By Michael King, Fri., Sept. 13, 2019

“I can only hope. It would be the least expensive congressional campaign ever,” laughed Rick Kennedy, at the prospect of running unopposed to succeed (abruptly) retiring 10-year incumbent Bill Flores, R-Bryan, in the 17th Congressional District. On Sept. 3, Flores joined the lengthening list of GOP incumbents deciding life in the House minority is no fun, and announced he wished to spend more time with his family and – as a former oil-and-gas executive — in private business. For the moment, that has left the field entirely to Kennedy, who challenged Flores in 2018 and who also has no opponents yet in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Kennedy does not expect these circumstances to last, on either side. While he’s heard no names as yet, he expects candidates to file soon to fill Flores’ shoes in TX-17, drawn – from the northern edge of Austin over to Bryan/College Station and then back up to Waco – to elect a Republican. He also expects to see a Democrat or two jump into a race that now lacks a heavily favored incumbent. In the short term, Kennedy said, “We’re no longer running against Flores’ voting record,” he said. “We’re running on the same issues, but it’s far more difficult to defeat an entrenched incumbent. It changes the dynamic of the race.”

In a district where he lost to Flores by 16 points last time around, Kennedy is running as a moderate Dem­ocrat on issues such as immigration and health care. The former tops the list here, especially among Repub­lican voters, he says, while health care matters more to Democrats. Kennedy supports a “secure border,” he says – “I cringe when I hear presidential candidates suggesting we can just open it up” – and “we need to enforce our immigration laws, but we need to do it humanely.” He’s traveling this month with other local advocates (in July, he invited Flores to join them, without reply) to see for himself conditions on both sides of the border. He says the voters he meets are “net positive” about more humane immigration policies, and that they share opposition to “family separation and deterrence by cruelty. … Beyond that, we need to move the focus away from the southern border to all ways of immigration, and we need to create a comprehensive reform policy that requires hard compromises on all sides.”

On health care, Kennedy supports “Medicare for America,” the centrist Democratic policy of Medicare by choice (i.e., a public option for coverage) while maintaining private insurance. “A public option builds on the progress of the Affordable Care Act,” he says, “and provides access while preserving coverage of pre-existing conditions. It’s what can get done.”

Kennedy says the folks at the Democratic Con­gres­sional Campaign Committee “are finally taking my calls” as opposed to 2018, when they left him to his own devices. Should anyone else – of either party – file to run, “I’ll have a good running start.” He would hope fellow Democrats would defer to him as the experienced and best-positioned candidate, but acknowledges, “I’ll be floored if nobody else emerges. In any case, I’ll run a clean and fact-based campaign.”