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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

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.

Simmering frogs

School’s back. That means Cooper Watson is at Baylor for his sophomore year. He’s doing great. He finished his freshman year with, among other high grades, A’s in two chemistry classes, two calculus classes, two engineering classes and physics, landing him on the Dean’s List.

But he did have what might be considered a hiccup, at least in the Watson house. He made a B in…wait for it…political science.

He appreciated the irony of not making an A in the only “science” class I could.

School Finance Ruling

I’ve taken a little time to mull over last week’s school finance ruling by Judge John Dietz. Don’t worry, I won’t drag you into the weeds of Texas’ school finance system (it’s a dark and scary place) but it’s worth remembering what happened a decade ago when Judge Dietz issued a similar ruling.

In short, nothing good for schools.

Judge Dietz found the state’s school finance system unconstitutional in 2004. Folks in the Capitol understood the problem with the outdated system and met in special session to hammer out a solution even before the Texas Supreme Court ruled in late 2005. But they couldn’t agree on a way to pay for the needed fixes.

By 2006, those in control of the Capitol opted to ignore the real problems with our school finance system. Instead, they just created new ones by cutting property taxes without a sufficient replacement of funds, knowing full well that their funding scheme wouldn’t cover the multi-billion dollar annual tab.

They created a hole in the budget a.k.a The Structural Deficit. The Republican comptroller told them at the time that the numbers wouldn’t add up.

They had tucked away a few billion to conceal the hole in the 2007 legislative session but it actually turned out to be even bigger than expected. By 2009, there was no more money squirreled away in the state mattress but they were able to cover the hole by using stimulus money supplied by President Obama.

Sadly, in 2011, there was nothing left to drag over the hole. So the schoolchildren of Texas fell through it. That was the session of enormous cuts to schools.

Now, we’re dealing with the aftermath of the 2006 “fix” on top of the problems that have only gotten worse since Judge Dietz found the system unconstitutional in 2004.

The threat to public education is real. It’s legitimate to ask if those in control want our schools to fail.  They’re doing very little to help them succeed. They’re not doing right by our teachers and our students.  They’re doing the things you might do if you were trying to cripple public education without saying that’s what you were trying to do.

And there’s some who are coming close to just outright saying it. In a recent paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has the ear of many of my more conservative colleagues, former House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf suggests that we all (including a multitude of Texas Supreme Court justices) have misread the Texas Constitution. He seems to go so far as to argue there’s no obligation to have public schools:

“Critical to understanding original intent is the fact that ‘public’ did not mean government-operated schools as we think of the term today; instead it only meant ‘open to the public’ like a restaurant or store which is open to the public,” Grusendorf wrote.

He contends all the Texas Constitution requires is the school be open to the public — like a Burger King.

Public education — a cornerstone of our democratic society — is looking more and more like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water. The frog is on the stove in water that started out cool and comfortable.  As those in control turn the heat up slowly, the frog doesn’t realize there’s danger and so it just sits there until it’s too late.

The water is getting hot.  Too hot.  It’s time to fix the school finance system.  It’s past time.

We’re getting it done — another great day in Austin, Texas

In 2011, I challenged our community to transform healthcare and our economy by laying out 10 goals we would need to accomplish in 10 years –10-in-10 – to achieve that transformation.

Just three years later, the progress toward 10-in-10 has been nothing short of amazing. Our transformation is underway, largely because Travis County voters embraced the challenge in 2012. They had faith that this transformation could happen. And that faith is being rewarded, remarkably quickly.

You’ve probably heard by now that the LIVESTRONG Foundation is giving The University of Texas $50 million to create the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas.

Our public commitment and endorsement of the 10-in-10 vision sparked this new partnership between two great Austin institutions — LIVESTRONG, a premier cancer foundation, and UT, a top tier research university.

Together, they’ll create the next generation of doctors capable of providing world-class, patient-centered cancer care for all patients regardless of ability to pay. Here’s video from the announcement. My comments start around 9 minutes.

The rest of the transformation

We’re well on our way to completing the rest of the 10-in-10 vision, too.

Dell Medical School

The corner of 15th and Red River Street is awash in activity as the site is prepared for building the new medical school, research and related buildings. We are on schedule to welcome the first class of medical students in July 2016.

Teaching Hospital

Groundbreaking for the Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas is just around the corner. Seton’s parent organization is funding $245 million of the anticipated $295 million cost and fundraising for the final $50 million is well underway. The new hospital will remain an integral part of our healthcare safety net.

Uniquely Austin Health Clinics

The transformation of our safety net healthcare system involves programs that focus on patient outcomes — getting people the right care at the right time in the right place so illnesses are addressed earlier and fewer people end up in the hospital. The $59 million in annual tax revenue that voters approved in 2012 has enabled Central Health to draw down almost $83 million in federal funds to make this happen.

Innovation Zone

The goal is to develop specialized labs and other research facilities to foster public and private healthcare innovation and commercialization. An Innovation Zone Advisory Committee has been looking at what we have, what we need and how other communities have been successful so that our innovation district is done right.

Both the medical school and the teaching hospital have been designed to foster that innovation and create a sense of place.

Improve psychiatric services and facilities

The region’s first Psychiatric Emergency Department opened this spring and provides patients in serious crisis a treatment space designed for their needs and staffed by professionals specifically trained for this purpose. It also provides law enforcement a place to bring individuals in need rather than taking them to jail, as so often happens.

Austin Travis County Integral Care last month announced the creation of a short-term psychiatric care center, a place for folks to transition back into the community or perhaps into other locations for long-term care. The St. David’s Foundation will provide nearly $9 million for construction and the first two years of operational costs.

There is still a lot of work to be done. But I’m confident that it will come together because look at how much we’ve already accomplished.

Some people say I’m all wet…

In honor of a longtime friend and to help draw some attention to another important health issue, I accepted the challenge of a friend to let some people throw ice water on my head.

If you haven’t heard about it, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral in recent weeks. It has helped raise millions for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And I was happy to get doused and make a contribution to this great cause.

Watch the video here

Pirates Love Ice Cream

I just returned from the 74th Annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  I rode my motorcycle all the way up there and all the way back.  Counting Texas, I covered eight states and over 2900 miles.

In Ogallala, Nebraska, I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a large chocolate-dipped ice cream cone.  A young mother came in with two beautiful, little blond girls.  While we waited for our treats, I asked the youngest girl how old she was.  She said she was two and offered the obligatory two fingers to prove it.  Her sister immediately presented four fingers and announced that she was four.

The four-year-old started excitedly telling me in some detail about how they were headed to her cousin’s birthday party.  The whole time we were talking, her little sister stared at me and intensely studied the way I was dressed.

After quite a while, she very earnestly and sweetly asked me, “Are you a pirate?”

I told her, “No, honey.  I’m just a Democrat.”

By the way, I admit I considered stopping at every DQ I saw until I’d eaten through the entire ice cream menu.  While this never became an official goal, evidence suggests it was the de facto policy.

Honoring Fallen Peace Officers

I went to South Dakota, in part, to participate in the inaugural Blue & Chrome Law Enforcement Memorial Celebration.  It was held outside of Sturgis in Rapid City.  This new event honors peace officers that died in the line of duty during the past year.  We lost 105 peace officers from across the U.S. last year. Thirteen were Texans.

I was really pleased to speak at the event and had fun riding near the front of the charity ride through the Black Hills.  Here’s a good news clip with some of my talk.

This is a neat way to honor the public service of some great people.

And regardless of how I look, I don’t think I sound like a pirate.

Senate Democratic Caucus Statement on Voter ID

 Tuesday, October 14, 2014 


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

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



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.