August 03, 2005
Watson eyes Barrientos' seat

Former Austin Mayor and 2002 Democratic candidate for Attorney General Kirk Watson wants to run for the State Senate seat currently held by Gonzalo Barrientos. For now at least, he's saying he'll only do it if Barrientos retires.

Watson, slated to become a partner Aug. 15 with the law firm of Hughes & Luce, said of Travis County's 20-year incumbent Democrat, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos: "If the senator retires, I'm running."

Yet Watson, 47, said he hasn't decided whether to make a direct challenge to Barrientos, 64, for the District 14 seat that covers much of the county.

"I would certainly want to talk to him first about that kind of thing. I believe the senator, having served as long as he has, and out of respect for the office and him, deserves to have room to make decisions on his own," Watson said.

Barrientos has said he won't settle his plans until after lawmakers finish special sessions on public schools and taxes. Members are nearly two weeks into a second 30-day session on the topics.

"After trying to do the work on these special sessions, perhaps I can have a little breathing room to make some decisions," Barrientos said last week, adding that he's thankful that voters have favored him for so long.

I suppose this puts at least a temporary halt to any talk of another statewide run by Watson, which is too bad. I don't have any strong opinions on this one, though all else equal I'd rather not see a nasty and expensive primary fight there. Rep. Elliot Naishtat has also cast an eye at this one, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who as In the Pink notes is currently defending Barrientos, jump in as well should this seat become vacant.

[Ben] Bentzin, a former Dell Corp. executive [who ran against Barrientos in the 2002 general election], said he has no plans to run next year. He and other Austin Republicans said they haven't heard yet of GOP candidates gearing up to run in the Democrat-leaning district.

"It's very important Republicans field a candidate in this race," Bentzin said.

I feel your pain, Ben. The GOP bench in Travis County must have a few people sitting on it after their widespread losses in 2004, and I can't think of a good reason why they wouldn't target this seat, open or not. Barrientos won with only 55% in 2002, and the overall Democratic index from that year was only 52.9% (I've not looked at precinct data from 2004; I'd be willing to bet the DPI is a bit higher). Admittedly, that figure may be a bit distorted by the performance of Austinite Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who racked up 59% against the placeholder Marty Akins, but she wasn't the only Republican to carry the district. Still, I'd consider this a no-brainer if I were a Republican, but hey, if they want to sit it out, I won't complain.

Oh, and the best vote-getter in SD14 in 2002? That would be Kirk Watson, just nosing out John Sharp. Food for thought if it comes to it.

Also spotted by BOR's Damon McCullar.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 03, 2005 to Election 2006 | TrackBack