July 19, 2011
Do you have plans the night of August 2? Cancel them.
Going to a movie two weeks from tonight? Hey, there’s plenty of time to go.
Dinner plans? Who can eat at a time like this?
What you really need to do is clear your calendar and tune in to my live, interactive online Town Hall meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2. We’ll unpack the 82nd Texas Legislative Session and talk about what comes next.
Make sure your friends don’t miss it either. You don’t even have to step away from your computer or close your Twitter browser.
We’ll broadcast via UStream with good folks who saw the session up-close. Stay tuned for announcements of the special guests.
In the meantime, just go, right now, to my Facebook page and RSVP for the session.
Then send it along to your Facebook friends, Twitter followers and whoever else, and get them to sign up too. (Go ahead and remind them that this is an electronic on-line Town Hall meeting – as in, they just have to sit on the couch, eat some popcorn and watch their computers.)
And then, two weeks from tonight, click on the UStream tab on the Facebook page. You also can go to my UStream page at www.ustream.tv/kirkwatson.
Obviously, it’s an embarrassment of web addresses. So you really have no excuse for skipping it.
Seriously, we’ve got a lot to discuss in terms of what came out of this legislative session – and even more to discuss as we think about what comes next.
So tune in on Tuesday the 2nd at 7 p.m.
You have no excuse. And you won’t be sorry.
I mentioned a few weeks back that my colleagues unanimously named me Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. As I said at the time, I’m very excited about this opportunity to work and focus on the priorities we share with Texas families, teachers, seniors and many others (priorities that, frankly, those in control of the Capitol seem to forget more than you’d expect).
But more than that, I’m excited about this new chance to listen.
“Listening” seems like something of a lost art at the Capitol. Many of the real mistakes from this most recent legislative session – from the non-emergency of anti-immigrant legislation, to the failure to fund growth in our schools, to the taking of dedicated funds promised for one purpose and diversion of them for something else – really boil down, in no small part, to a failure to listen to Texans or to really try to hear them.
For instance, I think this legislative session will be remembered in part for the harm it caused two groups of Texans:
Hispanics, who may be hurt more by legislation that negatively impacts voting in Texas, and who were clear targets of the so-called sanctuary cities bill; and
Women, who probably will be disproportionately affected by the budget cuts to teaching positions and other things, and who will unquestionably, in some cases, suffer in their relationships with their doctors.
All of those mistakes could have been avoided if those in control had been more willing to listen.
A great deal of my success in public life has boiled down to listening and really trying to hear what people of different backgrounds, experiences and outlooks wanted, hoped for, and were concerned about – and then working toward a solution that meets the hopes of as many people, communities and constituencies as possible.
Way back in the late 90s, when I was mayor of Austin, I ran on a pledge to end the city’s “heads I win, tails you lose” battles that wrongly pitted the environment versus economic development. I ended up winning re-election with 84 percent of the vote.
Similarly, in this new position of Caucus Chair, success will be determined by how well I and those in my party listen.
As recently as this legislative session, we’ve seen some success in this area. In the midst of all the pain that was being dished out to Texans in the budget and other bills, we drew public attention to the wide gap between the priorities of those in control and the priorities of the Texans they work for. A big chunk of my “Honesty Agenda” for fiscal and budget transparency was passed, creating new ways for those in control to listen and hear the folks who elected them.
But we have to do more. Our success depends on it.
There’s no question that Texas is changing. The demographic shifts are widely known.
But some folks aren’t willing to recognize that they just might not understand the life experiences of others.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with not initially understanding. But refusing to admit you may not understand is wrong. So is failing to listen to those with a different set of experiences, demeaning a point of view that those experiences created, or arrogantly assuming yours is the only perspective that matters.
We all have a role to play in Texas’ future, and we’ll be better and stronger if we do it by hearing each other, embracing what we have in common, celebrating those differences that make our culture richer, and working in concert with one another.
We are a diverse group – of senators and of Texans. And that diversity is, and must be, our best asset.
But it’s only an asset if we can really hear the different voices that make up our present and our future. It’s only valuable if we can take all of those hopes and dreams and use them to set Texas on a path that’s good for all Texans.
It only works if we listen.