What will Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson do?

Will he run for re-election?Will he resign his commission seat?

Watson has told Deseret News county government reporter Jay Evensen that he likely won't resign. But it is pretty clear that he won't seek re-election, even if Democrats nominate him in Saturday's Salt Lake County Democratic Convention.

Early Sunday morning, Watson was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance, believed to be cocaine.

There is another Democratic candidate facing Watson in Saturday's convention, perennial hopeful B.T. Price. Price has run for Salt Lake City mayor, Salt Lake City Council, and the County Commission several times before, losing all the races by huge margins.

The Democrats don't want Price to be their nominee against Republican Tom Shimizu, a former commissioner. That is very clear.

One way to replace Watson under the restrictive Utah election law is for Watson to be certified, by a medical doctor, as mentally or physically disabled.

The county Democratic Central Committee could then choose a candidate to replace Watson - perhaps Salt Lake County Public Works Director John Hiskey, who has run and lost a commission race before.

But while that tack may be the best for the party, it may not be the best for Watson.

Watson is only 32 years old. While his arrest is serious and may well mean no more politics for now, it might not be fatal.

He has been charged with driving under the influence but hasn't yet, and may never be, charged with possession of cocaine. A special prosecutor has been appointed to look into the cocaine matter.

Nationally, numerous politicians have survived drunken driving arrests.

U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., was arrested and pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge just before the 1986 election. He won handily.

A former Salt Lake City commissioner was arrested for drunken driving in the 1970s. He also pleaded guilty and survived his next election.

True, driving under the influence of alcohol is taken more seriously by the public today than a decade ago.

But while the offense is serious, Watson, if convicted of it, could come back later - with sufficient time passing without further such episodes - and ask for the public trust of office again.

If, however, he formally admits that he's mentally disabled - well, then he has even more baggage to carry.

The big kicker, all politicos believe, is the cocaine arrest. That, not the drunken driving charge, could end his political career once and for all. Watson's best hope is that, for whatever legal reason, the charge is never brought. I suppose that if the charge is dropped, Watson could consider continuing his re-election hopes this year, although the political reality is that he was trailing Shimizu in the polls before his arrest and it is probably impossible for him to win considering what has happened.

But if he isn't charged with cocaine possession, he could come back into politics in 5 or 10 years, many people I've talked to believe.

If he is charged and convicted of possession, he may be finished. It would be difficult to come back - even if he successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program - and gain the public's confidence after such a conviction.

Public officials aren't beyond reproach. They're human and make human mistakes. No one should take glee or joy in Watson's problems. He should be understood and forgiven.

But forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean acceptance. A cocaine conviction may be more than Utah's public can swallow, now or in the future.