Fort Worth mayoral candidates Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples agree on more than what might be expected in an increasingly partisan race.

A recent debate offered insight into how the candidates would deal with a state Legislature increasingly hostile to big cities. They supported expanding Medicaid and legalizing marijuana and gambling; they opposed the permitless carry of handguns.

Parker, a Republican and Mayor Betsy Price’s former chief of staff, said the state should legalize the medical use of marijuana before recreational use and should put to the voters whether to legalize gambling.

“If we sit here and pretend like people don’t use marijuana in the state of Texas, we’re nuts,” she said.

Parker and Peoples, the former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair, saw an economic benefit to both. They said expanding Medicaid would save the state money.

For permitless carry of handguns, both said they trusted Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes’ assessment that it was dangerous.

The state Legislature and cities and counties often clash. 

One example of this is when the Legislature passed House Bill 40 in 2015, a year after the city of Denton banned fracking. HB 40 prohibits cities from regulating oil and gas activity. 

The most recent example is when the Legislature passed House Bill 1900 and Senate Bill 23 this session. HB 1900 penalizes cities of more than 250,000 people for reducing their police budget, an attempt to stop actions taken by the city of Austin and others around the nation after police killings of Black men prompted protests last summer. SB 23 requires counties of more than 1 million people wanting to reduce their police budget to hold an election. The latest Census figures from July 2019 show that Fort Worth has a population of 909,585 and Tarrant County more than 2 million.

“Is that the right thing to do? Should the state be telling Fort Worth budget writers how to do their jobs?” Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith asked the candidates during the Steer Fort Worth debate.

The candidates’ differences then came back on display.

Parker said in this case, yes, because police have low morale and are leaving the profession in droves while cities continue to have the responsibility to protect their citizens. She thought Fort Worth had already done what SB 23 requires of counties by voting last summer to continue its Crime Control and Prevention District, which provides increased funding to police, for another 10 years.

But the voters had more of a say when they were asked to approve of the crime prevention district every three years, Peoples said, and the City of Fort Worth has a history of not listening to them. The city hasn’t followed the Race and Culture Task Force’s recommendation to establish a citizen review board, for example.

Nevertheless, each tried to come off as supportive of police and police reform.

“My older brother was a policeman and my sister was a constable, so I understand and I know about public safety, and I applaud the amazing policemen who are doing this job because it’s a tough job,” Peoples said.

Mayors can have a marginal impact on state lawmaking, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said in an interview with the Fort Worth Report.

“They can’t stop the course of a policy but alter how it’s implemented or some of the specifics. 

For instance, I think a lot of the discussion about taxpayer-funded lobbying was derailed in the Legislature this session because so many municipalities were against it, and it just got to the point where lawmakers couldn’t support it,” he said.

Parker and Price agreeing more at the Steer Fort Worth debate underscores the fine line they must walk, if elected, the professor said.

“They want to walk a fine line between being political and making sure their base gets attentive, but also not stepping into a minefield that will group them with other mayors of big cities that have been vocal about police reform,” Rottinghaus said.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott often feuds with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, both Democrats. Rottinghaus wasn’t surprised Abbott’s endorsed Parker over Peoples. High-profile Democrats, including former Cabinet member Julian Castro, have endorsed Peoples.

The endorsements help the candidates, he said, “but I think it also creates problems because now the race is polarized and a polarized race is going to bring out partisans of both stripes,” he said.

Election Day is Saturday. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Fort Worth residents may go to any one of the 131 countywide polling places below. 

Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at jessica.priest@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Jessica Priest

Jessica Priest is Fort Worth Report's government and accountability reporter. She was previously on USA TODAY's regional investigative team. After Jessica reported that a Midland County prosecutor worked...

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