Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff began his political career in 1971, as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. His son Kevin was just a 6-year-old at the time, and remembers his father’s tagline from the 1970s, “A Common Sense Democrat.”
Years later, Kevin surprised his family by running for office himself… as a Republican. Although father and son don’t always agree on policy, Kevin Wolff remembered some of the important lessons his father taught him when they both entered our recording booth for StoryCorps’ “One Small Step” project, bringing together people with differing political backgrounds for a conversation.
Nelson: I've been a Democrat all my life and I'm very proud of doing that. But somewhere along the line, I messed up and Kevin became a... what did you become?
Kevin: I became… I went to the right. I am a Republican. So, you know, I figure, you know, you raising me just showed me what I should not be doing! You know, people assume that fathers and sons, you know, think alike, but if they take just half a second and look at how many different times growing up they might have had arguments with each other or disagreements... You also were able to instill in me that, look, you know, politics happens in the extremes. So, you know, the vitriol and rhetoric that you hear generally comes from the extremes to the left or the extremes of the right. But you also said that governance happens in the middle. And at the end of the day, we want our governance to work effectively. And the only way we can do that is when we take those opposing opinions and figure out where the common ground is.
Nelson: All of us have in our own family have, you know, different political views. I'd say probably that, you know, the majority of our family is Republican.
Kevin: You know, when you when you disagree with someone's opinion or direction before you go out and make your statements, you have to do the homework necessary to understand the other person's point of view. Because unless you can, can truly understand where that other person is coming from, the likelihood you're going to be able to make any sort of change or communication is next to none. I remember on one of your runs for Congress, your tagline was "a common sense Democrat." I know you and I over the years have disagreed on a number of different things, but we didn't kill each other in the process. We said, "Hey, I'm sorry, I'm just not going to be with you on this." I at least knew where you were on something. I never had to guess whether or not you were gonna go this way or that way. That simple exercise right there is more valuable than than I can emphasize. And now, thanks for for operating that way. And quite frankly, operating the court that way for the most part.
Nelson: Well, let's see now... I think I learned a couple of things about you today that I didn't know before!
Judge Nelson Wolff and County Commissioner Kevin Wolff’s full “One Small Step” conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.
“One Small Step” on Texas Public Radio is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support is provided by Monterrey Iron & Metal.