Scramble to fill Texas Senate seat soon-to-be-vacated by Austin’s Sen. Kirk Watson

Austin

Individuals who have expressed they may consider a run for the State Senate seat soon-to-be vacated by Sen. Kirk Watson. (Top from Left to Right: Chito Vela, Greg Casar, Donna Howard. Bottom from Left to Right: Sarah Eckhardt, Adam Loewy, and Eddie Rodriguez.

Austin (KXAN) — Tuesday State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced he will resign from his role representing the Austin area in the State Senate to become the first dean of the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs. Watson has served in the State Senate since 2007 and was previously the mayor of Austin. Watson’s last day in office is April 30.

As Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea put it on Twitter, “Biggest political gossip is the mad scramble to fill his seat.”

Here are the people who have shown interest in stepping into the job Watson is leaving:

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar

Austin City Council Member Gregorio Casar. Image Courtesy City of Austin.

In a text to KXAN, Casar said he is “very seriously considering” running for Watson’s seat.

Casar is currently serving his second term representing Austin’s District 4, in north Austin, on City Council.

During his time on council, Casar has been one of the strongest progressive voices on the dais. He was the lead sponsor for Austin’s Paid Sick Leave ordinance and was a key voice in the council’s June decision to repeal bans on camping, sitting, and lying down in public.

Casar appointed a campaign treasurer in July of 2019 for the District 4 council seat.

A city of Austin spokesperson pointed KXAN to the Texas Constitution which states that a council member must automatically resign if there is more than a year and 30 days left on their term when they announce candidacy for another public office. The city says Casar has less than a year and 30 days left on his current council term so, “if he announces candidacy for a Texas Senate special election held on May 2, CM Casar does not automatically resign his City Council seat.”

The city spokesperson noted that the deadline to file for a place on the ballot for the city council election in November would be August 17 and Casar has until then to decide whether or not to run for reelection in District 4. If Casar was elected to the Texas Senate, he would have to leave his City Council position once he qualified for the Texas Senate, the city said.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart. Image Courtesy Travis County website.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt posted a statement to social media thanking Watson for his service and expressing her interest in the job he is leaving.

“I am considering running in the special election to step into his shoes in Senate District 14,” Eckhardt said. “It is crucial to continue his work on IH-35 and the redevelopment of Austin State Hospital.”

Eckhardt became Travis County’s first female county judge in January of 2015, and in that role, she presides over the Travis County Commissioner’s Court. She was re-elected to a second term in 2018. She worked for eight years as an Assistant Travis County Attorney and in 2006 she was elected to the Commissioners Court, then re-elected in 2010.

“In addition to health care and transportation, redistricting and criminal justice must be addressed by the State Legislature,” Eckhardt continued in her statement.

“If I win, I will switch out Senator Watson’s shoes for the first pair of heels to walk in that position,” she continued, noting that a woman has not held that role as a State Senator in District 14 before.

State Representative Donna Howard

State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) sent out a release praising Watson’s accomplishments and alluding to her consideration of a State Senate run.

Howard said in the release regarding her political plans, “at this time, I have not made a decision either way on whether to enter the race myself but will be talking with my friends and family as I consider this immense responsibility and opportunity.”

“Senator Watson has been a giant in Texas politics, the likes of which Central Texas hasn’t seen since LBJ,” said Rep. Howard. “He is a truly unique force, and one we have had the good fortune to call mayor, Senator, and friend.”

Howard has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 2006. She is an Austin native and worked as a critical care nurse at Austin’s Brackenridge and Seton hospitals.

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) told KXAN, “I’ve been trying to be low key today because I think Kirk Watson deserves to have his day, he’s a mentor to me, and I care about him a lot.”

Rodriguez acknowledged to KXAN that he is “seriously considering a run” for Watson’s seat, but is waiting on providing more details “out of deference” to Watson.

Rodriguez was first elected to the State Legislature in 2002 and was re-elected in 2014 to serve his seventh term for District 51 which covers East Austin and Southeast Travis County. He has previously served as the executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party.

Attorney Chito Vela

Immigration Attorney Chito Vela. Image Courtesy Chito Vela.

Immigration attorney and former Austin Planning Commissioner Chito Vela told KXAN he is “seriously considering” running for this State Senate seat, saying he wants to “fight for working-class Texans.”

“And the first thing we need to do is expand Medicaid so a million working class Texans can have access to health care,” Vela said in an email. “It is tragic that Texas refuses to allow our working class to receive Medicaid, especially during a time of strong tax revenues.”

Vela ran unsuccessfully for the seat as State Representative in District 46 in 2018.

“My agenda would be similar to the issues that I campaigned on in my run for state representative: criminal justice reform, investments in public transportation, Medicaid expansion, and environmental protection,” Vela told KXAN. “And we need to keep investing in public education.”

Attorney Adam Loewy

A photo of Attorney Adam Loewy. Courtesy Attorney Adam Loewy.

Austin Attorney and small business owner Adam Loewy also tells KXAN that he is “very interested” in running for this State Senate seat.

Loewy is a Democrat who has never run for public office before but describes himself as “involved heavily on the donor side.”

“I think there needs to be a fresh perspective on solving the issues facing the state from someone who has been successful in the private center who has worked and helped things on the public side,” Loewy told KXAN.

As someone who has owned a small business in Austin for fifteen years, Loewy said he believes its important to have people in the legislature who have run their own business. Loewy added that he is waiting to see when the election for this State Senate seat would be.

State Represenative Gina Hinojosa

Gina Hinojosa - Dist 49_248487
State Representative Gina Hinojosa

On Wednesday, State Representative Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) said she is “seriously considering” running for the vacant seat.

In a statement, she thanked Watson for his contribution to the community, as well as his leadership and advice.

“Today, we look towards a future with new leadership that represents our values. As such, I am seriously considering running for the Texas Senate,” Hinojosa said.

She added that she will make a decision “once I have more certainty” about the future of her seat, saying that “the stakes are too high” to leave it vacant.

Hinojosa was elected to serve for District 49 in 2016.

Republican candidates

Travis County Republican Party Chairman Matt Mackowiak explained to KXAN that he didn’t have any names to share yet, but that he is confident the Republican Party will have “at least one very strong Republican candidate.”

“We are excited about the opportunity to flip that Senate district this year,” Mackowiak said. “We will be all-in to try and accomplish filling that seat.”

KXAN will be updating this developing story.

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