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Lone Star Project Report

Judge DeLeon Won More Than a Ballot Challenge

Tarrant County JP Sergio DeLeon has exposed a poisonous political partnership that threatens fair and responsible representation

Many Tarrant County Democrats were surprised when Republican Steve Thornton filed as a Democrat against Justice of the Peace Sergio DeLeon (Court 5) – one of most respected and well-liked public officials in Tarrant County.  Thornton is a Republican who has run and lost two times for the Fort Worth city council, each time challenging talented Latino candidates – hardly the profile to run as a Democrat against an incumbent as popular and capable as Judge DeLeon.

Thornton’s effort was doomed from the outset by incompetence.  The signature petitions required to accompany his candidate filing were improperly prepared and submitted.  Judge DeLeon’s campaign challenged the flawed filing.  Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples carefully reviewed the filing, confirmed that it was invalid and struck Thornton from the ballot.

Failed challenge to Judge DeLeon reveals odd partnership
Steve Thornton’s ally and political partner in his failed effort to run against Judge DeLeon is former Democratic State Representative and liberal firebrand, Lon Burnam.  In fact, Burnam is listed as treasurer of Thornton’s campaign. 

Burnam lost a close Democratic Primary election to current HD90 Representative Ramon Romero in 2014.  Following the election, HD90 Democrats quickly unified around Representative Romero, but Burnam hasn't let it go.  He insists that fraudulent votes were cast and has turned to some of the most destructive and divisive Tea Party Republicans in an unsuccessful effort to make his point. 
Even before he teamed up with Steve Thornton, Burnam was working with off-the-edge Republican and Empower Texans operative, Aaron Harris, using narrow examples of voter fraud in ways that broadly malign Latino voters.  It is a poisonous political partnership.  Harris is a key player in the GOP vote suppression efforts in Texas and brags about his close association with indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his influence on the Texas GOP’s notorious phony fraud investigation.
In hindsight, anti-Latino actions were apparent
Evidence from last year presented during the ongoing Texas redistricting litigation confirmed that Lon Burnam used racial stereotypes and derogatory references to attack Ramon Romero in the 2014 primary.  A findings of fact brief filed in the Texas redistricting case provides many examples of Burnam using anti-Latino language and images in his campaign literature.  One excerpt reads:
“The flyer depicted a negative and offensive stereotype of Latinos, namely that they are gang members. (2017 Trial Tr. 319:23 - 320:17). The flyer insinuated that if Mr. Romero were elected, there would be more gangs and violence. (2017 Trial Tr. 357:12-14)” (CIVIL ACTION NO. § 11-CA-360-OLG-JES-XR)
Judge DeLeon himself reflected the views of Tarrant County Latino leaders, along with those of many other Tarrant County Democrats, when he said to the Lone Star Project:
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Burnam has taken to supporting Republicans for elected office in an apparent misguided bid to defeat local Hispanics running for office.  He needs to stop blaming others for his defeats and accept that it was Democratic primary voters who have rejected him in recent elections.”
Good Democratic candidates win by building coalitions
The formula for good Democratic candidates to win in a diverse state like Texas has become clear.  Our best candidates and public officials are those – like Judge Sergio DeLeon, Representative Ramon Romero (House District 90), Congressman Marc Veasey (Congressional District 33) and others – who prevail by asking for and earning the support of all voters rather than seeking to discourage, demean and otherwise undermine some voters based on their race and/or ethnicity.