March 1, 2020

Texas House Dem and County Judge on Apparent Track
for Special Senate Bout with Lawyer as Potential Wild Card

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The battle for an upcoming Texas Senate opening will be getting under way in earnest this week after a Democratic state lawmaker who looks like a lock to run puts a token opponent to rest in the Super Tuesday primary election.

But the competition for the Senate District 14 seat has been more of a process of elimination for the past two weeks with a trio of Austin Democrats in State Reps. Donna Howard, Gina Hinojosa and Celia Israel all deciding to pass on the fight after seriously considering bids for the upper chamber in a special election at some point in the next few months.

The thinning of the potential competitor pool has left veteran State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt as the only two most prominent elected officials who appear poised to seek the Senate seat in a special contest that Governor Greg Abbott will set sometime in the next few months.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar and local trial lawyer Adam Loewy could complicate the picture if they enter the ring in SD 14 as potential contenders who've been weighing bids for the job that Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson of Austin is relinquishing in favor of new job as the dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

Loewy would a wild card in the special SD 14 race as a wealthy trial lawyer who's a familiar name in the local area as a result of massive sums that he's spent on television advertising for his professional practice. Loewy would have the ability to bankroll a Senate campaign with money that he's made representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases.

But Rodriguez and Eckhardt can expect to be the frontrunners at the starting gates if they run for the Senate vacancy as expected in a district where they've both been elected officials for more than a dozen years.

While Rodriguez will have a free shot at the Senate in a special election without having to give up his House seat, Eckhardt has more to lose as the county commissioners court leader who'd be effectively resigning from the local post the moment that she announces as a candidate in SD 14.

Eckhardt could have the edge, however, in a special Senate election based in part on the fact that she's been representing more than 90 percent of Watson's constituents as the top elected official in the county where Texas government is based.

Rodriguez in contrast only has a slice of SD 14 in the House district in southeast Austin where he was elected initially almost 18 years ago. Hinojosa, Howard and Israel all have bigger chunks of SD 14 in their districts than Rodriguez based on the amount of votes that they've received there in recent elections.

Rodriguez, who's an attorney and title firm executive, came up through the local party ranks as a former House aide who overcame a significant initial deficit in a field with a half-dozen Democrats en route to a narrow primary runoff win in his first bid for the House District 51 seat. Rodriguez was re-elected easily eight times before drawing a primary challenger this year in Joshua Sanchez.

The senior member of the all-Democratic Travis County delegation to the House, Rodriguez arguably had his best session as a state lawmaker last year when he was one of the most powerful Democrats with seats on the Calendars Committee, the State Affairs Committee and the Ways & Means Committee.

Eckhardt served as a county commissioner on the north side of the Capital City for eight years before she claimed her current position in 2014. She's halfway through a second term that she won in 2018. But she's not far enough along to keep the Texas resign-to-run law from kicking in if and when she declares herself as a candidate for the state Senate. Casar on the other hand wouldn't be forced to leave the council as a city official whose term expires less than a year from now.


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