Three of the 10 Fort Worth mayoral candidates have sided with Democrats’ corporate allies who are attacking attempts by the Texas Legislature to increase election integrity. A recent survey shows the candidates, and these businesses, have taken a position against that of a majority of U.S. voters.

At a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Fort Worth Chamber on Wednesday, mayoral candidates Mattie Parker, Ann Zadeh, Deborah Peoples, and Daniel Caldwell were asked about big businesses attacking election integrity. For weeks, an alliance of big corporations and national Democrats has been launching a coordinated attack against states trying to secure their elections.

“Hundreds of business leaders across the country have issued a statement opposing legislative proposals that critics say would make it harder to vote in many states,” Ryan Rusak, opinion editor for Fort Worth Star-Telegram, told the candidates. “That includes Texas, and some are raising concerns about the state losing business if proposals move forward.”

There are currently two major election integrity bills in the Texas Legislature: Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6. Critics haven’t identified any specific provisions of these bills that would make it harder to vote.

Demetria Smith, a Democrat who ran for Houston mayor in 2019, testified this month in favor of HB 6. “National Democrats are making this bill to be a Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression bill. It’s not Jim Crow 2.0, it’s Election Accountability 2.0. Democrats are playing on our emotions … making a mockery of my suffrage so you can keep your own seats.”

“How should the next mayor handle this topic, particularly when it comes to recruiting business?” Rusak asked the candidates.

“My first thought is the mayor needs to stay within his office and wheelhouse, as far as he can discourage the legislators from passing restrictions to the ease of voting,” Caldwell said.

“Anytime your CEOs are speaking up, out of concern, we have to listen, especially in a city that is trying to grow jobs and economy,” Parker replied. “You’ve got a pretty diverse delegation in Tarrant County right now that probably differ on their opinions on what’s happened at the state legislative level. … You can’t have those people pitted against one another if you’re really focused on pitching businesses to the city of Fort Worth or across Texas, rather. And that’s what you’re seeing happen in states like Georgia, where companies are really upset about what they’re seeing with voting rights across their state.”

“As a candidate with the most business experience, I know that an inclusive city is good for business,” said Peoples, who chairs the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “And the mayor’s job is to sell this city and make sure that we are bringing everyone to the table.”

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

“I absolutely think that the mayor should stand up and do everything in our power to not limit voters’ rights,” Zadeh answered. She went on to say the mayor should use their platform “to support businesses that are stepping up now—and the people that work those businesses—saying they do not want their rights to vote limited.”

Rusak said candidates Brian Byrd and Chris Rector weren’t at the forum due to scheduling conflicts.

But big businesses’ recent moves, and those of the mayoral candidates at Wednesday’s forum, are in direct conflict with citizens. A recent Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 “likely” American voters found 60 percent “say it’s more important to prevent cheating in elections than to make it easier to vote”—including 56 percent of black voters, 59 percent of white voters, and 63 percent of other minority voters.

The survey found 51 percent “believe it is likely that cheating affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”

“California CEOs and corporations should not dictate policy in Texas,” Christine Welborn, director of election integrity at Direct Action Texas, told Texas Scorecard. “The citizens of Texas, through their elected representatives, decide the laws for Texas. And right now, those citizens are demanding election integrity. Texans should not allow themselves to be bullied or blackmailed into a loss of faith in the integrity of our elections.”

A 2017 D Magazine interview with former Direct Action Texas Executive Director Aaron Harris detailed how ballot-by-mail voter fraud works in Dallas City Council elections.

Texas Scorecard asked the campaigns of Byrd, Caldwell, Parker, Penate, Peoples, and Zadeh if they believe ballot-by-mail voter fraud is an issue in Texas and if they believe we should secure the integrity of our elections.

Only the Penate campaign responded before publication time.

“Yes, ballot-by-mail voter fraud is an issue in Tarrant County, in Texas, and across America,” Penate stated. “We absolutely have to secure our elections. We saw rampant voter fraud all over the U.S. in the last election, and people have lost faith in our election system. If our elections would have had full integrity, there would be a different president in the White House right now.”

Election integrity is a top legislative priority of the Texas Republican Party and the only one also declared an emergency item by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in February. In March, Abbott said he was ready to sign “robust” election reform bills that come to his desk.

Early voting for the May 1 local elections in North Texas runs April 19-27.

Robert Montoya

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