A horseman barred from the grounds of Charles Town Races & Slots is running for state office in West Virginia, and his opponent is a former Miss West Virginia who works for the company that excluded him.
Dick Watson, 74, announced Jan. 25 he is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 58th District of the West Virginia House of Delegates. Tiffany Elizabeth Lawrence, 25, Miss West Virginia 2006, filed for the same position.
The seat is currently held by Democratic Del. Locke Wysong, who is not seeking a third term to represent Jefferson County, where Charles Town is located. The primary election is May 13.
It’s the latest development in an ongoing story centered on the former president of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Watson lost his re-election bid in 2003, and subsequently was accused of financial malfeasance by the horsemen’s group.
The case was mediated and settled. Watson, who never was charged with a crime, paid back $3,000 and apologized in the civil suit. But he and his wife, Janene, were barred from the grounds of Charles Town by owner Penn National Gaming Inc. and have had no success getting reinstated.
Lawrence, a local native, currently works for PNGI as marketing and public relations administrator for Charles Town, which operates thousands of video lottery terminals and is the company’s most successful holding. Lawrence already has a background in politics, having served as legislative intern and as a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee.
Lawrence, quite popular locally, is involved in civic organizations and, on her Web site, said she aspires to become West Virginia’s first female governor.
Lawrence told the Martinsburg Herald she intends to reach out to Jefferson County residents, including those who have not previously been involved in the political process. She told the newspaper her priorities include obtaining increased educational funding for high-growth areas and addressing the region’s infrastructure challenges.
Watson, a retired Army colonel who moved to the Charles Town area in the early 1980s, said he, too, would campaign for zoning changes and infrastructure upgrades. He said Jefferson County, because it has become more affluent than other parts of West Virginia, doesn’t get its due in the state capital.
Watson also said he plans to focus on horsemen’s issues. “I believe horsemen’s interests at Charles Town have been tremendously underrepresented the last few years,” he said.
Watson referred to a situation whereby horsemen’s revenue from video lottery terminals was used to fix a statewide workers’ compensation problem, but the racetracks didn’t have to surrender a share of their revenue.
“It amounts to about $6 million a year in purses from our 14% (for purses), but they did not take a dime from the racetracks,” Watson said. “If that’s not misrepresentation, I don’t know what is.”
Watson supports table games at Charles Town, which was the only one of four tracks in the state not to get them in 2007 county referendums.
The bizarre circumstances surrounding his legislative pursuit aren't lost on Watson, who conceivably could become a lawmaker who’s not allowed on the property of the county’s biggest employer because of the PNGI exclusion. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the HBPA civil suit gets media play during the campaign.
“Am I prepared for it? About as well as can be expected,” Watson said. “Hopefully, I’ll handle it with grace. As far as I’m concerned, it’s old news.”