Kirk Watson

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Kirk Watson
Kirk Watson 2012.jpg
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 14th district
Assumed office
January 2007
Preceded by Gonzalo Barrientos
Mayor of Austin
In office
May 1997 – November 2001
Preceded by Bruce Todd
Succeeded by Gus Garcia
Personal details
Born (1958-03-18) March 18, 1958 (age 60)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Anne "Liz" McDaniel Watson
Children 2
Alma mater Baylor University

Kirk Watson (born March 18, 1958) is an American attorney and Democratic politician from the capital city of Austin. He served as Austin mayor from 1997 to 2001. He ran unsuccessfully for Texas Attorney General in the 2002 election, defeated by the Republican Greg Abbott. In 2006, Watson was elected to the Texas State Senate from District 14.

From 2011 to 2015, Watson was the Senate Democratic Leader. In October 2015, he announced that he is stepping down from the leadership post but will remain in the Senate. José R. Rodríguez of El Paso, a former county attorney who has served in the chamber since 2010, is expected to succeed Watson in the minority leadership. A rules change implemented in 2015 no longer allows Democrats to block Republican-led legislation from coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Kirk Preston Watson was born March 18, 1958 in Oklahoma City and grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, attending Boswell High School. Watson attended Baylor University in Waco where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1980 and a J.D. in 1981. While attending Baylor Law School Watson was editor-in-chief of the Baylor Law Review and graduated first in his law school class. He subsequently clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Early in his legal career, Watson was elected President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association and served on the executive committee of the State Bar of Texas. In 1994, he was named the Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas. In 1997, Watson co-founded the Austin law firm of Watson Bishop London & Galow, creating a broad law practice that represented families, doctors, small businesses, and some of the state's major universities.

Watson is the husband of Elizabeth Anne "Liz" McDaniel and the father of Preston McDaniel and Cooper Kyle Watson.

Political life[edit]

In 1991 Watson was appointed by Texas Governor Ann Richards to serve as Chair of the Texas Air Control Board, the state agency that was charged with protecting air quality in Texas. During his tenure, he worked to merge the agency with the Texas Air Control Board and the Texas Water Commission to form the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, and oversaw implementation of the 1991 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act.

Watson was active in the Texas Democratic Party throughout the 1990s, and he served as Chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party.

Austin Mayor[edit]

In 1997 Watson was elected mayor of Austin, running on a pledge to build consensus in a city that was then dominated by political battles between environmentalists and developers. He campaigned to raise more than $78 million for land preservation and $300 million for transportation improvements. And he led efforts to revitalize downtown Austin, secure the city's long-term water supply, proactively improve air quality in Central Texas, and build a bypass to Interstate 35 through Austin.

In March 1999, he was named Best Mayor in Texas for Business by Texas Monthly Biz Magazine. Forbes and Fortune Magazine also named Austin as the best city or place in the U.S. to do business during this period. And for his service, Watson received recognitions from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Austin Alliance, the Texas Nature Conservancy, Austin Family magazine, the International Downtown Association, and the Austin Chronicle.

As a result of his work as mayor, Watson became a recognized speaker on economic development.[2] His work was also referenced in the book The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida.

In 2000, Watson was reelected with 84% of the vote – the highest percentage a mayoral candidate has ever received in Austin. In November 2001, he stepped down to run unsuccessfully for Texas Attorney General. In 2005, he served as chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Texas Senate[edit]

Watson was elected to the Texas Senate in November 2006, succeeding Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. He received more than 80 percent of the vote. Watson was unopposed in the March 2008 Democratic Primary.[3]

He serves as vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee, as well as on the Senate Business and Commerce, Economic Development, Jurisprudence, and Nominations committees. In 2008, he was appointed as one of two senators to the state Business Tax Advisory Committee.

Watson has become a prominent voice on transportation, clean energy, and higher education issues, and he has campaigned to widen transparency in the state's finances and increase health coverage for Texans, particularly children. In 2009, he led the fight against a budget rider that would have effectively banned embryonic stem cell research at Texas universities. The rider ultimately was not adopted.[4]

Watson has served on many committees including the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), of which he is the former Transportation Policy Board Chairman. CAMPO is federally designated as the primary transportation planning organization in Central Texas.[5]

The July 2007 Texas Monthly magazine recognized Watson as "Rookie of the Year" for the 2007 session of the Texas Legislature. In 2009, the magazine named him one of the state's 10 Best Legislators.[6] He also was given the Price Daniel Award for Distinguished Public Service by the Baylor Alumni Association, and the Excellence in Leadership Award by Concordia University, Texas.

Watson considered running in the 2010 race for governor, but in August 2009 decided to instead run for re-election to the Texas Senate.[7]

In June 2013, Watson moved to overturn a ruling designed to end the filibuster of Senator Wendy Davis. Together, their efforts averted the passage of SB5, a bill that its opponents claimed would enact severe abortion restrictions in Texas.[8][9] Instead, in a second special session the same bill was passed (96 to 49) by the Texas House,[10] and then (19 to 11) by the Texas Senate,[11] and then signed into law by Gov. Perry less than a month later.[12] State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson of Waco (Texas HD 56) told reporters following the Davis filibuster that the additional special session might "cost taxpayers more than $800,000."[13] Another news organization estimated special-session costs at roughly $30,000 per day.[14]


Texas Highways[edit]

Much of Watson's first year in office was spent mediating a long, very bitter dispute on the CAMPO board over highway improvements in the Austin area.

While many of the improvements had been in transportation plans for years, they had never been constructed. A lack of transportation funding, affecting projects across Texas, had led previous boards to support plans that would toll the additional capacity as well as nearly completed projects, sparking intense opposition throughout the region.

Upon being elected chairman by the rest of the board in January 2007, Watson led the effort to keep the controversial projects in the region's transportation plan. He then spearheaded a public effort to create a process that would allow policy makers and the public to analyze the need for transportation projects, mechanisms to pay for them, and potential public benefits from them.

On October 8, 2007, the CAMPO board overwhelmingly approved a plan to add new toll lanes to several existing highways (U.S. Highway 290, U.S. Highway 183, and State Highway 71).

Most of the improvements were approved on a 15-4 vote, and none were opposed by more than five board members. The board was heckled with shouts of "Political suicide!" and catcalls.[15]

2008 Chris Matthews interview[edit]

Following Senator Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 Wisconsin Democratic Primary Election on February 19, 2008, Watson appeared via live feed on MSNBC's election night coverage as a supporter of Senator Obama, whom Watson had endorsed. During the interview, Chris Matthews asked Watson to name one of Senator Obama's legislative accomplishments. After Watson was unable to list one of Obama's accomplishments, Matthews responded, "You've supported him for president, you're on national television, name his legislative accomplishments, Barack Obama's, sir."[16] After Watson was excused, Matthews commented, "He [Watson] is here to defend Barack Obama and he had nothing to say; that's a problem."[17]

Electoral history[edit]


Texas general election, 2006: Senate District 14[18]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Kirk Watson 127,223 80.32 +27.61
Libertarian Robert "Rock" Howard 31,180 19.68 +15.51
Majority 96,043 60.63 +51.05
Turnout 158,403 -12.29
Democratic hold


Texas general election, 2002: Texas Attorney General[19]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Greg Abbott 2,542,184 56.72
Democratic Kirk Watson 1,841,359 41.08
Libertarian Jon Roland 56,880 1.26
Green David Keith Cobb 41,560 0.92
Majority 700,825 15.63
Turnout 4,481,983
Republican hold


  1. ^ Mike Ward, "Democrat leader in Senate to leave post", San Antonio Express-News, October 10, 2015, p. A4
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ CAMPO Board members Archived 2012-07-31 at
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Hoppe, Christy (June 26, 2013). "Still disputed whether SB5 vote met midnight deadline". Dallas Morning News. 
  10. ^ MacLaggan, Corrie (July 10, 2013). "Texas House OKs bill restricting abortions, moves it to Senate". Reuters News Service. 
  11. ^ MacLaggan, Corrie (July 13, 2013). "Texas passes abortion restriction bill, governor certain to sign". Reuters News Service. 
  12. ^ Blake, Aaron (July 18, 2013). "Perry signs Texas abortion bill into law". The Washington Post. 
  13. ^ Elizondo, John (June 26, 2013). "2nd special session could cost taxpayers additional $800K". KXXV-TV, News Channel 25 (Waco). 
  14. ^ Brooks-Harper, Karen (July 17, 2013). "Lawmakers pass abortion, juvenile justice bills with time running out in second special session". Community Impact Newspapers (Texas). 
  15. ^ Austin-American Statesman "Board approves five new toll roads"
  16. ^ Wonkette (with video)
  17. ^ Texas-Observer
  18. ^ "2006 General Election". Office of the Secretary of State (Texas). Archived from the original on 2014-01-09. Retrieved 2006-12-15. 
  19. ^ "2002 General Election". Office of the Secretary of State (Texas). Archived from the original on 2014-01-09. Retrieved 2006-12-15. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Bruce Todd
Mayor of Austin
Succeeded by
Gus Garcia
Texas Senate
Preceded by
Gonzalo Barrientos
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 14th district