Thursday, May 25, 2017


By Juan Montoya
Ray Ramon, the maverick populist politician who served as Cameron County Judge from 1970 to 1981, has died.

Ramon rose to power using a base he built up for a constituency through the clients of federal, state, and local economic and social programs to help children, seniors, and those most in need in the county.

The local daily quotes County Commissioner for Pct. 1 Sofia C. Benavides and who worked close to Ramon for 12 years.
"He was a good man, and a good friend and mentor to me, as to many," Benavides said. "He was the first Latino to serve as Cameron County Judge, paving the way for others..."

In 1978, I returned to South Texas armed with a journalism degree and hooked up with the Brownsville Herald.
Cameron County was in an uproar then.
The Old Guard was on the way out. A young Ray Ramon had just beaten D. J. Lerma for county judge after longtime judge Oscar Dancy died. Before he died, Dancy endorsed Ramon to succeed him.
Joe Rivera was in the second term after having been elected county clerk in 1974 and  Eddie Lucio was county treasurer.

And the Brownsville Herald, with Bill and Becky Salter at the helm, were in a give-no-quarter, take-no-prisoners war with the county judge.
Salter's pit bull – or rather bull terrier – was none other than Dave Crowder, a piss-and-vinegar reporter who eventually ended up at the El Paso Times.

Ramon – a Georgetown graduate – had come in with the War on Poverty programs and at thirtysomething, had become the youngest –  and the first – Hispanic county judge in Cameron County. Many youths in the county got summer jobs through his efforts, and he was a hero in the barrios.
Salter, after a stint at Kerrville editing Becky dad's paper, had taken over the Herald and latched on to Ramon in alliance with Dolph Thomae, the lone remaining Anglo on the county commissioners court from precinct 3.

Hardly a day passed that Crowder did not have an article on the alleged wrongdoings of Ramon and his associates, including Lucio and the other administrators on the poverty programs, "el queso."
County meeting day usually meant a full-banner, front-page story featuring the latest dispute between Thomae and Ramon over just about everything. Thomae, of course, was the vanguard of the Anglo community that was still smarting over losing its political control over the county to the young upstarts from the "outside."

Ramon and Thomae had been at odds after Ramon leveraged his directorship of the Cameron County Anti-poverty Agency at Brownsville in 1966 into a political powerhouse. Thomae, long a controversial figure in Cameron County politics, was a member of the board of directors governing the agency.
The antagonism peaked when a county grand jury indicted Ramon on a charge that he had solicited a drug dealer to seek a hit man to off Thomae.

At the time, the Herald was an afternoon newspaper and relied on newsboys to hawk it through the streets of Brownsville. Among those was was one Felipe "Pipe" Solis, an adult man who suffered from a cleft lip (un gangoso). Pipe had the courthouse market sewn up. He hand delivered the newspaper hot off the press to the county offices and was on a first-name basis with the secretaries and, employees, and elected officials.

He was the unofficial Herald mascot.

I was covering for the courthouse beat one day when someone told me that judge Ramon would like to talk to me. I sauntered over to the second floor of the Dancy Building and was surprised to see Ramon, Lucio and Rivera sitting around the judge's desk. Ramon said that they had decided that they would like to do something special for "Pipe's" birthday. They envisioned a pachanga over at the Dean Porter Park Pavilion with botana and beer. And they would like to know if the people at the Herald would like to buy the $5 tickets they were selling for the event.

I hadn't come aboard the last wagon load of green wood to see that instead of fetting Pipe, what the trio wanted was to use the goodwill people had for Pipe to shame the Herald.
"How many tickets do you want to sell at the Herald?" Ramos asked.
I demurred and told him that I'd write an article on it and that I personally would buy one for myself.

Word got around the courthouse and the buzz was what a good guy Ramon was for putting together the pachanga for Pipe. What many couldn't see was that Ramon, Lucio and Rivera were taking advantage of the gullible newspaper delivery boy (man?) to get back at the Herald and its editors and reporters.
The afternoon of the event – a Friday afternoon – the place was filled with elected officials from the city and county, and included federal judge Reynaldo Garza, who surreptitiously drank beer from a plastic cup careful to hide it when a photographer was in his vicinity.
Pipe arrived in the backseat of a new convertible sitting alongside the reigning Miss RGV, the poor girl looking somewhat out of place alongside Solis who was wearing a mismatched coat and tie and crooked smile, immensely pleased with himself.

There was a small ceremony held and mariachis sang Pipe Las Mañanitas. Then he was presented with a new bike for his newspaper deliveries. The afternoon then degenerated into a beer drinking pachanga. The next Sunday,a full-page Lifestyle page featured the event. I heard that Pipe kept a copy as a souvenir. No one else from the Herald had attended the event.

I recall this because these were more innocent times. The event was held not to honor Pipe, but to get back at the Herald's editor and reporters, their tormentors.
I was reminded of those days of innocence when I read an interview and Sen. Lucio harked back in candid admissions he made to an interviewer that he made side money being a lobbyist for prison construction firms and also for "an engineering firm from Houston."

That "engineering company from Houston" that left a few bucks in the senator's pocket was none other than Dannenbaum Engineering, which was accused of billing the Port of Brownsville more than $15 million in unjustified expenses for work on the famous "Bridge to Nowhere" that cost taxpayers more than $21 million in bonds and for which they are still paying. Lucio talked the port commissioners into firing Brown and Root and hiring Dannenbaum as part of his "consultant" side job. The deal resulted in loads of cash in Eddie's golf knickerbockers.

On their face, these pursuits may seem perfectly normal until you realize that his so-called "consulting" garnered him $100,000s and that his involvement in Willacy County resulted in the steering of jail-building contracts to this company. Several county commissioners were indicted and convicted of receiving bribes for their votes.

According to Texas Ethics Commission filings, Lucio worked as a “consultant” for Corplan in 2003 and 2004 at a time when the company was part of a consortium of private prison interests seeking to build a 2,000-bed immigrant detention center in Raymondville, the seat of Willacy County.

In 2008, Lucio was indicted in Willacy County and accused of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from the private prison industry. The charges were dropped after a judge ruled the indictment failed to address whether Lucio, who had been accused of trying to steer construction of private detention facilities to the GEO Group, knew he was being hired as a consultant because he was a state senator. Lucio vowed he was innocent and had done nothing wrong.

In April, 2010, his son, State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, a Brownsville Democrat, followed in his father’s footsteps by joining forces with Corplan Corrections, the same scandal-plagued prison development company once represented by the elder Lucio. This time the corporation wanted to build a prison in Weslaco but the deal fell through.
The fruit, the saying goes, does not fall far from the tree.

Ramon was the first person in the Valley to break the 60 to 80-year-old Anglo "stronghold" in the Valley's politics when he was elected to be the Cameron County Judge while he was in his thirties.
As he was involved in politics, he became the focal point of many successful new adjustments and changes in Cameron County, and also of many controversies, leading him to consider himself a "lightning-rod" of political life in the Valley.

Ramon had been living in San Antonio. Once a virile, athletic man, his last days passed in the care of a provider after suffering a debilitating stroke. He left public life after three Democrats on the commissioners court opted to support Republican Tony Garza over him for county judge, among them Lucino Rosenbaum Jr., who had just defeated him for Pct. 1 commissioner by six votes in a bitter runoff election. The other two commissioners who signed on with Garza were Thomae and Mike Cortinas.
Garza became the first Republican county judge since Reconstruction.

Rivera is now in retirement after the commissioners court opted to appoint Cameron County Administrator Pete Sepulveda, the former county administrator. He, in turn, was replaced by former Brownsville mayor Eddie Treviño.

Compared to the prank using an innocent half-wit like Pipe to get back at the Herald, the later acts by Lucio under the guise of a God-fearing, family-loving public servant reveal that under the Cheshire-cat grin and bow tie, he has turned out to be a self-serving lout who now wants to clean up his legacy as he nears the end of his 40-year political rampage that started out in the halls of the Dancy Building in Cameron County.

That, too, unfortunately, is part of the Ramon legacy in Cameron County.
May he rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

How old was Ray, Juan? He was the one who fucked the Anglo and that led to Mexicans finally gaining power. That was BIG, bro!

Anonymous said...

You said it, "Let him rest in peace!" Why bring up all this crap?
You forgot how so many of us got jobs through the NYC that he promoted
for many of the teenagers during our summer months. Give more credit to
Mr. Ramon and leave all your crap off, por favor, Juan!

Anonymous said...

He looks so ridiculous - attention seeker.

OK, he's a big golfer, but I don't see Pro's wearing that, not even on ProAm's

Anonymous said...

Cmon Juan, don't hold back, tell us what you really think of Eddie Lucio

Anonymous said...

Lets see State Senator Uresti under indictment for what? Guess things where he lives are not like things where our guys live!

Anonymous said...

Who way Ray's father? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

Joe Rivera took advantage off his people do NOT compare him to Ramon , Rivera is the Mexican Bill Cosby as it is murmurs in the county halls ask anyone , rather ask any woman

Anonymous said...

I applaud the commissioners for NOT appointing the Rivera as judge , Rivera is nothing but a crook who likes to handle the dames like an octopus pobre vato nunca siervo pa nada nomad para echaser un taco free

Anonymous said...

Chuck Ramon , Eat shrimp Stay Sexy . It is an honor to have gone to Saint Joseph's Academy with you. Your Daddy is a legend. Sincerly Captain Bob SANCHEZ. United we Stand

Anonymous said...

"Caliche Ray" was an arrogant asshole and a crook who ran the county like it was his little kingdom. Of course he was fully supported by "Eddie the Trained Seal Lucio".

Anyone remember where the "trained seals" reference comes from?

Anonymous said...

Sheeit Cptn. Bob, his daddy was a big married Gringo politco who wanted some brown poontang on the side and forgot to jerk it. It that the stuff legends are made of? Ray did well with what he had to work with, but there is no need to canonize his womanizing daddy. He was nothing but a crooked politician of the Gringo stripe, in spite of his high offices that he held. If you want to brag, brag on Ray and not his father.

thatramongirl said...

He was 79, born in 1938.

thatramongirl said...

My dad didn't share a lot about his life's work or accomplishments with his give children, but he did reach us his passion for people and progress.

While there are always shit sugar-spinning folks who mangle his contributions with personal beef, we as a family wish to acknowledge the phenomenal changes that have come about in the RGV with the cooperation of both my dad's 'foes' and for those who learned to play well in the sandbox.

thatramongirl said...

If you Google "worst train accident in Texas history," you may find information about the events that left my father orphaned at eight and with an indelible duty to contribute and assist the young working poor, just as he himself had been helped as a young man.

My father's parents were José and Natividad Ramón of Garceño, Texas.

thatramongirl said...

You may want to check your sources because it sounds like you get your 'facts' from the same place Donald Trump does.

thatramongirl said...

Hello, Sir:

Thank you for your passionate and comprehensive coverage of our home counties.

To humbly correct the record, my dad was not in the care of a provider; he lived independently until his dying day. While we had many providers and nurses through our company that helped him around the house, our dad's fierce and indomitable toughness resonates even now.

He maintained two residences - one in San Antone and another on SPI - for many years, but in 2012, retired to Padre in a humble shack he adored called "Tortilla Flat."

Despite his children's pleas to join us and live in DC, Chicago, Boston, and SA, where we five children live, he kept on in his own quiet but spiritedway, joining us only every few months for travels near and far.

thatramongirl said...

Chuck says you were "always a hoot!"

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you and your family. Your father was a legend...plain and simple!

Anonymous said...

Looks like his kids didn't shave the father's concern for the poor and down trodden of the "balley". They all went north to greener pastures.

Anonymous said...