AUSTIN, Texas — On Tuesday, Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, announced he will be retiring from the Texas Senate.
Effective April 30, Watson will be leaving office to become the first dean of the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs.
Sen. Watson has served in the upper chamber since 2007. The attorney and former mayor of Austin represents Senate District 14, a historically Democratic seat. It covers portions of both Bastrop and Travis counties. He was first elected to the seat in 2006, taking office in early 2007.
Later on Tuesday, Watson held a press conference to discuss his decision.
"I love being in the Senate, I love being an elective office and I've done it for a while now," said Sen. Watson. "And the only reason I would leave is if there were a very significant, unique and compelling platform for continued public service – and I see this as that sort of thing."
Sen. Watson thanked the people of Austin and Central Texas for working with him on what he called "transformative" projects while he served the community, which he said will continue to make a difference for generations.
"It's been a unique and really wonderful opportunity to get to play the role I've played both as mayor and state senator," said Sen. Watson.
Watson also said his new role will still involve public service and include working on issues that affect Central Texans, like improvements to Interstate 35.
"We've talked about the plan now for a while now, it needs to be done," he said. "If we get the funding for it, it not only will be a real benefit just in terms of congestion relief, but it will be the single biggest transit program this community has ever seen."
He also plans to continue tackling the legal definition of consent.
"How we deal with the issue of consent in our penal code because I think it's outdated and it was probably always outdated," he said.
Watson also touted his successes during his time as the mayor of Austin, a seat he was elected to in 1997. During that time, he said he was proud of the expansion of the convention center and development downtown.
The Baylor School of Law graduate was first elected to the Senate in 2006. He has since been re-elected four times.
Watson said he wished he had more successes, particularly on budget issues.
He said he is concerned about the future of House Bill 3, the historic school finance law that gave more money to Texas classrooms and teachers while reducing recapture and cutting local property taxes for taxpayers.
"So while not a regret, it's something that I will look back and say, 'Oh I wish I specifically I was involved in that discussion,'" Watson said.
The senator also thanked his family and staff, saying he couldn't have lasted all this time without them by his side.
"I have an outstanding group of people that lift me up every day," said Sen Watson. "And while I am happy to see my name on a bill, I'm pleased when something gets written about some role I've played in the Senate, there's no question in my mind that I wouldn't have the success that I feel like I've enjoyed but for an outstanding group of people."
Among them was longtime friend Sarah Howard, his chief of staff who he has worked with since before joining the Senate.
"When that happened and I went to her, and one of the things I said to her in the job description was, 'I'm looking for someone who can run my life,'" said Sen. Watson. "I can't believe she said yes to that job description."
Looking forward, Sen. Watson said he is both "excited" and "anxious" about his new role.
"I see this as a unique platform for public service, I see it as a way to not only be involved in a public policy school that is essentially being built from the ground up in a city that is such a dynamic city...," said Sen. Watson. "But the opportunity to be involved in the creation of that public policy school and to be involved in the creation of public policy, so that the Hobby School of Public Affairs in such a dynamic city is a place where it influences public policy discussions, public affairs, activities at all levels of government ... it's a wonderful opportunity for someone that cares deeply about higher education."
Sen. Watson also paid tribute to University of Houston chancellor and president Renu Khator and provost Paula Short.
"[Khator] is an extraordinary and dynamic leader and it's going to be fun to be part of her team," he said. "Their confidence in me and the discussions we've had about what this could mean means a great deal to me."
To close, the senator brought up the namesake of the Hobby School, a former Texas lieutenant governor.
"I have admired Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby pretty much all my adult life," said Sen. Watson. "I got to watch him play a role in this state ... and one of his legacies is a very practical get-the-job-done, get-things-done approach to government. It's the kind of leadership that brings the skills to bear that makes a difference. So to be affiliated with a public policy school that bears his name is of significance to me and I look forward to trying to do the job in a way that honors that legacy."
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