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Watch: Texas Senate candidate Eddie Rodriguez discusses his 2020 bid to succeed Kirk Watson during a pandemic

We sat down for a live interview with Rodriguez, D-Austin, to discuss his campaign to succeed former Sen. Kirk Watson and get his take on how the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped his campaign.

Texas Tribune state politics reporter Cassi Pollock sat down with state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, for a discussion on his run for the Texas Senate and how the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped his campaign along with the 2020 field.

Here are some of Rodriguez’s responses to questions during the interview:

What motivated Rodriguez to run for state Senate, and how has the special election’s postponement affected his campaign?

  • “I believe I have the best experience, judgment and vision to guide us through this current crisis and to lead us through probably a long recovery,” Rodriguez said.

  • When asked how he feels about Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to postpone the election until July 14, Rodriguez said, “It was a right decision to make.” Rodriguez went on to say that the extended campaign period gives “us more time to ramp up” to election day. He also said that the surplus his campaign was able to raise during his House primary election has enabled him to balance fundraising goals with sensitivity toward the more immediate concerns of his supporters.

  • In terms of how his communications strategy has shifted as a result of the pandemic, Rodriguez said he and his campaign have been hosting a series of virtual events and town halls focused on “trying to get as much information as possible,” out to the public about available tools and resources for dealing with the coronavirus.

  • “I miss going door to door,” Rodriguez said. “I miss, you know, the one-on-one contact. ... Zoom and Skype are a poor substitute for that interaction ... but that's what we’ve got.”

  • Despite his campaign’s efforts to get out the vote, Rodriguez said that he and his team are expecting a fairly low voter turnout. He also said that there is a great deal of uncertainty around expanding access to mail-in ballots and that he’s asked his supporters to err on the side of caution by reaching out to as many potential voters as possible.

What does Rodriguez think Democrats' prospects are in the state and national elections?

  • “I think the people in Texas right now, or at least in some of these districts that are winnable for the Democrats, are not pleased with Trump,” Rodriguez said. Talking about his party, he went on to say, “the policies that we support and we have supported for a very long time, I think that bodes well for us.”

  • In terms of who among his colleagues in the lower chamber will win the hotly contested House speaker race, Rodriguez said he ultimately believes the vote will come down to seniority and which candidate can draw the broadest base of support.

What distinguishes Rodriguez from his opponents, and what kind of state senator does he plan to be?

  • Rodriguez said, “I think experience really matters right now ... having a robust progressive agenda ... I think I have that, and I've proven that.” Rodriguez went on to say he expects the next session to be a particularly tough one and that his record and experience will enable him to garner bipartisan support for his policies.

  • When asked how he plans to promote a progressive agenda in the Republican-controlled state Senate, Rodriguez said that he plans to use the example set by former state Sen. Kirk Watson to model his own bipartisan approach in the Senate. “There's only one Kirk Watson, God knows,” Rodriguez said, “but I'm probably the first Eddie Rodriguez that has a lot of the same attributes that Kirk has because that’s just who I am.”

  • In addition to redistricting and budgeting, Rodriguez said that he hopes the next session will also focus on addressing the porous social safety net that has left millions of Texans behind. “[The coronavirus] has highlighted the inequity of our society, of our state, of our community here in Austin ... so I think that there's some room next session ... to find some common ground on ... addressing some of these issues in a more long-term way.”

  • Specifically, Rodriguez said he’d like to see measures to expand access to health care and the internet. Rodriguez said he’s also in favor of promoting criminal justice reform and expanding benefits for retired teachers in the next legislative session.

  • On the subject of a potential zero-based budget that state Sen. Jane Nelson recently proposed, Rodriguez said not all state agencies are created equal and that state lawmakers will need to take a more nuanced approach to the budget. “When you see [agencies] really focusing on dealing with the crisis and helping individual Texans out,” Rodriguez said, “those are the ones you have to try to shore up. ... That's the starting point for me.”

Rodriguez has represented House District 51 since 2003. In March, he declared his candidacy for Senate District 14, a seat left vacant by Watson. Rodriguez sits on the House Calendars, State Affairs, and Ways and Means committees. He also serves as co-founder and chair of the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus and policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

The interview was streamed on the Tribune’s website, Facebook page and Twitter to a live audience of more than 3,500 viewers.

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This event is presented by AT&T, Walmart and TEXAS 2036.

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