April 20, 2010
One of my favorite news-maker moments happened back in 1997, when I was mayor of Austin. That December, Ballet Austin decided it would be exciting to have me be a guest in the annual production of The Nutcracker, playing the part of Mother Ginger.
To do this, I had to stand on a very high platform. The platform was covered with a huge hoop skirt, and “Bon Bons” (a bunch of little ballerinas) danced out from under the skirt at the appropriate time during the performance.
They dressed me up in a big headdress, a wig, lots of makeup and a blouse with, um, big fake breasts. It was, as they say, quite the sight. So much so that the Austin American-Statesman felt compelled to run a good-sized color picture of me with the caption “Gingerly, Mother Mayor” over a mid-December weekend.
That picture happened to run on the same morning that my mother had decided would be Christmas 1997. She moved up the celebration at their house in Wimberley because Daddy was very sick with cancer, and we feared he wouldn’t make it to the 25th.
Now, my father was still all there mentally; we still talked and laughed all the time. But the disease had worn him down physically, and he was pretty much stuck in bed. And I’m still sad to say that, as it turned out, we were right – he died a few days later.
I started the morning of the celebration sitting next to his bed. We were joking and talking about all of the things we normally did – sports, politics, what was going on in Austin, the boys … really everything. Even thinking about it now, I remember how special I felt just sitting there with him.
At one point, I asked him, “Daddy, have you seen a paper today?” After all, I was pretty prominent in that day’s edition and he hadn’t said a word about how cool his boy was. He told me he hadn’t seen the paper.
I went to get it, and when I came back into his room, I just laid it on his chest. He picked it up and unfolded it so that he was looking directly at the page displaying his eldest son, the mayor of a major Texas city, dressed like a very large woman.
I pretended to watch TV while he quietly looked straight at the paper for what seemed like a long time.
Then he sighed, “Ah, son, I’m way too sick for something like this.”
And we laughed about as hard as we ever had.
I guess this is a long way of saying that I’ve been in the news a few times recently. Happily, not once did it involve a picture of me in drag.
I do want to catch you up on some things I’ve been working on. A lot of these are basically updates on some of the broader issues – transportation, environment and cancer research, specifically – that I’ve been working on since I was first elected to the Senate and even before that. I hope we’re making some good things happen in my district and across Texas.
Last week, we broke ground on a simple – but vital – highway project to finish out the connector ramps between Interstate 35 and Ben White Boulevard – which has become a major east-west highway for the region. The fact that these ramps were so long coming speaks volumes about how messed up transportation policy is in Texas.
For years, Texas has been wrapped up in needlessly divisive fights over things like privatized toll roads. That whole time, things like these highway connectors (which, by the way, would provide the same traffic relief to people south of Ben White that people on the north side already have) sat unfinished.
I hope this project shows the value that a little common sense can have for a region’s commuters and travelers – and that Texas doesn’t always need tolls to get good things done.
This Dallas Morning News editorial highlights progress on one of my proudest accomplishments from the last legislative session – the “No Regrets” bill.
If you need a refresher on what the now-law does, click here. Briefly, it requires the state to explore strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also save money for businesses and taxpayers. As the Morning News says,
“Incredibly, a number of state leaders see little impetus for reducing carbon. But they don’t oppose reducing costs for consumers and businesses. So, Watson sought to do both, arguing: What’s the worst that can happen? We save money?”
I’m glad to echo that the state is making good progress toward finding new approaches that cut down on Texas’ greenhouse gas emissions and save money over the long run.
And I’m very glad to note that even with the most controversial of topics, there’s room for common-sense solutions that will both help our economy and address big problems.
Back in February, the University of Texas won a $3 million grant from the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Institute – which voters created in 2007 and funded with what will be $3 billion in bond funding. I co-authored the bill launching this far-reaching effort to kill this beast of a disease.
It probably goes without saying at this point that everyone who knows me – and who knows my battle with this disease, and my family’s –knows how important this fight is to me.
And it means a lot – more than I can say – to see it having an effect for folks like Daddy.