Austin Mayor Kirk Watson has been immersed in public policy in both local and state government in Texas for over three decades. He won his first term as Austin mayor in 1997 and was reelected with 84% of the vote. He earned praise for bringing different political factions together around transformative environmental and economic development initiatives. Watson returned to Austin City Hall in 2023 for a third term as mayor after serving more than 13 years in the Texas Senate, where he led on issues such as public education, healthcare and government transparency.
He was honored multiple times in Texas Monthly magazine’s analysis of the state's best legislators. In 1998, the magazine described him as “a man with a vision of what the community wants — and the moxie to carry it out.”
Mayor Watson had multiple surgeries and chemotherapy related to metastatic testicular cancer when he was in his early 30’s. He survived thanks early, effective, and frequent healthcare. The experience helped to shape his policy agenda to improve health and healthcare for everyone. In 2011, Watson laid out his 10 Goals in 10 Years to transform Austin, in part, by leading the creation of a medical school at the University of Texas at Austin. Travis County voters backed Watson’s vision in 2012 and approved a local property tax increase to invest in the medical school, which welcomed its first class of students in 2016. Building upon the success of Dell Medical School, the University of Texas System recently announced a $2.5 billion investment to create two new world-class medical facilities at UT Austin, including a partnership with the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Mayor Watson has also worked in the area of brain health both in the legislature and local government.
As a result of his numerous health care efforts, Watson has been honored by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and NAMI Austin. The American Medical Association recognized him with the prestigious Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service.
He is a recipient of 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. 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. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce also has named him Austinite of the Year.
Currently, Mayor Watson is working to address Austin’s most pressing issues including affordability, transportation, public safety and homelessness. In July, Watson brought together several community partners to work with representatives of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the Governor’s Office to address the City’s homelessness crisis with a $64 million partnership to increase shelter capacity in Austin.
Watson, who grew up in North Texas, graduated from Baylor University and Baylor Law School, where he graduated first in his class. He and his wife, Liz, have two adult sons and two delightful granddaughters.