Commissioner Watson switches to Unaffiliated

Published 8:00 pm Friday, February 26, 2010



A groundswell of dissatisfaction with the two major political parties appears to be growing in Polk County.

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Current county commissioner Warren Watson announced Thursday he will seek reelection this year, but he is switching from Democrat to Unaffiliated.
“I dont like the current (political) system. I dont want to be associated with the system and I think I can do a better job for the citizens of the county if Im not associated with a political party,” said Watson.
He joins many Polk County voters who have chosen to be Unaffiliated and he becomes the second sitting commissioner to switch to Unaffiliated. Tommy Melton switched from Democrat last year, citing similar frustration with the two-party system.
Both Melton and Watson must get nearly 600 signatures on a petition before they can get on the November ballot. If reelected, they would become the first Unaffiliated commissioners on the five-member county board.
Watson says the current county board, which includes all Democrats, is not as productive as he would like (see his comments below).
He says he believes the first county board he served on after he was elected in 2006 was more productive. The three Republicans and two Democrats on that board seemed to compete to accomplish goals for the county, he says. Even though Democrats gained full control in 2008, he says the board faces resistance when trying to tackle some county issues.
“Theres an implied pressure certainly there all the time. Sometimes its a little more than implied,” says Watson. “Theres like five people or so, the partys executive committee and the chair, that determine strategy. The parties just want to elect candidates from their party at all costs.”
Voter registration rolls indicate many Polk County residents share Watsons dissatisifaction with the two major parties. Over the past decade, the Democratic and Republican parties have steadily lost their share of registered voters. Since 2000, the number of Unaffiliated voters in Polk County has climbed by 1,552, while Democrats fell by 807 and Republicans declined by 232. Unaffiliated now make up 30 percent of the countys registered voters, just slightly behind Republicans at 36 percent and Democrats at 33 percent.
Watson says he looks forward to talking to voters while seeking signatures for his petition, and he hopes they will be more open to his ideas because he is independent. “If Im not affiliated with a party,” he says, “hopefully people dont immediately associate me with something and close their ears before hearing what I have to say.
After earning a four-year term as the second highest vote-getter in 2006, Watson acknowledges it may be more difficult to get elected this year without the support of a major party. However, he says hes ready for the challenge.
“Id rather have to go out and get 600 names on a petition than deal with partisanship and all the things you have to go through with the party,” he says. “Im just fed up with it. The whole system is corrupt and its corrupt at all levels.”

Editor’s Note: Following are comments by Warren Watson.Dear Polk County citizens:
Like many Americans, I have become extremely dissatisfied with our political system. When one group controls any organization, the views and concerns of others are often neglected. Conversely, when all interests are represented, the work becomes more productive, and those in charge are held to a higher standard. Ethically speaking, checks and balances are essential in any system.
Once political candidates become “elected officials,” it is imperative that they take on a different role. To be effective, I believe that elected officials must put aside political affiliations in order to best represent the interests of all citizens.
Our political system is broken at all levels. It has been said, “all politics are local.” Therefore, in order to repair our system, I believe we have to start with local elections. It is in that spirit that I have made the decision to change my voter registration to “Unaffiliated.”
When I decided to run for office in 2006, the existing board of commissioners was a one-party board, all Republicans. One of the compelling issues in that campaign was the ineffectiveness of the existing board due to their inability to work together. At that time, I spoke on the need to take the politics out of local government, by having a board that more accurately represented the values and ideals of our citizens.
When I was elected in November 2006, the Polk County Board of Commissioners became a bi-partisan board. My first year in office was no picnic, and I cannot say I did not make mistakes. However, I can say that I learned from my shortcomings, and I learned fast. I found my role on that board, and I think most people who pay attention to such things will agree that the 2007-2008 board was one of the most productive boards this county has seen in quite some time. We were successful and productive because we worked as a team on the big issues. We were decisive, goal-oriented, and results-driven.
The November 2008 elections brought three new commissioners, this time all Democrats, and one again, a single part controlled all seats on the county board. Even before that election, I had concerns about a one-part board of commissioners. After all, political parties, by nature, are all about “control.”
My decision to change to “unaffiliated” status has not been an easy one. In addition, some might say that it is foolish for a sitting commissioner, seeking re-election, to abandon the security associated with a political party and go it alone as an independent candidate. After all, 1,200 to 1,500 voters from each party, tend to vote a “straight ticket.” Moreover, since “Unaffiliated” candidates have no political party backing them, they can only be allowed on the ballot in November, if they can secure the names of approximately 600 registered voters by the June 25 deadline.
Nevertheless, there is something more important than my success or failure in a re-election bid. The most important thing, in my estimation, is to have checks and balances in place in our political system. My change of affiliation will in no way affect my ability to cooperate and collaborate with the existing or newly elected officials as the election process unfolds. However, it will allow me to experience some personal growth, and in the process, become a more effective representative for all the citizens of Polk County. To this end, I would appreciate your support in signing a petition for me to run and your vote in November.
Warren Watson,
Polk County commissioner