Obama appointee returns to town and launches campaign

By Gilbert Garcia | October 20, 2017 | Updated: October 22, 2017 9:48pm

Larry Romo didn’t ask for much from the White House during his eight years serving in Barack Obama’s administration. 

But Romo, 61, a San Antonio native and Air Force veteran who ran the Selective Service System during the Obama years, made a rare request in January 2015. The Spurs were going to the White House for an event celebrating their 2014 NBA championship and Romo asked if he could attend. 

“When I was a senior in high school, during their first year, I sold Spurs tickets at McCreless Mall,” Romo said. “So in some way, I feel like I helped them stay in San Antonio.” 

Romo himself hasn’t always stayed in San Antonio, but he always comes back. In January, he returned to his hometown after eight years in the nation’s capital, determined to serve but not sure what form that service should take. 

After some consideration, Romo, a lifelong Democrat, decided to enter the race for Bexar County district clerk, an office that administers the local court system. He’ll be trying to unseat Donna Kay McKinney, a Republican seeking her third term in office. 

As with most decisions in Romo’s life, this move is rooted in a simple, practical assessment of his options. 

“My position up in D.C. wasn’t legislative, it was administrative and operations,” said Romo, a burly man with a deep voice. “And the district clerk office is administrative and operations. I gained the experience I needed in D.C., especially dealing with people and technology.” 

Romo’s campaign won’t be his first bid for elective office. In 2005, he finished a close third (with nearly 22 percent) among eight candidates in the District 6 City Council race. 

The first member of his family to attend college, Romo graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1978, one of only 19 Latinos in a graduating class of about 800 cadets. 

After working in the admissions office of the Air Force Academy for a year, he was stationed for four years in Montana, taking night classes to get a master’s degree in education. 

He returned to San Antonio in the mid-’80s for a stint at Lackland AFB, and remained in town for the next two decades while serving in the Air Force Reserve. 

He also became increasingly involved in Democratic politics. 

Romo’s parents were Democrats, but the clincher for Romo came near the end of his time at Highlands High School, when Abraham “Chick” Kazen, the Democratic congressman who represented the Southeast Side of town where Romo lived, nominated him for induction into the Air Force Academy. 

“I became friends with him and his family,” Romo said. “He sent me letters when I was a cadet, encouraging me to do well. So I appreciated that.” 

Always, regardless of where Romo was living, he voted absentee in Texas elections. 

Romo’s partisan leanings and military background came together in 2005, when he was chosen to serve on the Democratic National Committee’s Veterans and Military Families Council, a group formed by then-Democratic Chairman Howard Dean. 

In 2008, Romo was a loyal Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention, disappointed that Obama defeated Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination. A few weeks before the convention, however, he got a call from retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, a fellow Clinton supporter. She said she had just spoken with Obama and urged him to get Romo involved in his campaign. 

Sure enough, the Obama campaign enlisted Romo to help with veterans outreach, primarily in the swing states of Colorado and New Mexico. 

“Whenever they had an event, I would call the person running that event and say, ‘I need to have 20 veterans slots up front. They need to have their veterans caps,’” Romo said. “Obama’s perceived weakness was national security and military. You have those veterans up there, that way people can see in the media that there are veterans supporting him.” 

Obama wound up carrying both Colorado and New Mexico. 

After the election, Obama appointed Romo to run Selective Service, an agency which maintains a registry of men between the ages of 18 and 25 in case of a military draft. 

After getting letters of support from the Texas Democratic congressional delegation and San Antonio Republican Lamar Smith, Romo waited out a thorough FBI background check. 

“I remember going to see my neighbor,” Romo recalled, “and he said, ‘Larry, the FBI came over and we talked to them. They asked if you lived beyond your means.’” 

The answer was “no,” but Romo does have a way of rubbing shoulders with people at the top. | Twitter: @gilgamesh470