Franklin County Tax Collector Rick Watson has decided he won’t seek re-election in the fall, setting the stage for a battle to seek the open seat.
“After much thought and prayer, I have decided not to run for re-election in 2024,” he wrote in a news release last week. “It has been a privilege to serve as your tax collector. I am proud of the new services I introduced to the county, including driver licenses, concealed carry permits and the Kids Tag Art competition. None of this would have been possible without my excellent staff who provide first-class customer service every day.”
After initially being appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in April 2017 to succeed the late Jimmy Harris, Watson won the right to finish Harris’ term in 2018, and then won a four-year term outright in 2020.
“I’ve never had a landslide election,” Watson said. “The first one was by 68 votes and the second one by 47 votes.”
Born in Tyler, Texas, Watson, 76, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas in 1969, and then completed a law degree from Emory University in 1974.
Between 1974 and 1981, he practiced law in Panama City, and then, as a lifelong Democrat, ran statewide political campaigns in 1981 and 1983, including that of President Jimmy Carter.
He went on to work as deputy chief of staff for Florida Insurance Commission Bill Gunter, and then took on a lobbying role in 1986, which included starting his own firm in 1992.
In 1988, he decided to switch parties, and has been active in Republican politics to this day.
“I didn’t leave the Democratic party, the Democratic party left me,” he said. “There used to be very conservative Democrats, and gradually the Democrats became more liberal and less business friendly.”
As a lobbyist, Watson represented mainly construction firms, including the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, but also had as his clients the city of Key West for 20 years, as well as the Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist.
In 2015, Scott appointed him to succeed Pinki Jackel on the county commission, when she accepted the appointment as county supervisor of elections. In 2016, when he ran for election, Watson lost to Ricky Jones.
In 2017 he ended his lobbying career and a year later his wife of 29 years, Candy, passed away. In 2020 he married the former Martha Gherardi and the couple reside on St. George Island.
Watson said he expects a couple of people will run for the tax collection job, but that he will not make any endorsement until after the August primary, after which he will support whomever is the Republican nominee.
“I appreciate the support and encouragement the citizens of Franklin County have given me over these six-and-one-half years,” he said. “I look forward to serving the community in other ways and will always be available to assist my successor.”