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Watts announces no fifth-term bid

Fourth-ranking House Republican says fourth term is last


From Kate Snow
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking Republican representative and the only African-American member of the GOP in the House, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election.

"I believe that my work in the House of Representatives at this time in my life is completed," Watts said. "It is time to go home, to go on with other things in my life and assume one of the most time-honored titles in America: 'citizen.'"

Watts has been weighing whether to retire from the House or seek re-election to a fifth term. He was part of the so-called Republican revolution in 1994 when the party won control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

Watch Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff  when Rep. J.C. Watts talks about his decision not to run for a fifth term. That's Monday at 4 p.m. EDT, 1 p.m. PDT.

Associates of Watts, who has been chairman of the House Republican Conference since 1998, told CNN he was struggling with what they called a life decision, not a political decision.

"Many have urged me to stay, but all have told me to follow my heart and follow my conscience," Watts said. "That's what I'm doing today in announcing my retirement from Congress at the end of this current term."

Some who have worked closely with Watts said that his political career has never been the core activity for him that it is for many in Congress.

"Political people always like to see a political motive," said one close associate. "But he's never seen himself as a career-elected politician."

"He has a passion for politics, but it's not the be-all and end-all of his life," the associate said.

An aide to Watts said the former University of Oklahoma star quarterback led a sermon Sunday at a church in Ashburn, Virginia, in which he spoke of the need for good leadership.

Afterward, the pastor asked the congregation to pray for Watts, indicating he was making a deep personal decision.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, had asked Watts to stay. Watts thought about retiring in 2000, but Hastert helped to persuade him to seek re-election.

"The speaker wants J.C. back," said John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert. "He thinks he's an integral part of his leadership team."

"DeLay thinks it would not be helpful to have Watts retire," said an aide. "For one thing, he's the only African-American Republican in the House. And secondly, you would then have an additional leadership race."

"Stability is better than instability," the aide said.

But Watts' announcement Monday came with a note of finality: "It has been a wonderful ride. It has been a wonderful journey," Watts said.

Not all praise

Some colleagues had said they were fed up with what they call Watts' "pouting" and "whining."

One House Republican leader indicated he would not try to talk Watts out of leaving.

"I'm not going to make myself available for more pouting," the Republican leader said, according to an aide.

Watts' chief of staff, Pam Pryor, said whoever made the comment was misinformed.

"That kind of comment comes from somebody who's never been faced with this kind of serious decision," Pryor said. "This is not just some sort of mental exercise for him. This is a really sober decision."

But Republican aides said some of Watts' colleagues are sick of hearing him threaten to quit or complain that he's unhappy.

"Same song, second verse," said one aide.

"It's become a little too routine," said another, who pointed to Watts' complaint that he was not given a larger role on the committee considering President Bush's proposal for a Department of Homeland Security.

Pryor rejected the characterization that Watts was simply "whining."

"When you've got a lot of challenges in your life, there's a lot to weigh," Pryor said. "It is a tough decision every time. I'm sorry that that process bothers some people."

Watts, 44, an ordained minister, is a father of five and feels obliged to spend more time with his family, associates said.

He delayed his return to Washington last week to attend a family reunion and meet other family commitments.

"As a citizen," Watts said in his Monday announcement, "I intend to participate vigorously in the great ongoing debate on the future" of the United States.


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