My Own Rules for the Session
January 18, 2011
The start of the legislative session means a couple of things:
First, I’ve passed the four-year anniversary of serving in the Texas Senate.
And second, I’ve been writing the Watson Wire for a bit less than five years.
That last point, of course, means some of you have been reading the Watson Wire for almost five years.
I’ll let you all contemplate which of the above facts is the most unbelievable.
Anyway, not long after I was getting started with this newsletter, I wrote a Watson Wire about some of the basic principles that have guided my time in public service. This seems like a good time to revisit some of those – particularly in light of the significant issues that are on the legislature’s plate this year.
- Be willing to throw away labels. Too often, labels become an excuse not to hear what someone may really think and to pretend people are a lot more shallow than they really are. And, given our challenge this year of balancing the budget and doing it in an honest, open way, I think we all will need to do all we can to toss out any unnecessary, artificial hurdles that might make it harder to work together.
- Listen carefully and speak plainly. Politics is filled with people talking past one another or regurgitating platitudes. The best work comes when folks really speak openly, make their position clear, truly listen, and avoid pre-packaged talking points. If we avoid the shadow boxing and really work to address each other’s concerns, we’ll be far more likely to get something done this session.
- Follow the “84 Percent Rule.” If we can come up with something that 84 percent of the public would look at and say, “That’s not exactly how I’d do it, but it’s pretty good and it’s progress,” then we should probably go for it. I try to not demand my – or anyone’s – concept of perfection. (And why 84 percent? I made it up. Also, it’s because that’s what I was reelected Mayor of Austin with.)
- Be biased toward action. Too often in politics, people seem to fear failure. It’s better, I think, to make a mistake trying something than make a mistake missing an opportunity. And in this session especially, we shouldn’t let fear or habit determine which reforms we’ll try and which ones we won’t.
- Hope matters. Public service should have goals of assuring hope – and creating a foundation of opportunity – for prosperity and a better life. In a time that’s certain to have more than its share of bad news, we should embrace opportunities to do good wherever we can.
- Have a short-term focus with a long-term vision. The “gifts” of cancerincluded the knowledge that there may not be a tomorrow. As a result, I look for results that are immediately achievable and have benefits long-term. This session, there will be far too many decisions that pit the present against the future. I’ll work to make sure we don’t sacrifice one for the other.
- Know core values and assets, and be willing to admit weaknesses. You may not be surprised to learn that I try to assess my values, assets, and weaknesses routinely (you may be quite surprised to learn I think I can have weaknesses). Clearly, this is a time to take that sort of stock at the Capitol.
- Avoid the nitpickers, naysayers and know-it-alls. (OK, so maybe there are a few handy labels.) We all know those folks who kill good ideas by picking them to death, and who love reminding us how much smarter they are. It isn’t called “negative energy” for nothing.
- Seek out new and different constituencies, and avoid creating unnecessary enemies. Even when folks disagree, there’s no reason to do it in such a way that they never want to work together on something they should agree about. “Winning” can be achieved without the destruction of those you’re disagreeing with. Furthermore, there’s no way we’re going to get through this session without some unusual coalitions getting together and coming up with new and different solutions to our challenges.
- Focus on the positive, even in situations that are difficult. If you’re looking for a tattoo for the session, I suggest this one.
- Don’t take myself too seriously, even when my bull is really good. Sort of speaks for itself.
- Enjoy the service. Frankly, too many people in public service today seem angry, and it’s always too easy to get cynical. Service ought to be fulfilling, at least most of the time – particularly in times when good public servants are needed the most. And this is one of those times.
It goes without saying that I fail to achieve any of these at one time or another (occasionally, more than a couple). But it’s something to work for – the way I try to serve.
I’m not going to stop doing that, no matter how tough it gets, be it this year or any other.
A great weekend
Even with the rain, I enjoyed this holiday weekend. On Sunday, I attended the celebration of the Lake Travis Cavaliers – the girls for winning the state volleyball championship, and the boys for winning the state football championship for the fourth time in a row. Here are some pictures of that.
And, yesterday, I celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by marching from his statue on the University of Texas Campus over to Huston-Tillotson University in East Austin. Here are some pictures of that event.
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Political advertisement paid for by Kirk Watson Campaign,
P.O. Box 2004, Austin, TX, 78768; Rosie Mendoza,Treasurer.