A New Generation of Leaders: Ryan Watts for Congress
Ryan Watts has lofty goals for himself. At just 27, Watts is the youngest candidate for Congress as of this writing. The North Carolina native hopes to bring about what he considers necessary change in the demographics of the House of Representatives. To him, the time for millennials to seek office and have a seat at the table is now.
Watts grew up through the public school system, including his collegiate years at UNC, where he obtained degrees in business and political science. Upon graduation, he moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a strategy consultant for IBM. At IBM, he helped companies across broad industries develop into the modern economy. The work he did there would parallel his goals if elected: helping people adapt to change. He described his time there as people focused and forward thinking.
After his stint at IBM, Watts transitioned to working as a consultant for Deloitte, where he describes his work as people and strategic-change focused — themes that recur in his campaign. His work as a consultant mirrors the message he has trumpeted on the campaign trail: how do we evaluate the changes people will go through and how do we help them adjust? Watts hopes to leverage his experience with how technology affects the economy if elected. The jobs of yesterday and the jobs of tomorrow continue to differ more and more, a transition through which Watts hopes to help people.
The district he hopes to represent encompasses over seven counties, and is considered one of the heavily gerrymandered districts in the state. The district, as drawn, favors Republican candidates. Mark Walker, the incumbent, carried the district by about 18 points in 2016. Watts is confident that he can overcome that disadvantage through running a unique campaign.
In a campaign video, Watts’ political affiliation is conspicuously absent. That is less about skirting the label, and more about the ability to self-define. Watts says that, when labels are applied, people’s minds immediately go to certain places. He prefers to run on the merits of his own policies rather than have the Democratic label pigeonhole him.
Watts thinks that Republicans do a better job of branding Democrats than Democrats do branding themselves. He understands that there is not always common ground on every issue, but he cites his childhood with parents split on politics as a time where he learned to think about different ways to discuss issues. Though the Democrats struggle to self-brand, Watts suggests that is part and parcel of diversity, and diversity is the party’s biggest strength.
That reservedness over party label seems strategic in the district, too. Watts noted that the affiliation of the district has evolved in the past years; now, Republicans, Democrats and independents divide into about 1/3 of the electorate apiece. Watts hopes to run as a solutions-oriented candidate, something he sees lacking in Rep. Walker.
“I don’t see Mark Walker acting in the best interest of the common people,” Watts argues. “We too often push issues down from Washington without elevating good ideas form communities in the district.”
As a congressman, Watts would seek policy that benefits the many, not the few. “Any policy that is only benefiting a handful of people to the detriment of the many is a problem,” Watts said. “If you are going to push for policies that impact the richest people in the country and not really anyone else, that’s a problem.” And that is what Mark Walker is about, he added.
Watts also touched on a few issues important to him in his campaign. The first, green energy, once again draws on his experience in the private sector. He believes that clean energy is the future, and that we need to look at ways of incentivizing companies to switch toward solar and green energy. Watts suggested that tax incentives or rebates may be useful in fomenting that change.
On immigration, he thinks that the conversation is too charged for meaningful change right now. “We have got to move away from this hateful ideology that’s present,” Watts said. “We are all just looking for a better opportunity.” To that end, he says that the dreamers and their immediate families should be able to remain in the United States.
Finally, Watts hopes to introduce measures to implement term limits on representatives and senators. He sees room to negotiate on the specifics, but overall thinks that “there are a lot of great people in congress who have been there a long time, but there are some that should age out.” This policy reflects his belief that it is time for the younger generation to begin representing themselves in Congress.
To conclude the interview, we asked Watts why the electorate in the 6th District should vote for him. He reflected again on his pertinent experience from consulting, emphasizing his desire to utilize strategic thinking and long-term planning. More simply, he believes that running on a message of reducing rhetoric and doing the right thing is a winning bet.
He framed his young age as a boon more than a restraint on his candidacy. Watts hopes to be in the vanguard of “a new generation of leaders willing to build bridges.” While the Millennial generation has become the largest voting cohort, they still lack proper representation in office. In filling that void, Watts sees the potential to get the bloc motivated to engage in politics.
“I think the Millennial generation is beginning to activate. If we don’t get on the playing field, we’re going to suffer the consequences. We need a seat at the table. I think the younger generations are going to continue to get involved.”