Originally created 11/24/03

Perdue's incoming chief of staff divests ties



BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's incoming chief of staff says he has shed all connections with his lobbying firm as he prepares to begin his new job Monday.

"I've completely and totally divested myself of my business," said John Watson, 35.

Watson made his comments in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the Republican Governors Association meeting, which ended Saturday. He was there with Perdue and the man he'll be replacing, Eric Tanenblatt.

The departure of Tanenblatt, who cited family concerns in his decision to leave, was announced last week.

Watson was Perdue's chief political consultant during last year's campaign. Rather than join Perdue's administration, Watson created a lobbying firm with Bruce Bowers, the son of former state Attorney General Michael Bowers.

The firm had just decided to move in a bipartisan direction, bringing on Democrat Lewis Massey, a former secretary of state, as a partner in October, when Watson was approached by Perdue to replace Tanenblatt.

Democrats immediately attacked Watson as an influential Republican lobbyist.

"I never went to the governor's office to advocate for anything," Watson said, though he acknowledged that partner Bowers has, representing Siemens, a German electric conglomerate.

The firm will continue without Watson, under the name Massey & Bowers. But Watson realizes that Democrats will be watching for any instance of favoritism toward his recent partners.

"Given what I've been doing previously, I have to be extra sensitive to perception," he said. "The only interest I have now is the governor."

Watson played an important fund-raising role in former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr's first successful congressional campaign, and he was campaign manager of Michael Bowers' 1998 bid for the Republican gubernatorial election.