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The Best and Worst Legislators 2009

THE BEST: Senator Kirk Watson


He’s the Galápagos penguin of the Texas Legislature. That rarest of birds—an effective liberal—Watson has adapted, Darwin-style, to the inhospitable habitat of the Republican-dominated Senate. This session he emerged as the thoughtful leader of the loyal opposition, armed mostly with a pragmatic survival instinct.

In the battle over reforming the state’s insurance regulatory agency, Watson used the Democrats’ ability to block debate long enough to win crucial consumer-oriented concessions. Stealth attacks by Senate leadership against his solar energy legislation proved no match for his vigilance.

A former state Air Control Board commissioner and former Austin mayor, he has the self-assurance to act independently. When Perry appointed Republican political operative Deirdre Delisi to the Transportation Commission, Watson chose not a knee-jerk option (using senatorial privilege to block her confirmation) but a counterintuitive one: He met with Delisi and found common ground on how to improve the controversial agency. When the chair of the Finance Committee, Republican Steve Ogden, of Bryan, launched an effort to ban state-funded embryonic stem cell research, Watson joined his effort to create a state database on the endeavor. The more information, he reasoned, the better.

Occasionally, Watson fails to keep his political ambitions in check, giving long-winded speeches more appropriate to the campaign circuit than the Senate floor. Still, his work ethic, intellect, and negotiating skills ensure his continued success.

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