- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

As Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. brings his brief but high-profile tenure in Congress to a close by retiring this year, he is leaving the door open to running for the U.S. Senate in the future.
The Oklahoma Republican, who as chairman of the House Republican Conference is the top-ranking black member of Congress and the only black Republican, said in a morning coffee with editors and reporters at The Washington Times that he could see the timing working out six years from now.
That's the next time the seat of Sen. James M. Inhofe, a Republican who is running for re-election this year, would be up for election.
"I don't know what [senior Oklahoma Sen.] Don Nickles is going to do in the next couple years. Jim Inhofe will be re-elected to a six-year term, so that takes him to '08. Just candidly, six years, right now, today, you asking me that question, if I was going to do a Senate thing, six years makes a lot more sense because of my family structure," he said.
"Six years from now, it would not surprise me if I was back in politics in an elected or appointed post; but six years from now, it would not surprise me if I was on a ranch in Oklahoma raising black Angus cattle," he said.
Mr. Watts, 44, announced over the summer that he will resign after this, his fourth House term.
He served for two of those terms as House Republican Conference chairman, and strove to build a better communications operation.
"Our numbers [in 1998] were 36 percent favorable, today they're 57 percent 42 million more Americans have a favorable view of Republicans," Mr. Watts said. "I think we literally created an infrastructure to allow Republicans to communicate. I really focused on 'how to say it,' and a real communications operation."
On policy, Mr. Watts had some key successes in shepherding through the American Community Renewal Act, which expanded economic-empowerment zones. He was also a driving force behind President Bush's faith-based initiative, which has passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
Yesterday, Mr. Watts said he would be willing to accept the current Senate version.
"I would be willing to support that, just to get it moving," he said. "Although it doesn't have charitable choice, it is moving in the right direction."
Mr. Watts was one of the House leaders who served on the select committee that constructed the homeland-security bill that passed in July, and has also been an advocate for action in Iraq.
"I think anybody who says [Iraqi strongman] Saddam Hussein's DNA is not on September 11, either directly or indirectly, is a stretch for me," he said yesterday.
For now, Mr. Watts campaigns for Republicans, trying to secure another Republican House majority and to win a Senate majority in November's elections. He paraphrased a former head of the University of Oklahoma, who joked he wanted to raise the university's academic profile to a level the school's outstanding football program would be proud of.
"I'm hopeful the American people will give us a Senate the House can be proud of," said Mr. Watts, a standout starting quarterback himself at Oklahoma.
Mr. Watts also has a new book, "What Color is a Conservative," due out Oct. 22. But after that, his future is less clear.
"You look over the last 25 years of my life, I've either been in politics or athletics. I don't run in those athletic circles. I went out and tried to be a spectator at a Redskins practice and pulled a hamstring. That told me I'm not prepared for that. I suspect I'll have some opportunities to be associated in the political arena in some kind of way," he said.
Retiring Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, announced Monday that he will take a job as vice chairman of UBS Warburg, an investment banking firm. Meanwhile, Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, has already begun a role on NBC-TV's "Law and Order" program.
"Fred's sounds like a lot more fun," Mr. Watts said.


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