Semitism should not be tolerated at all, especially on the floor of Congress.”

Wright, who is widely identified with his signature bow tie, has a reputation as good-natured and easygoing. His instinct is to be conciliatory, a consensus-builder, rather than a flame-thrower.

Nevertheless, Wright has never shied away from expressing his opinion, which he proved in his pointed criticism of the Tarrant Appraisal District’s handling of taxpayer protests as a result of a technology malfunction during his tenure as Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector.

Wright said he was content with his position as Tax Assessor-Collector and proud of accomplishments such as having the national motto “In God We Trust” printed on envelopes carrying official correspondence from his office.

A sixth-generation resident of Tarrant County, Wright is a graduate of Azle High School and the University of Texas at Arlington. His career took him from working in construction to managing an audio-visual company to selling commercial boilers and water heating equipment.

Beginning in 1985, he spent 15 years as a project manager for a cooling tower company in Fort Worth, overseeing multimillion-dollar projects across the U.S. and Canada.

His foray into politics began in 2000 when he was elected to the Arlington City Council and went to work for Barton as director of the 6th District office. He served on the Arlington Council, including four years as Mayor Pro Tem, until 2008.

The following year, he took the job as Barton’s chief of staff in Washington.

Two years later, he accepted an appointment by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court to fill the unexpired term of Betsy Price, who resigned at tax assessor-collector to become mayor of Fort Worth. Wright was re-elected to the post in 2012 and 2016.

Speculation had long simmered in political circles that Wright was cooling his heels, waiting for the chance to succeed Barton.

Wright says that wasn’t exactly true. When the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself, Wright said, he contacted some political confidants, who encouraged him to run.

Barton dropped his re-election bid on Nov. 30, 2017, after nude photos of him appeared online.

It didn’t take Wright long to jump into what became a crowded 2018 primary race with 16 candidates.

Wright fell short of winning the March 6 Republican primary outright but defeated opponent J.K. “Jake” Ellzey of Midlothian in a runoff last summer.

Then the midterm election in November brought a surprising stunner.

Wright captured 53.1 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez and Libertarian Jason Harber. The surprise was that Wright failed to win in Tarrant County.

He managed to pick up enough votes in largely rural parts of the district in Ellis and Navarro counties to make up for the shortfall in Tarrant County. Sanchez polled nearly 10,000 more votes than Wright in Tarrant County.

Wright attributes the loss in Tarrant County in part to the “Beto effect” that was blamed for the loss of longtime GOP Congressman Pete Sessions of Dallas.

“Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats did a good job with messaging,” Wright said. “But what happened here is the same thing that happened across the country. Republicans lost the suburbs.

“The bright red ring around the big cities has been eroded,” he said. “We’ve got to work hard next time to change that.”

Wright is among only a handful of federal lawmakers who were endorsed by the ultra conservative Empower Texans political group. But he is closely aligned politically with several state lawmakers from Tarrant County, including state Reps. Matt Krause, Jonathan Stickland and Tony Tinderholt as well as state Sen. Kelly Hancock and former state Sen. Konni Burton, who was defeated in November.

Some are his closest allies.

“Congressman Wright has become a true friend of mine,” Tinderholt said. “I could not be happier to have him representing Arlington in Congress. He is ethical, honest and I have no doubt he will remain true to his conservative principles.”

Zelder said he has known Wright for more than 20 years.

“I believe his life experiences, his knowledge of the principles that have made this country so great, and his strong character will make him an excellent congressman and will serve the people of District 6 very well.”

For his district director, Wright chose former District 2 Tarrant County Commissioner Andy Nguyen, who was defeated for re-election in November by Democrat Devan Allen.

Nguyen said he could not be more pleased with his role and with having Wright as his boss.

“I am so grateful to have this job and to be able to stay connected to this community,” he said. “It is also refreshing to work for someone like Congressman Wright, who is kind and calm and gives me the freedom and flexibility to do this job and make a positive impact on District 6.”