Fort Worthians exert influence from the Texas House to the U.S. Congress, but there is one chamber where they don’t — the state Senate.
Fort Worth is the only major Texas city not to have a resident among the 31 members of the Legislature’s upper chamber. That is unlikely to change if the Republican-led House agrees to the way the Senate has drawn the districts. Senators voted 20-11 on Monday to approve their new map.
Most of Fort Worth is in Senate District 10, currently represented by Burleson Democrat Beverly Powell. Under the Senate-approved map, most of the city would shift into North Richland Hills Republican Kelly Hancock’s Senate District 9, while District 10 would expand to include several more rural counties. Some local officials and residents have said the shift is an attempt to dilute the influence of voters of color.
James Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political science professor, described Fort Worth’s situation as odd, considering its population is nearing 1 million people.
For more than 100 years, the Senate featured a Fort Worth resident, according to the Legislative Reference Library. The last Fort Worthian in the Senate was Wendy Davis, a Democrat who left the Legislature in 2015 after losing a bid for governor.
“With so few senators in the Senate, it’s so important that they have the breadth of knowledge they need, and I think that breadth comes from being a Fort Worth-based senator,” Fort Worth ISD school board President Tobi Jackson said.
Some want a Fort Worthian in Senate
The argument for having Fort Worth united focuses on city residents’ shared interests being represented in the state Senate.
“I think it does matter for the voters of Tarrant County because the interests of the rural parts of the state aren’t the same as a growing metropolitan area that has all the infrastructure challenges of a growing metropolitan area,” said Rebecca Deen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.
State senators from Fort Worth
For more than 100 years, the Texas Senate had a Fort Worth resident as a member. Here’s a list of those Fort Worthians:
- Democrat Wendy Davis, 2009-2015
- Republican Kim Brimer, 2003-2009
- Democrat Mike Moncrief, 1991-2003
- Democrat Hugh Parmer, 1983-1991
- Republican Betty Andujar, 1973-1983
- Democrat Don Kennard, 1963-1973
- Democrat Doyle Willis, 1953-1963
- Democrat Keith Franklin Kelly, 1947-1953
- Democrat Jesse Eugene Martin, 1939-1947
- Democrat Frank Hill Rawlings, 1931-1939
- Democrat Julien Capers Hyer, 1929-1931
- Democrat Robert Alda Stuart, 1923-1928
- Democrat Robert Lee Carlock, 1919-1923
- Democrat Offa Shivers Lattimore, 1911-1919
Fort Worth council member Elizabeth Beck, a Democrat, said that, if this Senate District 10 map stands, the state will continue to chip away at cities’ ability to govern themselves.
“We saw that in the last legislative session. There were laws that were passed that dictated how the city of Fort Worth can budget, which is a primary responsibility of the city and council to set a budget according to our residents’ needs and wants,” Beck said.
Beck was referring to House Bill 1900, which bans cities with a population of more than 250,000 from reducing their police department’s budget. If cities do reduce their police department’s budget, under this law, they cannot raise property taxes and the state can reduce what they collect in sales tax.
Riddlesperger was not surprised that Fort Worth doesn’t have a resident in the Senate because of its competitive elections. Other cities, such as Dallas and Austin, are solidly Democratic cities and can easily be drawn into a single district, he said.
“Instead of packing Democrats, like they can in those other cities where those districts are not just solidly Democratic but overwhelmingly Democratic, in Fort Worth, you can’t do that because Democrats are dispersed across the county,” Riddlesperger said.
Fort Worth is a minority-majority city. Combined, Latino, Black, Asian and other non-white people are 63% of Fort Worth’s 918,915 residents. If they wanted to, lawmakers could draw a Senate district encompassing all of Fort Worth and still not meet the 940,178 residents for an ideal population.
The new Senate District 10 is 49% white. Along with Tarrant County, the district includes Parker, Brown, Callahan, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Shackelford and Stephens counties.
“I think it is a mistake and unfair to have adjacent areas included (in Senate District 10) to increase the partisan advantage for a particular Senate district,” former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said.
Senator’s values more important than residency
Others think Fort Worth has fared OK without a state senator from Fort Worth.
“It’s more important we have someone who represents the values and that’s police and fire support, education, economic development, and great roads,” said Betsy Price, Fort Worth’s most recent mayor who is now running on the Republican ticket for Tarrant County judge. “Wendy Davis did not represent the values that Fort Worth and most of Tarrant County were looking for.”
Sal Espino, a former Fort Worth council member and a Democrat, said Powell has been a strong advocate for urban school districts and economic development despite being from Burleson.
She and Davis pushed for state funding for Fort Worth transportation projects when he represented District 2 on Fort Worth City Council.
“When I got on council in 2005, (Interstate 35 West) wasn’t funded, state Highway 191 wasn’t funded, FM 156 and Blue Mound Road wasn’t funded,” Espino said. “It’s important to have someone who has at least ties to Fort Worth.”
Having a Fort Worthian as senator would be a big plus for Jackson, the school board president. Good senators should have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in their district, she said.
“I think anybody that’s in the seat has to realize this dynamic city is a 24/7 job — it’s a lot different than a rural-based senator,” Jackson said.
Powell likely will face a tough re-election campaign next year as Republicans sense an opportunity to flip the newly drawn district. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, announced last week he would challenge Powell; Arlington lawyer Warren Norred is another Republican seeking the seat.
This year’s redistricting process is the state’s first that it will not have to seek federal approval to ensure lawmakers did not violate the rights of voters of color.
“As long as we have partisan gerrymandering as the primary way to redistrict every 10 years, you’re going to end up with the majority party in this state dividing the state up in a way that gives an advantage to that political party,” Riddlesperger said.
Disclosure: Sal Espino is a member of the Fort Worth Report Reader Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.