Hispanic Lawmaker Runoff Retreat Could Boost
Stock in Texas House with More White Democrats
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
July 27, 2020
Austin State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez vowed to step up his push to elect more minorities to public office on Monday when he cancelled the need for a runoff in the special Senate District 14 fight in a move that propelled a white Democrat into the winner's circle in the first Texas political race to play out from start to finish during a pandemic.
Rodriguez's graceful exit from the special Senate contest prevented a potentially brutal battle among Democrats that would have been a distraction from the party's paramount goals of taking the Texas House majority back at the polls this fall.
But shuttering of the Rodriguez campaign came as no surprise in light of the initial box score when he received less than 34 percent in the special election on July 14 when former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt garnered 49.7 percent of the vote in a field with a half-dozen contenders. Eckhardt would have been a prohibitive favorite in overtime after falling 408 votes short of winning outright in the initial election almost two weeks ago.
Rodriguez's defeat could be a blessing in disguise for him, however, with a chance to be one of the Texas House's major players next year if Democrats reclaim the majority in November when President Donald Trump could be the ultimate disaster for down-ballot Republicans in the Lone Star State.
The Democrats would seize control in the west wing of the statehouse for the first time in 18 years with a net gain of nine seats or more in the general election after wrestling a dozen away from the GOP in 2018. Rodriguez could probably expect to be one of the House's most powerful members with his party at the helm when the regular session convenes in January. A decision to go the distance in the special SD 14 vote could have damaged his stock in that regard if he lost a bruising runoff duel with Eckhardt without making it close in OT.
Some Democrats will see Eckhardt's victory in the race to replace Kirk Watson in SD 14 as the best possible outcome for the special election in a state where the current minority party has needed to rebuild its support among white voters at the same time it strengthens its standing with Hispanics and African-Americans.
The House had three white Democrats before nine more were elected two years ago. of the 12 Democrats who picked up House seats two years ago are white. The Democrats have 18 white nominees including three freshmen incumbents doing battle with Republicans in 30 contests on the initial Capitol Inside Races to Watch for the Texas House this fall. The general election ballot also will feature five black and five Latino candidates for the House in the 30 most competitive races in November compared to one Hispanic, two Asians and no African-Americans.
The Democrats' odds for success in Texas would appear to go up with a ticket that reflects the diversity of a state where almost all of the GOP lawmakers are white.
The Democrats are crushing the GOP this year in demographic balance as well with only three female nominees for the current ruling party in the 30 hottest House races including two incumbents who could find it tough to survive an oncoming blue tsunami. Nineteen of the Democrats in the House races to watch are women.
The Democrats are dramatically more united than the Republicans with all of their candidates for the lower chamber in sync with the issues that are most important to Rodriguez - an attorney who's been a member of the House since the GOP took over in 2003.
“I will be working hard for District 51 and the entire state, pushing a policy agenda that includes strong public schools, increased access to health care, gun violence prevention, meaningful criminal justice reform and policies that respect the dignity of every Texan,” Rodriguez said in his parting statement on the SD 14 race.
“And to help ensure the success of that agenda, I will redouble my longtime efforts to help Texas elect more legislators of color,” the veteran representative added.
Rodriguez offered an olive branch to Eckhardt today after accusing her during the campaign of abandoning her constituents in Travis County in the midst of the worst public health emergency in more than a century.
Eckhardt had launched her bid in SD 14 in March with a simultaneous resignation from the local position in Travis County where she stayed on the job as a holdover with some creative maneuvering that left her in charge of the coronavirus crisis response here with Austin Mayor Steve Adler for two bonus months.
“I congratulate Sarah Eckhardt on her performance in the election, and I wish her well," Rodriguez said. "As Dean of the Travis County delegation, I look forward to working with her to carve a progressive path forward for our shared community.”
Eckhardt responded graciously. “I have deep respect for Representative Rodriguez and the race he ran. I look forward to joining forces with him in the next session to advance our shared progressive values for Bastrop and Travis Counties and for Texas,” the new state senator-elect said.