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Hopewell Native Takes Office at State Capitol

January 25, 2012

By Ryan Murphy
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A man graduates with a degree from a community college and works his way up to start his own business. With a work ethic instilled in him by his salt-of-the-earth father, the small-business owner wins election to public office.

It sounds like the pedigree of any number of politicians who’ve pulled themselves up by their bootstraps – and that description fits at least one Virginia state delegate, Mike Watson. Like a presidential hopeful, Watson loves to wax patriotic about the country that gave him everything.

“Where else in the world can the son of a tugboat captain and tech school graduate have that opportunity?” Watson said, just days after moving into his office on the seventh floor of the General Assembly Building, yards from the Virginia Capitol. “My fundamental belief is, if you work for it, you can get it.”

Watson is the new Republican delegate representing Virginia’s 93rd House District, which includes parts of York County, James City County, Newport News and Williamsburg.

Watson’s residence in Williamsburg is just a short trip up the James River from Hopewell, where he grew up.

Before he had any political aspirations, Watson’s community activism started as a teenager in Hopewell in the late 1970s.

“Hopewell was looking at getting rid of its machine shop program,” said Watson, who attended the program for three years while at Hopewell High School. “I wrote letters to the editor and just spoke out against it at age 16 or something.”

The future legislator was driven not by some intangible idealism but by practical concerns – employment prospects for graduating students.

“I knew there were jobs out there for these skills,” Watson said. “Why would we want to give up teaching young people how to do this?”

After graduating from Hopewell High, Watson attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk and New River Community College in Dublin, in the far southwestern tip of Virginia. He received his associate’s degree in instrumentation technology from New River in 1983.

Since then, Watson has started two businesses, one of which won North Carolina’s Business of the Year Award in 1998. He also was a finalist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Blue Chip Enterprise Award.

Watson, 50, currently is president and chief executive officer of Control Automation Technologies Corp., a precision test equipment calibration service laboratory in Charles City County.

Watson didn’t become active in politics until the early 1990s, when he got involved with state-level campaigns in North Carolina. There, he worked with some congressional campaigns, notably Richard Burr’s successful 1994 bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. Burr, a fellow Republican, is now a U.S. senator.

Eventually, Watson decided to run for office out of frustration with what he sees as the adversarial role that federal regulators have with industry. However, he says that an experience watching a vote on the floor of the U.S. Congress, where representatives were coerced by higher-ranking party officials to change their votes, convinced him that federal politics was not the place for him.

“You can come here with the best intentions and be forced to do something you don’t want to do, or else they will destroy your political career,” Watson said. “I called my wife and said ‘Washington’s broke; the states are going to have to fix this.’ ”

So last year, Watson took on Delegate Robin Abbott, a Democrat from Newport News.

Abbott, an attorney, had won the 93rd District seat in 2009, after Republican Phil Hamilton was convicted on corruption charges and resigned.

In the November election, Watson received 52 percent of the vote to Abbott’s 48 percent.

Watson points to his father, whom he frequently refers to as a tugboat captain but whose primary employment was as a millwright at Allied Chemical in Hopewell, as a major influence on his views and personal politics.

Watson’s views on jobs, business, taxes and the economy are as stoically practical as you would expect of a machinist’s son, which are evident in his hopes for this session.

“Virginia is already rated by some as the best business state,” he said. “I want our slogan to be ‘We’re already the best business state, and we’re getting better.’ ”

Watson wants to loosen business regulations and do away with taxes that he feels deter small businesses like the ones he started from setting up in Virginia.

He is sponsoring several bills requested by constituents. They include House Bill 584, which would allow localities to perform maintenance on highway medians, a task reserved for the Virginia Department of Transportation. Williamsburg officials requested that legislation to keep the corridor between Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg neat during tourist season.


Delegate Michael B. Watson
Born: Hopewell on Sept. 19, 1961
Education: Technical degree in instrumentation technology from New River Community College in Dublin, Va., 1983
Occupation: Business owner
Phone numbers: 804-698-1093 for his Richmond office; 757-645-5298 for his district office in Williamsburg.

This CNS article was published by The Virginia Gazette.