Meet Ryan Watts
It has long been a basic political truism that in national midterm elections, the party occupying the White House tends to lose seats in both the House and Senate - as well as governorships and state legislatures. In the first midterm election for all but two presidents going back to 1946, the president’s party has lost U.S. House seats. Up until President Barack Obama, presidents with an approval rating above 50% at the time of the election lost an average of 14 House seats. Presidents with an approval rating below 50% lost an average of 36 House seats. Frequently, these losses meant a change in legislative leadership: on committees, last session's ranking member suddenly finds him/herself wielding the gavel; many of last session's incumbents are making appointments with headhunters, wondering what's next on their employment agenda. In addition to bringing about shifts in power and renewed hope, midterm elections generally introduce the politically-minded public to a profusion of newcomers and perhaps a couple of potential goliath-slayers to boot.
It is with this opening paragraph that I introduce one and all to 28-year old Ryan Watts, a native Tar Heel who is challenging incumbent Rep. Mark Walker in North Carolina's 6th Congressional District. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Watts spent two years working for IBM in Washington, D.C. before returning home where he is currently senior strategy consultant for Deloitte. In this position, Watts examines the "changes technology has made both socially and economically in the U.S." Born in 1990, Ryan Watts is a full-fledged "Millennial" - a generation which has been variously described as ". . . politically and civically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values and less concerned about helping the larger community than were Gen-X (born 1962-81) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-61) at the same ages." Then too, Millennials have also been described in highly positive ways: They are generally regarded as being more open-minded, and more supportive of gay rights and equal rights for minorities. Other positive adjectives used to describe them include confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living. Upon researching and interviewing Ryan, he would appear to be virtually none of the former, while easily possessing an abundance of the latter.
Among Ryan' central political issues are gerrymandering (he wants to mandate "fair-districting" legislation), healthcare (which he calls "a human right"), protecting both Social Security and Medicare, sustainable energy including solar power and what he calls "common sense gun safety laws." Sounding very much like the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Ryan supports universal background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchase, and outlawing "military-style" firearms, silencers, and bump stocks. He also hopes to promote access to mental-health counseling in schools and let law enforcement temporarily confiscate firearms in crisis situations as well as "close the gun show loophole." Though Watts himself is a gun owner, he disagrees that it is necessary to be able to purchase a gun in one day.
Ryan Watts fully supports Israel. "It is the strongest, only true Democracy in the Middle East. To not be its ally, its constant friend, is simply unthinkable."
Neither flashy nor a hardcore political partisan, Ryan Watts has managed to graft the energy and enthusiasm of an optimistic 28-year old on to the steady wisdom of a political realist. Despite his tender years, he brings to the table an understanding that bitter partisanship is a toxic roadblock to progress. As Ryan explained to a reporter from his home-state News Observer, “I certainly am a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I think Democrats are always right. I also don’t think that the Republicans are always wrong. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time talking about Democrats and Republicans. We’re all Americans. It shouldn’t matter what party you come from."
Funded by less than $100,000 but fueled by more than 300 volunteers and a staff of 15, Ryan defeated 64-year old truck driver Gerald Wong with 77.2% of the vote in the Democratic primary. He now squares off against the Republican incumbent, Mark Walker in a district which the Cook Political Index rates "strongly Republican" (R+9). Unlike challenger Watts, Rep. Walker is awash in cash. This past April 20, Vice President Mike Pence headlined a luncheon in Greensboro in which he raised more than $650,000 for Walker, the staunchly conservative head of the 154-member House Republican Study Committee. The $650,000 roughly equaled the total his campaign had already raised. Representative Walker is an ordained Southern Baptist minister. A man who has a perfect rating from the NRA and less than 4% from Planned Parenthood, Walker until about two weeks ago, chaired a special committee tapped to select a new House chaplain. Shortly after Speaker Paul Ryan announced the firing of Rev. Pat Conroy, the second Catholic to hold the post of House Chaplain, Rep. Walker was asked to chair a special committee to help select Father Conroy's replacement. (Many Democrats suggested that Speaker Ryan - a devout Catholic himself - had ousted Father Conroy because of a prayer he offered on Nov. 6, 2017, as Republicans were preparing to vote on their tax cut proposal that urged lawmakers to strive for economic equality in the bill. In his post as chair of the special committee, Rep. Walker said he would like to see the next House chaplain have a family . . . which would obviously exclude Catholic priests. When queried about this, Walker's press spokesman denied any anti-Catholic bias on the part of his boss, stating that his suggestion was based “on initial feedback from his peers on preferences for a new House chaplain.”
Ryan Watts is the embodiment of all those Parkland students who promised they would come after those who would not change the gun laws. He is part of a new generation who, despite tender years, has the honest political instincts of Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith. What Ryan Watts lacks in money he has more than made up for with boots on the ground. What he has yet to gain in publicity he will rectify by making good on his promise to meet virtually every voter in his district.
I for one urge you to make a tangible contribution to Ryan's congressional campaign. His victory will be our victory, for his is the voice of the future . . . our future. His are the dreams of tomorrow . . . our common tomorrow.
To reach Ryan, simply go to his campaign website. Get acquainted with a future face in Congress. It will help make you feel like a million dollars . . . after taxes!
481 days down, 981 days to go.
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone