State Senator Kip Averitt: The Exit Interview

Kip Averitt left the Texas Legislature earlier this year — burned out and sharply warned by his doctors to watch his health — after five sessions in the state House and four more in the Senate.

After a flurry of elections and strange political bounces, the McGregor Republican (he's now moved to Austin) is concentrating full time on his improving health, his tax consulting and his plans to "do a little lobbying" as the next Legislature prepares for a hard session in 2011.

Averitt started his time in the Capitol as chief of staff to then-Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. When a House seat opened up in 1992, he ran and won, and when Sibley resigned early in 2002, Averitt won the special election to succeed him. In December, he filed for re-election. Weeks later, when it was too late to get off the ballot, he announced he didn't want another term. He won the Republican primary anyway and then resigned from his current term, setting up a special election and then a runoff in which Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, beat his Sibley, who hoped to take another spin around the Senate. Averitt officially pulled his name out of the hat for the November election to a full term, and party officials in Senate District 22 put Birdwell in his place on the ballot. The Democrats haven't put a candidate in the contest, and it's not clear they will do so before the Aug. 20 deadline. They're mulling a challenge to Birdwell's residency based on Virginia voting records that place the new senator there in November 2006; Texas requires its senators to live in the state for the five years immediately leading to their time in office.

No longer a government official, Averitt talked to the Tribune on Tuesday about politics and parties, redistricting, things left undone and how the Legislature has changed during his time there.

He says his predecessor, M.A. Taylor, R-Waco, told him when he started that he could always rely on his Republican colleagues. When a nervous Averitt went to the front of the House to present his first piece of legislation in 1993, another Republican, Tom Craddick of Midland, got the microphone in front of him to announce an emergency meeting of the House Republicans on the biggest agenda item of that day: school finance. "So as I'm walking out to present my very first bill in the House of Representatives, every Republican in the House was walking out," Averitt remembers. "And there I was facing 88 man-eating Democrats."

Averitt passed his bill, learned people were willing to work together, and started on a legislative career that ended with him chairing the Senate's Natural Resources Committee and being the upper chamber's resident expert on water, air and related issues. He was also, at the end, on several other key panels: Finance, Education, Higher Education, and Business and Commerce. He says the Legislature is a "slow-moving process," and that led to his biggest regret: Lawmakers got close to funding a statewide water plan last session — something he's worked on for eight years — but didn't get the job done. "I hope to be able to assist from the outside," he says.

 

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