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2018 Midterms

Magnolia Showdown? Watson tells BLP: Why I am close to running in primary against Rep. Steve Palazzo

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A Mississippi state senator and protégé of former Senate Majority Leader C. Trent Lott Sr. talked to Big League Politics about his possible GOP primary challenge to Rep. Steven M. Palazzo for the state’s 4th congressional district.

“One of the core components of who I am is my faith,” said state Sen. Michael D. Watson, a preacher’s son, whose 51st District is in the southern part of the state. “It is a strong part about how I make decisions—I get a peace about it, a good solid peace, then I feel I can move forward—when you don’t have that peace is when you make bad decisions.”

Watson confirmed to BLP that the big decision in front of him right now is whether to take on Palazzo.

The incumbent congressman was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, but he has not voted like a member of the Tea Party, but rather like a reliable vote for the House Republican leadership.

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During his tenure, Palazzo voted numerous times to increase the debt ceiling, reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the $305 billion highway pork bill and to prevent the House from holding a vote on the impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

A key example of Palazzo’s fealty to the leadership is his vote in favor of the Ryan-Murray budget bill during the lame duck session following the 2014 midterms.

In those midterms, the Republicans won control of the Senate and they were poised to take over in January 2015, but before the GOP took over the Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul D. Ryan Jr. (R.-Wis.) made an unusual two-year budget deal with the outgoing Chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee Sen. Patricia L. Murray (D.-Wash.).

Called the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, the act busted the spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. This deal, which Palazzo supported, not only locked in full funding for Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and Sanctuary Cities, because it was a two-year budget plan, it took the budget and budget votes off the table going into the 2016 election cycle—protecting Democrats and kneecapping GOP challengers.

Watson told BLP that in addition to his prayerful reflection on his decision, the three-term state senator said his visit to Washington was all part of his due diligence.

“It is getting to that point,” he said.

“I am making sure I have all the right information to make the right call,” he said. “Talking to folks in the district, talking to folks up here.”

The state senator said just being in Washington for a few days, it struck him as how prosperous the city has become compared to when he was an intern for Lott in 1999—and compared to what is going on in the rest of the country.

“Just the difference in the amount of construction here,” he said. “There used to be blighted properties here, now it’s all new condos, it’s all new Whole Foods or a Walmart or whatever. It’s exploded.”

Watson said that if he does decide to run for the Senate, he will do it because he wants to give the people of Mississippi a senator looking out for them, not for Washington interests.

Sitting less than a half-mile from the Capitol, the preacher’s son said he sees where other politicians go wrong.

“I think people get up here and they forget,” he said.

“Wait-a-minute, I actually represent people back in south Mississippi,” he said. “I need to answer for my votes. I need the accountability process to work.”

It was Lott, who told Watson after he finished his undergraduate and law degrees from Mississippi State University in 2003 that instead of coming back to Washington to start a career in politics, where he had interned for Lott, he should stay home and get involved in the community.

In 2007, against the advice of Lott, who thought there might be an easier seat to go for, Watson challenged a 16-year incumbent state senator in the GOP primary. That year, he won the general with 78 percent of the vote. In 2011, he was unopposed and in 2015, he won with 83 percent of the vote.

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