Background Investigation: Eddie Rodriguez

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State Representative Eddie Rodriguez is running for State Senate District 14.
Eddie Rodriguez at age 31

Eduardo Rene “Eddie” Rodriguez was elected to the Texas House of Representatives at the age of 31. He just turned 49 on July 1 and is finishing up his ninth term. He’s senior among the half-dozen lawmakers who represent Travis County in the House.

He’s the only male in the solid-blue delegation. Three of those five women endorsed his senate bid: Representatives Gina Hinojosa (HD49), Donna Howard (HD 48), and Celia Israel (HD 50). As have 11 other House members, including Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody (D-El Paso).

Celia Israel

Asked if Rodriguez was well qualified for the senate, Israel replied, “After nine sessions in the house he damn well better be ready. Or what else have you been doing?

“He’s a good man, an honorable man. He has a love of Texas and he knows we have to do right by the working men and women of Texas. He has the legislative experience to do that.”

Rodriguez is making an all-out bid to win the District 14 Texas Senate seat held for 14 years by former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, who leaves big shoes to fill. But Rodriguez believes he is ready to serve a district encompassing much of Travis and all of Bastrop County.

“I think I have the best experience, judgment, and vision to guide us through this current crisis and then the road to equitable recovery to come,” he told The Austin Bulldog in an hour-long recorded interview. “At the end of the day, this is about the people of Senate District 14 and who could best represent them and be most effective for them at this critical time.”

If money would win the Senate District 14 seat then Rodriguez would be a shoo-in. He has netted 78 percent of all contributions for the six candidates in the race. He just unleashed an avalanche designed to bury his opponents by spending more than $400,000 on media buys. (More about that later in this story.)

In an effort to educate voters in the special election, The Austin Bulldog researched the personal and political backgrounds of Rodriguez and his Democratic opponent, Sarah Eckhardt. We used an organized plan to find public records, dig into the history of the candidates, and review relevant information from local news sources and other publications.

This article focuses primarily on Rodriguez. An article on Eckhardt was published yesterday, July 7, 2020.

Running against five others

Sarah Eckhardt

Rodriguez’s chief obstacle in achieving victory is former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who resigned that job to jump into the senate race.

Unlike Rodriguez, if she doesn’t win, she has no elective office to fall back on. Rodriguez won the Democratic Primary to continue as District 51 state representative. If denied a senate victory he will be running in November against Republican Robert Reynolds to keep his House seat.

Senate District 14 has been held by Democrats since Lloyd Doggett won it in 1973. The counties represented within the district have shifted radically with each redistricting but there’s little chance that solid winning streak will end with this year’s special election.

That said, there are four other candidates including two Republicans (Waller Thomas Burns II and former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman), Independent Jeff Ridgeway, and Libertarian Pat Dixon. All are woefully underfunded and, except for Zimmerman they are virtually unknown to the general public. The biggest threat they pose is that collectively they may draw enough votes to force a runoff election by denying either Democrat an outright majority in the July 14 special election.

As Travis County judge, Eckhardt led the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Being out front with Austin Mayor Steve Adler on that overarching issue—which affects the lives and livelihoods of everyone—kept her in the public eye.

Nearly two decades in the House

Meanwhile Rodriguez has spent 19 years in the Legislature representing a small slice of east and southeast Travis County. His District 51 is comprised of mainly Latinos and lower-income people. That low-profile job left him to labor in relative obscurity.

But he’s quick to point out that he files legislation that has a much broader impact than what affects his District 51 constituents, of which more than 58 percent are Hispanic, according to the official District Profile 2014-2018.

“I’m trying to be a leader for all of Travis County and the delegation,” Rodriguez said. “I just think the idea that any minority legislator can’t represent majority Anglo populations in a rural area, too—I mean, I’m perfectly capable of doing that.”

Gonzalo Barrientos

History backs up that claim. Before Kirk Watson, Senate District 14 was represented for 20 years by Gonzalo Barrientos, who was raised in Bastrop County by a family of coal miners and farm workers.

Rodriguez has raised his public profile for the senate campaign through online candidate debates, media interviews, direct mail, print ads, and television ads that started in early June and are now coming on with a blitzkrieg intensity. He’s also held numerous hour-long online meet-and-greet sessions in which he talks with supporters and answers questions.

Rodriguez is a money magnet

Rodriguez is a fundraising money machine compared with the other senate candidates. He drew a challenger in the March 3, 2020, Democratic Primary for his house seat. He breezed past Joshua Sanchez with 79 percent of the votes and in the process racked up contributions sufficient to leave him about $100,000 for the senate campaign. The Austin Bulldog’s report showed that as of June 15, 2020, he had more than $220,000 in cash on hand, $130,000 more than Eckhardt.

Total spending by all six candidates totals just a hair below $1 million. (See chart below. A larger and more legible PDF version of the chart is linked at the bottom of this story.)

But what was already a big financial advantage for Rodriguez through June 15 turned into a juggernaut through his fundraising success reported July 6, 2020. That report shows he collected more than $306,000 in just three weeks, bringing his total senate campaign contributions to more than $716,000.

Through the same three weeks Eckhardt collected a little more than $79,000 to bring her total take to $221,000. That’s less than a third of Rodriguez’s total contributions.

In an effort to sink Eckhardt’s hopes for victory, Rodriguez wasted no time in deploying that boatload of cash.

The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of expenditures in the three-week period between the June 15 and July 6 shows that Rodriguez spent more than $405,000 on media buys alone. If you’re not already seeing him on television or getting his direct mail then chances are you don’t watch the tube or you’re not a registered voter. He bet the bank. He had just $7,200 left in cash on hand.

Rodriguez has spent 78 percent of all funds expended by the six candidates. Eckhardt has spent 22 percent of the total expenditures. The other four candidates combined spent barely $30,000.

Given that the majority of Rodriguez’s contributions came from lawyers, lobbyists, and others with big financial stakes riding on legislative outcomes, The Austin Bulldog hit him with a direct question in our June 26, 2020, hour-plus recorded interview:

Why does the lobby love you so much?

“[P]robably the main thing, is that I’ve just known some of them for a long time. They know me as an honest broker. Even when I don’t agree with them, I’m willing to listen, even when we’re not going to agree. And I deal with them in a professional manner.

“Now, it doesn’t impact the way I vote, and they know that. I mean, I have a very solid progressive record on progressive issues.”

Although he’s blowing the doors off in fundraising already, Rodriguez could be raising even more money. But he vowed to take no contributions from the NRA, charter schools, pro-life groups, or payday lenders.

The woman’s edge

A major factor for Eckhardt that doesn’t show up in money ledgers is that she’s got significant name identification.

Plus she’s a woman. That brought her support from Annie’s List, which supports progressive women candidates who are committed to advocating for women and their families.

Just being a woman counts for a lot in Travis County elections.

Peck Young
Peck Young

Peck Young, a political consultant for a half century and now retired, told The Austin Bulldog, “In every election I’ve analyzed for many years, female candidates run about a five-point edge just because of their gender.”

“This is a trend that those of us who actually study political statistics have known about forever. It’s what Sarah has going for her,” said Young, who said he is not working for or endorsing a candidate in this election.

For proof that having a female name on the ballot offers a distinct advantage, one need only look at the results of the March 3, 2020, Democratic Primary.

Tim Sulak
Madeleine Connor

Incumbent District Judge Tim Sulak lost to Madeleine Connor, who in January 2020 was fined more than $43,000 in sanctions for “bringing unreasonable and vexatious litigation.” According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman she’s listed as a “vexatious litigant,” meaning she’s prohibited from filing a lawsuit on her own behalf unless approved by a local court’s administrative judge.

Even more astounding, Connor spent barely $2,000 in her bid, according to records maintained by the Texas Ethics Commission. Sulak spent almost $375,000. Yet Connor beat him with 50.48 percent of the votes to his 49.52 percent. Which makes one suspect that some voters pay more attention to gender than a candidate’s qualifications.

Further, Eckhardt is not just a woman, she’s a highly accomplished woman, as our background investigation on her, published yesterday, indicates.

Rodriguez donors

As stated earlier, a great many of Rodriguez’s biggest donors are lobbyists. None of them contacted for comment returned calls or emails.

Nevertheless, non-lobbyists who gave sizeable sums were eager to sing Rodriguez’s praise.

Bobby Gregory

Bob Gregory is  co-owner, president and CEO of Texas Disposal Systems Inc. The company is headquartered within Rodriguez’s District 51 and provides services to 50 counties and some 190 communities. Gregory donated $5,000 to support Rodriguez’s senate bid.

“I’ve known him for many years,” Gregory told The Austin Bulldog, referring to Rodriguez. “He is genuine, caring, and responsive to constituents, whether you’re a business person or the poorest of the poor.”

“I know Eddie and I’m proud to support him. I think he’ll be an excellent senator,” Gregory said.

Austin-based law firm Michel Gray & Rogers LLP, has contributed more than $6,500 to Rodriguez.

Lorri Michel

Property tax attorney Lorri Michel told The Austin Bulldog, “I’ve known Eddie more than 20 years. All of my philanthropy and nonprofits is to end the killing of homeless pets…He was board president of Austin Pets Alive while we were pushing to change practices at the city to end killing of homeless pets.

“In the Legislature Eddie has been very protective of this effort and the movement to encourage other cities to follow what we’ve done in Austin to successfully spread and prosper throughout the state.”

“On property tax issues Eddie’s been very accessible to learn about the different perspective I have on the appraisal district here in Travis County and others,” she said. “There’s a willingness on his part to listen and learn, to meet and talk. I find that very appealing in a candidate.”

Michel faults Eckhardt for holding a press conference with the mayor to push a lawsuit against some 20,000 commercial property owners. Michel said she tried to meet with Eckhardt before the suit was filed to dissuade her but had to instead meet with a staff member.

Michel, representing the defendant property owners, got the suit dismissed. “It was a ridiculous waste of money,” she said of the litigation.

Rooted in fertile Rio Grande Valley

Rodriguez was born and raised in Hidalgo County on the southern tip of Texas, just 11 miles from the border town of Reynosa, Mexico.

In a virtual meet and greet with supporters June 30 he noted that, in public forums, candidates often talk about how many generations their families have been Texans. In that competition he’s most likely one up on everyone.

“I’m…a ninth generation Texan,” he said, adding that his ancestors didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. He was referring to the fact that a U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846, shortly after Texas was admitted to the Union, led to establishing the Rio Grande River as the border between the two countries.

Later he told The Austin Bulldog, “I like to remind my fellow Texans from time to time that Texas has its origins and culture rooted in the Spanish colony it once was. My ancestors have been ranching in South Texas since 1749. I think today’s Mexican-Americans have a right to pride in that heritage. But we’ve been written out of many versions of Texas history. So I like to remind folks how it really is. Texas didn’t begin in 1846.”

A young Eddie Rodriguez with his father

Even today, Hidalgo county is 28th on the list of the 50 poorest counties in the United States based on per-capita income. It’s 85 percent Latino. Farming and ranching remain a mainstay of the economy.

His father worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Weslaco. Rodriguez’s mother died two days after he celebrated his fifteenth birthday. It was a trying time for him and his younger sister.

“My dad is a very religious man. So he instilled that strength in us. We actually just wanted to stay focused, whether it’s school or anything else, to help my dad. My sister and I didn’t want to make it any harder on him. The three of us just got closer and closer, and we just plowed through it. We just had to deal with it.”

College bound

Rodriguez graduated from McAllen’s Memorial High School and set his course for a higher education.

“I always knew I wanted to go to college. I knew my mom and my dad didn’t go to college, and it was just something that I really wanted to do. So I applied to St. Mary’s (a private University in San Antonio) and got in and then eventually transferred to UT (Austin) after a couple years.”

Eddie Rodriguez with his mentor Glen Maxey.

Rodriguez completed his undergraduate degree in government in 1994, according to UT’s degree-verification website. He worked for then District 51 State Representative Glen Maxey, the first openly gay lawmaker in Texas.

When Maxey stepped down, he helped Rodriguez—his chief of staff as well as the executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party—through a hard fought 2002 campaign. Rodriguez defeated Lulu Flores in the Democratic Party runoff by a margin of 117 votes—a big comeback considering that Flores placed more than 16 points ahead of him in the primary. Rodriguez went on to win the general election against Libertarian and Green Party candidates with 82 percent of the votes.

Rodriguez ran unopposed in 2004 for his second term. He married Natasha Nicole Rosofsky a few weeks after that year’s general election. Before the wedding, in March 2004, the couple purchased a home on Haskell Street in East Austin. (In January 2011 they were divorced and she got the house.) Rodriguez married Christine Elizabeth Garrison in July 2012. They live with son Jack and daughter Sophie in a century old rent house on Garden Street in East Austin. “It’s too expensive to buy a house in Austin now,” Rodriguez said in an interview.

He was opposed in the next five reelection campaigns by Libertarian Arthur DiBianca and won by margins of about four to one each time. Rodriguez won an eighth term with a similar margin against Green Party candidate Katija “Kat” Gruene. In 2018 he was unopposed in winning a ninth term.

Law school beckons

It was while serving in the Legislature that Rodriguez decided to go to law school. He was completing his fourth term when he graduated from UT Law in December 2008. He took the bar exam three times.

“I didn’t pass it, and it was getting to a point where I needed to decide whether I really wanted to practice law or not,” he told The Austin Bulldog. “I decided that it probably isn’t the path for me. But it was a great education. I really enjoyed law school and learned a whole lot, and I think it’s an invaluable education.”

“I will say that when I was clerking, I mean, it was one of those things where I wasn’t 100 percent sure, even as I was clerking, that I wanted to practice…But certainly, after giving it three shots, I decided that, at that point, I need to look…at other things that I can do.”

And that other thing turned out to be continuing his political career in making laws instead of practicing law. In addition, he took a day job with Capstone Title, founded in 2014 by Texas attorney J. Bradley Compere. In April 2017 Rodriguez was named a vice president and tasked with expanding the company’s community engagement efforts.

Legislative letdown undercuts pollution lawsuits

Fred Lewis

Austin attorney Fred Lewis, who has donated to Sarah Eckhardt’s senate campaign, is highly critical of Rodriguez’s performance on HB 1794 in the 2015 session of the Legislature.

“HB 1794 was introduced in 2015 and was intended to prevent cities and counties from suing polluters for large penalties,” Lewis said. It appears to have been introduced in response to a Harris County lawsuit over what Lewis calls one of the worst Superfund sites in the United States.

In November 2014, the Houston Business Journal reported that Houston-based Waste Management Inc. settled for $29.2 million with Harris County and the state of Texas on a lawsuit against subsidiary McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. McGinnes had disposed of toxic paper-mill waste by dumping in into the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

HB 1794 was filed February 23, 2015, just a few months after that expensive settlement. The bill’s author was Charlie Geren (R-Lake Worth), who chairs the House Administration Committee. With Rodriguez, he also sits on the Calendars Committee, where many a bill gets buried.

The bill passed May 25, 2015, was signed by the governor June 15, 2015, and became effective September 1, 2015.

HB 1794 capped the local government’s potential to collect damages at one-half of the first $4.3 million in civil penalties awarded in a lawsuit. Should any additional money be won it will go to the state. Because environmental lawsuits are time consuming, complicated, and costly to bring, slashing the potential rewards for winning had the intended effect of stifling otherwise meritorious lawsuits in the future.

Further, the bill imposed a five-year statute of limitations on offenses for which local governments could sue. “It is highly unusual to ever have a statute of limitations imposed on the government,” Lewis said.

When the legislative sausage grinder began working on HB 1794 it was referred to the Environmental Regulation Committee. Rodriguez was vice chair of that committee.

“In committee, I was there when Eddie voted for the bill,” Lewis said. “It is a horrendous bill. All environmental groups testified against it, as did cities and counties. In a state with a tremendous amount of polluting, capping penalties is simply special interest legislation at its worst.”

When the bill got to the floor, Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) twice tried to derail it on points of order. Both were overruled.

Rodriguez offered an amendment that would have given local governments the potential to win more money. But Geren’s motion to table that amendment prevailed.

Rodriguez voted against HB 1794 on all three readings on the floor. But that does not satisfy Lewis. He said as vice chair of the Environmental Regulation Committee, Rodriguez could have sought to amend or table the bill in committee and he did not.

“He voted for the bill in committee and then when jumped (by opponents of the bill) he voted against it on the floor,” Lewis said. “That was way too little and way too late.”

In addition, Rodriguez, as a member of the Calendars Committee, had the opportunity to roadblock the bill from getting to a floor vote. He did not do that either, Lewis said. “He let it slide through.”

“Eddie talks the Austin progressive talk, but he walks the capitol lobby walk.”

In an earlier interview with The Austin Bulldog, Rodriguez described the committee’s hidden powers. “[Y]ou sit in there and talk to other members and say, ‘This one’s got to stay here. We don’t want this out there’ (on the floor). And you kind of negotiate (so) maybe (there’s) another bill that can get out…A lot of stuff dies there.”

Lewis said of HB 1794, “The bill was designed to gut what happened in Harris County,” Lewis said. “There will be another monumental disaster.”

Rodriguez responds

When Rodriguez was asked to comment on Lewis’s stinging criticisms, his campaign manager Nick Meier instead released a detailed list of pro-environmental legislation for which Rodriguez has fought.

“As a lifelong environmentalist, Eddie strongly believes that we need to hold polluters accountable, preserve our natural resources, and do more to tackle the climate crisis,” the statement says. “From his first legislative session in the Texas House he’s done exactly that.”

“You don’t win every fight in the legislature, but Eddie has time and again stood up against polluters. That’s why he’s proud to have an A rating from the Sierra Club for his work on environmental issues.”

Lewis said of the response, “He didn’t answer the charge. “All progressive hat and no environmental cattle.”

Environmental groups do indeed like Eddie

The Sierra Club’s 2019 Texas Legislative Scorecard gave Rodriguez a 90 percent rating—tied for the thirteenth highest score among the 150 House members.

Yet Environment Texas endorsed Rodriguez’s chief opponent in the senate election, fellow Democrat Sarah Eckhardt.

Luke Metzger

Luke Metzger said Eckhardt got the endorsement “because she worked closely with us on our campaign to save the bees, by collaborating with County Commissioner Brigid Shea to ban bee-killing pesticides in Travis County.” (Shea’s husband, John Umphress, retired from the City of Austin last September and has been working ever since to build a large beekeeping operation on their rural property.)

Metzger said Eckhardt also worked closely with Environment Texas on the Permian pipeline. “We saw how much priority she places on the environment and her ability to get things done. We see how much of a champion for the environment she is and will prioritize it,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of champions in the legislature. It’s important to have a state senator who will not only vote for the environment but will fight for it.”

He was clear, however, in saying, “Eddie Rodriquez has a fine record of supporting the environment…Our endorsement is not a reflection on his environmental track record. We chose Eckhardt because the environment is a top priority for her and she worked on protection of bees and energy efficiency.”

Metzger provided his organization’s Texas State House Scorecard for 2015—the year that HB 1794 was enacted—which shows  Environment Texas rated him at 100 percent for that session and assigned a 96 percent lifetime rating. The rating for the 2019 session showed some slippage: he got an 80 percent rating and his lifetime score dipped to 89.

Legislative efforts

Upon taking his District 51 seat in the Legislature in January 2003, Rodriguez spent at least three sessions trying to pass a state income tax to realign school finance and relieve the ever-growing burden of property taxes. To no avail. Maxey told the Austin Chronicle in March 2005, “He didn’t have to take up that position, but he has doggedly set out with an issue that is intrinsically unpopular. Before Eddie Rodriguez leaves the Legislature, I’m sure people will be telling him, ‘You were right, Eddie.’ ”

Homestead preservation—Rodriguez succeeded with HB 525, which allowed cities to establish Homestead Preservation Districts. Today, Rodriguez says, the tax-increment financing (TIF) in Austin’s district uses increases in property taxes accruing from gentrification to help with affordable housing in the same neighborhood.

Free breakfasts—Rodriguez is proud of passage of SB 376 in the 2013 session, a bill that he said expanded the free school breakfast program for an estimated additional 700,000 children. He was lead sponsor for the bill in the House.

The Bill Analysis states SB 376 enhanced access to nutritional food by increasing participation in the National School Breakfast Program. “SB 376 requires school district campuses or open-enrollment charter schools with 80 percent or more of their students qualifying for a free or reduced-priced breakfast to offer a free breakfast to each student.” An Austin Chronicle article credited Rodriguez for gathering support before the session and working the floor to gain Republican support.

Beer to go—In candidate forums Rodriguez mentioned he’d helped enable breweries to sell beer to go. “I hear from some of my brewery friends that beer-to-go has really kept them afloat during this time of COVID.”

HB 672 in the 2019 session allowed sales of beer and ale for off-premises consumption. The bill itself was left in committee but Rodriguez was able to add it to another.

There were “a lot of powerful interests against me,” he said in an interview with The Austin Bulldog, those being wholesale beer distributors, package stores, and liquor stores.

“I had to build a coalition with the right Republicans and the right Democrats, and it passed very narrowly as an amendment to the Sunset bill, and eventually, it got to the governor’s desk.”

Dual-credit courses—In the June 8, 2020, online forum hosted by Capital Area Progressive Democrats, Rodriguez listed among his achievements a “dual-credit program for high school students to graduate with two years of college credit under their belt.”

In 2015 Rodriguez was lead author on HB 505 relating to a prohibition of limitations on the number of dual-credit courses or hours in which a public high school student may enroll. HB 505 permitted students to get to get a certificate in a specialty and start to work immediately or continue academically for two more years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Challenges for 2021 session

Biennial budget—“Next session will be probably worst budget I’ve ever faced,” Rodriguez said, referring to the one kicking off next January. “I’ve done nine” budgets, he added.

The downturn of the so-called Great Recession of 2008, though grim in its effects, pales in comparison to the worldwide economic tailspin created by the current pandemic.

“My priority is maintaining House Bill 3, money we put there to maintain…public education and higher education as well as healthcare,” Rodriguez said in the online candidate forum of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats. “Those are the three most important things.”

Rodriguez said some of the $8 billion to $10 billion in the rainy day fund should be tapped. He said the tax base needs to be increased but not by raising the sales tax. He said the franchise tax “has gone up and up” but “very few businesses actually pay” it.

Should a Democrat be elected president, and possibly with a Democratic majority in both the U.S. Senate and House, Rodriguez said, “we might have more federal dollars coming down to help us fill in some of these holes.”

School finance will be a big issue in 2021 as well, Rodriguez noted in his June 30 online meet and greet. He said it is essential that school districts and education officials communicate with lawmakers about “what we can and can’t cut in this budget.”

Charter schools would not fare well under Rodriguez’s plans. Right now he said charter schools “are given $1,000 a day more than public school students…We need to not have that difference. We could freeze expansion of charter schools and probably save a billion dollars a year.”

Redistricting—In terms of big issues for the 2021 legislative session, he said, “Next to budget is redistricting,” noting this will be his fifth legislative session involving tug-of-war debates over where boundaries will be placed.

His first go-round was a doozie. As a rookie lawmaker in 2003, Rodriguez had no sooner been sworn into office than all hell broke loose over redistricting, the process by which the legislature redraws the boundaries of congressional, state senate, and state house districts. It’s also an irresistible opportunity for the dominant political party to gerrymander the outcome so that its incumbents will be even more firmly entrenched. Which in turn does maximum damage to the opposing party’s chances of winning elections for a decade.

“In my freshman year I was one of 51 Democrats who went to Ardmore, Oklahoma to fight against the Republican congressional maps that were unfair to Travis County,” Rodriguez said. “At the time, Lloyd Doggett represented me in East Austin, where I live, and (also) my father’s house in McAllen, Texas. That’s how unfair the map was.”

Rodriguez said the Ardmore contingent was nicknamed the “Killer D’s.” The name echoes the moniker of a dozen Democrats in the Texas Senate, the “Killer Bees,” who in 1979 staged a disappearing act to block changes in the state’s presidential primaries.

But in 2003 Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick dubbed the missing Democrats “Chicken D’s,” as in scared Democrats. Those encamped in Oklahoma said they would remain there “as long as it takes” to block a Republican-drawn redistricting plan that could cost Democrats five seats in Congress, CNN.com reported May 19, 2003. “There’s 51 of us here today and a quorum of the Texas House will not meet without us,” said State Representative Jim Dunnam, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

The end result of that boycott? The House was unable to pass a congressional redistricting plan before adjourning the regular session. Or in two following special sessions. One was finally passed in the third Called Session in October 2003.

The Republicans, now as then, are the state’s dominant party. Democrats hope to flip the Texas House, which would set up a different redistricting dynamic after the 2020 decennial census is completed.

Criminal justice— “My priority in the senate will be to end discretionary arrests for fine-only offenses,” Rodriguez said in the June 8 forum of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats.

“I would introduce legislation (to bar) hiring officers who have been fired or have resigned in the wake of an investigation for excessive force.

“I want to stop excessive use of force and (require) reporting it to the state, and that it be made public once a year…with demographic information so we can map this out.

“I think the state should support our local independent review (civilian police oversight) system in cities that have them, like Austin. And obviously we need to ban knee holds and choke holds.”

Rodriguez said, “I have supported and signed onto the decriminalization of marijuana, which I think will go a long way. I’ve also passed a bill that required community supervision for first-time offenses for possession of small amounts. I have filed legislation leading to expunction of records.”

Rodriguez told supporters in a June 30 online meet and greet he wants to end the school-to-prison pipeline. “It’s real, with police in schools. I want to make sure that schools are safe.

“I would rather have more counselors in our schools,” he said. “A lot of times these officers are dealing with behavior issues (that) starts (students) down the path to prison. We need safety in our schools but I don’t know if we need armed people roaming our halls.” He said kids of color and lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately affected.

For policing in communities, he said law enforcement officers deal with a range of issues related to protecting people. But if there’s a mental health issue, a “uniformed officer shouldn’t be the first one there. You need someone trained to talk to people. I’d like more money in that and less of a police presence.”

“Nine times out of 10 when 911 is called someone’s going to jail.”

Universal broadband—”That’s one of my top priorities next session,” Rodriguez told supporters participating in an online meet and greet June 30. “Universal broadband brings rural and urban (interests) together. Rural representatives are predominantly Republicans, urban (representatives are mostly) Democrats. It’s not just education (that needs broadband access). We may have to work from home. We may see our doctor on telemedicine.”

SB 14 enacted in the last session “empowers Texas electric cooperatives to deploy broadband to the members they served by allowing them to utilize their existing electricity easements,” the Bill Analysis states. These member-owned nonprofits have more than 300,000 miles of distribution lines throughout rural Texas. Rodriguez credited Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford) as being influential in the senate bill’s passage through the House.

Rodriguez said that broadband service “must be affordable” and it’s essential that “devices get to everyone.” “We must do these things to survive and compete.”

Vote by mail— “Anyone who wants to vote by mail should be able to. Same with voter registration. We have the technology to look at even voting online. And all those things need to be assessed…It affects most people of color and low-income people. I think voting by mail is beyond just an election issue. I think it’s potentially even a civil rights issue.”

“What Republicans are doing right now is unconscionable,” Rodriguez said. “Republicans don’t want to see (voting by mail) happen because they know what happens when people vote.”

Water rights—In a June 22, 2020, online candidate forum hosted by the Bastrop County Democratic Party, both Eckhardt and Rodriguez agreed that that county’s water supply is endangered by projects that could radically deplete resources vital to area residents.

Both also said they wanted to address the “rule of capture” that allows someone with the biggest well and deepest straw to suck all they want from the aquifer. But Rodriguez pointed out that the Texas Supreme Court has imposed obstacles that prevent lawmakers from achieving that goal.

“I would definitely fight for water rights in Bastrop County,” Rodriguez said. “It’s water rich and people want to come in and suck up as much water as they can.”

Linda Curtis
Linda Curtis

Linda Curtis is a longtime hellraiser who over the last several decades has been in the forefront of winning against long odds in Austin’s political fights too numerous to list here. All the while she’s been involved in organizing independent political movements that might break through entrenched major party politics and bring about important changes.

Her current crusade, as volunteer coordinator of the League of Independent Voters of Texas, aims to bring about protection of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer formations that underlie four counties, including Bastrop (where Curtis has lived since 2002), Burleson, Lee and Milam counties.

“The Bastrop portion of Senate District 14 is home to poor, working class and more rural people who are increasing in large numbers as people flee Austin’s affordability crisis,” she said. “The four-county area has also been targeted for mega-export groundwater projects that threaten its only source of real wealth—groundwater.”

The Vista Ridge Water Pipeline, aka the “San Anton’ hose,” has just started pumping, Curtis said. “It’s a tragedy unfolding and there’s no one to stop them.”

A fighting progressive

In the Capital Area Progressive Democrats forum, the last question asked of Eckhardt and Rodriguez was whether they considered themselves progressives and if so why.

Eckhardt’s answer was more philosophical: “I am not a Democrat that is interested in looking good at the battlement, just looking good fighting. I want to make progress.”

“It means staying at the table and not getting up until you have actually made progress,” Eckhardt said. “And it also means…that everybody is welcome, including me, and nobody is an enemy forever, including me. I will listen to everyone. I will invite everyone to the table. We may not like what we have to say to one another. But it’s important to hear it so that we can make progress.”

Rodriguez took exception. “I’m going to differ a little from what Sarah is saying. It does mean fighting, because…the legislature certainly is conservative…you have to fight for your progressive values. That means being inclusive. It means protecting people’s right to vote. It means working and fighting for working families, creating a stronger safety net.

“Those are worth fighting for because believe it or not we have our conservative brothers and sisters in the other party who don’t want us to have those things. They fight us on that.”

This story was updated at 3:10pm July 8, 2020, to add a chart showing campaign finance information for all six Senate District 14 candidates. In addition a larger PDF version of the chart is now linked at the end of the related materials.

Links to related material:

Capstone Title names Eddie Rodriguez as vice president, April 5, 2017 (2 pages)

Eduardo Rene Rodriguez Voter Registration and Voting History in Travis County (13 pages)

Marriage to Christine Elizabeth Garrison, July 28, 2012 (1 page)

Marriage to Natasha Nicole Rosofsky, November 20, 2004, and divorce January 24, 2011 (36 pages)

Most recent Personal Financial Statement for Eduardo R. Rodriguez, February 11, 2020 (7 pages)

Nick Meier, Eddie Rodriguez’s campaign manager, response to Fred Lewis’s criticism regarding HB 1794, July 7, 2020 (1 page)

Official Texas House Member Biography with the Bulldog’s annotations as to success or failure of Rodriguez’s legislation (4 pages)

Questionnaire completed by Eddie Rodriguez for Bastrop County Democrats online debate, June 22, 2020 (7 pages)

Texas Department of Public Safety criminal history search producing no findings, May 20, 2020 (1 page)

The Austin Bulldog’s Analysis of Campaign Finance Reports for the Juy 14, 2020, State Senate District 14 Special Election (1 page)

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government, elections, and politics since 1981. See more about Ken on the About page.

Links to related Bulldog coverage:

Background Investigation: Sarah Eckhardt, July 7, 2020

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