Solomon Ortiz was born in Robstown, Nueces County, Texas; his family had immigrated from Mexico. As a boy, he held several odd jobs, including working as a shoeshiner and an ink fogger for The Robstown Record's letter press. Ortiz befriended, and became fascinated with, law enforcement officers. He attended Robstown High School until the age of 19, when he dropped out after his father's death to help support his family.
Ortiz joined the United States Army in 1960, serving two years and earning his GED. He received basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, and served a tour of duty in Verdun and Vitry-le-François, France. Expressing his interest in law enforcement, Ortiz was reassigned to the 61st Military Police Company Criminal Investigation Office and received advanced military police training at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
After returning to South Texas, Ortiz worked for three years as an insurance agent.
In 1964, he was urged by friends to run for Nueces County Constable and was elected in 1965, defeating the incumbent in a runoff election. He was elected to the County Commissioners Court of Nueces County in 1969; the first Hispanic to serve in that capacity. He remained in that position until 1976, when he was elected County Sheriff, another first for a Hispanic in Nueces County.
When the 27th District was created in 1982, Ortiz ran for the seat on a platform of jobs incentives and attention to education. He won the Democratic primary run-off election with 52% of the vote, defeating Republican State Representative Joe Salem. In the general election, he won with 64% of the vote.