As the Fort Worth May election ramps up, mayoral candidate Steve Penate speaks to citizens about who he is and where he stands on citizen issues like rising crime, human trafficking, property taxes, and Panther Island.

In late February, Penate sat down with Texas Scorecard for an exclusive interview to answer questions about citizen issues. This publication does not endorse candidates and has offered interview opportunities to the Brian Byrd, Mattie Parker, and Deborah Peoples campaigns. All have yet to respond.

Steve Penate

Born in Los Angeles, California, Penate is a real estate broker in Fort Worth and one of the founding pastors of Mercy Culture church, located off I-35W.

“I’m not a politician. I am a Christian, conservative family man, [and] citizen,” he said. “I am a U.S. citizen, a birthright that was given to me, fought [for] by so many people in the best country, which is the United States of America. And I stand on that freedom, and I proudly say I’m so thankful.”

Faith Under Attack

Being a founding Christian pastor in a world where the mainstream media regularly assaults Christianity and Christian values, Penate said he expects to be attacked.

“We have seen conservative Christian values under attack in America,” he replied. “We have seen conservative Christian values under attack in our schools, under attack in culture, and so will I be attacked for being a conservative Christian? Absolutely, I will be.”

Penate said part of the reason he is running is “to fight for our conservative values to not only remain, but to thrive in a culture where many have felt exhausted trying to fight for them.”

But what of the debate of whether Christians should be involved in politics at all?

“Last time I checked, we are all citizens in where we live,” Penate said. “We’re not only called to influence from a spiritual perspective, we’re called to influence and to bring the kingdom of God to every sphere of life.”

He also addressed the narrative that claims people of different religions should fear Christians entering public office. Penate simply referred to Christ’s commandment to love your neighbor.

“One of the things that people have to understand is that one of the ways we love our neighbors, from a government perspective, is being able to respect the freedoms we have here in America, the freedoms that so many have fought for,” he said, adding the threat of taking freedoms away is “not from Christians, it’s from politicians.”

Law & Order

Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon reported in 2020 the city saw a 58 percent increase in homicides from the prior year, adding it was “the worst in 25 years.”

Penate was asked for his plan to address this.

“I want to go on the record [saying] this: I vow to back the blue,” he replied. “One of the reasons why is because we need to make safety a priority here in Fort Worth, Texas.”

“We’re seeing many with liberal ideas and ideologies coming with the thought process of defunding the exact same sector that defends us, that protects us,” he continued. “I believe common sense is lost when you want to defund the very thing that keeps us safe.”

Penate also acknowledged the need for accountability and transparency for police.

“I’m Hispanic,” he said. “I was born and raised in a predominantly Hispanic community; and, yes, I have seen the overreach of police officers. As a matter of fact, I have friends that have had very hard experiences with police officers.”

But he emphasized a few bad actors doesn’t mean the entire department is bad, and he believes “the heart of the Fort Worth Police Department truly is for the people.”

His solution is to create “a culture of mutual respect” in the city.

“One of the ways we do that is by listening to our citizens from all walks of life,” he explained. “And at the same time, listening to our law enforcement and their perspectives.”

“It’s very easy to throw judgment at a cop who is in the line of fire in that moment [and] has one second to make a decision, with so many outcomes in front of him, so many things he or she is unaware of in that moment. It’s very easy to judge an action,” Penate continued. “In the multitude of counsel, there’s wisdom. We have to create a culture of mutual respect, and one of the best ways to do that is by listening to one another.”

COVID Mandates

At the time of this interview, Gov. Greg Abbott had yet to open Texas more and end his statewide mask mandate.

When asked about when Fort Worth should be fully reopened with zero mandates, Penate was adamant.

“I will work with whoever I have to work [with] to open Fort Worth back up,” he replied. “I believe in personal responsibilities, and businesses should be able to take the decision they feel best for their business [and] their employees and do as they want to.”

“One of the things we saw is that these mandates, these shutdowns, these lockdowns hurt far more people,” he continued. Penate recalled speaking with an elderly woman who said, “I’m over all this. I feel depressed being so alone.”

Penate also acknowledged individual’s health concerns and emphasized self-government as the solution.

“I am all for safety, of course,” he added. “Everybody wants to be healthy … but I also believe in personal freedoms. I also believe that adults should be responsible for their own health and what they feel is best for them. We have to open Fort Worth back up and get back to business.”

Property Taxes

Data from the Tarrant Appraisal District shows that since 2013, the city’s average property tax bill for homeowners has skyrocketed more than 46 percent, from $835 to $1,223. What will Penate do about this?

“Fort Worth competes for some of the highest property taxes in America. I’m all about competition, but that’s the wrong competition to be in,” he replied. “Every single week, we encounter so many families whose American dream to be a homeowner is crushed because property taxes are so high here in Fort Worth, Texas.”

Starting May 1, I am going to work with the council I have to work with to lead the fight to lower property taxes here in Fort Worth, Texas.

Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

A 2019 poll found 88 percent of Texans oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying, the practice of local governments using taxpayer dollars to fight against citizen interests in the Texas Legislature.

Banning the practice has been a legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas for the past few years, and in March 2020, nearly 95 percent of Republican primary voters in Texas supported a proposition to call for ending the practice completely.

Where does Penate stand on this?

“I believe it’s important for us to be able to look at our budgets and see where our money is going. Reallocating our funds in the right place needs to happen here in Fort Worth, Texas,” he said. “We need accountability and integrity with what we do with taxpayer money here in Fort Worth, Texas. And I promise to bring that to Fort Worth starting May 1.”

Fort Worth’s Financial “Sinkhole” Status

A nationwide study of major cities by the citizen organization Truth in Accounting found Fort Worth went into the Chinese coronavirus situation in poor financial health and would need an additional $9,400 per-taxpayer to pay off all its debts.

“One of the easiest things to do is to spend other people’s money. You know why? Because you didn’t work for it,” Penate replied when asked about this. “I promise—and it’s a promise—to be a mayor that holds what we do with taxpayer money accountable. We need accountability, we need transparency, and we need to govern with integrity.”

One of the things we have easily forgotten—or one of the things that politicians have easily forgotten—is that [politicians] work for the people. The people do not work for them. Accountability, transparency, and integrity must be at the forefront of everything we do, and that includes Panther Island.

Human Trafficking

Mercy Culture has a ministry called The Justice Reform, which focuses on combatting human trafficking. Penate shared his thoughts on the crisis.

“If you want to talk about real pandemics, this is one of them. And it happens right in our backyard, here in Fort Worth, Texas,” he said. “One of the honors that a mayor has is influence. Put this on the record: I am going to use that seat of influence to fight human trafficking with everything I have.”

It happens in our own backyard. And how’s it possible that we rarely hear about it? How is it possible that right now, as we’re having this interview, someone is being trafficked in our own backyard? These are issues that not only have to be fought, but they have to be highlighted.

Early voting for the May 1 election runs from April 19 through April 27. Citizens can see all the candidates running for Fort Worth mayor and city council by going to the city secretary’s election website.

This article has been updated since publication. 

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.