Former state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Sr., elder statesman of western Hidalgo County politics, dies at 68
Former state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Sr., a businessman who served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and later became an elder statesman in western Hidalgo County politics, died on Thursday. He was 68.
Muñoz Sr. died Thursday after a roughly four-week battle with COVID-19, said Norma Ramirez, the chairwoman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party.
Ramirez said that Muñoz Sr., the first vice chairman of the local Democratic Party, spent about four weeks in the hospital.
“We are devastated and heartbroken,” Ramirez said. “It’s a tremendous loss to all of us. He worked endlessly and tirelessly, and was one of our main fundraisers and supporters.”
State Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr. said his father fought until the end.
“He was a good man and a great father. He loved his family and kids and grandkids with all his heart,” Muñoz Jr. said in a text message. “I know he fought till the end. That’s who he was! We just ask that they keep our family in their prayers.”
Muñoz Sr. became a major player in Hidalgo County politics during the 1980s.
“We ran against each other for county clerk,” said former Hidalgo County Judge J. Edgar Ruiz. “That was his first race countywide.”
Ruiz defeated Muñoz Sr. after a hard-fought runoff election.
They both wanted to change the system, Ruiz said, and became friends. Ruiz said that Muñoz Sr. was a passionate advocate for the people he represented.
“In my opinion, he was always correct — on the right side of the issue,” Ruiz said.
Muñoz Sr. served in the Texas House from 1993 to 1997.
“Sergio was a negotiator. Bright young man. He would definitely work across the aisle if he had to, and was more apt to come to a compromise by negotiation then actually getting into a major, bitter fight or something,” Ruiz said. “Not that he never did it, because we all got into major, bitter fights, but the preference was to negotiate and compromise.”
Muñoz Sr. served on the County Affairs, Elections and Transportation committees, according to information published by the Legislative Reference Library of Texas.
“South Texas has lost a true political activist/leader. He was smart, he was a strategist and always a student of politics. He was a leader who was always mentoring others who became elected officials, government and business leaders. He was a visionary, always doing things before they became popular,” former state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores Sr., who replaced Muñoz Sr. in the Texas House, said in a statement. “His vision and energy created House District 36 — now held by his son, Sergio, and initially held by Sergio Sr.”
“Sergio was a lifelong personal friend who helped so many people. He always asked the hard questions for all the right reasons,” Flores said in the statement. “We agreed to disagree on a lot of things, but we always agreed to care and respect each other, always. I’ve lost a lifelong friend, but I believe part of me is lost as well.”
His most important political legacy may be his son: state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr.
Like his father, Muñoz Jr. represents Texas House District 36, which includes Palmview, Mission, south McAllen, Granjeno, Hidalgo and the majority of Pharr.
Muñoz Sr. kept a close eye on western Hidalgo County politics and became a fierce advocate for his son.
“After that, politically, that’s what he did: he was always by his son, supporting him, having him meet new people,” Ruiz said, adding later: “That has kept a balance between the old guard in politics and the new generation.”
Former Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said he was proud to call Muñoz Sr. a friend.
“Sergio was a hell of a good man,” Garcia said. “He was one of the bright, shining stars in our county.”
Muñoz Sr. helped coordinate Garcia’s campaign for the state senate in the 1980s, Garcia said. They lost by fewer than 300 votes.
“Sergio was a very intelligent guy and very politically astute,” Garcia said, and always had his heart in the right place.
State Rep. Oscar Longoria said he met Muñoz Sr. in college, when he started working on political campaigns.
“He’s always had a strong personality,” Longoria said. “He’s a La Joya High School graduate, like I am.”
Muñoz Sr. served in the state legislature during the 1990s, when Texas had fewer minority lawmakers, Longoria said, adding that Muñoz Sr. was proud to represent the Rio Grande Valley.
After two terms in Austin, he returned to the Valley and remained a key player in local politics. People frequently called him when they needed help, and he would provide them with advice or pass along messages to his son.
“A lot of politicians ride off into the sunset once their elected service years are done,” Longoria said. “Sergio never did that.”