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Watkins switches parties, wants to regain House seat in 2014 as Republican

Christine Watkins

Sun Advocate publisher

On Nov.7, Christine Watkins and her husband John took a flight out of Salt Lake City bound for a trip to Europe for a couple or weeks with family. Just the night before she had gotten the word that she would no longer be representing District 69 in the State House of Representatives. She had lost to Republican Jerry Anderson in the general election.

It was probably the best thing she could have done.

"When we flew back into Salt Lake I immediately went to the state capitol and cleaned out my office," she said in an interview on Tuesday. "It wasn't hard physically because I had already packed up because I was either going to change offices at the capitol complex or I was not going back there."

She admitted that during the whole trip, one that had been planned long before voters went to the polls, as much as she loved it, she was upset. She just wasn't ready to let go of representing the people of eastern Utah. And as of Tuesday she still isn't.

Last week she went to the Carbon County Democratic Central Committee and told them she would be changing parties right away. She told them she was going to run in 2014 for the seat as a Republican.

"I walked away from there feeling pretty good, although there were some people upset with me," she said. "This is not about party, but representation."

She then went on to give her reasons for a party change, one that she says has a great deal of validity in a very conservative state.

"I chose to make this change because under the current political climate/demographics a Democrat probably cannot win in the new Utah State House District 69," she said. "As a very conservative Blue Dog Democrat, it is not a stretch to become a moderate Republican. I love our part of the state and I have worked very hard to defend our rural way of life. As a senator from a neighboring senate district put it to me, 'You have a credibility that not everyone has.' I want to use that credibility to serve the constituents in District 69."

Being the only rural Democrat in the legislature wasn't always easy, especially being a conservative one. Most of the caucuses she met with were urban Democrats, many of who have very different views than she did of what was and should be happening in rural parts of the state. Those differences made for some uncomfortable moments with her fellow party members

The legislative redistricting in 2011 made many changes. One of those changers led to Watkins' defeat. Before the change she represented Carbon, part of Emery, Grand and San Juan Counties. The new District 69 took out San Juan County and put in about a third of Duchesne County. The numbers there voting Republican for her opponent were overwhelming with almost a four-to-one vote for Anderson. Duchesne was also the only county in the state that did the entire balloting process by mail, with over 80 percent of the ballots returned by election day. Carbon went largely for Watkins, but it wasn't enough for her to take the seat, with only 53 percent of the voters turning out in early voting and on election day.

Since state representatives only serve for two years, she sees the race for the Republican nomination to regain a nomination for the seat as only a short time away, "about a year and two months" she said.

Watkins is proud of the things she accomplished in her six years in the statehouse. A few include:

• A bill to help Utah Navajos get the funds in conjunction with the Federal government for building a good infrastructure within their communities.

• Thee work on bills dealing with the Division of Family Services and their dealings with parents who have children taken out of their homes.

"By audit we were having three times as many kids being taken out of homes in our area as anyplace else in the state," she said. "We are now leading the state in keeping kids in homes rather than removing them."

She pointed out that her work led to a kind of Miranda statute for the DCFS, wherein when the children are removed parents are basically informed of their rights and given information about what they have to do to work toward getting their kids back.

• She voted against a bill in 2011 that would have basically gutted the Government Records Access and Management Act, keeping citizens and the news media from gaining information about the goings on in government.

"From the start of that bill I voted against it," she said. "People deserve to know what their government is doing."

That bill was eventually withdrawn when the public rose up against it and forced the legislature to reconsider what they had done.

• She sponsored a bill making October Italian-American Month in Utah.

• She voted against a bill which would have severely limited sex education in Utah Schools.

• She also voted for a bill which gave small rural school districts financial options to get through the recent recession.

"I am proud of HB 98," she said. "It gave small rural school districts another couple of years of flexibility in their budgets. They could use Capital Outlay funds for operation and maintenance uses. This really helped many small school districts who were struggling during the recession."

Mostly though, beyond the bills, she felt she helped a lot of people with problems they had.

"I couldn't always solved those problems, or make things completely right, but I tried." she said. "I just worked hard whenever people needed me."

Most of all, she pointed out what she felt was her strongest reason for being a legislator.

"As a voice for the rural way of life," she said.

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