In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Mayor Mattie Parker speaks with government accountability reporter Rachel Behrndt about redistricting and the future of Fort Worth politics.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Rachel Behrndt: Early in the redistricting process, you declared neutrality, saying you would not be the deciding vote, or the fifth vote on the council to form a consensus. By the last meeting, that shifted, and, in a lot of ways, you drove the conversation around which map the council ultimately moved forward with. What changed?
Mattie Parker: It was obvious we didn’t have five votes without me. Because every council member is trying to represent their district, people were pretty dug in, so it was obvious we needed to go back to the drawing board and say, ‘What does it look like to continue to draw maps and work together as a community?’
What you saw on Wednesday, March 23 was, I’m a pretty good judge of where we are on things, and simply counting votes around the table and knowing what consensus looked like. When I started to feel momentum around the possibility of a compromise map, which was a unanimous vote, I could taste it.
One of the biggest points of contention last Wednesday, March 23 was the horseshoe feature, and attempting to draw a new Hispanic opportunity district, opportunity being the word. You cannot guarantee a result. We need to make sure, and we did so with these maps, a race-neutral reason as to why we drew these maps and communities of interest together. I’ll continue to do that as mayor anytime I feel like I can bring this body together to demonstrate compromise and consensus building; that’s going to be my No. 1 priority. And to be able to do that on such a big issue for the city or Fort Worth is something I’m really proud of.
Behrndt: Council members have consistently touted their ability to work together and be friendly with one another. How do you think redistricting has impacted those relationships?
Parker: I think it’s obvious that it was really difficult. There may be some hurt feelings, relationships frayed. But my hope – and I can’t dictate this is that it’s just like when you have a family member that gets in a fight with another family member – it may be rocky for a few weeks, but you end up coming together and having that hug around the table.
I think we’ll get back to that. However, I need all listeners to understand that policy making is difficult. But I think at the end of the day, both with this issue and others, we continue to kind of collaborate wherever possible, and try to leave our emotions at the door and do the work on behalf of residents.
Parker: I don’t agree with it. I think everybody likes to play armchair quarterback on a Monday morning, or infuse their own opinion about what may or may not have happened. And all I can say is it’s not true. I think this process reveals that we tried to draw a map in adding two additional seats, trying to account for all the growth we’ve had across the city in a way that’s most reflective of the needs of our community going forward for the next 10 years.
Next election cycle will be really a truth-telling operation to see were we successful and some of the goals we set out as a body. And I think we will be.
Behrndt: This goes hand in hand with the comments you recently made in conversation with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune about not identifying with the party or partisan tactics of Republicans. In that interview, you cited your concerns about the campaign tactics used against your friend and former employer Betsy Price in her race for county judge. But what about redistricting – how did this process influence your stance on trying to walk a nonpartisan line?
That is not what I have seen, honestly, in any primary, Republican or Democrat. We’ve lost sight of the truth. It’s more about casting someone else in a bad light by pulling certain pieces of their tenure of public service – and I don’t like it… I just can’t agree with that. I am a Republican, I’ve been proud to be a Republican since I was probably 18 years old.
Trying to run this office in a nonpartisan way is a huge priority for me. And I think I have demonstrated that will be a priority, and I’ll fulfill that promise. Will I sometimes have to take tough votes that one side or another will agree with? Absolutely.
If I want to pull people together, I’m going to have to pull people together from very different perspectives, and political parties to get there. And that’s how I’ll be an effective mayor moving forward. I kind of like people kind of guessing where I might end up on an issue.
Behrndt: What lessons do you think that you can take from this process as it’s played out, that future leaders might be able to use when they’re making decisions about how this process is going to go next time?
Parker: In the past 24 hours I’ve thought I should put all my thoughts and feelings on paper and hand it over to the next mayor and council whoever might be here in 10 years.
I know that the Independent Redistricting Commission has continued to be something that people advocate for. I still believe council members need to be in the process in some way or form. I would respect a future body saying they want to do it differently. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody because it is really hard and technical.
It’s one of the more important parts of our job, but it’s also distracting from the daily business of City Hall and working on behalf of residents. So I’m thankful we’ve gotten to this nine-vote place and passed the map, and now we just have to wait and see what happens in the courts – If someone were to sue us on the map.
Behrndt: Thank you so much to Mattie Parker for sitting down to discuss redistricting – the process will start all over again in 10 years. In the meantime, how do you see the City Council will be changed by the results of this redistricting and how do you see your re-election campaign shaping up next year?
Parker: I’m going to buy a whistle. I needed a whistle to referee some of these people. It’s herding cats, always! I joke. I think it renews my faith and the opportunity for Fort Worth going forward. I think mostly people are pretty proud of what we’ve done here. I think it’s really difficult to find another city or legislative entity that’s created a map where the entire body votes for the map moving forward.
I don’t know how to do it if I’m honest with myself and with residents. So I’ll just kind of keep being myself. I’m thankful that the opportunity to draw to new districts is done. I hope we’ve done so in a fair and equitable manner across the city, and I think we have.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. 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.