AUSTIN – “Hey, ya’ll, how’s it going,” Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker beamed as she walked on stage to greet a packed house of lawmakers, their spouses and assorted Capitol powerbrokers at Austin’s historic Paramount Theater.  She was wearing a black blazer, jeans and black boots with gold lightning strikes, products of Fort Worth’s City Boots.

It was about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the beginning of a nearly 24-hour, overnight blitz into the state capital that would take Cowtown’s 39-year-old mayor onto a promotional offensive for her hometown, including meetings with Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan. 

Joining actor-filmmaker Taylor Sheridan in a wholesale push to boost Fort Worth film incentives was a top priority for the mayor, but numerous other items were on the Fort Worth ask list as well.

It was her first trip to the Texas Legislature since taking office in June 2021, and it was rich with nostalgia and memories: After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, she was executive assistant to then-House Speaker Tom Craddick and chief of staff to then-state Rep. Phil King before moving to Fort Worth to ultimately become leader of the nation’s 13th-largest city.  

Throughout her Austin visit, she was accompanied by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the 86-member House Republican Caucus, and was reunited with her former bosses. Along with business, there were plenty of hugs, handshakes and selfies with old friends and colleagues.

During brief slowdowns on the schedule, she also reflected on her evolution from a get-it-done senior staffer for the House speaker into her current role as a Republican in the non-partisan job of mayor. Parker was in Austin for about six years before moving to Fort Worth with her husband, David Parker, in 2008, though she continued to work in the Legislature through 2010. In Fort Worth, she became campaign manager for U.S.
Congresswoman Kay Granger and chief of staff for then-Mayor Betsy Price for five years.

She was elected Fort Worth’s 45th mayor after Price declined to run again. 

“I’ve grown up a lot since I worked here,” the mayor told The Fort Worth Report.  “I worked here right out of college and worked for Speaker Craddick and Rep. King.  And I think I obviously have a new perspective as a local elected official, but I hope I bring a level of understanding of their work, too … and how they try to balance things on behalf of the state of Texas.”

In recent years, once bright-red Fort Worth has grown larger and become more purple politically, at times voting for Democrats as well as Republicans. While Parker’s job is nonpartisan, she comes from a Republican background and Fort Worth is still considered to be the last Republican big city in Texas.  

But  Parker, who is also considered the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city, says she sees her Republican credentials as secondary to her foremost job of solving problems for Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker sits with state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, and Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford. Goldman was the mayor’s guide during her trip to the Capitol. (David Montgomery | Fort Worth Report)

“We probably lean a little more conservative in Fort Worth, but even if people don’t agree with my political party or persuasion … my job is to work with them,” she said.  “And I really feel that being mayor, your focus should be just common-sense policies that really move the city forward. You need to focus on public safety and infrastructure and the basics. And I think when you do that your city thrives.”

After repeated legislative sessions in which the Republican-led state government has often collided with Democratic mayors in other big cities, Parker says she thinks her credentials as a Republican could actually help soften the climate between Austin and city governments. 

“In the past, there’s been quite a bit of consternation or conflict between our cities and the state government,” she said.  “I think I can bring a perspective that is helpful. And admittedly, because I’m the only Republican from a large city in Texas, I feel like my story and how I could communicate is a little more helpful.”

On this week’s mission, Job One was selling Fort Worth. 

On her first stop, the mayor was aided by hometown star power as Sheridan joined her at the Paramount event as part of an effort to sharply boost state film incentives to help Fort Worth and other Texas cities become top-ranked movie-making destinations.

As the crowd enjoyed free drinks and popcorn, Parker, Sheridan and Jessica Christopherson, vice president of marketing and film commissioner for Visit Fort Worth, took turns stressing the need for more aggressive film incentives to lure filmmakers to Texas instead of other states. Sheridan, who aired one of his shows, episode one of “1883,” also pointed out the high-costs of filmmaking, such as building sets and costume creations.

Fort Worth has gained an economic impact of hundreds of millions of dollars since Cristopherson and Visit Fort Worth launched the film commission in 2015, Parker said.

“But to make Fort Worth stand out, to make Texas stand out, we have to compete better. We’re getting beat by states like Georgia, Louisiana and New Mexico.”

While mingling with spectators in the lobby afterward, Parker said pitching the increase for film incentives was “the No. 1 priority” of her visit because of the film industry’s importance to Fort Worth. The Texas film industry is seeking to raise rebates for producing films in Texas from the current biennial total of $45 million to $200 million for the 2024-25 state budget.

Education also was a major talking point throughout her closed-door discussions with Abbott, Phelan, Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Craddick, now the dean of the Texas House, and King, a former House member who is in his first term as a senator representing the revamped 10th District, including a smaller part of Fort Worth.

“I’m really watching closely what they do specifically on public education, and making sure that we don’t lose concentration on workforce training,” she said.

Another goal is to secure state funding for the National Juneteenth Museum the city is seeking to build in Fort Worth’s Historic Southside neighborhood.‘“We would love to be able to connect that to the state somehow,” she said.

Fort Worth Rep. Charlie Geren, who is now the House Speaker Pro Tempore, joined her and Goldman for the meeting in Speaker Phelan’s office. Geren was waiting in the office where she formerly worked as Craddick’s top aide.

From there, she and Goldman headed over to the Senate side of the Capitol, passing through the House chamber, where she took a selfie of Goldman’s desk on the chamber floor. She lit up repeatedly when she saw old friends from her Austin days.

Although the mayor has been back to Austin several times since becoming mayor, she said, this week’s visit was her first trip during a legislative session, and Parker described it as essential to boosting Fort Worth interests in the state Capitol.

“I just think together, we can solve some really important problems for the state of Texas, and Fort Worth has at times maybe not told our story as well as we should have,” she said. “There’s a lot of good things happening across Texas in our big cities. And so my main objective is to make sure Fort Worth is on the map for the right reasons.”

David Montgomery is a  longtime journalist who has served as an Austin Bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald, Austin and Washington bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and Moscow bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers.

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.

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David Montgomery

David Montgomery is a longtime journalist who has served as an Austin Bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald, Austin and Washington bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and Moscow bureau...