By ending his bid for re-election, Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson has done the best thing for all concerned.

The move, coming five days after his arrest on drunken driving charges, spares himself and his family needless suffering, eliminates an embarrassing problem that could have hurt Democratic candidates for some other offices, and enables the voters to make a more viable choice when they go to the polls to fill the commission job.In any event, with the selection of Riverton Mayor Dale Gardiner, a former congressional candidate, to replace Watson, Salt Lake County Democrats have surmounted a big hurdle. Even so, some important questions remain.

For openers, now that Watson has bowed out of the election campaign, shouldn't he resign as county commissioner, too?

To leave the campaign after the deadline for filing as a candidate, Watson had to produce a letter from a physician saying that continued campaigning would impair the commissioner's health. To prevent a few power brokers from tampering with the nomination process, Utah election laws restrict the conditions under which a candidate can be replaced after the filing deadline. Those conditions include death, or certification as physically or mentally disabled.

But if Watson's health isn't good enough to permit him to campaign, can it be good enough for him to do a good job as county commissioner? Even if it is, how much confidence can the public place in the judgment of an official with such a big cloud still hanging over him? Without such confidence, how effective can he be?

Besides the drunken driving charge, Watson could face prosecution for suspected drug possession. How much time can Watson devote to defending himself and still have enough time to devote to his duties on the county commission?

Meanwhile, to his credit, Dave Watson seems to be much more chastened and contrite than many other politicians involved in embarrassing situations. And he is to be commended for having moved to limit the damage. But more repair work is still needed, and further soul-searching on the commissioner's part is clearly in order.