RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia State Senator John Watkins (R-Powhatan) has announced he will retire at the end of his term in November 2015. Watkins will have served 34 years in the General Assembly following next year’s session.
“I have six grandchildren I don’t see enough of,” Watkins told CBS 6 political reporter Joe St. George in one of his first interviews since making the announcement.
While some speculated Watkins would rather retire than face a primary challenger, a likely scenario because he is considered a moderate in the Senate chamber, Watkins said that was not the reason.
He said he had been thinking about retirement ever since former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was convicted on corruption charges in September. A situation that ushered in a new wave of ethics laws and scrutiny.
Watkins owns a nursery in the Powhatan area and serves as Chairman of the Board of Essex Bank.
“I’ve been thinking of it since this whole thing with Bob McDonnell. It will make it very difficult for someone like myself,” Watkins said alluding to the intense scrutiny that may naturally come because the generally assembly works part time. “I would always be called into question.”
Watkins said the reason for his concern is based off the fact part time legislatures still require lawmakers to have full time jobs.
Continuing as a part time lawmaker, would be a challenge Watkins said.
Watkins cited transportation reform as well as reform of the Virginia Retirement system as his greatest accomplishments.
“For more than 30 years, John Watkins has dedicated his life to serving the people of the Commonwealth. In both the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia, he has been a leader for legislation that has improved transportation, focused on business development, and fought to make Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family,” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wrote in a statement. “I appreciate John’s willingness to work with me to try and find a way to provide health care for 400,000 Virginians. He has a strong record of putting policy above politics, and it has been an honor for me to work with him. John has been a champion for all Virginians.”
News of Watkins announced spread very quickly among Virginia political circles.
Watkins retirement could result in a Democratic pickup in a chamber narrowly controlled by Virginia Republicans.
Democratic sources told CBS 6 reporter Joe St. George $2 million could be spent on the 2015 election and that Jon Baliles, a Richmond City Councilman, could be considering entering the race as well as Chesterfield County Supervisor Dan Gecker.
As to why he made the announcement before the upcoming General Assembly session, Watkins said:
“People deserve to know what the background is when I’m voting on things.”