January 9, 2007
Kirk Watson says he just wants to say thanks.
Thanks for the encouragement, cajoling to do better, perhaps a gentle nudge to excel years ago, when he was still figuring out what to do with his life.
So when Watson, 48, is sworn in today as Austin’s newest state senator, he will have an unusual group of invited guests watching from the Capitol gallery: Five high-school teachers who, he says, “made a difference in my life.”
“I probably wouldn’t be here without them,” he said Monday, as he crisscrossed the statehouse prepping for his new job.
The five — government teacher Forrest Lykins, student council sponsors Kathy Ott and David Moerbe, junior class sponsor Sharon Young and Spanish teacher Billie Grawunder — are planning to watch the swearing in ceremony from upstairs seats, as his wife, two sons and a brother sit with him on the Senate floor.
While family members are common invitees to the opening day legislative swearing-in ceremonies, former teachers are rare.
By Monday, Watson had his assigned seat on the Senate floor — first row, second from the north aisle, near the press table — and his new office being readied with cast-off furniture from other senators — Capitol Extension, top level, end of a hall.
In the lottery for offices and floor seats weeks ago, Watson drew Number 31, dead last, meaning he got last choice for an office and desk. But he was undeterred.
“I’m ready. Let’s get it started,” he said. “I haven’t been so excited about anything this much since I graduated from law school, when I was looking at everything ahead, the big world ahead.”
When his staff lamented about the large scrape on one end of a conference table in his new office, Watson said he told them: “Sam Houston made that.” When they rolled their eyes about the condition of other pieces, he joked: “Stephen F. Austin used that furniture.”
And when he gathered his staff for a late-morning pep talk in a third-floor Capitol conference room, just off the Senate Chamber, he told them: “We have an extraordinarily unique opportunity . . . to touch lives.”
Minutes earlier, Watson had walked into the gallery of the Senate Chamber and looked down at the historic oak desk that will become his today, just as Senate workers were arranging the chairs next to it where his family will sit.
On his PDA, he messaged the scene to his brother Kyle, a San Antonio lawyer. “Awesome,” came the response.
If Watson has been excited for weeks about his new job so has his family.
His 11-year-old son, Cooper, has been wearing a Kirk Watson for Senate T-shirt for two days, he said.
“This is what we want to do,” he said of his family commitment to his Senate service.
Since his election, he has met with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and all but two of the 30 other senators as he has assembled a staff team, researched bills and issues and met with constituent groups. Once he is sworn in, Watson said he plans to move quickly to get involved in several key issues he is passionate about: higher education, health care and transportation, among others. Expect him to file some bills in coming weeks.
And expect him to remain enthusiastic, Watson says.
“This is a life opportunity,” he said.