Citing a stress-related mental disorder that may become life-threatening if he stays in the race, Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson announced Friday he is giving up his battle for re-election.
Democrats announced they will hold a meeting at 8 a.m. Saturday to pick a new candidate, who will then be nominated over B.T. Price, the only other Democrat to file for the race. Most party officials do not want Price, a perennial candidate, to represent the Democrats in the race.The decision to withdraw, apparently reached in afternoon meetings Friday between Watson and party leaders, came five days after Watson was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of cocaine.
However, Watson appears firm in his desire not to resign from the commission before his term ends in January 1989, despite pressure from the two other commissioners, both Republicans.
Democrats are legally unable to replace Watson this late in the race unless he dropped out for mental or physical reasons. But the party may have difficulty finding a strong candidate.
John Hiskey, who had been rumored to be the new candidate, said Friday he is not going to run.
"It's been a very difficult decision, but the priorities I have right now center in the (public works) department," said Hiskey, who is the county's director of public works.
Hiskey's decision not to run has left no clear choice for a replacement in the race against heavily favored Republican M. Tom Shimizu, who ended a five-year tenure as commissioner in 1986.
Watson officially withdrew his candidacy at 4:50 p.m. Friday when his attorney, Ron Yengich, entered the county elections clerk's office and presented two letters, one from Dr. Michael R. Lowry of Wasatch Canyons Hospital and the other from Watson.
In his letter, Lowry said he examined Watson on Tuesday and found he had suffered a behavior change because of the stress of the campaign. The legal charges have also created personal as well as professional problems, he said.
Randy Horiuchi, chairman of the state Democratic Party, represented Wasatch Canyons Hospital last year when it won a property tax exemption from the county.
Watson's letter was a three-line typewritten statement announcing he was withdrawing for medical reasons.
Yengich said Watson wants to complete his term in office. Watson's medical problems are not related to drugs or alcohol, Yengich said.
Watson, interviewed earlier Friday, said it appears to be difficult for people to believe he is not addicted to chemicals.
"No one can just accept the fact that it was an incredibly stupid thing and that I've ruined something I cared about for just being stupid," he said about circumstances leading to his arrest.
"When I'm finally allowed to come through and tell what happened, to be frank with you I don't think a lot of people will believe it. But it's what happened. I know it's true."
But Watson's fellow commissioners appear anxious for him to resign before his term expires.
"Serving in office is at least as stressful as running for office," Commission Chairman Bart Barker said. "I have a hard time believing that the County Commission can effectively serve as the alcohol and drug authority unless it is also setting a strong example."