Posted inLocal Government

Geren’s push for legalized casinos earns support from Fort Worth mayor

AUSTIN –  It was a big week for Fort Worth Rep. Charlie Geren.

On Wednesday, as more than 150 North Texans arrived in Austin for the beginning of Tarrant County activities in the state capitol, Geren appeared before the House State Affairs Committee to explain a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize casinos in Texas, including two in the Fort Worth-Dallas area.

The following day, many of the visitors were watching from the gallery as Geren’s colleagues surprised the 73-year-old speaker pro tempore on the House floor with a resolution honoring his 50 years of “exceptional service” to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

Moreover, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker also provided a boost to his gambling measure by effectively endorsing Geren’s intentions, saying casinos could help boost local fortunes if they are part of a major economic development.

“I would support major economic development opportunities that might include a casino component, absolutely,” the Fort Worth mayor told The Fort Worth Report. “Any growing city that’s focused on jobs and opportunity, it’s prudent for them to consider that opportunity. With the right economic development opportunity, I would absolutely be supportive.”

The two-day “Tarrant County Day” trip offered business leaders, chambers of commerce officials and local government leaders from across Tarrant County an opportunity to strengthen ties with their elected representatives and push top home-district priorities as the pace accelerates in the 88th Legislature.

The trip provided a lobbying forum for the Tarrant County visitors to advance a laundry list of issues from economic development and education to improving local infrastructure but it also spotlighted concerns over legislation that some officials fear would undermine the authority of local jurisdictions.

Before heading home, many of the visitors gathered in the gallery as Geren passed a resolution paying tribute to Tarrant County’s 174 years of contributions to the state and nation. And just moments afterward, Geren was surprised with another resolution from his Fort Worth House colleague Craig Goldman honoring his contributions to the Stock Show. 

Nearly all of the 150 members of the House surged to the podium to surround Geren as Goldman described how the long-time lawmaker and prominent Fort Worth rancher and businessman rode in the rodeo grand entry on 1,337 consecutive occasions since 1976, “never missing a performance.”   

Fort Worth financier and philanthropist Ed Bass, chairman of the board of the Southwestern Exposition & Livestock Show – better known as the Stock Show – made the trip with other board members to surprise Geren.

 “I’m thrilled and honored,” Geren said afterward.

Geren’s resolution to his home county described Tarrant as a part of the “Old West” that grew from its creation in 1849 into the third most populous county in Texas, with more than 2.1 million people, anchored by Fort Worth and surrounded by other high-growth cities including Arlington, North Richland Hills, Bedford and Keller.

These cities and others were represented by the local government officials and business leaders who gathered in the State Capitol, the nearby DoubleTree Hotel and the Austin Club for briefings and discussions that included State Comptroller Glen Hegar, Secretary of State Jane Nelson and Tarrant County’s Republican-dominated House and Senate delegations. Nelson formerly represented Tarrant County in the state Senate.

The event has long been a high profile gathering during legislative sessions, and this year competed for attention with Denton County Day and Realtors Day. Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder, who has been in office for 28 years, said he has never failed to attend.

The trip coincided with an uptick in legislative activity and started on the same day that the state affairs committee heard five hours of testimony on gambling legislation, including Geren’s proposed state constitutional amendment.

The state affairs committee also heard a companion implementing bill for Geren’s proposed constitutional amendment as well as measures to allow sports betting in Texas, but left the measures pending and took no votes.

“I’m always on the side of letting voters decide what’s best for their state,” said Mayor Parker.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is honored in the Texas House with a surprise resolution by Craig Goldman. (Courtesy photo | Bob Daemmrich)

Controversial House bill draws concern

During their discussions, some of the visitors raised concerns over a growingly controversial bill by Republican Rep. Dustin Burrows that opponents say would undercut local authority to enact regulations. 

Entitled the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act, HB2127 is aimed at reigning in what supporters say is  patchwork of local regulations that exceed state authority, but Rep. Nicole Collier told Tarrant Day visitors Thursday that the bill is “coming after the rights of local government.”

“I don’t know what anybody told you about what was going on but this legislative session is tough,” Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat, said as she referenced the bill in a briefing on the third floor of the state capitol Thursday. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s very tough.”

Collier described HB2127 as a “preemption bill that would trump the rights” of local governments. She said the bill’s opponents may be able to amend it but “we just don’t have enough votes to stop it.”

Parker, who met with Burrows on Wednesday, took a different tack on the bill and said she believes the fears aren’t warranted. 

“I don’t see that as a place of concern right now,” said the mayor, a Republican. “I think that we need to keep working together to understand and respect what they’re trying to bring with their legislation. That’s my perspective.”

She acknowledged in an interview that “some people seem nervous” about the bill “but I think as amendments continue and the discussion of the bill rolls forward I hope that nervousness dissipates.”  

She said she had an “excellent” visit with Burrows, a Lubbock Republican who chairs the House Calendars Committee that decides which committee-passed bills to allow to the House floor for final votes.

Burrows could not be reached for comment but a legislative summary provided by his office said HB2127 is needed to confront local regulations “that can vary widely from one municipal area to the next. Many of these local regulations, created at the stringent urging of groups hailing from outside Texas, wear a veneer of compassion when, in fact, they hinder the creation of meaningful jobs and economic opportunity.”

‘It’s important for us to hear from them’

Tarrant County Day has long been a high profile gathering during legislative sessions, and this year competed for attention with Denton County Day and Realtors Day. 

For Kenya Mobley, who started the On Track Truck Driving School in Arlington, Tarrant County Day was a welcome opportunity to meet with home-district lawmakers whose decisions can have a direct impact on her small business and daily life.

And for Tarrant County legislators like State Rep. Giovani Capriglione of Southlake, it was a chance to spend some time with the people they serve, strengthening a mutual understanding of the needs back home and the challenges lawmakers face in the frenzied state capitol.

“It’s important for these guys to come visit the capitol. It’s important for us to hear from them,” he said.  “As many people that come to the capitol, it still gets lonely here some time.  So it’s alway great to hear from folks you know that come down here.”

Representatives of event sponsors and corporate giants such as American Airlines, Lockheed Martin, BNSF Railway, Fidelity Investments and Oncor were also in attendance, as well as executives from numerous chambers of commerce in Tarrant County.

But perhaps the biggest beneficiaries were small business operators like Mobley and Brooke Goggans, co-Founder of Mosaic Strategy Partners, a strategic communications and public affairs firm, who was hoping to come away with an expanded education to better serve her clients.

In many respects, the series of interactions between lawmakers and the folks from back home constituted somewhat of a working civics lesson as senators and House members representing Tarrant County described their day-to-day activities – while at times offering glimpses into their personal lives.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, who now lives in Granbury, noted that even though his multi-county district has only a small portion of Tarrant County, he’s bona fide Tarrant County senator who was born in Haltom City and can name every member of the legendary Von Erich wrestling family. 

Rep. Salman Bhojani of Euless, one of the first Muslims to serve in the Legislature, recalled that  he came to America from Pakistan when he was 19 years old and worked at a gas station mopping floors for $6 an hour.

Rosa Navejar, chair of the Fort Worth Chamber, echoing observations by other Tarrant officials, said a major focus of the trip is to make sure the unprecedented $33 billion state budget surplus is used to meet important needs like improving infrastructure, education, transportation and worker training – “all the things that sustain us a community, as a city.”

Business leaders also appeared to share a consensus on creating a new program of incentives to replace the phased-out 313 program to aggressively lure out-of-state companies to the Lone Star State.

 “The goal is to keep the Texas economy vibrant and growing to make sure that it remains the number one economy in the country,” said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

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