As Kirk Watson Exits, a Special Election for Senator's Successor Looms
Three Democratic elected officials are considering the race
Texas Sen. Kirk Watson is not dying, nor is he being shot into space, so the flurry of tributes sparked by his retirement announcement last week has slowed down somewhat; he'll still be our senator until April 30 and will then mosey over to Houston to lead the Hobby School of Public Affairs. At press time, there's still no word from Gov. Greg Abbott about scheduling a special election in Watson's Senate District 14.
The governor has until some date in March (we've heard the 10th, 17th, or 27th from different authorities) to call an SD 14 special for the May 2 uniform election date. (Note that this isn't the same as the run-offs for next week's primary election; that's May 26.) Most observers expect him to do so, but he could opt to set the election for November along with everything else, and the seat will be vacant for a while.
The election date will determine who chooses, or is able, to run to succeed Watson. Right now, local GOP leaders have no candidate (they promise they'll find one). In a November election, that would be a fool's errand, but in a low-turnout May special, the Republicans could score an upset, as they did to elect Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, in 2018.
On the Democratic side, three aspirants who hold elected office – Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin; Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt; and Austin City Council Member Greg Casar – face different hard choices. (Rodriguez's House colleagues Donna Howard, Gina Hinojosa, and Celia Israel have all now passed on the race.) Rodriguez, now dean of the Travis County State Delegation, is up for election in his first contested primary since he was a youngster. His latest statement on the race says, "Through March 3rd, I will be focusing my efforts on getting out the vote and earning the privilege of continuing to serve my constituents. ... After the Governor calls a special election, and after the March 3 primary, I will be making an announcement regarding my future."
Eckhardt, who was reelected without opposition in 2018, would have to resign to run for the Senate seat. After her State of the County address last week, she told supporters via social media, "I love the work of County Judge and I do not consider leaving it lightly. But ... [as] a State Senator, I would be able to tackle those big issues in the Capital [sic] before they roll down to local governments without the resources or the regional scope to effectively address them."
Casar is in the last months of his term and could run for another office (as Delia Garza is doing now) without stepping down. Or so we thought! But Garza's nemesis Bill Aleshire – also no fan of Casar – has cited the Texas Constitution to argue Casar (or any council member) is ineligible to run while serving. (That provision, however, was challenged successfully by candidates in a special election for HD 79, also on May 2.) If the special is in November, none of this will matter.
Casar told us he'll make a decision in the next couple of weeks, but said, "I'm closer to a yes than I was last week. ... I love being at the city and fighting for my constituents at that level, but we spend so much time in Austin fighting back against right-wing reactionary corporate politicians at the Legislature. The opportunity to fight in the Texas Senate and hold [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick and his cronies accountable is important."