Last year was a reminder that no matter how bad things get, they can always become a helluva lot worse. The economic and psychological pummeling of 2020 left Fort Worthians collectively and naively believing that our grimmest days were behind us, especially as presidential ballot figures confirmed that the former guy had been fired by We, the People.
All of six days into a promising new year, the attack on the U.S. Capitol shook hopes that 2021 would be the year when life returned to somewhat normal. One month after, an arctic storm left Sen. Ted Cruz scurrying to a resort in Mexico as many of his constituents literally froze to death when the state’s largely unregulated electrical system buckled under the stress of sub-zero temperatures.
In Fort Worth, we pulled together. Businesses that were fortunate enough to still have power, like Tulips FTW and The Rail Club Live, welcomed all. Rail Club owner Chris Polone braved the blizzard to pick up homeless men and women along West Lancaster Avenue.
As brutal as those early months were, Tarrant County had something to look forward to. COVID-19 vaccines became readily available, and, for those who took the life-saving inoculation, the specter of a slow, protracted death became less of a danger.
Two COVID variants later, it seems like we still live in a conflicted time. Vaccines are plentiful, and we no longer have to hear about tweets from an unhinged president. And yet nearly half the country (read: Republicans) lives under the delusion that the election was stolen and local elected officials openly push Pizza Gate-type conspiracies. Think we’re kidding? Tarrant County’s district clerk, Tom Wilder, recently posted on Facebook that our news magazine is funded by left-leaning “donors” who are on the lookout for prostitutes.
Over the past year, lives have been uprooted, and nearly 1 million Americans have died from COVID. This year will be no less tumultuous as powerful forces fight to maintain control over life and politics in Tarrant County. Here’s what our editorial board predicts in the coming months.
Public schools are under attack, and the agitation isn’t coming from parents but rather elites who have the means to cough up $30,000 a year for private and religious school tuition yet use their time and resources to shit on already under-funded public schools.
The suburbs are falling under the sway of right-wingers who misrepresent Critical Race Theory (CRT) and peddle other lies to serve one purpose — to push back on this country’s slow but steady march toward racial equity and the welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community. Rather than following the Christian values they profess on Sundays and with their #blessed social media posts, many white parents are using their money and political influence to perpetuate this country’s sordid history of white supremacy and subjugation of Black and brown Americans.
Not too long ago, Fort Worth school board meetings were swamped with speakers who actually believed CRT was taught in Fort Worth public schools — it never was, not here, not anywhere. Now that their little sleight of hand has been exposed, they have turned their anger toward superintendent Kent Scribner. The right wants to replace him with someone, anyone, who will push back against the progress in racial and gender equity that our society — and Fort Worth ISD — has made. Because that’s what Jesus would have wanted? Anyway, anyone at the head of a large school district should be held accountable for their students’ grades, and Scribner is no exception — nearly 60% of students in grades 3 through 8 did not pass the STARR test in 2021 — but the intentions behind most of the attacks should be seen for what they are. The playbook for defunding public schools that mostly serve ethnic minority students has a guiding strategy — start by going after school leadership. Then flip the school board from blue to red. And then remove books and programs that empower ethnic minority or queer students. Southlake’s model of accusing the school board of peddling CRT won’t fly in Fort Worth because most Fort Worth parents aren’t snowflakes who watch Fox News while mainlining chardonnay at 1 p.m. The right-wing effort to dismantle Fort Worth public schools will target our district’s lackluster academic performance as a way of discrediting the school district with the ultimate goal of defunding public education writ large.
Fun fact: A favorite game of Tarrant County’s good ol’ boy club is musical chairs with the one exception — unlike that classic kid’s game, Tarrant’s version is rigged. Just months after getting the boot from Fort Worth city council, Jungus Jordan took public office as a member of the five-member board of the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD). Remember, Jordan’s expulsion by voters was largely a referendum on his being one of several lapdogs for Fort Worth’s police union.
Does anyone remember hearing Jordan say anything constructive during city council meetings? *crickets* It’s a real shame because there is important work to be done at TAD and TAD’s one reform-minded board member, Gary Losada, was recently ousted by Tarrant County’s powers that be.
We expect former mayor Betsy Price to coast through the March Republican primaries to clinch Tarrant County’s top position that is confusingly called “judge.” As delightful as it will be to see Republican judge candidate Tim O’Hare and his cesspool of supporters crawl back to wherever they came from (#Southlake), it’s still a sad reminder that establishment money runs local elections.
The county judge sits on the five-member commissioners court, and two of those seats are up for grabs this year. Precinct 4’s commissioner race will see two establishment candidates vie for the seat that will soon be vacated by longtime commissioner J.D. Johnson. None other than J.D.’s son, Constable Jody Johnson, will be running against fellow Republican and Fort Worth police union head Manny Ramirez in what will certainly be a battle royale. Jody has the support of Tarrant County’s good ol’ boy club, but that may not be enough to upset the police union’s chosen one. The mere appearance of police union resources going toward a county election is unprecedented. And weird. They’re supposed to be used to serve city interests. The police union’s website makes it clear: “protecting and serving the citizens of Fort Worth,” not “helping one of our own get elected to higher office.”
Tarrant County justice of the peace elections have historically drawn less attention than races for commissioner, district attorney, or criminal court judge, but an alleged November ploy by five Republican JPs to gerrymander Tarrant County’s eight JP precinct has mired the upcoming race in a scandal that will likely frame 2022’s JP races.
On Nov. 9, Tarrant County’s three white, Republican commissioners voted to adopt the new map over the objections of several ethnic minority JPs and constables who allege that the map was drawn in secret for the purpose of diluting minority votes and ensuring current JP incumbencies. Indeed, two Democrat JP candidates were drawn out of the districts they were seeking to run in.
Shortly before that meeting and in a group text message, Republican JP Jason Charbonnet told a handful of his colleagues that the map wasn’t about any funny business.
“It’s to protect the incumbent,” he wrote.
The ploy worked, and the upcoming race will likely favor the Republicans who abused their power to protect their incumbencies. Already, one civil lawsuit is seeking to overturn the new map, and Steve Maxwell, the prominent local trial attorney who filed that lawsuit, has asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Tarrant County as part of the DOJ’s ongoing look into potential violations of the Voting Rights Act in Texas.
The five Republican JPs have the upper hand, but a lot could change in nine months, especially if the DOJ makes national news out of this example of local insider dealings. We predict a 5-3 flip in favor of Democrats in this fall’s JP races.
The most impactful election in Tarrant County will be, by far, the race for district attorney. The overturning of wrongful convictions, investigations in the politically driven indictments of two Carroll school board members, monetary bail reform, and the establishment of a public defender’s office will only happen under new, reform-minded leadership.
Tarrant County is the largest county by population that does not have a public defender’s office, and our county jail is too frequently a death sentence for nonviolent offenders who cannot afford bail of as little as $100. The human suffering that has persisted in our criminal justice system under DA Sharen Wilson’s administration is truly horrifying.
This year’s DA race will be a referendum on Wilson’s tenure. Given her decision to not seek reelection amid accusations that she used her office to bolster O’Hare’s campaign, voters will be unlikely to entertain another Republican, which leaves Democrat DA candidates Tiffany Burks and Albert Roberts in position to restore some semblance of integrity to the county office.
The Constitutional right to an abortion will be revisited by the U.S. Supreme Court sometime this year. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state of Mississippi is defending its abortion ban at 15 weeks and asking the Supreme Court to return the right to ban abortions to the states. A court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would solidify the future of a new Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks — the time when most women realize they are pregnant.
As unsettling as those looming restrictions may be, a new FDA ruling has made medical abortions significantly easier to access. The drug mifepristone is commonly used with another medication, misoprostol, to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks after pregnancy. Mifepristone had previously been available only through pick-ups at a doctor’s office. Under the Biden administration, the drug was approved for mail delivery. The recent FDA decision makes that change permanent. Around 40% of all abortions are performed using medication.
As federal protections for abortions wane under the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, women in Texas and across the nation will increasingly turn to mail-order prescriptions to maintain control over their bodies and their financial security.
More of the Southlake Shit Show
Yes, the dumpster fire that is Southlake politics still burns mighty bright, and we can expect yet another year of dumbassery from reactionary white parents who have boundless material wealth matched only by their contempt for anyone who dares to suggest that wealth disparity in this country is tied to slavery and racism.
It is worth remembering there are many decent upper- and middle-class parents in Southlake who stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movements and social justice efforts in general. We’ve spoken to many of these people, and they have been unwavering in their struggle to fight the good fight in ground zero of this nation’s battle to finally smother racism and bigotry.
A powerful PAC had big political wins in 2021. Southlake Families helped elect two new city councilmembers, a new mayor, and three new school board members — all of them far right. We expect PAC money or donors tied to Southlake Families to give generously in Tarrant County’s upcoming March primary and November election that will see three new commissioners, a new DA, and a slate of county and state positions up for grabs.
And why shouldn’t they give, give, give? It’s a formula that has served the racist interests of Southlakers for two years and counting. When those donations result in political favors — and they will — you can expect yours truly to report accordingly.
Emboldened Southlake parents will continue their hunt for “woke” textbooks that describe the life of nonwhite, nonbinary, non-wealthy children. State leaders like Rep. Matt Krause have fanned that paranoia by investigating the infiltration of “pornographic” books in public schools.
The year looks bleak for Southlake. Until there are serious consequences for the county prosecutors and officials who do the bidding of Southlake’s Republican donors, the wealthy suburb will continue to wreak havoc in Texas’ third most-populous county.
Fort Worth’s Trial
Mon., May 16, is the court date for Aaron Dean, the former Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman, as she played video games with her nephew at home more than two years ago. Jefferson’s is perhaps the most tragic recent police killing in a long line of too-frequent police shootings of unarmed Black men, women, and teenagers.
In response to a nonemergency call from a concerned neighbor who noticed Jefferson’s front door was open, Dean walked behind the home and shot her through a back window after failing to announce that he was a police officer. Jefferson, then 28, was saving money for medical school at the time of her killing.
The delays reflect apathy and negligence on the part of Tarrant County’s largely white, largely old leadership. County prosecutors were tripping over themselves in late 2020 to prosecute two Carroll school board members as a favor to O’Hare and wealthy Republican donors in Southlake, but Judge David Hagerman, who is overseeing Dean’s trial, refused to meet with councilmember Chris Nettles in June when Nettles fulfilled a campaign pledge by calling for a trial date for Dean.
Dean is not the only one on trial. Fort Worthians are following Jefferson’s case closely, even as national media attention fails to grasp its significance. A watchful local electorate will be judging how elected leaders handle Jefferson’s long overdue case and will remember their words and actions when next election season rolls around.
If Dean is found guilty, we can expect jubilant Fort Worthians to fill the streets in celebration even as his back-the-blue supporters curse the Deep State powers that be. If prosecutors don’t do their job, Fort Worth will see civil unrest unlike anything we have ever experienced.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.