The changing face of District 90March 7, 2014
District 90 is perhaps one of the most eclectic legislative domains in Tarrant County, encompassing the Fort Worth stockyards, the near Northside, Texas Wesleyan University, 78-year-old Polytechnic High School and Trinity Park. At one point, Burnam represented downtown until it was transferred to another district through legislative redistricting.
Doyle Willis, who died in 2007, represented District 90 from 1973 until he retired from the Legislature in 1997. Gloria Sifuentes, 72, who served as Willis’ secretary throughout his legislative career, remembers the district as a working-class melting pot whose voters often trooped into Willis office to air whatever was on their minds.
“It had about everything in it,” she said, recalling Willis’ open-door policy in the district office. “He represented the children, the firemen, the policemen, the senior citizens and and, of course, the plain working class folks. It didn’t make any difference who came into the office, he was always in; you just walked in.”
District 90 has undergone repeated transformation through population changes, economic ups-and- downs and legislative redistricting. Today, minorities constitute more than 85 percent of the district, with Latinos comprising most of that share, according to the Texas Legislative Council. Blacks represent nearly 10 percent and whites constitute just over 13 percent.
Although some neighborhoods and commercial districts boast signs of economic revitalization, the district as a whole clearly has problems. More than 32 percent of its residents live in poverty, according the legislative council, compared to 17 percent statewide. Per capita income is $12,266, compared to $25,548 statewide.
Half the residents didn’t graduate from high school, and only about eight percent graduated from college. More than 30 percent haven’t worked at all in the past 12 months, according to the council’s report on the district’s social and economic characteristics.
“We have a huge amount of poverty and unemployment,” said newly-elected Democratic state representative candidate Ramon Romero Jr., who wants to bring bigger businesses into the district to add to the jobs offered by numerous small businesses. He also hopes to reverse a pervasive shortage of skilled workers, such as plumbers and electricians.
Another goal, he said, is to push for early childhood education and adult education. He said he also plans to work closely with the mayor and city council on issues affecting the district’s nearly 160,000 residents.
Romero said he wants to eschew partisan “gotcha” politics in Austin, saying he wants to build a “trusting relationship’ with other members of the GOP-controlled House, including Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican. “I look forward to working with Speaker Straus,” he said.
Victoria Bargas, president of the Worth Heights Neighborhood Association, believes Burnam did “some good things” for the district but said many residents welcome a new point of view to help them deal with issues such as crime and the quality of public education.
“I like Lon fine,” she said, “but I just think we need some fresh ideas and fresh eyes.”