This is part 3 in a series. You can read the responses of Alex Johnson and Michael McNeely from last week.
Nathan Smith (GeorgiaPol.com): Tell me a little about yourself. (e.g., where you live, what you do outside of politics (professionally and hobbies, if you will), etc.)
John Watson: Born in Virginia, I began accruing my Georgia credentials after marrying my wife Kimberly, a Cobb county native. We have two daughters, ages 16 and 14, and a girl dog named Georgia. Needless to say, the only “guy time” I get is when I go hunting on the weekends. I’ve spent my life career fundraising, managing political campaigns, and helping elect Republican candidates – and I’d be honored to continue doing so as Chairman of the Georgia GOP.
NS: When did you get involved in politics and Republican Party?
JW: My first political internship was in the 1980’s at the Republican-led Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. There’s even embarrassing video proof that I’ve been volunteering for Republicans since Flock of Seagulls topped the charts. I’ve always had deeply held beliefs about pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-family policies, and the Republican party best matched those principles.
NS: What have you recently done for your local (either county or district) Republican Party? I’ll explain why I’m asking this question. Auxiliary Republican organizations are important conduits for people to get involved with their local party, but you are running for a position to serve at the top of the Georgia Republican Party. I believe it’s important to understand how involved you are with either your county and/or district Republican Party if you intend to lead the organization at the top.
JW: As Finance Director for the GAGOP, Foundation Chairman for the GAGOP, and as a particpant in numerous GAGOP Victory operations, I have worked closely with the county and district chairmen throughout Georgia. Indeed my political activism looks different than others, but there’s no doubt that I’ve worked hand in hand with all 159 counties over the course of my 25 years serving the GOP.
NS: Why are you running?
JW: The Georgia Republican Party is at a crossroads. After 15 years of Republican dominance, the Georgia GOP is broke, mired in litigation, and has a broken relationship with grassroots activists and elected officials. If the Party doesn’t elect a battle-tested field general to rally the conservative troops in advance of the 2018 election, the party that I know and love, the party that I’ve spent my career helping build, the party that introduced me to my wife, Kimberly, may cease to prosper. I refuse to watch that happen.
NS: What do you consider the role of the office in which you seek?
JW: Being Chairman is a full-time job. First and foremost, the Chairman sets the vision and direction for the Georgia Republican Party. The Chairman will be responsible for raising upwards of $5 to $8 million for the upcoming 2018 Governor’s race. Even with a full-time finance director, an incredibly large portion of the Chairman’s time is spent seeking buy-in from donors of all sizes, in all regions. Second, the Chairman must be the ultimate advocate for the grassroots. And finally, the Chairman must be prepared to embrace our nominees after the primary process and ensure they have the resources necessary to get back on TV, into mailboxes, and on the radio after a financially draining primary process.
NS: What is your vision for the Georgia Republican Party?
JW: The Georgia Republican Party will be a professional, energized and forward-thinking organization that provides grassroots activists support, training, and resources, provides elected officials a medium to learn from and discuss policy with the grassroots in our state, and provides both county parties and our nominees the financial resources necessary to keep Georgia red.
NS: Tell me three things you hope to accomplish in the next two years.
JW: Eliminate the party’s existing debt. Elect a Republican Governor in 2018. Host an affordable, accessible statewide event where Republicans can train, fellowship, and celebrate our successes.
NS: Throughout my tenure in Republican leadership, I’ve seen social media posts and heard discussions that seemingly advocate that the Georgia Republican Party shouldn’t allow “some candidates” to qualify as Republican candidates. Currently, state law doesn’t allow for political parties to prevent candidates from qualifying if they attest that they are legally qualified and pay their fee. Should the Georgia Republican Party advocate for a change to allow a litmus test by the GAGOP, or should we let our primary process be the litmus test?
JW: I would be willing to explore the adoption of a party platform similar to that of the Republican National Committee. However, I would reject any litmus test. I strongly believe that once candidates have qualified for office, the Georgia GOP has no role in supporting one primary candidate over another, and we must embrace our nominee in the general.
There are a lot of individual county Republican Parties. County chairmen can vary from being self-sufficient to needing a lot of help. What will you do to help ensure that counties are supported with resources and training to help grow party membership as well as to conduct functional aspects of local parties (like candidate qualifying, precinct mass meeting and convention procedures, etc.)?
Simply put, the Georgia GOP must have a service mentality towards county parties. We need to be holding regular training sessions throughout the state, communicating with all counties through newsletters and conference calls, and visiting with chairmen on a regular basis. These changes don’t require rocket science, but they do require a commitment to service and professionalism towards the grassroots.
NS: Organizations aren’t perfect because they’re run by imperfect people. If you had a magic wand to fix one issue that bugs you with the Georgia Republican Party, what would it be? I know that the top answer for most candidates will most likely be either “fundraising” or “money in the bank”, so give me an issue of something other than fundraising/money/etc.
JW: No phone call should go unanswered. Whether a voter, volunteer, or Governor calls the GOP, a live person should answer the phone with a friendly greeting and ensure that individual is assisted in a timely manner.
NS: This is your opportunity to sell yourself. In 50 words or less, why should a delegate vote for you?
JW: After dedicating 25 years to our Republican cause, helping raise over $25 million for Republican candidates, and helping elect the first Republican Governor in 135, I know what it takes to rebuild our party. Strong grassroots. Fiscal responsibility. And full-time dedication.