AUSTIN — Central Texans have an important decision to make over the next week: Will they elect a new state senator who will fight for them, or will they choose one who works against them?
A special election is currently underway for Senate District 14, a geographical area that includes much of Austin and all of Bastrop County. The election is happening because the district’s longtime state senator, Democrat Kirk Watson, is leaving the capitol for a position at the University of Houston.
Among the crowded field of six candidates, two Democrats and a Republican have emerged at the forefront—and the two sides have completely opposite goals.
On the Democrat side is current State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (Austin) and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who both have long histories of voting against their own constituents.
Rodriguez, as a member of the Texas House, has earned an “F” voting record on the Fiscal Responsibility Index ever since 2011. With a dismal rating of 23 in the last legislative session, Rodriguez has supported raising taxes on citizens, hiding elected officials from increased public accountability, stripping away protections for preborn children, and silencing free speech on college campuses.
Meanwhile, Democrat Judge Eckhardt has also voted to harm local citizens. Eckhardt has consistently chosen to raise taxes, with the county taking $126 more from the average homeowner’s wallet just last year and taking $400 more annually compared to 11 years ago. Forty-two percent of Travis County families are now struggling to afford the runaway cost of living, according to a report by the United Way—a cost that includes local government’s soaring property tax bills.
Eckhardt has also led the charge over the last several months to shut down the Travis County/Austin area, decreeing orders that have threatened to fine and throw unmasked citizens in prison for six months, as well as shutdowns that have forced over 132,000 Austinites out of work and into a new crisis.
Notably, Eckhardt voted to give herself a $16,000 pay raise last year and has boosted her pay from $106,000 to over $156,000 in just three years.
On the Republican side, former Austin City Councilman Don Zimmerman has the polar opposite voting record as an elected official. During his time on the city council, he voted against tax increases, to let Austinites keep more of their own money, and he consistently brought up issues of city money mismanagement and lack of transparency to citizens.
“Really, the reason I’m running is because people are being taxed out of their homes. Local government is out of control,” said Zimmerman. “And I know I can do a lot of good in the state legislature that I could not do on the Austin council because it’s dominated by big government progressives and socialists.”
The candidates have also exchanged blows in recent weeks, with Rodriguez releasing a television ad criticizing Eckhardt for an ethics violation and Zimmerman also taking aim at Eckhardt for her harmful decisions.
“As you saw, one of my opponents, ‘Shut Down Sarah Eckhardt’ is supporting an 8 percent property tax increase, which I think is really outrageous,” Zimmerman said in a local news interview. “It says to local business and local property owners, ‘Yeah, we shut down your businesses and we cost you a lot of money, and there’s a lot of unemployment, and we know that you don’t have the money to pay us, but we’re going to raise the taxes anyway, beyond the 3.5 percent cap.’ I think what that does is it shows disrespect for the people who pay the bills.”
The remaining candidates in the race are Libertarian Pat Dixon, a former Lago Vista city councilman; Republican Waller Thomas Burns II, an attorney; and physician Jeff Ridgeway, who is running as an Independent.
Central Texans in the district, which is historically Democrat, will decide by next week if they prefer to again have a senator who votes against them (former Sen. Watson earned a career “F” rating and an awful 36/100 on the Fiscal Responsibility Index), or if they will send someone to the capitol who will actually help them.
Though the seat is normally considered safely Democrat, the volatility of the coronavirus situation—combined with the already low voter engagement in special elections—has the potential to set up an interesting runoff later in the summer if a Republican can clinch one of the top two spots next week.
Early voting is currently underway and continues through July 10, with Election Day on Tuesday, July 14.