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Texas This Week: State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, candidate for Texas Senate District 14

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) is running for the State Senate seat vacated by Kirk Watson.

AUSTIN, Texas — Early voting in the Texas primary runoff and special Eelections starts Monday, June 29, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pulling back on some re-openings. 

Three things to know in Texas politics  

As the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to increase, Gov. Greg Abbott took action this week to try and slow the spread. On Friday, he ordered bars across the state to close and reduced the dine-in capacity of restaurants. Rafting and tubing businesses were ordered to close and all gatherings with more than 100 people now need county approval. The move came one day after the governor banned elective surgeries in four of the state's largest counties, including Travis County, and paused any further re-openings of businesses. 

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Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be in Texas Sunday to speak at a Baptist megachurch in Dallas, led by a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump. But with the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Pence – who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force – announced Friday he also plans to get a "ground report" of the situation in the Lone Star State. 

And early voting in the Texas primary and special elections begins Monday, June 29. To help voters make an informed decision, KVUE is hosting a debate on Monday between the two Democrats vying to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Combat veteran MJ Hegar is going head-to-head with State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). The debate will air live on KVUE, KVUE.com and the KVUE YouTube Channel. 

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State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, candidate for Texas Senate

When Travis and Bastrop County voters cast their ballots this July, they'll select someone to fill the State Senate seat vacated by Kirk Watson, who resigned to become the founding dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston

Six candidates want the job, including State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin). He spoke with KVUE Political Anchor Ashley Goudeau about his campaign. 

Ashley Goudeau: You've served in the Texas House of Representatives for nearly 18 years now. But tell us a little bit about your background, what you do when you're not in the legislature, when you guys aren't in session.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez: "I work for a title company. I'm a vice president of a title insurance company, but mostly I like to spend time with my family and hang out with the kids and, you know, do that kind of thing. Just to have a real, a real life. Of course, [the legislative] session really doesn't end. You know, a good state representative and a good senator will be working during the interim to get some bill ideas and to meet with constituents. And, of course, that goes on all the time for me."

Goudeau: As the representative, right now, you serve on several committees, you hold leadership positions. Why would you want to trade that in to run for the State Senate and be a freshman? 

Rodriguez: "That's a – that's a fair question, it's a fair question. I come at this with a servant's heart. That's why I ran for the State House 18 years ago, and that's why I'm running for the State Senate. I want the opportunity to serve and help more people. The Senate district is about 800,000 people and the House district's [is about 176,000]. And I think it's an opportunity, there being one of 31, to get more things accomplished for the people of Senate District 14. And I wanted to just take what I've learned in the House and my relationships that I have in the Senate – I have served with half of the senators in the House – and I want to be able to serve my constituents in a different capacity in the State Senate."

Goudeau: Let's talk about your time as a representative. What legislation have you passed that you believe has had the most significant impact on Texans?  

Rodriguez: "That's a great question. There's a couple that come to mind. If I could, if I can list two, that's OK ... I passed a bill in 2013 to expand the free breakfast program to include 700,000 more kids in that program. And I think [it's] to be seen with this pandemic how important food is to children. Many kids get their breakfast and lunches at school. And what for that they may not actually have much to eat. So, I'm really proud of that and I'm proud that I'm able to help low-income kids in that way. And the other thing is I expanded the dual credit program, which basically means that a high school kid can graduate from high school with up to two years of college under his belt, his or her belt. And that is good because the student can take those two years' worth of credit to a four-year institution or they may have a certification and graduate high school with a clear career path. And they can start working right after high school. And I think that's a that's ... [something] I'm proud of."

Goudeau: Do you have any concern about the seat that would be left open if you are elected to the Senate?  

Rodriguez: "That's an – that's an interesting question. It's an interesting process, actually, that takes place. You have the Precinct Chairs of District 51, my House district, will, the majority of those precinct chairs will select who will replace me because we're this far – we're further into the election year. I would be concerned if we don't, [if] we couldn't find a highly qualified individual. There are plenty of people that live in HD 51 that are perfectly qualified. And I would love to have conversations with the precinct chairs once I win this election to the State Senate, and we can together try to find somebody who is highly qualified and could potentially hit the ground running in the House. And, of course, I'll be right there in the Senate to help them through. And don't forget, we have Donna Howard and Celia Israel and Gina Hinajosa that are seasoned veterans as well. And they'll be – I'll be there to help guide that person."

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Goudeau: The 2021 Texas Legislative Session is promising to be interesting, probably a little bit contentious. Not only will lawmakers be dealing with a budget deficit thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's also going to be a redistricting year. So, talk to us about the skills you have to help navigate that and get the goals of Central Texans passed.

Rodriguez: "Yeah, that's a great question. Well, I've been telling people this in a public setting that, you know, just because I've been in the House for 18 years doesn't qualify me in and of itself to be the next senator for SD 14. But it is what I've been able to accomplish, and I've shown to be effective as someone that has been, that is in the minority in the House, and I have been the whole 18 years and I will be in the Senate as well. But I think what that experience brings is when you come to a really hard budget, like we're going to be facing next session – next session will be my 10th budget session. Next session will be my fifth redistricting session, one as a staffer and then four as a member of the legislature. So, those experiences, they count, they mean something and they mean something I think now, in this moment, when you have a budget like we're going to have and tackling many, many other issues that we're going to tackle. That experience is really important. Redistricting, I've been fighting for the voters of Central Texas and Travis County for 18 years. When it comes to gerrymandering, I'm trying to fight for fair districts, just districts and voting rights. That's what I've done as the chair, policy chair of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, and I will continue doing that in the Senate."

Goudeau: What would be your priority legislation if elected to the Senate?

Rodriguez: "That's a great question, too. I mean, it's hard not to look at COVID and not say something like protecting the budget as it pertains particularly to [the] funding of health care and public education. Those are [the] obvious top two there. But I think another one that I would really focus on next session is universal broadband. I think that this, COVID, has demonstrated how – the inequities basically that we have in our in our society here in the State of Texas and here in Central Texas. But the disadvantage that you are in if you do not have access to the internet, whether you're in the rural community or you're in an urban setting like Austin, it's a tremendous disadvantage. We might be doing working from home a whole lot more because [of] COVID, and we've seen that a lot of people are doing that. The same thing with maybe schooling at home. We don't know what next, the next semester or the next year is going to look like for our students in public schools. So, you're at a disadvantage if you can't teach your kid at home. And then if you want to see ... your doctor as well. A lot of times during this crisis, people visited their doctors via telemedicine. And so, I want to make it so that everyone has access to the Internet, affordable Internet access. And I think that's going to have bipartisan support. You have the Republicans that tend to represent rural areas. You have Democrats that tend to represent urban areas. And you have rural and urban, and I think we can get something substantial done next session. That's one of my top priorities."

RELATED: Texas This Week: Sarah Eckhardt, candidate for Texas Senate District 14

Goudeau: There are six candidates on the ballot. So, why should our viewers elect you this July? 

Rodriguez: "Well, again, I think it really boils down to the right experience and the right judgment and the right vision for this to get us through this current crisis and to help us in the long recovery to come. And I have that experience. I have the relationships in the Senate already. Again, I've served with the members, many members of the Senate were in the House and I served with them. And I think that's – in this moment in time, you need somebody that has those relationships and those, the skill set to get things done for the people of District [14]. The fact of the matter is, this race is not about the six people running for the seat. It's about the people that live in SD 14, Senate District 14. Who's best suited to help them and guide them and lead in the Senate at this moment in time? In this critical moment in time when we're going to have a very, very tough budget, when we're going to have redistricting and we're going to have to face some tough challenges in the next session or two. And I think that, in this particular moment, my experience is superior and should be considered seriously. And I'm very happy and I would be proud to take that experience and the effectiveness that it brings to the State Senate. "

Early voting begins Monday, June 29, and Election Day is Tuesday, July 14.

RELATED: Texas This Week: Sarah Eckhardt, candidate for Texas Senate District 14

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