October 15, 2010
Former Mayor of Austin and current Texas Senator Kirk Watson attributes much of his success to his time at Baylor, where he earned his bachelors in political science in 1980 and a law degree in 1981. While attending Baylor Law School, Watson was editor-in-chief of the Baylor Law Review and graduated first in his class.
“I’m very proud to say much of what I have accomplished is a result of what happened on that campus,” says Watson, a Fort Worth-area native. “Baylor, both in undergrad and then particularly in the law school, really opened up possibilities for me. It allowed me to drink from a whole lot of different wells and experiment with my sense that I wasn’t limited in any way.
“Those kinds of experiences opened up a world of possibilities to me that served me well, not only in making me feel like there were things that I was capable of achieving that I hadn’t even thought about, but also making me better in public service for recognizing that other people have possibilities that they might not realize. And if I’m a good public servant, I will help them achieve those goals.”
Watson is also a cancer survivor, having overcome both the disease and a recurrence of it in the 1990s.
“Frankly, getting sick gave me the freedom to do some of the things that I might not have been doing, because I thought I was on a specific track in life.”
Watson has had a long and distinguished career as a litigator and public servant. He clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 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 by the Texas Young Lawyers Association. In 1997, Watson co-founded the Austin law firm of Watson Bishop London & Galow. He’s enjoyed a broad law practice that has represented families, doctors, small businesses and some of the state’s major universities.
In 1991 Watson was appointed by 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 Water Commission to form the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission and oversaw implementation of the 1991 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act.
In 1997 Watson was elected mayor of Austin. He campaigned to raise more than $78 million for land preservation and $300 million for transportation improvements. He also 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.
Among numerous recognitions, in March 1999, he was named Best Mayor in Texas for Business by Texas Monthly Biz Magazine. As a result of his work as mayor, Watson became a recognized speaker on economic development.
In 2000, Watson was re-elected with 84 percent 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.
Watson was elected to the Texas Senate in November 2006 with more than 80 percent of the vote. Today, he serves as vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee, as well as on the Senate Business and Commerce, Economic Development, Higher Education, 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 increase transparency in the state’s finances and improve health coverage for Texans, particularly children.
In July 2007, Texas Monthly 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.
Watson is currently a partner with the law firm Brown McCarroll, L.L.P. in Austin.
He considered running in the 2010 race for governor, but in August 2009 decided to instead run for re-election to the Texas Senate.
Watson, who is proud to have twice represented Baylor as a lawyer, was instrumental on the university’s behalf during the Big 12 Conference realignment discussions.
“Baylor has been part of Texas culture and its athletic culture for over a century, and I played the role of making sure that as many people as I could talk to understood Baylor needed to continue to be part of that. These positive cultural alignments are worth saving.”
Even before Watson served on the Senate Committee on Higher Education, he says higher education has been a deep passion.
“Baylor University plays a significant role in the future of this state by virtue of being a first-class institution of higher learning,” he says. “Baylor is a key part of the state, and one that has to be looked to as we try to figure out where we want the state of Texas to go.”
Watson believes the number one challenge that schools across Texas will face is how to attract and retain “the students who are going to be the leaders – the ones who are going to help our state know prosperity and a high quality of life and happiness for the next generation.
“I’m pleased to see that Baylor, by placing an emphasis on research, is working to figure out what the next steps ought to be. That’s something to be excited about.
“Part of what excites me is Baylor’s effort to determine how to create the sense of possibility that I experienced for all of these young people, both spiritually and academically. If Baylor is combining that sense of what it means – from a biblical standpoint – to do right, and it is doing well with creating the foundation of how we can academically move further and farther, that’s a very exciting proposition.”
Although Watson has led a full life thus far, he does have one regret concerning Baylor.
“I went through the place too fast,” he says. “I got my high school diploma, and then five years later I had my law degree,” he says. “I wish I had taken more classes from people like religion professor Dr. Bill Pitts, another philosophy class from Dr. Bill Cooper, or another course that I just was attracted to.”
Fortunately for the state of Texas and for Baylor, Watson has no time to take more classes, so long as voters keep him in the Texas Senate.
“Hopefully the voters won’t retire me too soon.”