Explainer: Fort Worth redistricting stalemate reflects Far North vs. South split
Updated: Jan 31
Redistricting, in concept, is simple: Equalize population across a fixed number of districts to create a map that accurately and evenly gives one person, one vote. In some cities, the process can go quickly. For example, Austin finished redistricting in early October. Arlington wrapped up redistricting Dec. 15.
Fort Worth is more complicated than that.
At the Feb. 28 public hearing, 25 city residents stated their support for council member Chris Nettles’ map, also known as MapX_Version3, with a horseshoe amendment. A day later, the council prioritized the map ahead of its final public comment meeting on March 22.
That means council member Cary Moon’s map, which creates two new districts in far north Fort Worth, is down but not out.
Despite this apparent step forward, the chosen map left some key players unsatisfied. To approve the map, the council needs five votes, meaning one more council member needs to join Elizabeth Beck, Gyna Bivens, Chris Nettles and Jared Williams in support of Nettles’ map. As a March 29 deadline bears down, the council still lacks consensus.
Michael Crain, District 3 council member who represents west Fort Worth including Ridglea Hills, is a potential swing vote. His priority is maintaining communities of interest in District 3.
Crains believes Nettles’ map with a horseshoe maintains key communities of interest in District 3, including the Tanglewood and Colonial Hills area and the Ridgmar Alliance. He hopes the council can get away from politics and toward crafting policy that is best for all residents.
Far north Fort Worth feels like ‘afterthought’
Rusty Fuller was one of three voices at the Feb. 28 public hearing advocating for three new districts that accommodate future growth north of Loop 820. At a map-drawing session the following day, Leonard Firestone, District 7 council member who represents far Northwest Fort Worth including Texas Motor Speedway, argued Fuller represented thousands of people with his comments.
Fuller, the president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, said he draws one conclusion from the March 1 work session that prioritized Nettles’ map: “We got screwed again.”
While some council members’ focus is set squarely on south Fort Worth, the far north will continue to suffer the same neglect as a result of redistricting, Fuller said.
“We don’t want to be left out of the equation because they’re so concerned about moving neighborhoods around inside the loop,” Fuller explained.
Fuller and council members Moon and Firestone are asking for the far north to be represented by three new districts. Fuller explained that the lack of representation for residents living north of the loop has led to their interests being consistently deprioritized by the council.
“Those folks have felt for the past 15 years that they’re an afterthought,” Fuller said.
The far north did receive attention in the 2022 bond, set to be on voters’ ballots in May. The bond sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and a new library in the far north.
The far north needs these investments to keep coming, he said, and having a third voice on the council could potentially make a huge impact. In his comments to council members at the Feb. 28 public comments, Fuller emphasized that the council should take into account future growth.
“By population, we warrant three districts. (Nettles’ map) designates two and a half districts in the north, and future residents will again be disadvantaged for 10 more years,” Fuller said.
Fuller believes that it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep communities of interest together while ensuring that two districts have enough Hispanic concentration to elect the candidate of their choice. While council members work toward an unlikely objective, the far north will suffer, he said.
Cary Moon, whose map was deprioritized by the council at its March 1 meeting, has drawn seven maps since early February.
“No one has drawn more maps than me,” Moon said.
Moon emphasizes that growth in districts north of the loop has outpaced growth inside the loop. That growth isn’t monolithic and contains diverse residents, including Hispanics, he said. Moon explains that as districts are drawn now, there isn’t a single council district placed exclusively in the far north. An elected representative could theoretically represent residents north of Loop 820 and never experience the poor roads or lack of city services far north residents complain about.
“It took us eight years after redistricting to get a police station in the far north, 10 years to get a second library for 270,000 people,” Moon said. “You’re looking at an area that is the size of Denton and Waco combined, and you have one elected official.”
Beck addressed these concerns at the March 1 work session. The historic wrongs done to voters of color should take precedence over the needs of residents in the far north, she said.
“Not because we didn’t build roads, but because we have quite literally taken away their right to vote at times in our history,” Beck said. “We have all inherited the sins of the people that came before us.”
Fuller said the March 1 meeting revealed a split in the council, and council members are growing increasingly unconcerned with the needs of the far north.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” Fuller said. “To put Moon’s map as a lower priority without seeing it with the horseshoe is both premature and evidence that they’ve stopped listening.”
Does new map represent interests of Southside, Hispanic voters?
Some residents supported Nettles’ map, saying it represented the interests of Hispanic voters from various parts of the city. Hector Andrés Maldonado, a community organizer with JOLT, which works to increase Hispanic representation and engagement, sees the frustration of Hispanic voters first hand.
“We believe version three with a horseshoe amendment and Hispanic-opportunity district would give Latinos, especially younger Latinos, the hope they need to someday secure a place at the table,” Maldonado said.
Carlos Flores, who represents District 2 including heavily Latino areas of north Fort Worth and the Stockyards, is the lone Hispanic member on the council. His map, titled MapX_Version4, was tabled early on in discussions.
The map these speakers supported on March 1 underwent changes immediately ahead of the hearing and wasn’t available for view by residents ahead of public comment, Flores said. Does this newest iteration of Nettles’ map hit the mark of Hispanic representation? Flores offered a simple answer: “No.”
“I don’t think the public understood that the map (they were advocating for) incorporated other changes,” he said.
Throughout the hours-long redistricting meetings, Flores consistently raised questions about how each of the presented maps will impact Hispanic representation.
“As a Hispanic, I can understand, very acutely, the history of under-representation for the Hispanic community and why … now is the time to make sure that these interests are known,” Flores said.
He has advocated for a second Hispanic-opportunity district with a Hispanic voting-age population of well over 50%. He is hesitant to give a specific number that would define what would be considered a district where the Hispanic population is likely to elect the candidate of their choice.
“It’s hard to define. It’s too subjective,” Flores said. “You have to keep in mind how diverse the Hispanic population is.”
That diversity comes into play in voting, he said, because some can vote and some can’t, such as the undocumented. Hispanic voters tend to be consistently concentrated in the Northside and Southside of Fort Worth.
“That gives support to where those opportunity districts ought to be,” Flores said, “because it’s not just an exercise to create two new opportunity districts. You have to make them viable.”
Councilwoman Beck represents District 9, including parts of downtown Fort Worth. She also represents many of the Hispanic communities advocating for a Southside opportunity district. She questioned Flores’ objectives at a Feb. 22 meeting.
“We don’t know what (Flores) is channeling,” Beck said. “The ball keeps getting moved.”
The horseshoe version of Nettles’ map was brought up too quickly to truly analyze the impacts of its changes on other areas of the map, Flores said. He pointed out that this map, despite it being prioritized by the council at the next public hearing, is not a map of consensus. It could represent a good track for the council to develop further, to arrive at a final map everybody can live with, he said.
“I remain optimistic that, among us council members, we can talk about any changes we may want to see to arrive at a map that we can get consensus on,” Flores said.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. 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.