Kirk Watson, Mayor, Senator & Dean

Kirk Watson has spent decades making real progress for this community. His optimistic, positive, common sense leadership is proven, and it produces results.

As Austin’s former Mayor and state Senator, Kirk was successful in getting things done and creating transformational change that helps every Austinite. He does it by bringing people together — building coalitions to improve services for all of our community in every part of Austin.

He is running for mayor this year to ensure that the city — effectively and equitably — addresses the range of issues that will define our future. Kirk wants to assure that today’s Austinites benefit from the enormous opportunities on Austin’s horizon. His priorities include:

  • Austin’s rising cost of living;
  • Homelessness;
  • Systemic racism;
  • Public safety; 
  • Transportation; and
  • Managing Austin’s success so that in 10 years, 20 years and even beyond, we have sufficient water, parks and green space, equitable access to good-paying jobs, more cultural amenities, and other things that make Austin successful and make it home.

Real Experience Leading Austin

Elected mayor of Austin at just 40-years-old, Kirk helped Austin navigate its first tech boom, driving initiatives that accommodated an influx of people and businesses in ways that addressed affordability, the economy, and things people love about Austin. He did it by bringing different political sides together — leveraging the community’s creativity, commitment, and compassion to advance transformative environmental, transportation and public safety initiatives.

When he was Austin Mayor, Texas Monthly magazine described him as “a man with a vision of what the community wants—and the moxie to carry it out.”

In just over four years as mayor, Kirk:

  • Negotiated agreements between the community and police officers that increased police oversight, strengthened public safety, and led to the creation of Austin’s first Office of the Police Monitor. 
  • Launched the SMART Housing program, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and the Mayor’s Challenge Fund, among other initiatives — all of which drove the creation and preservation of affordable homes and apartments across the city. 
  • Passed an unprecedented bond measure to safeguard thousands of environmentally sensitive acres of land, expand Austin’s greenbelts, and protect treasures like Barton Springs.
  • Secured hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation funds to reduce traffic, improve bike and pedestrian paths, and create a foundation for better transit.
  • Negotiated a landmark agreement that secured the city’s water supply for potentially 100 years.
  • Addressed tensions between the Black community and Austin police by leading a city-wide “Peace Between Communities Conference” on policing, race, racial intolerance, and racism, and by establishing a working group of religious leaders to assist with reconciliation efforts. The Council for Community Reconciliation honored him for “Courageous Efforts in Advancing Reconciliation Among Communities in Austin, Texas.”
  • Led efforts to create Austin’s first resource center for people experiencing homelessness; launched the Downtown Austin Community Court, which helps people living in homelessness get needed services; and directed funds to SafePlace (now the SAFE Alliance), supporting women and children — often fleeing abuse and trauma — living without homes.

Serving & Defending Austin — and Texas Women — at the Capitol

Kirk went on to become the state senator representing most of Austin — a tireless advocate for the city and its people. He was honored multiple times in Texas Monthly magazine’s analysis of the state’s best legislators. The Texas Municipal League recognized Senator Watson for his outstanding leadership on behalf of cities. Kirk can successfully work with state government, something that our capital city needs in its leadership.

At the Capitol, he filed and passed bills aimed at employing diverse strategies to create affordable housing and make Austin more affordable. He fought efforts to reduce Austin’s control of its destiny, especially in cases where the Texas legislature wanted to undermine local policies that help people live and thrive here.

He also strongly advocated for local anti-discrimination ordinances. He stood up against all efforts to discriminate against Texans, including playing a leading role in fighting the so-called “bathroom bill”. In 2017,the Austin LGBT Bar Association gave him its “Courage Award”.

And he was on the front lines fighting efforts to strip women of their right to abortion services through draconian anti-choice legislation. He authored significant legislation to protect women from sexual assault on college campuses.

Kirk worked to increase teacher pay, school funding, health care access, and childcare.

Texas Appleseed — a prominent defender of social, economic, and racial justice in Texas — recognized and honored Kirk with its 2020 “Good Apple” award.

As one of the state’s preeminent leaders on open government and transparency, Senator Watson authored an updated Public Information Act and Open Meetings Act. The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas gave him its Open Government Lawmaker of the Year award, and the Texas Press Association named him a Friend of the First Amendment for “his steadfast support of free speech and open government.”

Kirk was elected by his peers to serve as President Pro Tem of the Senate and Chair of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus.

Strengthening Austin's Health...Before the Pandemic

Kirk led the effort to create the Dell Medical School at UT Austin. His successful “10 Goals in 10 Years” initiative also led to the construction of a brand new 21st century safety net and teaching hospital, built entirely without taxpayer funding. He also led a bipartisan legislative effort both to fund a new Austin State Hospital and to thoroughly redesign the approach to mental health services in Austin and across Texas.

These visionary projects are transforming physical and mental health care in Central Texas — improving access to care in underserved areas, unlocking lifesaving research and resources, and helping the city weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

For his work in creating the Dell Medical School, the American Medical Association awarded Kirk the prestigious Dr. Nathan Davis Award. He has also been recognized and honored by the Texas Medical Association, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, the Austin Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and People’s Community Clinic gave him the W. Neal Kocurek Award for Healthcare Advocacy.

A Lifetime of Service

In 1991, Kirk was appointed by Governor Ann Richards to Chair the Texas Air Control Board, the agency charged with addressing air quality issues in Texas. He was Vice-Chair of the committee that oversaw the creation of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, now known as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. And he chaired the Travis County Democratic Party in the mid-90’s.

Kirk also was the Founding Dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. During this time, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner appointed him to the Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform.

He has chaired both the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Advisory Board of Environmental Defense. He also has been a member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of Texas and President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. And he chaired the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the primary transportation planning agency for Central Texas.

He received the prestigious President’s Citation from The University of Texas at Austin and the Pro Texana Medal of Service from Baylor University. The Baylor Line Foundation (formerly the Baylor Alumni Association) named him a Distinguished Alumnus. Austin Community College awarded him an honorary degree.

He has been named Austinite of the Year by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at UT Austin awarded him the inaugural Civic Champion Award in 2020. In 2021, the Austin Parks Foundation gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kirk graduated from Baylor University and ranked first in his law school class at Baylor Law School. He has been named an outstanding young alumnus of Baylor, Young Baylor Lawyer of the Year, and the Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas. He has received numerous recognitions for his achievements in the practice of law.

Kirk and his wife, Liz, have been married for 42 years. They have two adult children, Preston and Cooper. Both attended Austin public schools. Preston and his wife, Catherine, have two little girls–Effie, who is 4 years old, and Birdie, who is almost 1. “Pop” loves being a grandfather.

P.O. Box 300903
Austin, TX 78703

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