These Fort Worth mayoral candidates say voter restriction laws are bad for business

Luke Ranker
·4 min read

Texas should avoid voting laws that may hurt businesses, candidates for Fort Worth mayor said Wednesday in a forum, though some wanted to have a more hands-on approach to advocating for voting laws.

Many companies have spoken out against Republican efforts to make voting more difficult in Texas, so the forum focused on Fort Worth’s business environment led with the question of what role the mayor should play. It was also the question where candidates D.C. Caldwell, Mattie Parker, Deborah Peoples and Ann Zadeh seem to diverge from each other the most.

Legislation under consideration in Austin would prohibit drive-thru voting, block election officials from sending applications for vote-by-mail without being asked, prohibit voting temporary structures, and loosen restrictions on poll watchers. Several major companies based in Texas have criticized the proposal, including Fort Worth-based American Airlines, Dell Technologies and Southwest Airlines. In a statement American Airlines said election security should be maintained “while making it easier to vote, not harder.”

While all the candidates appeared willing to use the mayor’s office to advocate for business interests, Peoples and Zadeh were the most direct about voting laws.

Peoples, a former AT&T vice president and chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, said the mayor’s job selling the city is easier when diversity and inclusion are embraced.

“I know what businesses are looking for, and anything that limits diversity and inclusion is bad for business,” she said.

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The lack of participation in elections locally is frustrating, Zadeh said, saying she would advocate against anything that made voting harder.

“I think as a mayor having that platform to support businesses that are stepping up now, and the people that work for those businesses, saying that they do not want their right to vote limited,” she said.

Parker, a former chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price, didn’t say if she would use the mayor’s bully pulpit to influence legislation one way or the other, saying the city should allow “our business community to speak loudly to our state delegation or federal delegation about how they’re feeling.”

Instead, she said she thought businesses would shy away from areas where there is strong disagreement and suggested she would bring Tarrant County’s delegation together.

“You can’t have them pitted against one another if you’re really focused on pitching business on the city of Fort Worth, or across Texas,” she said.

Caldwell said the mayor should stay within “within his office and wheelhouse” but could discourage legislatures from passing bills.

Candidates Brian Byrd, Mylene George, Mike Haynes, Cedric C. Kanyinda, Steve Penate and Christ Rector did not participate in the forum, which was hosted by the Star-Telegram, the Fort Worth Chamber, the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce.

That mayor’s largest role is to advocate for the city because day-to-day business is run by the city manager and staff. Candidates offered a variety of ways to promote the city and attract businesses.

Fort Worth should lean into it’s “business friendly” atmosphere, Parker said, and boost the marketing budget to aggressively pitch Fort Worth outside of Texas. The city should also look to state lawmakers and agencies as partners in promoting Fort Worth as a place to relocate a business.

Peoples said the city had “missed the boat” in promoting Fort Worth’s diverse communities and workforce. She said attempts to woo companies should be “intentional and deliberate.”

Zadeh pointed to the success of the Near Southside in promoting and opening businesses during the pandemic and said the same focus on local companies should apply across the city. Boosting local businesses will encourage other companies to move to Fort Worht, she said.

“These are people who are already passionate about this community, want to have employees that come from this community,” she said. “Having the support of their city and their chambers is something that will shine out to those other businesses that might want to relocate here as well.”