|Address||4017 Avenue H |
Austin, Texas 78757, United States
|| March 18, 1958
|Contributor||Texas Democrat 06|
Oct 20, 2014 06:40pm
Caucasian - Liberal - Health Care Reform - Pro Embryonic Stem Cell Research - Pro Environment - Pro-Choice - Pro-Labor - Married - Cancer - Straight -
|Info||Kirk was born in Oklahoma City and grew up near Fort Worth, Texas. He attended public schools in Saginaw, Texas. His mother worked as a nurse and his father was a federal employee. |
Kirk's father, Don Watson, didn't originally go to college out of high school. After starting his family, Kirk's dad spent years working all day and going to night school, until he earned an electrical engineering degree and became the first Watson to go to college. His father's dedication and drive made deep impressions on Kirk, demonstrating the importance of higher education and the need to prepare for the future.
Kirk spent his fourth-grade year living in Syracuse, New York, and in the Washington, D.C. area when the Federal Aviation Administration transferred his father for additional education and training. He remembers his parents taking him to see every monument, battleground and museum they could find. Kirk feels like that year greatly contributed to his drive for public service.
Kirk returned to Saginaw Elementary for the fifth grade, and then he moved on to Wayside Middle School. It was at Wayside that his political career "officially" began - he was elected president of the student council in the eighth grade.
At Boswell High School, Kirk was involved in football, track, theater and debate. His freshman year, he began dating Liz McDaniel, whom he'd known since elementary school. They married in 1979.
Kirk was president of his freshman, sophomore and junior classes at Boswell. During his senior year, he was elected student body president and won the state debate tournament.
In 1976, Kirk graduated from high school and started at Baylor University in Waco. By 1981, after only five years, he had earned his bachelor's degree and graduated first in his class from law school. He served as editor-in-chief of the Baylor Law Review and qualified for the national finals in both moot court and mock trial.
Kirk and Liz knew each other as far back as elementary school. They began dating his freshman year in high school. Liz graduated a year ahead of Kirk and went to Texas Tech University. He graduated a year later and attended Baylor University. They maintained a long distance romance and, after Liz finished college at Texas Tech and Kirk started law school, they were married in 1979.
Kirk and Liz moved to Austin, where he clerked for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Liz worked as a TV news reporter and anchor. During his clerkship, Kirk worked on a variety of issues that came before the court. One of the cases he most enjoyed addressed challenges to the Texas Legislature's 1981 Congressional redistricting.
Kirk then went to work with a law firm that gave him a chance to become a courtroom advocate. He went on to create a broad law practice, representing families, doctors, small businesses and some of the state's major universities. His firm employed 13 people and left Kirk with an appreciation for the importance of small Texas business owners – the economic value they represent for Texas and the challenges they face fueling the economy and providing for their employees.
He's also spent a lot of time resolving contentious legal disputes as a mediator.
Kirk was elected President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, presided as Chair of the State Bar Committee on Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters, was the Texas Representative to the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and served on the State Bar of Texas Executive Committee. Kirk was also named the Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas. He's been consistently recognized as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" and one of Texas Monthly's "Superlawyers".
In 1989, Kirk and Liz welcomed their oldest son, Preston McDaniel Watson, who is now a freshman at the University of Texas. In 1995, Cooper Kyle Watson was born. He's an eighth-grader at a magnet school in Austin.
Both of Kirk's parents waged difficult, painful battles against cancer. Those trials left Kirk with a real understanding of the pain and fear that the disease inflicts on victims and their families.
So in early 1992, when he started to feel a new pain, Kirk knew what he was up against.
He was eventually diagnosed with testicular cancer. That year alone, he underwent three surgeries and chemotherapy. His battle resumed two years later when, on a routine CT-scan, doctors found a tumor in his abdomen related to the original cancer.
Finally in 1995, Kirk was pronounced cancer-free. But his battle, like the ones his parents fought, left a deep and lasting impact on him.
In a way, the cancer brought with it some gifts. One was the sense of freedom to do some things he'd always found a reason to not do – like run for public office. Another was the short-term focus and long-term vision that now drives Kirk's approach to public service. He also learned that the best-laid, long-term plans may never be met if sickness or tragedy strikes.
So Kirk now focuses on what he can do right now with his life. Given time, anyone can accomplish greater and greater things. But all that's certain is today.
The greatest gift of cancer was the simple opportunity to survive it. That opportunity was the direct result of early, effective and frequent health care. Kirk believes strongly that others should know this opportunity – not lose it because they don't have access to health care.
While Kirk survived his battle with cancer, his parents didn't survive theirs. He's often said that, if his family was going to have to suffer so much from this beast, it's a blessing that his mother got it first. In her decades-long fight against it, she taught the family how to deal with it. That starts with never giving into it.
In 1997, Kirk – relatively unknown in the polarized politics of his city – ran for Mayor of Austin. There were seven other people in the race, including a sitting six-year City Council incumbent and a former mayor pro tem.
His message was simple: Austin's government had been dominated for too long by win-lose, all-or-nothing politics pitting the environment versus economic development. Not only had the every-day interests of Austinites been subsumed by these battles, but the warriors had lost sight of all the common ground they shared and were failing to work together to safeguard the city's future.
Kirk won the mayor's race without a runoff. In one of his first acts as mayor, he mediated a dialogue between leading voices in the environmental, business, and development communities.
A product of those talks was a comprehensive bond package in 1998 that, among other things, raised $65 million for land preservation. Voters approved the package decisively, and Austin used it to preserve more than 15,000 acres of land in the Hill Country – tracts of rolling hills and winding creeks that will remain pristine for future generations.
Kirk also created consensus around transportation improvements, passing more than $300 million worth of bonds for everything from highways to bike paths and sidewalks. He was a leading proponent of State Highway 130, the Interstate 35 bypass. And he worked to reform and strengthen the region's principal transit provider, in part by campaigning for a regional rail system.
Kirk also championed the revitalization of a largely decrepit downtown warehouse district, the construction of a new City Hall and community events center, the expansion of the Austin Convention Center, and the launch of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. He led the effort to secure the city's long-term water supply. And he launched a pre-emptive effort by the city, area governments, the business community, and numerous advocates to begin cleaning up the region's air quality.
In naming Kirk "Best Mayor in Texas for Business," Texas Monthly Biz Magazine described him as, "A man with a vision of what the community wants, and the moxie to carry it out."
Kirk's efforts received a wide range of recognitions. The International Downtown Association gave him its coveted Individual Achievement Award. He also was made an Honorary Member of the Texas Association of Architects, named Austinite of the Year by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce (which also awarded him its "Building Bridges" Award), given the Real Estate Council of Austin's highest recognition, and honored with the Texas Nature Conservancy's Leadership Award.
In 2000, Kirk was reelected with 84% of the vote – the highest percentage a mayoral candidate has ever received in Austin.
In November of 2001, Kirk stepped down as Mayor to run for Texas Attorney General. His campaign was unsuccessful, but the experience only deepened his commitment to public service.
From there, Kirk served as chair of the Texas Advisory Board for the Environmental Defense Fund. He also became chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce in 2004, advocating for education, health care, and environmental investments while also working to attract major employers such as the microchip manufacturer Samsung. And he became a sought-after speaker, traveling around the country and the world to describe Central Texas’ success at attracting creative, highly skilled workers and create a thriving 21st Century economy.
He also chaired the 2004 campaign to build the first commuter rail line in Central Texas. Voters overwhelmingly approved the rail plan.
In 2006, Kirk announced his candidacy for State Senate in District 14, which covers most of Travis County. He won the Democratic primary unopposed, and no Republican challenged him in the general election.
During that campaign year, Kirk led an unprecedented collection of Central Texas leaders in discussing goals and concerns for the future development of the Texas 130 corridor in eastern Travis and Williamson Counties.
He also chaired a committee through the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce to review the operations of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO – the region's primary transportation planning group. The committee recommended a number of reforms to CAMPO, all of which were approved.
In November 2006, Kirk was elected State Senator for District 14. He approached the Texas Legislature with many of the same goals and strategies he pursued throughout his career in public service – building new coalitions, working with all sides, and preparing for Texas' future.
In the 2007 legislative session, he passed the only climate change-related legislation to come out of either chamber. He created an electronic waste recycling program that became a national model. He worked to launch the landmark effort to raise $3 billion for cancer research. And he fought for broader educational access from elementary schools to universities, as well as wider transparency and accountability in Texas' transportation agencies.
Kirk was recognized by numerous groups for his legislative work. Texas Monthly magazine named him Rookie of the Year.
He also has remained very involved in issues across Central Texas. As chair of CAMPO, he injected new transparency and accountability into long-discussed highway improvements and assembled a broad coalition that overwhelmingly approved the projects. He helped launch and serves on the board of a community bank in Elgin, a rural town east of Austin.
And he helped lead a process that will allow Central Texas to create a transit system around facts rather than political dogma.
As he approaches the 2009 legislative session, Kirk is creating an ambitious agenda to invest in the schools, health care, transportation, and clean energy resources that will keep Texas prosperous for this and future generations, while also reforming a closed budget process that prevents these investments from being made.
Most importantly, and as he has throughout his career, he is working to ensure that Texas offers as much opportunity to our children as it has to Kirk.