Q&A: Senate District 14 candidates discuss the issues ahead of July 14 election

Candidates in the Senate District 14 special election responded to Community Impact Newspaper's questions about their campaigns to fill the vacant seat in the Texas Senate. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Candidates in the Senate District 14 special election responded to Community Impact Newspaper's questions about their campaigns to fill the vacant seat in the Texas Senate. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)

Candidates in the Senate District 14 special election responded to Community Impact Newspaper's questions about their campaigns to fill the vacant seat in the Texas Senate. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)

Early voting for the Senate District 14 special election will begin June 29, and on July 14, Travis County and Bastrop County residents will have an opportunity to make their choice for the candidate they would like to see fill the seat of former Sen. Kirk Watson at the Capitol.

Watson resigned April 30 to take a position at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. There are six candidates on the ballot running to replace him. The winner will serve out the remainder of Watson’s term through 2022—which will include the 87th legislative session next year.

Community Impact Newspaper sent a list of questions to the candidates regarding the race. Their emailed responses are included here verbatim, with the exception of Republican candidate Waller Thomas Burns II, whose answers were transcribed and edited from a telephone conversation. Burns does not use email.

Waller T. Burns II


Party: Republican

Occupation: Attorney

Biography: I am a lawyer. I graduated from The University of Texas Law School, and I have started businesses. I am not accepting financial contributions but will most gracefully accept your vote.


Website: Not available

The world is very different today than it was the day Kirk Watson first announced his resignation in February. How have the effects of the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you see the needs of the community?

I'm not too sure there are any different needs in respect to all of that unless the coronavirus stays around for the rest of the year. The federal government has done a tremendous job of helping everyone. Texas could do a little bit in helping financially, bu the federal government has given an enormous amount of help.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase Two of his reopening plan May 18, including bars opening to 25% capacity and restaurants opening to 50% capacity May 22. How do you evaluate the way the state has handled the opening process, and what, if anything, should have been done differently?

The bottom line is it is still up to all the businesses to open or not open. What [the governor] has done is give the personal choice to those owners, which is good. Leaving it up to the individual businesses is a good idea. Let businesses make their own determinations, which they have the right to do. He's certainly not made it mandatory. It's their choice.

Property tax reform and school finance reform were among the main priorities of the 86th legislative session. What do you think the main priorities of the next legislative session will be in 2021, and how do you plan to address those issues?

Property taxes are the biggest concern. They're completely out of orbit. That's why so many businesses are selling; they can't afford to stay open. It's up to [city councils] and other entities to do something about that. [Taxes] need to be dropped. I think that's the biggest [issue] there is.

What separates you from the rest of the candidates in the field and makes you the best choice for this position in the state senate?

I'm 81 and running for the Texas Senate. I'm a fourth-generation Texan. My grandfather, Waller Thomas Burns, was a state senator from 1897-1901—the same position I'm running for, but a different district. He wrote the bill to buy the land to build the San Jacinto Monument in 1897. I decided, "If my grandfather can do it, here I go."

Pat Dixon


Party: Libertarian

Occupation: engineer; president, www.dpas-inc.com

Biography: two-term member of Lago Vista City Council; chair of Libertarian Party of Texas, 2004-2014; served as president of Central Texas TrailTamers (maintain and build hiking trails) and Texas Choral Consort (choral music ensemble); more detail at https://patdixon.org.

Website: www.logic14.org

The world is very different today than it was the day Kirk Watson first announced his resignation in February. How have the effects of the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you see the needs of the community?

Any honest candidate would admit that COVID-19 has changed things, but there are needs of the community that have not changed. We remain a very popular location for business and residential relocation, and the challenges of sustainable growth remain. I am concerned this growth is not paying for itself. Instead of corporate welfare incentives that put the tax burden on small businesses and individuals, I suggest free market sustainability.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase Two of his reopening plan May 18, including bars opening to 25% capacity and restaurants opening to 50% capacity May 22. How do you evaluate the way the state has handled the opening process, and what, if anything, should have been done differently?

I do not find great fault in the way it has been handled, but we are learning what works best. As a Libertarian, I prefer to inform the public and let people make their own decisions. I recognize that some countries have gone over the hump and are opening up, but we do not appear to have gone past the inflection point. It appears the fatality rate is lower than originally stated.

Property tax reform and school finance reform were among the main priorities of the 86th legislative session. What do you think the main priorities of the next legislative session will be in 2021, and how do you plan to address those issues?

As with COVID-19, we don’t know what crisis may occur before Jan 12, 2021. The budget and redistricting are likely to be main priorities. For the budget, I am a Libertarian. For redistricting, years ago, the Libertarian Party offered a nonpartisan plan that produced compact district maps, but with Republicans and Democrats in office, there was little chance of progress. It will take a senator outside of the Republican and Democrat parties to change this.

What separates you from the rest of the candidates in the field and makes you the best choice for this position in the state senate?

Unlike my opponents, I am Libertarian. Like some of my opponents, I have a record of my actions in elected office. Unlike my opponents, I will let that record tell the story instead of making promises to special interest groups and offering an inflexible platform covering every issue. I am interviewing for a job and showing you my résumé. My platform is one word: logic.

Sarah Eckhardt


Party: Democrat

Occupation: lawyer

Biography: I have a Master's in Public Affairs. I’ve been a lawyer for 22 years. I’ve been a successful small business owner, a prosecutor, a commissioner and the chief executive and administrator of a county with 1.3M people. I have dedicated my life in public service to improving opportunities for Central Texas families for more than 20 years. I learned public service from my mother, Nadine Eckhardt (aide to Lyndon Johnson and later to Molly Ivins), and from my father, Congressman Bob Eckhardt. I have two teenagers, Hank and Nadine, who are pretty mad that their mom killed their summer with this darned social distancing thing.

Website: www.saraheckhardt.com

The world is very different today than it was the day Kirk Watson first announced his resignation in February. How have the effects of the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you see the needs of the community?

The needs of the community haven’t changed. But, the needs and inequities of the community have certainly been amplified by the pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase Two of his reopening plan May 18, including bars opening to 25% capacity and restaurants opening to 50% capacity May 22. How do you evaluate the way the state has handled the opening process, and what, if anything, should have been done differently?

The governor started reopening before we’d even reached the gating criteria the Trump administration suggested. I hope we can return to decisions based on sound medical science. Until then, I will continue partnering with UT, Central Health and our area hospitals to test, treat and inform our families and businesses of the best ways to stay safe at home, at play and at work.

Property tax reform and school finance reform were among the main priorities of the 86th legislative session. What do you think the main priorities of the next legislative session will be in 2021, and how do you plan to address those issues?


  1. Accept Medicaid. We need it now more than ever.

  2. Establish a sustained revenue source and help our public schools adapt to COVID-19 so families can return to work.

  3. Overhaul our criminal justice system so that we focus on those who are dangerous and not those who are merely sick or poor.

  4. Bring every Texan into the post-COVID-19 economy with statewide, broadband access to goods, information, education, training, health care and employment.


What separates you from the rest of the candidates in the field and makes you the best choice for this position in the state senate?

I am a policy-maker and practitioner. As commissioner and later chief executive of Travis County, I have negotiated 11 balanced budgets for a $1B organization. By population, Travis County is larger than eight U.S. states. Too often, legislators operate in a bubble without knowing what happens to their bill after it leaves the building. I know how to fix the problem between sessions. But I’d rather fix the problem at the source.

Jeff Ridgeway


Party: Independent

Occupation: Physician

Biography: I have been a practicing physician in Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Austin for 14 years. During that time, I have had the pleasure of holding leadership positions at Seton and St. David’s Healthcare systems as well as teaching positions at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. I have also been involved in medical outreach to underserved communities, both in Austin and the surrounding area. Due to the nature of my practice, I have seen women from all walks of life.

Website: www.ridgewayfortx.com

The world is very different today than it was the day Kirk Watson first announced his resignation in February. How have the effects of the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you see the needs of the community?

Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic and the response have completely upended the priorities of Texans everywhere. Now that the economy is reopening, we need to focus our resources on our health care systems and making sure they have the equipment they need to handle any spikes in cases as well as keep our hospital staff safe and healthy. Testing and contact tracing will be important parts of that.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced phase two of his reopening plan May 18, including bars opening to 25% capacity and restaurants opening to 50% capacity May 22. How do you evaluate the way the state has handled the opening process, and what, if anything, should have been done differently?

My perception is that the state is handling the reopening well so far. I recognize that our local leaders are reluctant to reopen the Austin area at present. My own feeling is that once businesses are reopened, they will not shut back down again, even if there is a spike in cases. So the priority should be to make sure our health care systems and workers are prepared.

Property tax reform and school finance reform were among the main priorities of the 86th legislative session. What do you think the main priorities of the next legislative session will be in 2021, and how do you plan to address those issues?

Our response to the pandemic is really going to dominate the legislative session next year. I expect to see bills addressing liability related to COVID-19 as well as bills to direct state funds for economic recovery. While I would support liability protection for businesses related to the virus, the devil is always in the details when the state begins distributing funds. My priority would be to always emphasize the needs of the central Texas community.

What separates you from the rest of the candidates in the field and makes you the best choice for this position in the state Senate?

I am a physician and the only [candidate] running in this race with a medical background. We need more medical knowledge at the state leadership level so that our leaders are not constantly trying to catch up to emerging data about this disease. In addition, I am the only independent candidate running in this election. If elected, I will be able to focus on the needs of Central Texas rather than party agendas.

Eddie Rodriguez


Party: Democrat

Occupation: vice president, commercial business development; state representative

Biography: Eddie Rodriguez was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and was the first in his family to go to college, so he understands what it's like for working families in Texas trying to get ahead. Since 2003, he has served as a representative for State House District 51, representing East Austin and [Southeast] Travis County. Eddie has fought to preserve affordable housing in Austin, expanded the National School Breakfast Program and protected the East Seventh Street Planned Parenthood clinic. In the State Senate, he'll take on the NRA to prevent gun violence and keep fighting for working families by working to expand Medicaid and protect families from rising housing costs.

Website: www.eddiefortexas.com

The world is very different today than it was the day Kirk Watson first announced his resignation in February. How have the effects of the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you see the needs of the community?

While the day-to-day issues we face have changed, this pandemic has highlighted many already existing challenges for Texans. We have deep inequities in Central Texas that require common-sense solutions, like expanding Medicaid, paid sick leave and providing a living wage. This crisis has also shown how porous of a safety net we have here in Texas. We removed numerous restrictions to receiving benefits, and we must look at making some of these changes permanent.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase Two of his reopening plan May 18, including bars opening to 25% capacity and restaurants opening to 50% capacity May 22. How do you evaluate the way the state has handled the opening process, and what, if anything, should have been done differently?

We are prematurely reopening Texas without the necessary testing and tracing to prevent another mass outbreak of COVID-19. We are regularly failing to hit the testing goals Governor Abbott himself set, and yet we’re fast-tracking Phase Two [of] reopening. We’re also ending benefits for working families that are far from being out of this economic crisis. Our reopening has to be based on balancing our economic and medical recoveries and backed up by public health experts.

Property tax reform and school finance reform were among the main priorities of the 86th legislative session. What do you think the main priorities of the next legislative session will be in 2021, and how do you plan to address those issues?

The main priorities of the next legislative session will be the budget and redistricting. Republicans will move to balance the budget on the backs of working families. I’ll fight to make sure we find creative solutions, not regressive policies like increasing the sales tax. This will be my 5th redistricting session. In 2011 I sued Rick Perry over his gerrymandered maps. In 2021 I’ll fight to make sure we have fair and equitable maps.

What separates you from the rest of the candidates in the field and makes you the best choice for this position in the state senate?

I am the candidate with the best experience and vision to guide us through this crisis and make sure we have an equitable recovery. With 18 years of experience in the State House, I have a strong track record of passing progressive legislation even while in the minority. Serving in the Legislature requires the experience and connections to pass good bills and kill bad bills. We can’t have a rookie in this time of crisis.

Don Zimmerman


Party: Republican

Occupation: robotics engineer

Biography: For nearly two decades, I have been passionately involved in fighting for tax relief, not just voicing it for votes during the campaign season or whenever it is convenient. My record as the taxpayers' voice of reason has been consistent and clear. Before being elected as the District 6 representative on the Austin City Council (Northwest Austin), I was the only candidate responsible for ending a property tax—during my tenure as president of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 in 2010.

Becoming the first elected representative of the newly created District 6, I worked hard to ensure that the agenda of City Council remained in the hands of council, not in the hands of city bureaucrats. Furthermore, I have been successful at implementing a homestead exemption. My efforts on the council dais and establishing the first council field office are well-known. As your candidate for Texas Senate, I continue to fight for the spirit of the Austin 10-1 Plan, which took Austin from an at-large council to a city with geographic districts. This plan was implemented to more accurately represent all taxpayers instead of just downtown special interests, though certain personalities downtown Austin haven't quite gotten the message yet! Now, you can join me in my campaign for Texas Senate District 14 as we work together as taxpayers to keep government accountable and responsive—and, more importantly, make sure local businesses stay open. Once we win, we’ll need not just clear and consistent stands on conservative issues but courageous representation to make sure the taxpayers have a seat in the Legislature.

Website: www.texansforzimmerman.com

The world is very different today than it was the day Kirk Watson first announced his resignation in February. How have the effects of the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you see the needs of the community?

Yet most things remain the same. Human nature is as it ever was. The tendency of government to serve its own interests and charge the taxpayer more every budget cycle is a constant. We have seen our constitutional liberties almost completely ignored during the COVID-19 outbreak while government keeps trying to spend its way out. Our livelihoods and, yes, our health is in jeopardy the longer our businesses stay even partially closed. “Keep Texas Open."

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase Two of his reopening plan May 18, including bars opening to 25% capacity, and restaurants opening to 50% capacity May 22. How do you evaluate the way the state has handled the opening process, and what, if anything, should have been done differently?

Gov. Abbott has been thoughtful throughout this entire process. We're in a better position than most states, and we can count our blessings for that. But it has become clear that every business and every customer or consumer cannot be policed 24/7. Now is the time for Texas to trust business owners to do what is right for their customers as well as to survive into the next quarter.

Property tax reform and school finance reform were among the main priorities of the 86th legislative session. What do you think the main priorities of the next legislative session will be in 2021, and how do you plan to address those issues?

My office will draft and/or enthusiastically support existing legislation to:

  1. Give voters the power to replace city zoning and re-zoning efforts, which would also empower residents to vote on community-drafted deed restrictions.

  2. Build new roads by securing funding for the modernization and expansion of roadways and freeways as our population continues to grow.

  3. Vigorously promote limits on local government spending, borrowing and taxation, which have driven property taxes and rents to unaffordable levels.


What separates you from the rest of the candidates in the field and makes you the best choice for this position in the state senate?

What other candidate has successfully stopped a new tax dead in its tracks? What other candidate has sued to stop the city of Austin from breaking state law and violating the Constitution? What other candidate has stood with taxpayers during appeals hearings? What other candidate has the courage and the tenacity to stand up to bureaucrats and lobbyists and instead represent the rights of property owners? I will continue to do that in the senate.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


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