Texas and Tarrant County are in election season, with the governor’s race topping a long list of political contests that will see a slate of new leaders at both the county and state level. Against that political backdrop, the Lone Star State continues to garner national attention as the constitutionality of Senate Bill 8, the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, is being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
A ruling on the law that bans abortions after six weeks and encourages vigilante-style lawsuits against any pregnant woman who seeks an abortion — a right fully protected by the U.S. Constitution — is expected any day. The results of that court decision could embolden Texas’ Republican base or mark a setback for Gov. Greg Abbott leading up to his 2022 reelection bid.
Beto O’Rourke Announces Run for Governor
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised $2 million within 24 hours of announcing that he will seek the governor’s office next year. The tally still leaves him around $50 million behind his Republican opponent, Abbott, who has held the office since 2014.
The El Pasoan enters a race with national implications. Abbott’s administration and Republic state leaders recently wrapped up one of the most ideologically driven legislative sessions in state history. Voter suppression laws, a ban on Critical Race Theory teachings in public schools, the elimination of gun permit requirements for bearing arms, and a controversial abortion ban top a long list of new state laws that have drawn federal lawsuits and national condemnation.
With the launch of his cross-state campaign effort, O’Rourke appears to be replicating the technique that came close but failed to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. Tarrant County voters narrowly voted in favor of O’Rourke, marking a political flip that was replicated in 2020’s presidential election.
O’Rourke enters a lone Democratic field while Abbott will face off against businessman and self-described “actual Republican” Don Huffines
A recent poll by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University found Abbott, with 43% support among all registered voters, led O’Rourke by one point. The poll did not include actor Matthew McConaughey, who has publicly voiced interest in running for governor.
Texas’ Top Legal Office Up for Grabs
Indicted State Attorney General Ken Paxton remains under investigation by the Texas Bar Association and the FBI, the former for his failed attempt to overturn the landslide electoral victory of President Joe Biden and the latter for allegedly doing favors for a wealthy donor. Despite the looming risk of disbarment and time in federal prison, the embattled attorney general is seeking reelection.
In March, Paxton will face off against Land Commissioner George P. Bush, self-described “faithful conservative fighter” State Rep. Matt Krause (whose district includes much of Tarrant County and some of Fort Worth), and Eva Guzman, a former Texas Supreme Court justice.
Paxton, who was snubbed during Trump’s round of presidential pardons, is pinning his political fate on the former president.
“I am proud of my record standing up to and defeating the Biden Administration — repeatedly,” Paxton said in a recent public statement. “I stand by my record and values and ask each voter to join President Trump in standing with me for a safer and stronger Texas.”
The misleading use of “President” Trump is a reference to the “stolen election” of 2020, the conspiracy theory that Republicans like to hang on to out of some sense of mass delusion.
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt is basing his Democratic bid for the office on voting rights and police reforms.
“Texas Republicans have launched an all-out assault on voter rights and civil liberties,” Merritt said in a July public statement. Paxton and GOP leaders are “blatantly attempting to turn back progress in the Lone Star State by using the familiar tactics of voter suppression, divisive rhetoric, and corporate money.”
Two Democrats Vie for Open DA Position
The recent announcement that DA Sharen Wilson will not seek reelection in 2022 opens a path for reform-minded leadership at the county prosecutor’s office next year. As the nation moves away from criminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, Tarrant County continues to prosecute possession of the plant that is used to treat seizure disorders, chronic anxiety, and a wide range of ailments that would otherwise require potentially addictive prescription pills.
Longtime Tarrant County prosecutor Tiffany Burks is touting her experience in the office and her commitment to “rebuild the public’s trust in our criminal justice system.” Local attorney Albert Roberts, who failed to unseat Wilson four years ago and describes the current administration as “out of touch,” will face off against Burks in March’s Democratic primary. No Republican has filed to run for the office as of this week.
Tarrant County voters recently snubbed Wilson’s request for $160 million to build new prosecutor offices and to purchase new equipment. The vote of no confidence in her administration is likely one of several reasons why she will not seek reelection.
Fort Worth Redistricting Nearing Finalization
To accommodate a population pushing 1 million, Fort Worth leaders are in the process of adding two new districts to the current eight. The mayor is a voting member of the city council, meaning that the total council size will grow from nine to 11 once the new map is adopted in February.
After seeking submissions from the general public, the city council-appointed Redistricting Task Force is currently reviewing 18 submissions from civic groups and individuals and one that was jointly submitted by councilmembers Cary Moon, Chris Nettles, and Jared Williams. The maps will be evaluated based on several criteria that the task force adopted earlier this year.
One member of Citizens for Independent Redistricting Fort Worth, the volunteer group that advocates for a citizen-led redistricting effort, told us that the city’s mapping software was a “real bear” to use. The onerous process left some citizens frustrated with what is supposed to be an open and transparent process, we were told. Assistant city manager Fernando Costa told us that the entire process has been conducted openly and with ample public notice.
Locals have one more chance to give input on the submitted maps by attending the redistricting task force’s public meeting on Wed, Dec 8, at 1000 Throckmorton St. Details about the redistricting process can be found at FortWorthTexas.gov/Government/Redistricting.
Arlington School District Hides Emails Following Controversial Vote
Starting January, Arlington school district will partner with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, and Sampson, a prominent national firm, to collect delinquent property taxes. Linebarger partners donated around $15,000 to Arlington school district’s board members in the past few years with many donations coming in recent months.
The transactional relationship between the donations and contract award prompted our paper to submit several open records requests for copies of emails and other communications between Linebarger lawyers and school administrators and board members. Arlington school district is paying a local law firm to appeal our request to the attorney general claiming that our requests are exempted from disclosure through legal caveats outlined in the Texas Public Information Act.
The documents are not privileged attorney-client communications, and we expect the AG to rule accordingly.
City Officials Crack Down on Pharmacy Fraud
The city of Fort Worth recently suspended 17 pharmacies from billing the city’s health plan after evidence of fraud came to light. Cutting down on fraudulent billing has saved taxpayers $844,675 to date, according to a public statement by the city. SmartLight Analytics partnered with the city to identify false claims and fake prescriptions.
“The patterns indicating abusive billing were clear,” said Asha George, SmartLight Analytics’ CEO. “Members were being prescribed broadly available creams and ointments by physicians that they hadn’t seen, and the prescriptions were filled at pharmacies hundreds of miles away from their home.”
The head of the city’s human resources department said that, despite regulations aimed at ending prescription fraud, the health care system is still like the Wild West at times.
West 7th Construction on Track to End Early 2022
Normally congested traffic along West 7th Street has been further slowed by a slew of construction projects that are 35% completed. The repair and resurfacing of Foch Street between Crockett Street and Farrington Field were completed in June. The ongoing projects include the construction of landscaped medians and bike lanes from University Drive to the West 7th Bridge. The construction project, which will be completed in May, will balance “the needs of the vehicle user, transit user, pedestrian, bicycle user, and others,” according to the city.
Liberty Lounge Supporting Unhoused Populations
To support Fort Worth’s underserved 76104 community, the owner of Liberty Lounge (515 S. Jennings Ave., 817-808-7158) is welcoming unhoused and unemployed folks to the Near Southside bar on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for an event that will provide free food, clothes, showers, and on-site job interviews with KP Staffing.
“We are aware that so many of our homeless population might have addiction issues, so the bar will be closed,” proprietor Jenna Hill-Higgs told us about the morning event. “This is for anybody who has had a hard time.”
Starting 6 p.m. that day, the bar will reopen, and anyone is welcome to join Hill-Higgs for a community potluck dubbed Thanksgiving Together. #BigLoveJenna