Rene A. Ramirez, the longtime chief-of-staff for Sen. Juan "Chuy"

Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, was appointed by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court as interim county judge, replacing Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, who resigned earlier that day in order to take a major federal appointment in north Texas.

The U.S. General Services Administration on Friday, Oct. 23, announced the appointment of Salinas to serve as the Regional Administrator of GSA’s Greater Southwest Region, effective on Nov. 9, 2009.

Ramirez, whose extensive public service credentials also include a

previous appointment as an Edinburg City Councilmember from September 2002 to May 2004, is scheduled to leave his state post as Hinojosa's right-hand man in the coming days in order to prepare to take his oath of office as the administrative leader of the county government.

He will finish up the final 14 months of Salinas' four-year term, which means Ramirez will help guide the operations of the county government through the end of December 2010.

He said he does not plan to seek election as county judge.

"After next year’s elections, I look forward to handing over the reigns to a county leadership that has been a good steward of the taxpayers' dollars and is creating new economic opportunities for its citizens," Ramirez said.

So far, former Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, also of Edinburg, is the only announced candidate for county judge, as he is seeking the upcoming March 2010 Democratic Party primary nomination.

Following the announcement of his selection, Ramirez expressed both gratitude and humility for the opportunity to be part of the leadership for one of the state's largest and increasingly-influential counties.

"I am honored by the decision of the Commissioners Court to appoint me as Interim County Judge, and I am eager to hit the ground running to help see our communities through this time of transition," he said. "I recognize that this decision was a difficult one, as times of change and uncertainty will naturally spark a healthy debate and bring out differences in opinion."

Ramirez said he viewed his new role "as a managerial one, not a political one.

"My task is to carry out the priorities laid out in the budget by Judge Salinas and Commissioners Court, ensure our communities see no interruption in public services, and continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for our fair share of investments in order to spur economic development, increased educational opportunities, and greater access to affordable health care," he pledged.

"Our ability to move our county forward will rest on strong communication and accountability — traits that I believe I have long demonstrated in my previous positions of service to the county," Ramirez added.

Hinojosa spoke highly of Ramirez' credentials and dedication to South Texas.

"Rene has done an outstanding job working with me and with my legislative team, is well-respected by the legislative leadership in Austin, and has excellent working relations with people from all walks of life in Texas," said Hinojosa. "Moreover, he is an accomplished Texan, a dedicated public servant, a wonderful family man, a loyal friend, and a proven confidant. These are some of the many qualities he will be bringing to this new role."

According to a biographical sketch released following his selection as interim Hidalgo County judge:

As chief of staff for Hinojosa, Ramirez has put his management skills into overdrive since the McAllen senator was named last January by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as Vice Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which shaped the Senate's version of the state's $151.9 billion, two-year operating budget.

In addition to his responsibilities of managing a Capitol legislative staff of 10 professionals, RamÃ-rez oversaw the research and staff support that helped Hinojosa secure critical funding needed to reopen the McAllen Women's Cancer Clinic, and he helped increase the budgets for the University of Texas-Pan American by $6.3 million and the UT Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) by $6.5 million.

On a larger regional basis, RamÃ-rez and his colleagues on Hinojosa's Austin legislative team helped in the senator's successful efforts to secure more than $170 million for infrastructure and transportation projects throughout Senate District 20, which includes Hidalgo County.

A graduate of the University of Texas - Pan American with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Ramirez has long been a behind-the-scenes player in Hidalgo County economic development.

As an Edinburg City Councilmember, he helped build public support for tourism, business travel, and eco-tourism projects in the three-time All-America City, including a professional baseball stadium, the Los Lagos Golf Course, and the establishment of a World Birding Center.

He has also previously served as a board member for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the McAllen Medical Board of Governors, the Hidalgo County Housing Authority, and the Red Sands Ground Conservation District.

Known for his easy demeanor and a leadership style that focuses on

consensus building, Ramirez has a reputation for bridging political factions to get the job done. His work in helping pass House Joint Resolution 7, an important step in paving the way for a veterans hospital for the Valley, is a reflection of his deep knowledge of the process, and what it takes to ensure Hidalgo County receives its fair share of state and federal resources.

While Ramirez has focuses on job creation for Hidalgo County, he shares with Hinojosa a deep concern for the less-fortunate in the area.

Ramirez has helped oversee a legislative agenda that addressed the safety of seniors who were at risk of losing their utilities during the hottest months of summer, brought attention to the rising cost of college tuition, helped expand children's health insurance, and addressed the disparities in health care for border communities.

Ramirez and his wife, Laura Guerra, have two daughters, Gabriela and Mia Carmen, and he and his wife are active in raising funds for local scholarships.

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