State Rep. Eric Watson will take office as Bradley County sheriff Sept. 1, after a decisive victory over incumbent Sheriff Jim Ruth.
In unofficial numbers, Watson carried all 17 precincts as well as the early and absentee votes, winning by a margin of 59 percent to 40 percent.
The sheriff-elect scored his best numbers at Valley View winning over the incumbent by 37 percent.
Ruth had his best showing at the Lee University precinct, where he was bested by Watson by only five votes.
“There’s a new spirit and a new direction for Bradley County,” the victorious candidate said as he made his way to the stage, cheered on by a significant crowd of supporters in the Mountain View Inn’s parking lot.
Supporters presented Watson with a T-shirt and hat with the word “SHERIFF” emblazoned on them and the crowd goaded him into wearing the garb.
“It’s been a long six months, hadn’t it?” Watson asked his supporters. “It’s not what I did, it’s not what my family did, it’s what Bradley County did.”
He recalled saying last October he would run a clean campaign, and said his election “should be a testimony to anyone who runs for office.”
“Negativity, untruths and slanders on good candidates will get you nowhere,” Watson said. “I’m looking forward to Sept. 1.”
Watson also said for “those officers who have been mistreated for the last six months, I’m going to make life better for you.”
He also addressed deputies who were in attendance or who supported his candidacy.
“Being demoted or put on a different shift or having your [Sheriff’s Office] car taken away has no place in Bradley County politics,” he said.
Watson said a TBI report released Tuesday showed another increase in the county crime rate.
“We’re going to take care of those problems in our administration,” he said. “More officers are going to be on the street protecting you, the taxpayers. I promise you. That’s my commitment.”
Watson said he felt a “positive spirit” from the crowd he spoke to Tuesday night and said he was “very thankful” for the margin of support shown by the voters.
“We are going forward with a positive attitude with the great officers that are over there. We’re going to create a new 21st century law enforcement operation,” he said.
Watson said he sees a good transition period over the next four months.
“I’m going to sit down with the County Commission in the next couple of weeks and go over my plan with them and my ideas with the budget goal of putting more officers on the street,” he said. “That’s not going to cost the county an extra penny.”
He said the first thing he wants to deal with is the high crime rate — specifically mentioning the problems of human trafficking and drugs.
Watson said it hadn’t really hit him that he won the sheriff’s race.
“It’s a blessing and I’m humbled,” he said. “It is amazing to me the people put their courage and thoughtfulness once again in me, as they did for representative.”
Watson also admitted that winning the job he sought has put in him in the position of taking on “a tremendous responsibility — to have that responsibility of the safety and well-being of this county.”
He said he plans to be “a working sheriff.”
“I’m going to be out here working with my officers and detectives on the street. We’re going to create new ideas and innovative ways to deal with issues,” he said.
Watson also said he wants to be a “people sheriff” and a “community sheriff.”
“I’m going to start holding community town hall meetings on a quarterly basis, just like I have as state representative,” he said. “To know the needs of your community, you have to get into the community to know what those needs are. I’m very serious about that.”
Watson also commented about the man he will replace in four months.
“I want to say thanks for the years of service my opponent has spent,” he said.
At his post-election gathering in the Old Woolen Mill, Ruth took his defeat after four years in the office as a chance for “a new chapter in life.”
“There is a season for everything and the Lord knows I need to move on,” Ruth said. “I know He has something for me to do, and I can show more time to my family now. I am 64 years old and have 41½ years in law enforcement. I can retire now and enjoy life.”
“Best wishes to the residents of Bradley County, and for their safety and well-being. I have worked hard to keep it safe and hope it remains that way,” Ruth said.
The sheriff said safe schools, streets and neighborhoods were his goals when he took office.
“It has been my theme the whole time,” Ruth said. “It is my hope that Mr. Watson has that same goal.
“I would like to thank the voters and all the people who have helped me through the years. I am most certainly thankful for serving the citizens of Bradley County and Cleveland during my 41 years in law enforcement.”