November 16, 2007
Self-identifying with labels such as Democrat and Republican allows politicians not to listen to each other, bringing the political process to a dead stop, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said at the Texas Politics Speaker Series forum Thursday.
His solution: Throw those labels away.
The recommendation was the first on Watson’s list of 10-and-a-half suggestions for affecting positive change in politics. He read from and elaborated upon his “10.5 rules of politics” at the forum.
For his second rule, Watson noted the importance of listening carefully and thinking plainly, describing public hearings as less than cordial.
“There’s no hearing at public hearings,” Watson said. “It’s more like public screaming.”
Rule No. 3: No one is ever going to meet everyone’s concept of perfection on an issue, but rather one should move forward toward a consensus.
The senator uses what he calls the “84 percent rule” as a measure of a consensus, because he was reelected as mayor of Austin in 2000 with 84 percent of the popular vote.
“Don’t demand your concept of perfection,” Watson said. “Set out broad parameters, and then don’t get so wrapped up in details that you can’t get 84 percent.”
The fourth rule: Act quickly and do not let fear of failure stop you from taking action.
“Your opponents and the media will focus on what you didn’t get right, but I believe there is value in failure,” Watson said. “The value comes in if you figure out why something didn’t work, and you do it better next time.”
Other rules included the importance of hope, the necessity of short-term focus combined with long-term vision and the ability to recognize one’s own assets while admitting to weaknesses.
“People rarely stop and assess what their core values and assets are,” Watson said. “It’s appropriate to stop and reassess your core values and assets, your dreams and what you want to do. You’ve also got to be one to admit your weaknesses and try to wire around them.”
During the question and answer session, Watson was asked about Proposition 15, of which he was a co-sponsor.
“I believe that Texas needs to do more regarding health care,” Watson said. “We are the state with the highest population of uninsured people in the United States. The reason I can stand on the Senate floor is because of early, effective and frequent health care.”
The last few rules on the list included avoiding naysayers, focusing on the positive in every situation and creating new and different constituencies while avoiding creating unnecessary enemies.
Rule 10.5 was about the need for one to enjoy what they are doing, and Watson pointed out the need for this rule to be more widely recognized in the public policy sector.
“Too many people in public policy are mad,” Watson said. “The motivation for serving the public should not be anger; it should be because you enjoy the service.”
Watson’s emphasis on positivity resonated with some students, like government senior Lauren Daniels. The intern for the Texas Democratic Party said Watson’s speech was good advice for anyone looking to go into politics.
“I thought he was really good,” Daniels said. “I liked how he said it was important to keep a positive attitude, because in the field of politics, things can get gloomy.”