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Watts won't seek fifth term

Fourth-ranking House Republican: 'Time to go home'

Watts: Time to "assume one of the most time-honored titles in America: citizen."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House and only black GOP member, said Monday he would not seek re-election to a fifth term.

"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, chairman of the House Republican Conference since 1998, 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.

"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, a star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1970s and early '80s, said 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."

CNN's Judy Woodruff asks Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma why he has decided not to seek re-election to a fifth term in congress (July 1)

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Watch Rep. J.C. Watts' retirement news conference (July 1)

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

President Bush issued a statement praising Watts, saying he had "served the people of Oklahoma and the United States with honor and distinction" and had many talents to offer the country.

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."

Not all praise

On the other hand, some of Watts' colleagues have said they were fed up with what they call his "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.

Pam Pryor, Watts' chief of staff, 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."

Other Republican aides said some of Watts' colleagues were 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 aide, who pointed to Watts' complaint that he was not given a larger role on the committee considering 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.

"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.

-- CNN Congressional Correspondent Kate Snow contributed to this report.


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