Kirk Watson discusses Senate retirement and legacy with Texas Tribune

AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) – Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith spoke with State Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, for a discussion on Watson’s recent Strike Force appointment by Governor Greg Abbott to Open Texas, tasked with providing advice to Abbott on reopening the state’s economy and local businesses – and his take on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We also reviewed Watson’s most memorable moments in the Texas Senate, what he wished he had accomplished, and what he hopes his legacy will be.

What can Texans expect as the state begins to reopen the economy?

  • Watson said the Strike Force is developing ideas on how the state can strategically and responsibly begin to resume economic activity, which will then be reviewed by medical professionals before being passed on to Governor Abbott for exam.
  • Watson said he expects it to be an ongoing process, with multiple waves of openings, for at least the next 45 to 60 days.

  • Watson said that while it is not yet wise for the state to reopen right away, due to the continuing threat of the coronavirus, it is important to start the conversation now about what the reopening process looks like. to help Texans get back to work soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Watson has dismissed what he sees as a false choice between protecting public health and reopening the economy, saying: “I don’t understand why things are labeled either / or … it’s a much more complex conversation than that. ” He added that in the midst of a pandemic, public officials should focus on meeting and finding solutions.
  • Watson stressed that decisions to reopen the economy would include input from medical professionals and healthcare experts. As the state prepares to reopen, Watson said testing for the virus and tracing cases of community spread will be key to mitigating a possible second wave of cases.

What lessons can the government and state legislature learn from the pandemic and the state response?

  • “This pandemic, this public health crisis, has exposed some of our flaws and has shown some of the cracks in our [public] infrastructure that we cannot ignore, ”Watson said. “[This] is more than an opportunity, it is a responsibility for us to focus on [what it was] that we felt we had the luxury to ignore before, ”such as paid sick leave and access to health care for the uninsured.
  • Watson said he hopes the current public health crisis will initiate a new way of thinking about how state governance is run, including in terms of budget priorities. “Our whole society has had a downtime. But when the game starts over, we can’t play the same games. We need a new playbook. He said. “Our politics cannot be the same politics, we have to analyze everything through the prism of the new condition”, which was brought about by the coronavirus epidemic.
  • Watson also said he hopes the coronavirus outbreak will lead to a more holistic focus on higher education. “I think we need to focus on whether higher education institutions are the anchor points in our communities for everything from economic development… to workforce development,” Watson said. .

Why has Watson chosen to leave politics entirely, and what does he hope to accomplish in his new role?

  • When asked what drew him to the Dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, Watson said he was prompted by the idea of ​​helping build a school of politics in starting from scratch in one of the country’s largest and most diverse cities. “I firmly believe that you have a short term goal but with a long term view,” explained Watson, “and my short term goal means… if an opportunity arises. [and it triggers something in me, I explore it.]”
  • Although Watson’s new role lies outside the formal world of policymaking, he said he does not anticipate being taken out of politics altogether. “If my work at the Hobby School can inform [the work of my colleagues in the legislature]… Man, here I am, ”regardless of partisan affiliations. “I will do whatever my successor needs to bring him up to speed on a variety of issues. “
  • While not completely ruling out the possibility of returning to public office, Watson said taking on the role of dean is “what I want to do right now.” He added that, “I can’t see myself running [for office again]. “

What are some of the ups and downs of Watson’s political career, as he sees it? Are Texas politics – and politicians – as polarized as they seem?

  • “I hope part of the way people remember me is that I enjoyed the relationships very much. [that I built]Watson said. He also highlighted his work to promote open government and the establishment of Dell Medical School as two of the greatest achievements of his career.
  • “I love being in the Senate,” Watson said, “[and] I walked out of the last legislative session feeling happier than ever and feeling like I had had a very high level of success.
  • While Watson has said he is sometimes disappointed with the decline in strong discussions and collaboration among his colleagues – especially on issues related to women’s health or public education – he prefers to focus on aspects positive results from his time in the Senate. “I come out of [this experience] to believe [that the Texas legislature is a positive force for good] corn [it] can be better, “Watson added,” it can be a force for even more good. “
  • When asked what consistent lessons he learned from his time in politics, Watson said, “Relationships are important… listening to people, being prepared to listen to people even though they are. [different political party] that you… can speak to them clearly so that they know exactly where you stand… and [knowing] that what motivates people is hope… hope matters.

What are Watson’s farewell words to his constituents in Senate District 14?

Watson represents Senate District 14 and serves as Senate President pro tempore. In February, he announced his resignation from his Senate seat, which he has held for more than 13 years, effective April 30 at midnight. Watson is stepping down to become the first dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. Previously, Watson served as chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus and mayor of Austin.

  • “One of the great joys of my time in the Senate has been representing Bastrop County and getting to know this county.” Watson said. He said that over the years he has developed a very intimate relationship with the residents of Bastrop County and that the next senator will need to cultivate a similar relationship in order to successfully represent the county.

This event is presented by AT&T, Walmart, TEXAS 2036, Ascension Seton and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. Media support is provided by KXAN and Community Impact.

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Norman D. Briggs