Rep. Ron Wright of Arlington dies after 18-day battle with COVID-19 – The Dallas Morning News
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.
Rep. Ron Wright of Arlington died Sunday night less than three weeks after contracting COVID-19. He was 67.
His family and a spokesperson confirmed Wright’s death due to the coronavirus Monday morning. The Republican congressman, who was reelected in November, also had been battling lung cancer.
Wright is the first member of Congress to die of COVID-19.
“Congressman Wright will be remembered as a constitutional conservative. He was a statesman, not an ideologue,” according to a statement released by Wright’s office. “Ron and Susan dedicated their lives to fighting for individual freedom, Texas values, and above all, the lives of the unborn. As friends, family, and many of his constituents will know, Ron maintained his quick wit and optimism until the very end. Despite years of painful, sometimes debilitating treatment for cancer, Ron never lacked the desire to get up and go to work, to motivate those around him, or to offer fatherly advice.”
According to the statement, Wright had been keeping a vigorous work scheduled before contracting the virus. Two weeks ago Wright and his wife, Susan, were admitted to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas because of COVID-19 side effects.
Wright announced on Jan. 21 that he had tested positive “after coming in contact with an individual with the virus last week.” He had been in quarantine since Jan. 15 and said he would remain in quarantine until doctors cleared him to return to work.
“I am experiencing minor symptoms, but overall, I feel okay and will continue working for the people of the 6th District from home this week. I encourage everyone to keep following CDC guidelines and want to thank all the medical professionals on the front lines who fight this virus head-on every single day,” he said at the time in a statement issued by his office.
The quarantine began two days after the House voted to impeach then-president Donald Trump. Wright voted against the impeachment, as did all but 10 Republicans, none from Texas.
That was his final House vote, congressional records show.
Wright, given his age and health complications, stayed away from Washington for stretches at a time over the last 11 months, House voting records show. While congressional leaders have taken steps to stop COVID-19′s spread, several lawmakers have still contracted the virus.
To date, three other Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus: Reps. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler; and Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. All three of those Texans recovered after reporting mild symptoms.
Wright had not received a vaccination, unlike many House members.
Although the pandemic had not claimed the life of any other sitting member of Congress, Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, a Louisiana Republican, died from coronavirus complication just five days before he would have been sworn in.
Known for his wit and deep appreciation for his district and its history, and his bow ties, Wright held several elected posts before reaching Congress.
“The first thing I think about, when I remember Ron Wright, is his heart for service,” said conservative radio talk show host Mark Davis. “I was always running into Ron Wright when I was working in the 6th District. He was a wonderful man and he always had a smile and an upbeat attitude. He took that attitude with him when he served Arlington, Tarrant County and his congressional district.
Wright served on the Arlington City Council from 2000 to 2008, the second half as mayor pro tem. He was elected Tarrant County tax assessor-collector in 2010, a post he held for six years.
He succeeded fellow Republican Joe Barton of Ennis, who retired after 17 terms.
In 2018, Wright led an 11-candidate field in the GOP primary with 45% of the vote, just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff, though he barely eked past rival Jake Ellzey, 52-48, by just 1,064 votes out of more than 24,000.
He’d had an easier time after that. In fall 2018, he beat Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez 53-45.
For a second term, he coasted through the primary without opposition, and in November, he fended off Democrat Stephen Daniel 53-44.
After hosting Barton’s first political coffee in Arlington, he ended up as a top adviser for years – “one of my key volunteers, key supporters, key confidants,” and eventually, his district director and then chief of staff, Barton said by phone on Monday.
Fighting back tears, his voice quivering, Barton described his friend as a “really, really decent guy.”
”He was a smart guy,” he said. “He was a very honest man. I saw him get mad a time or two, but I never really saw him lose his temper. I never heard him cuss, which is something I can’t say. He was a very compassionate person.”
When Barton decided to retire ahead of the 2018 election, he didn’t hesitate to encourage Wright to run, lamenting that Wright ended up fighting illness almost his entire time in Congress.
He “really didn’t get to fulfill his potential,” Barton said. But he pointed out that Wright still had notable successes, including helping Arlington secure the site of the National Medal of Honor Museum. ”He loved Texas,” Barton said. “He loved Arlington and Fort Worth.”
On that, Sanchez, the Democrat defeated by Wright in 2018, agreed.
“While we shared our differences, we both ran for Congress for the same reason: to fight for the people of North Texas,” she said. “He served with passion while battling cancer and a deadly virus that has claimed far too many lives far too soon.”
Gov. Greg Abbott said the death left him “deeply saddened,” and he highlighted Wright’s staunch opposition to abortion, among other things. “Ron was a principled leader who fought to preserve Texas values and was an exemplary representative of his district. His personal strength and commitment to standing up for the unborn were unwavering.”
Wright’s death leaves an opening for the District 6 seat in Congress. Texas governor Greg Abbott will call a special election to replace the late lawmaker. That contest is expected to generate an array of Republican and Democratic contenders.
Democrats last year had circled Wright’s suburban-rural district as a potential pickup opportunity. But the race between Wright and Daniel never garnered the attention of some other high-profile congressional bouts, and Wright won 53-44. Given that Democrats now control the House by only a handful of seats – after losing ground last year – the special election to replace Wright could receive a larger national spotlight.
Many Republicans may wait to see if Wright’s wife, Susan, decides to run for the seat. The list of other potential GOP contenders could be long, ranging from Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams to state Rep. David Cook to Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn.
”There will be all kinds of local Republicans who are going to look at it,” Barton said.
But for now, lawmakers and others are remembering Wright.
Just over a week ago, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, who had a relative fighting the coronavirus, got a text from Wright: “Still in hospital, but definitely improving. Praying for your family!!!”
“I will endeavor to wear a bow tie every now and then just to remember my happy and faithful friend,” Roy said.
Texas congressional colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised Wright.
“Ron will be remembered as a tireless fighter for North Texas who brought his conservative principles and a love of country to the United States Congress every single day,” said GOP Rep. Roger Williams of Austin. “We’ll all miss his signature bow tie and warm personality in the halls of the Capitol, a presence that cannot soon be replaced.”
Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, remembered Wright as an “incredible father, loving husband and proud Texan.”
“Battling cancer not once, but twice, Ron faced adversity with strength and grace, inspiring all who knew him,” Taylor said.
Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, said Wright helped his push for a new Garland Veterans Administration medical center.
“When I was looking for a Republican to help lead the push to create the Garland VA, Ron Wright stepped up and was with me every step of the way,” he said in a statement. “We had very different views on many things, but he was a man of principle and will be missed.”
Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa offered “heartfelt condolences” to Wright’s family “and to all of those who loved and cared for him.”
“The outpouring of prayers and support shows the type of man Wright was and how beloved he was by many Texans across the state. This loss serves as a tragic reminder that we must remain vigilant fighting against this deadly virus,” he said.
Sen. John Cornyn called Wright “a passionate public servant and a strong advocate for Texas values, his neighbors in North Texas, and constituents across Texas’ 6th District. A sixth-generation resident of Tarrant County, he was a Texan first and foremost, and we saw that every day as he put his community first.”
Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West said, “Just hearing of the news about @RepRonWright. The West family adds our condolences and prayers.”
At the Tarrant County GOP, chairman Rick Barnes called Wright “a great public servant and an even better man. Congressman Ron Wright served his constituents with honor and grace. Ron was a true statesman and one of the most beloved political figures in Tarrant County. His legacy of is one that will live in our hearts for years to come.”
Wright is survived by his wife, Susan; daughter Rachel, sons Derek and Justin, brother Gary, and nine grandchildren.
Washington Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman and correspondent Elizabeth Thompson contributed to this report.
Published at Mon, 08 Feb 2021 17:26:15 +0000