Pandemic Pilfering Case Number 2: Watson Bails
The decision by Senator Kirk Watson to bail as a leader of the central Texas growth machine could be real good news as the crisis in his wake unfolds right before our very eyes.
The insistence on IH-35 expansion is the legacy of Austin’s hooked-on-growth political boss, Kirk Watson. Watson wanted Dell Medical Center to be his legacy. Rumors floating for years about Watson shopping for a new gig at an institution of higher learning were confirmed in February when he announced he was moving on to greener pastures in Houston as Dean of the Hobby School for Public Affairs.
On April 30th, Watson formally resigned from his State Senate seat, SD 14 (representing most of Travis County and all of Bastrop County).
For years Watson failed his Bastrop constituents asking for relief from “water grabs” by private water marketers, municipal water utilities, especially San Antonio Water System (SAWS), and recently the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).
Watson, TCEQ & LCRA
In February 2014, though, Watson had no trouble pushing himself to the front of the line of hundreds of officials at a hearing of the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to advocate for Austin and the Highland Lakes — wealthier upstreamers than his downstreamer constituents from working class Bastrop.
The issue at TCEQ was a plan by the LCRA to initiate a draconian cut off of surface-water flow to communities downstream of Austin. Watson cried crocodile tears for cutting off the flow to the downstreamers but went on to advocate for permanent cutoffs in the next session. He even strong-armed the LCRA Board, which had previously worked by consensus. The proposal passed by one vote, with one LCRA Board member weeping after voting for it to break the tie.
When the LCRA was up for Sunset Review in 2019, as a member of the Sunset Advisory Committee, Watson stepped up to feed those at the same trough he had for years. He hadn’t one question for the twenty Bastrop constituents who offered well prepared testimony, urging the Commission to use its authority to stop LCRA from entering the groundwater “business” and taking their water elsewhere. Instead, Watson introduced SB 606, giving LCRA a slap on the wrist and a pass to join the privateering groundwater conveyance business – in denial of their own mission to protect the Colorado River. (Read our report here.)
Watson was interviewed on April 22 by Evan Smith, Texas Tribune. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, no recording is available. Smith asked a question from a Bastrop resident about Watson’s efforts to address the water grabs. Watson gushed about how he would miss the “dear Bastrop friends” he cherished, but he said nothing, not a word, about their water.
Three days before his formal exit, Watson emailed out this absurdly vainglorious “Watson Wire,” giddy that his picture had been photo-shopped by a political cohort onto the cover of the Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Not a word of what he was leaving behind — a crisis befalling his 800,000 constituents in Travis and Bastrop counties.
Another Watson Legacy?
A lawsuit filed in October 2017 is still pending in federal court on whether UT’s Dell Medical Center and Watson have been misspending healthcare funds meant for indigent and direct care. Watson’s law firm made at least $3 million. (See LIV article here and Austin Bulldog story here.)
A VERY SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT A SPECIAL ELECTION: The primary runoff election for Texas was moved to July 14th. That’s also when a special election for Senate District 14 will take place.
LIV will be holding a conference call soon in Senate District 14. If you live in the district — check here for who represents you. Let us know if you’d like to join the call.
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has already declared his candidacy for SD 14. He will be interviewed on a streamed event by the Texas Tribune on May 14th at noon. Travis County Judge, Sarah Eckhardt may run and there may be others. Austin City Councilman, Greg Casar, announced his decision this week not to run for this seat.
The filing period is now open through May 13th. Anyone can run, under any party label or “independent” by paying a filing fee of $1250.
The Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District must have a hearing to decide the LCRA permit demand sometime in the next few months. We hope to see some of you there. Keep an eye out.
Additional References: Watson’s wikipedia page, and this post and release at the non-profit Environmental Stewardship also linked to this release by the Simsboro Aquifer Defense Fund.