Greg Casar Will Not Run for Kirk Watson's Vacant Senate Seat

Austin council member says: “I’m staying right where I am”

CM Greg Casar speaking at a Feb. 23 Bernie Sanders rally at Auditorium Shores (photo by Jana Birchum)

City Council Member Greg Casar will not run for the Texas Senate seat opened up by Kirk Watson’s retirement. In a video message shared Monday morning, Casar said he would focus his energy on local solutions to the ongoing public health threat and economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m staying right where I am,” Casar said in a Facebook video. “You elected me for this job, for this moment. We’re organizing at the local level to protect families and save lives from COVID-19. We’re holding corporate landlords accountable so no one has to lose their home. We’re focused on public health and not public perception during this crisis.” (See video below.)

Casar also announced he would seek another term in his District 4 City Council seat, which could give him an opportunity to continue working on local policy he likely thought would have been completed by now – a revision of the city’s Land Development Code and a once-in-a-generation transit bond, for example. The deadline to file for Council races is Aug. 17.

Casar had been one of a handful of local leaders eyeing the July 14 special election for former State Sen. Watson’s SD14 seat in the Legislature, but that list has since narrowed to two big names (and a couple of politicos still weighing a run).

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez announced his intention to run for Watson’s seat on March 7, and officially filed the paperwork to do so on April 29. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt has also said she will run for the seat, even resigning as County Judge in March to do so. But then the pandemic hit, and she and the Travis County Commissioners Court thought it would be better if she stuck around a little while longer – so now she plans to resign May 13, the same day of the SD14 special election filing deadline.

Rodriguez has been in an enviable position for this race; as a part-time legislator, he’s been free to spend his time campaigning. First in the primary for the House District 51 seat, which he won handily, and now for the Senate seat. And he has been hitting the campaign hard, with teletown halls, virtual happy hour fundraising drives, photo-friendly mask dropoffs, and other new strategies that campaigns are utilizing to try and mobilize voters in a socially isolated world.

Eckhardt isn’t officially campaigning yet, but every move she makes as outgoing County Judge can be viewed through that prism: as one of the two local executives (Mayor Steve Adler being the other) driving decision making during the pandemic, she is auditioning for the Senate seat by demonstrating crisis leadership.

Meanwhile, Watson has officially retired from the Senate, with April 30 as his last day in office. He’s on his way to Houston, where he will serve as inaugural dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. He was sent off without an in-person celebration – another casualty of the pandemic; instead, Democrats from all over the state shared their farewells on social media with #ThankYouWatson.

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