Austin Democrats headline crowded special election for Senate District 14

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AUSTIN (TEXAS) — Six candidates — two Democrats, two Republicans, one Libertarian, and an independent — are vying to fill the seat left vacant by retired state Sen. Kirk Watson in Texas Senate District 14.

A special election will be held on July 14, with early voting beginning June 29. Watson retired in April to become the dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs.

The term will expire in 2023.

MEET THE CANDIDATES

  • Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt (D)
  • State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D)
  • Former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman (R)
  • Former prosecutor Waller Thomas Burns (R)
  • Former Lago Vista City Council Member Pat Dixon (L)
  • Dr. Jeff Ridgeway (I)
  • Watson, a Democrat, served Senate District 14 for 13 years. The district includes Travis County and part of Bastrop County.

FAMILIAR FACES
Eckhardt and Rodriguez are the most recognizable names on the ticket.

Eckhardt resigned from her role as Travis County judge in May to launch her campaign for Senate District 14, though she still advises the county on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rodriguez has served District 51 in the Texas House of Representatives since 2003.

Both candidates are running on a similar platform: leadership experience.

“I think it’s really important to have people — like myself — whose experience is in implementing policy to go up and write the policy and get it passed,” Eckhardt said.

Because of declining state revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas lawmakers are marching toward a cost-cutting legislative session in 2021, something the legislature hasn’t had to face since 2011.

Rodriguez believes his experience passing meaningful legislation over nearly two decades in the legislature, and working with Republican counterparts as a member of the minority party, sets him apart from other candidates in the race.

“Eighteen years in the Texas House has trained me well,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve served in the Texas House with half of those senators.”

As of June 15, Rodriguez had raised $410,003 to Eckhardt’s $141,845, according to state campaign finance records.

SPECIAL ELECTION, SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY

Dr. Jeff Ridgeway, a practicing physician in Austin, saw the Senate District 14 special election as a unique opportunity for an independent candidate, after consulting his 11-year-old daughter.

In addition to using his medical background to support the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ridgeway would use the platform of a state senate seat to support more independent candidates.

“The burdens to getting into the general election are fairly high for an independent candidate,” Ridgeway said. “I do feel that there’s some room to expand that so that we have more choices across the board in Texas during our elections.”

Republican Don Zimmerman served two years on the Austin City Council. He believes an alternative option is necessary in a historically-Democrat district.

Zimmerman believes the state’s response to the pandemic has been too hurtful to the business community.

“[Other candidates and I] disagree about shutting down the economy over misguided models and over promises by government that they can solve the pandemic problem which they cannot solve,” Zimmerman said.

Former prosecutor Waller Thomas Burns II, a Republican, said he will wait to make decisions about policies until he is elected to the state senate.

Libertarian Pat Dixon believes the pandemic needs to be used as a learning experience, saying:

“What I’m doing is interviewing for a job saying, ‘I don’t know all the answers but what I’m going to do is listen, deliberate, and use common sense.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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