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The Watson Wire is one of the more unique political newsletters in Texas. Stay tuned for a different perspective about Texas politics, news from the Capitol, and the best stories I can come up with every week (believe me, I try).

Senator Watson -- already with his successful "Watson Wire" -- has pushed the envelope throughout the campaign season ..." Burnt Orange Report

A Husky Agenda

I give up.  No need to fight a battle that can’t be won. I thought I could win for a while but that was just foolish.

I’ll start the next legislative session “huskier” than I want to be.  I always add some weight during a session.  During the last one, I gained about 20 pounds and, sadly, I never really lost them during the interim.  I intended to.  Over and over again, I ate right — for 2 or 3 days.  I sort of kept up the running. But, it’s the end of November and we start the session in January.  It ain’t gonna happen.

 

So I bought 3 new husky suits, assuring I’ll have at least 3 suit coats that I can button.  Being able to button my coat will help me look somewhat senatorial.

Buying big boy suits is embarrassing enough.  But while I was waiting for the tailor to go get his tools (it seems most men who buy suits in my new plus size have much longer arms than I do), I was standing alone in front of one of those 3-way mirrors.  An old friend walked up behind me and commented: “I always assumed this is how you spent yourSaturday mornings — staring at yourself in a mirror.”

Well, there’s more of me for me to love.

Protecting insurance consumers

Yesterday, I filed two bills to launch my agenda for the 84th Legislature: SB 188 and SB 189. Both focus on protecting insurance policyholders from price hikes or cancellation simply for asking questions about their coverage.

I know. It seems silly that we need to pass a law to protect consumers from such an unfair practice. But we heard testimony before last session that insurance companies were dinging policyholders for asking questions even if the policyholder didn’t file a claim. So I passed SB 736, which prohibited underwriting and rating decisions based solely on consumer inquiries for standard fire, homeowners, or farm and ranch owners insurance policies.

But that legislation didn’t go far enough. These bills build off my earlier success and extend the protection to a broader swath of the insurance market, including more homeowners and auto insurance policyholders.

These are common-sense protections that cost insurers nothing but provide consumers some peace of mind.

Know any kids who love a good floor debate?

Once again I’ll be inviting students, ages 6 to 18, who are interested in the Texas Legislature to participate in the Senate Page Program.  Students will get to assist Senate messengers, observe committee hearings and help deliver messages on the floor of the Senate Chamber.

It’s a great program and I loved the fact that last session we had so many kids participate. They learned a bunch and had a lot of fun.

Call my Capitol office at 512-463-0114 to get an application.

 

 

Back by Popular Demand…Grammy’s Cornbread Dressing

Two years ago, I shared the story of — and recipe for — my Grammy’s unforgettable cornbread dressing.

It was a hit. So just in time for Thanksgiving, I give to you our family favorite. I’m re-running the complete part of the old Watson Wire that originally provided the world with this tasty holiday tradition.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

I do believe in ghosts.

Vesta Bryant Watson Cranor, a/k/a “Grammy,” made the best Thanksgiving and Christmas dressing. Second place isn’t close. Actually, there is no second place, because everything else really isn’t even dressing.Billye Faye Vanderslice Watson, Grammy’s daughter-in-law and my mother, made the same dressing — usually in the same kitchen with Grammy. Every time they made it, they’d ask my father to taste it before it went in the oven.
The exchange was always the same.  Grammy would say, “Don, would you taste the dressing?” He’d always dip a spoon into the soupy mix, put it in his mouth and say, “There’s not enough sage.” Every single time. And every single time, they’d put a little more sage in and then ignore anything else he had to say. I still wonder if he even knew what sage tasted like.

Mother died in early 1999. Grammy wasn’t making dressing by that time and died a little later. We messed around with different dressings but they were never the same.

One holiday season, Liz and I were mourning the fact that we didn’t know the recipe and had lost the historians. We sort of chastised ourselves for not writing it down when we had those two around.

That night, Liz pulled a book off a high shelf and a 3 X 5 card fluttered out of it. On the card, in my mother’s handwriting, was the recipe to what she labeled “Grammy’s Cornbread Dressing.” It was very spooky. It felt like those two old women had been listening and sent us that recipe to take care of us again.

Here it is.

Grammy’s Cornbread Dressing

I’ve bolded what the old gals told us was important. Use WHITE bread for the toast and cheap biscuits, no butter or flaky stuff (not Grands). You MUST use bacon grease to cook the cornbread in … and you just make the cornbread plain.Also you MUST use a glass baking dish. We’re convinced that if we don’t, they will haunt us and say: “I could have sworn those boys were smarter’n that…..”

  • 1 recipe of Cornbread (Cornkits is the best — you can get it at HEB; Jiffy and others have too much sugar in them), preferably made with buttermilk or soured milk and greased in pan with bacon grease
  • 3-4 Large Biscuits
  • 3-4 slices toast
  • 1 cup onion
  • 1 cup celery
  • 4 eggs – well broken
  • 2-3 cups fresh stock or 2 cans chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons sage
  • 1-2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper

TWO DAYS BEFORE:

  • Prepare cornbread and white bread 2 days in advance and crumble fine. Let sit covered with a dishtowel to dry out in a bowl.

DAY OF:

  • Mix all ingredients.
  • Mixture should be very soupy in order to make a dressing that is not dry.
  • Season to taste.
  • Put in glass baking dish and cook at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until lightly golden/brown

Their Little Secret

Last Thursday, I got pretty sick.  No, I don’t think it was a physical reaction to Tuesday’selections, even though I’m just about the only person I voted for that won.  It was food poisoning. 

I’m ok now, but it was bad for a while. Bad enough that I skipped a trip to Oklahoma for the Baylor game. Yeah, that bad.

Now, I didn’t want anyone to know about this because I didn’t want to give the winners of last week’s elections any ideas. They might enjoy placing me into a very solitary, indefinite quarantine. At least until sometime around June 1, 2015, which is the last day of the next legislative session.

Who’s to blame?

During the upcoming session, I intend to talk a lot about some of the budget secrets used by those in control of the Capitol.

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Texas Tribune that lays out how some of my colleagues in the Legislature rail against rising local property taxes while quietly taking advantage of them to cover some of the state’s obligations to public schools.

They then turn around and point the finger at cities, counties and other local governments as the reason for the rising tax bills.

Texans deserve a tax refund from the Texas Legislature and the truth about how our budget works. Sign my petition in support of property tax reform.

Who knows best?

That will be the pretense for efforts to limit the ability of local governments to increase their property tax rates. As a former mayor, it sets my teeth on edge when folks inside the Capitol think they know better than the people elected to make these decisions.

It’s also a false promise. The biggest part of your property tax bill is schools, not your city or county or hospital district. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the tax bill for an average value home in Travis County increased $291 this year and the school tax accounted for $216 of that increase.

Give ‘em a real break

You’ll hear a lot of talk about tax cuts next session. And I intend to be in the middle of that discussion to ensure that homeowners get a break by raising the school homestead exemption.

I think it’s long past time for the state to give homeowners a little help. Join me in demanding honesty, budget transparency, and tax relief for Texas families. Take a second and read my piece to get more of my thoughts.

Read my full op-ed to the Texas Tribune here.

The Most Important Election You Haven’t Heard About

October 21, 2014 

Early voting for the November 4th election started yesterday. Yeah, it’s finally here. And I’m a little disturbed by how much I like this stuff.

Now that we can actually vote, let’s look at the whole Travis County ballot by the numbers (you don’t get to vote in all of these races, but trust me, you’ll get to vote plenty):

  • 7 statewide non-judicial offices, including governor and lieutenant governor
  • 8 state judicial seats, including chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court
  • 6 federal offices, including U.S. senator
  • 8 legislative seats, including that very important race for Texas Senate District 14
  • 27 Travis County offices, including county judge
  • 11 Austin City Council races, including mayor
  • 1 statewide transportation proposition
  • 1 local transportation bond measure
  • Plus school board, Austin Community College trustees and other local elections.

If you love to vote — and I mean really love to vote — this is your kind of ballot. Just bring a photo ID and an energy bar.

 

 

Getting lost on the ballot

Austin Community College also has three items on this tome of a ballot.  And I’m worried that folks don’t know how important these propositions are to addressing the workforce and educational needs of our region.

ACC has already contributed an amazing asset to Central Texas by turning part of Highland Mall into a state-of-the-art educational facility. The bond measures will allow ACC to continue its overhaul of the Highland campus while building a new campus in Leander, renovate the historic downtown campus and create training facilities for first responders in Hays County.

 

This is the first ACC bond or tax rate election in a decade, and it’s time to invest in the great work that the college does for Central Texas.  From affordable college coursework to uniquely Austin job training and skills development, ACC is a great community partner and a smart investment.

I urge you to look for the measures. And I ask you to please vote for them.  If you’re a straight-ticket voter, make sure you keep going through the ballot so you don’t miss out on these important issues.

I scream for ice cream

Haskell Simon, a rice farmer from Bay City, came to visit last week so that we could talk about water issues. We don’t agree on everything but he’s got a great historical perspective on water issues in Texas that I appreciate a lot. And he brought me ice cream, as promised.

Here comes trouble

“The best thing an elected official can say when it comes to water is nothing.”

That’s some unsolicited advice I received recently. And it’s good counsel. So, as I get ready to ignore it (as I have so many times before) I can hear my father’s voice from back in fifth grade, “Son, we’ve got to find a way for you to make a living with that mouth.  Otherwise, you’re going to get into big trouble.”

Poring over water

My Senate District is ground zero for water issues. And though the discussion is often difficult, we really need to be talking about these issues.

Starting to the west, my district tracks along the border of Lake Travis, one of two major water supply reservoirs of the Lower Colorado River in the Highland Lakes. In times of drought, it provides the primary water supply for Austin and much of the surrounding area as well as the water supply for power plants that are important for reliability and stability in the ERCOT electric grid. Beautiful homes, thriving communities, and successful businesses have been built around Lake Travis.

When we’re not in a major drought, Lake Travis has also historically provided water to support rice farms in counties near the Gulf Coast. And it has sustained the river ecosystem that is home to fish and wildlife and provides for recreation, hunting and fishing all along the Lower Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River flows right down the middle of my district when it hits Bastrop County, which benefits greatly when the water flows in the right amount.  And bubbling underneath Bastrop County is the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which is a critical source of water for many Bastrop communities. Meanwhile, the folks who live in the cities of Bastrop and Elgin and Smithville know they sit just a short drive from Austin, and with that, they are well positioned to grow. And, there are other places growing that are looking at that groundwater.

For many years, my focus on water has been to plan for and protect Austin’s current and future water supply. That’s in part because I’ve been so deeply involved in Austin’s long-term water planning from as far back as my days as mayor.

But I now represent Bastrop County, too, and I’m spending a lot of time addressing the water challenges there.

Drought forcing tough discussion

Talking about water only gets harder during a time of drought. And, it takes some guts to say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done.  Fortunately, I’ve been witness to a fair amount of courage when it comes to addressing the water challenges this region has faced during this current drought.

For example, the LCRA board made a big decision when it voted unanimously to update the water management plan for the Highland Lakes. That plan protects the cities and firm water customers that have paid for water to be there today and in their future, even during drought.

The difficulty for some in this vote is that it acknowledges a harsh reality that has been exposed by this ongoing drought: there might not always be water to share with agriculture in the future. That’s a difficult scenario for the downstream rice farming communities that have been able to rely on the Colorado River.

Senator Troy Fraser and I together applauded the LCRA Board for making that difficult decision. You can read our statement here.

Listening for new ideas, solutions

Rivers and aquifers don’t follow political boundaries, so I welcome opportunities to meet with folks who live outside of my Senate District to talk about water. Haskell Simon, a rice farmer and LCRA institution, has taken me up on the offer. And I look forward to seeing Haskell soon because he threw in a promise to bring me a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone from Dairy Queen.

In the meantime, he sent me two books “to round out my water library.”

Haskell describes Walter Prescott Webb’s 1954 book, “More Water for Texas,” as an unofficial version of the first planning in Texas.  The book was published during the drought of the 1950s, which became “the state’s most significant recorded drought.”  We’re likely surpassing it now.

Chapter 5 of Webb’s book struck a chord. Its opening passage reads: “If this were a political pamphlet, designed to please everybody, we would find a way of saying that with proper management, every section of Texas could have all the water needed for municipal use, for irrigation and for industry.  The only trouble with such a statement is that it would be false.”

That 60-year old statement is even more true today. Given the realities of balancing a finite resource with a growing economy – and an ongoing drought – a talk about solutions is where any respectable public conversation about water should seek to end up.

I’m happy to listen to new ideas and different perspectives because, contrary to what I was advised, talking about water is the only way we’re going to find solutions.

Senate Democratic Caucus Statement on Voter ID

 Tuesday, October 14, 2014 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Kate Alexander, Office of Senator Kirk Watson

As chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, Sen. Kirk Watson issued the following statement in the wake of voter identification appeals court ruling:

Twice now, federal courts have struck down Texas’ discriminatory voter identification law. Yet the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that preserving the status quo is more important than preventing clear discrimination.

As a result, more than 608,000 registered voters — about 4.5 percent of all the total — could be denied the right to cast a ballot in November’s election because they lack the necessary state-issued identification, according to last week’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

The voters affected by today’s wrong-headed decision are disproportionately low-income, African-American or Hispanic and state officials have made ‘no real effort’ to ensure they can get the identification needed to participate in November’s election.

Texas has an abysmal record of voter turnout, in part because those in control of the Capitol want it that way.

 

 

Statement regarding the LCRA Board’s action on their 2012 Water Management Plan Application

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Contact: Sen. Fraser (512) 463-0124
Sen. Watson (512) 463-0114

Senate Seal

Senators Troy Fraser and Kirk Watson: Statement regarding the LCRA Board’s action on their 2012 Water Management Plan Application

 

For over a year, Senators Troy Fraser and Kirk Watson have called on the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to implement a water management plan that satisfies the LCRA’s legal obligation to protect the water supply for the LCRA’s firm water customers, even in times of drought. Today, we congratulate the LCRA Board for taking strong action to protect the water supply that serves over one million people as well as the critical industries that rely on the Colorado River and Highland Lakes.

Today’s unanimous vote at LCRA reflects the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), echoes the sentiments voiced by Senators Fraser and Watson, and incorporates key priorities for firm water customers.  The new plan will closely monitor inflows along the Lower Colorado River and take into account any conditions which would indicate a drought or below-normal forecasted precipitation. With this approach, the LCRA will be able to ensure an adequate supply of water in the Highland Lakes to satisfy the current and future needs of firm customers who pay a premium for their water.

Over the past month, LCRA staff has conducted multiple stakeholder meetings to allow the public to provide meaningful input into the plan. Our focus now shifts to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which must review and approve the plan. During the course of that review, affected holders of water rights and customers have an opportunity to provide comments and even ask for an independent, administrative hearing. All of this means that the ultimate outcome will not be known for some time. Furthermore, with each passing day of little rain, this region continues to navigate an unprecedented drought. If we keep setting new records, even this plan may require revisiting in the future.

However, the importance of the LCRA Board action today should not be understated. The LCRA Board’s commitment to sound water management principles marks a new day for firm water customers in the basin and is a significant change from previous water management plans. A lot of hard work and sacrifice has gotten us to this point, and we stand ready to do whatever we can to see that TCEQ has the information it needs to get a strong and protective plan in place as soon as possible.
###

Sen. Watson statement on HB 2 ruling

Senate Seal State Senator

 Kirk Watson

 District 14

Friday, August 29, 2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Kate Alexander, Office of Senator Kirk Watson: (512) 463-0114

Judge: Abortion clinic requirements create undue burden for women

The following is a statement from Sen. Kirk Watson following Friday’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel striking down key provisions of House Bill 2:

House Bill 2 was not about protecting women’s health. The true agenda of the bill’s proponents was to reduce access to safe and legal abortion procedures by forcing clinics to close and imposing enormous burdens on women. Making it harder for women to access healthcare does not reduce the number of abortions. Rather, it reduces the number of safe, legal, affordable abortions and that harms women.

I’m relieved that Judge Yeakel recognized that Texas women would shoulder an undue burden if the state requirements were allowed to stand. And I would hope we can now turn our attention to crafting policies that are constitutional and reduce the need for abortion, such as improved access to birth control and medically accurate sex education.

Democrats: Fix school finance system now

Texas Senate Democratic Caucus 

 

The following is a joint statement issued by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus following the school finance ruling by state District Judge John Dietz:

We as lawmakers bear the responsibility under the Texas Constitution to ensure children receive the knowledge they need to be thoughtful participants in our great state. But for too long now, those in control of the Capitol have neglected that constitutional duty by failing to provide adequate funding to school districts. Judge Dietz made that abundantly clear today when he ruled Texas’ school finance system has once again run afoul of the Constitution.

Texas’ school finance system is woefully out of date and everyone in the Capitol knows it. We also know how to fix the problems, but too many of our colleagues are reluctant to make difficult decisions about how to pay for those fixes. Instead, they will drag out this case and hope to get political cover from the Supreme Court before doing what is right.

“Do we really want to relegate our schoolchildren to an unconstitutional public education system for another two years? Our children should not suffer because those in control are too scared to lead,” said Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Other Senate Democrats also added their voices to the call for the Legislature to get to work:

Sen. John Whitmire of Houston“The ruling confirms what most parents, teachers, and public education supporters have known for some time. Funding for our public schools is inadequate and the Legislature needs to step up to the plate and do its job to provide much needed funding and equity for our public schools.” Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen“Our goal is to provide equal funding for each student regardless of where the student lives.  Our current funding system is not accomplishing that goal. We cannot expect to succeed as a state if we do not make smart investments in our students, teachers, and schools.”
Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo“Judge Dietz’s ruling once again is telling us what we already know: Texas’ school finance system is unconstitutional and a disservice to Texas students. The legislature should meet its responsibility and fix the system during the legislative session that convenes on January 13. Doing so requires that we address not only inadequate education funding levels that have left our school districts without meaningful discretion in setting property tax rates, but also equity issues and outdated weights that impact negatively our ability to educate students with different needs.”

 

Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston“The legislature should treat the underfunding of our children’s schools like what it is: an emergency that must be solved immediately. In fact, there’s ample precedent for us working to solve this issue prior to the Texas Supreme Court weighing in.  In 2004 and 2005, the last time the constitutionality of Texas’ school finance system was in court, the legislature worked on school finance for three special sessions and one regular session – all before the Supreme Court finally ruled the system was unconstitutional.”

 

Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio“How can we expect to educate our kids to enter the economy of tomorrow using a system of funding that is as inequitable, unconstitutional and inadequate today as it was 10 years ago.” Sen. Royce West of Dallas“As a state, we have consistently chosen to underfund the educational needs of a student population that has reached historic levels of diversity At the same time, traditional public schools are being vilified by one means and then yet another. In such a scenario who will be the winner? It’s time to stop playing games with the future of Texas and properly fund our schools.”

 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston“Education is the most important investment our state can make.  It is embarrassing that Texas continues to find themselves in court over and over again because we have failed to take proper care of our education system.  Every child, regardless of whether they live in a rich community or a poor community should be treated fairly and have access to a premium education.”

 

 

Sen. José Rodríguez of El Paso“The current Texas public school funding system promotes unacceptable levels of inequity in funding between the state’s lowest and highest property wealth school districts, even though  all Texas children are held to the same standards and rightly so — when it comes to assessments.  If the Legislature acts on today’s ruling, we will be one step closer to all children getting an equal chance of academic success regardless of what side of town your child goes to school.”

 

 

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, Sen. Royce West of Dallas, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, Sen. Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth, Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston.

First Blue and Chrome tribute roars into history

August 05, 2014 9:00 pm  •  Andrea J. Cook Journal staff

Hands pressed to their hearts, Lori and Tim Lynaugh watched a procession of 50 motorcycles rumble past the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in downtown Rapid City on Tuesday.

The Minnesota couple was there, like many others, to honor lost law enforcement officers — in their case, their son, a police officer who died after doing his duty.

They were part of a contingent of folks with law enforcement backgrounds who saluted the riders participating in the first annual Blue and Chrome Law Enforcement Memorial Celebration.

Organizers hope the fledgling event, which honors fallen law enforcement officers, will grow into a signature event for Rapid City during the first week in August when thousands of motorcyclists are drawn to the Black Hills for the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

The Lynaughs’ youngest son, Josh, a St. Paul police officer, was one of the 105 law enforcement officers whose photos and stories were recorded on placards adorning Memorial Park prior to Tuesday’s motorcycle ride.

Josh Lynaugh, 30, had just completed a foot-pursuit through deep snow to make an arrest when he collapsed next to a squad car. He died eight days later, on Feb. 6, 2013, from complications due to a massive heart attack, said his father, a retired St. Paul police sergeant.

Their son was a “legacy cop,” Tim Lynaugh said. He grew up knowing he would follow his dad into law enforcement. He was a good officer, willing to work the toughest neighborhoods. During his five years with the St. Paul Police Department, Josh Lynaugh earned two Life Saving Awards and 16 letters of commendations.

He loved his job, once telling Lori Lynaugh —”I’d do it for free.”

The Lynaughs learned about the Blue and Chrome event just two weeks ago. Their son loved Rapid City and the Black Hills, they said.

Coming to Rapid City this week was a tough choice. A good friend, 22-year veteran Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, was shot and killed last week. His funeral is today.

“It’s important to keep our son’s memory alive,” Tim Lynaugh said. “We just hope and pray this will lead to something that gets bigger and bigger.”

The inaugural event tapped retired South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper and Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Famer Ron McKinley to be grand marshal.

Also joining the ride was Wisconsin custom bike builder Cabana Dan Rognsvoog, who was inducted into the Hamsters Motorcycle Club on Monday.

Riding for Blue and Chrome was a must for Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson.

“When I found out they were having the inaugural Blue and Chrome ride … I’m very close to law enforcement in my hometown in the state of Texas,” the former Austin mayor said.

“We had 13 officers that fell in the past year, so one of the things I wanted to do was take the opportunity to honor them,” Watson said. Peace officers provide a very “high public service,” he explained.

“Those that are lost give us everything they’ve got, literally,” Watson said. “The idea that I get, just by being here, being a small part of this, I wouldn’t have missed it.”

Watson promised to spread the word about the event among riders back in Texas so more Texans ride next year.