December 15, 2006
Many faithful readers of the Watson Wire are hyper-curious or just true history buffs. Several folks have asked me, “Why does the Texas Senate have 31 Senators?”For those of you just joining us, my readers aren’t inexplicably nerdy — in a very prim and proper ceremony a couple of weeks ago on the Senate floor, we incoming freshmen drew numbers to determine seniority. My life-long bad luck in games-of-chance held, and I earned the rank of 31st most-senior Texas State Senator. There is no 32nd most-senior. So, if you’re using the proper math equation, you accurately conclude that I’m last in seniority.So back to the question — why 31? One person offered an answer to his own question. He said, “Maybe it’s because there needs to be an odd number.” I pointed out that, as near as I can tell, there are lots of odd numbers to choose from. In fact, there’s an odd number following every even number. I also smiled knowingly, enjoying how witty I can be. I didn’t expect him to compliment my sarcasm with something like, “Well, that’s why you’re smart enough to be a Senator.” And, I got the reaction I expected.Another person said something about prime numbers. I don’t even know what that means.Anyway, it turns out that, in its youth, Texas was pretty confused about how many Senators are not too many. Almost every Constitution called for a different number.First, in 1846, it was just 20 senators (sounds like about 11 too few). Seven years later, it was up to 33 (way, way too many, don’t you think?).In 1869, under Reconstruction, the new constitution called for 30 Senators, all serving six-year terms, like they do in Washington. Seven years later, the even newer State Constitution achieved what can only be described as perfect balance and harmony by adding one more Senator, and — for better or worse — it also shortened the terms to four years.There have obviously been a few changes in the last 130 years, particularly the number of people each member of the Senate represents. But, the number of Senators has remained the same. Baskin-Robbins can only dream of that sort of longevity.Which leads to another question: What sort of Senator has held this coveted, safe, convenient spot at the foundation of the seniority totem pole?Well, I keep telling people how great it is to be #31. It turns out, I’m exactly right. My esteemed predecessors who’ve ranked 31st in seniority include (in no particular order):
All in all not a bad lineage. Like I’ve said for what seems like my whole life now, # 31 is just # 1 with a 3 in front of it.(For those of you paying attention, I know I haven’t answered the question, “Why are there 31 Senators?” Instead, I’ve adopted the political ploy of dodging the question and answering the question I want to answer and can answer. But, my guess is, the reason there are 31 senators has something to do with prime numbers.)Speaking of predecessors, my immediate predecessor from right here in District 14 is my friend Gonzalo Barrientos. Tonight, there’s a big party at Palmer Events Center celebrating his years of service and saying thank you to him. I’ve known Gonzalo since shortly after Liz and I moved to Austin. He’s represented this area and the whole State of Texas with all of his heart and soul. And with immense passion. He deserves our praise and our sincerest thanks. Thank you, Senator Barrientos!Finally, I want to introduce a few other members of the team we’re assembling.My district director is going to be Susan Turner Nold. Susan is currently a staff attorney at the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Prior to going to the Sunset Commission, she worked for two different law firms, one in D.C. and one in Houston. She also has many years of political experience, working for national political organizations and national and local campaigns. Susan has a B.A. from SMU, where she majored in political science. Her law degree is from the University of Texas.I’ll have two people running my constituent services operation. Lora Ann Gerson has been a friend of mine for a long time. We first got to know each other back in the early ’80’s when I was a young lawyer working to get more funding for legal services to poor people in civil matters. I was on the board of the local organization that worked on that issue and Lora Ann was the Executive Director. There may not be a non-profit in the Austin area that Lora Ann hasn’t worked with as a volunteer, employee, or consultant. She cares so deeply and sincerely about people that she will be a key part of making our office open for the people of Central Texas.My other key constituent service person is Yolanda Velasquez. Yolanda is currently working in Senator Barrientos’ office and is a big reason why that office has such a great reputation for meeting the needs of constituents. She seems to know everyone in every state agency, and everyone I talk to seems to know her. She’s been working in the Senate office for over a decade now. She’s a native Austinite with significant ties in our community. Many know Yolanda because of the excellent job she has done helping organize the annual Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebrations at the Capitol. She will bring us a great deal of institutional knowledge and experience.Wesley Duncan will be a legislative analyst. He is a recent graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he received a Master’s degree in public policy. He also has a B.S. from UT in economics and psychology. He has been a policy analyst for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, legislative assistant to Senator Ellis, and Chief of Staff in Representative Pete Gallego’s office.Sarah Chanslor will be my executive assistant. She will be in charge of me. I’ve known her now for about 3 years. We met when I became Chair-elect of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, which is where she was working until this month. She has been the executive assistant to the President of the Chamber, and the person responsible for coordinating the activities of the Chamber Board and Executive Committee. Sarah graduated from Austin College in Sherman with a B.A. in psychology. Before joining the Chamber, she worked as the membership services director for a statewide trade association. While I was Chair of the Chamber, I had a real opportunity to see how efficient and effortless she made things run. She will coordinate all of my activities.I must say, I’m pretty proud of myself for assembling so many quality folks.