John Watkins looks to former President Ronald Reagan as his role model for a simple reason: "He was a Republican who believed in solving problems," said the state senator, who is retiring when his term ends in January.
Watkins, R-Powhatan, has been a problem-solver during 34 years in the General Assembly. Two of his biggest victories are reforming the Virginia Retirement System to ensure its long-term solvency and breaking the gridlock over funding for the state transportation system.
He says his proudest accomplishment is development of the Virginia Geographic Information Network to consolidate data from all state agencies in one entity.
But the businessman is willing to break ranks with Republican colleagues to address what he considers important problems, such as using federal funding under the Affordable Care Act to expand health coverage for uninsured Virginians.
Watkins was the primary author of Marketplace Virginia, a legislative proposal designed to thread a political needle by using federal funds to buy private insurance for hundreds of thousands of people currently not eligible under Medicaid.
The proposal was the center of a long budget standoff last year that ended after Watkins and two other moderate Republican senators backed off in the face of mounting concern over a projected revenue shortfall. A new Republican majority in the Senate then closed the door against Gov. Terry McAuliffe expanding coverage on his own - a vote Watkins supported and later regretted.
This year, Watkins broke ranks again on what he considered matters of principle. He cast a decisive vote in a special legislative session in August that prevented Republicans from replacing a Virginia Supreme Court justice whom McAuliffe had appointed without their approval. He then voted with Democrats to adjourn the special session, which left to a three-judge federal panel the job of fashioning a new plan for Virginia's congressional districts.
IN HIS WORDS
The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson - "An Army At Dawn," "The Day of Battle" and "The Guns at Last Light." It gave one of the most accurate portrayals of this country’s development as a world power that culminated in the defeat of the Third Reich. My father served in Europe during World War II.
Something you’d like to do
Ride second in a jet fighter.
Something that might surprise others
I dislike very formal events.
A small moment in life with a big impact
At age 20, I married my wife, Kathy. She has had the most lasting impact on me of any single individual. We literally grew up together from the ages of 20 and 19 at the time of our marriage, and she, as the mother of my three sons, probably did the most to raise them in a very special way while at the same time supporting me in business and into and through my career in state government.
Position: state senator; owner of Watkins Nurseries Inc. and Watkins Land LLC
Born/hometown: March 1, 1947; Petersburg
College: Virginia Tech (bachelor's in agriculture/horticulture)
Family: wife Kathy; sons Michael, Robert and Ryan