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Coronavirus in Texas

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt pushes back resignation to focus on coronavirus response

Eckhardt had been planning to resign to run for state Senate. Now she says she'll stay on until mid-May.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt speaks at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 29, 2018.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Tuesday she will push back her last day on the job to help local officials handle the new coronavirus pandemic, effectively pausing her campaign for the special election in Texas Senate District 14.

"This pandemic has unfolded very quickly," Eckhardt told The Texas Tribune. "So, as a public servant, I need to put my talents where they are most needed right now, and that's in helping my community weather this storm."

As county judge, Eckhardt is the top elected official in Travis County government and plays a major role in the county's public health response. Austin and Travis County are expected to issue a joint stay-at-home order Tuesday in an attempt to combat the spread of the virus. As of Monday night, Travis County was reporting 86 cases.

Earlier this month, Eckhardt said she would resign from office to run for the historically Democratic seat, which retiring state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, will vacate at the end of April. Her news came on the heels of longtime state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, launching his own bid for the Senate seat, which covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County.

Eckhardt, who was elected Travis County's first female county judge in 2015, was required under the Texas Constitution to resign from that office before she could run for the Legislature. State law, though, allows Eckhardt to serve in a holdover capacity with the normal jurisdictions as county judge until her interim successor — in this case, former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe — is sworn into office.

Biscoe was originally scheduled to be sworn into office Monday, though that is not set to happen now until mid-May, which is around the candidate filing deadline for the Senate race. Biscoe is expected to appoint Eckhardt to an emergency management position once he is sworn in to continue helping with the fallout related to the virus.

The special election for the Senate race, which ordinarily would have happened in May, is now slated for July 14, Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week. The date was pushed back, Abbott said, due to the pandemic.

A number of other Democrats have also been eyeing a run for the Senate seat, including Austin City Council member Greg Casar and Austin-area attorney Adam Loewy. Loewy told the Tribune on Tuesday that he had his doubts about whether Eckhardt could legally postpone her exit while still complying with state law.

"She never should have quit in the middle of a crisis, and now she's trying to walk that back," Loewy said. "I have my doubts on that, and my legal team is looking into that."

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