Watts disputes Istook's claim of credit for projects

Sunday, April 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ One of Oklahoma's U.S. representatives is criticizing a fellow House member's claims of credit for federal projects in the state.

J.C. Watts, a U.S. representative from Norman, said claims by House member Ernest Istook are a ``hard sell.''

``It is disturbing when you work your legs off and you get beat up over an issue,'' Watts said. ``And then at the 11th hour, a person tries to come in and make it look like he has been involved all along.''

Watts has also remarked that teamwork is important for Oklahoma's delegation since it is competing for federal projects and money with states that have a larger representation.

``I just wish members of the delegation would have stepped up to the plate before an election year,'' he said.

In a written response Sunday, Istook, a Republican from Warr Acres, said he has not sought credit for some projects and has tried to be discerning about what was funded.

``I've always tried to be responsible with the taxpayers' money, evaluating things carefully and not spending money just because somebody asked for it,'' Istook said.

He mentioned helping to get funds for a new paint hangar at Tinker Air Force Base and improvements on the North Canadian River, even though they weren't in his district.

``I didn't toot my own horn a lot about it, but I've always been involved in making good things happen as well as working to stop things that weren't being done right,'' Istook said.

He indicated in an earlier statement that he did not have a conflict with any Oklahoma colleagues.

``If I had a problem with anyone in our delegation, which I don't, I'd tell them personally,'' Istook said.

Istook is facing re-election and may go up against fellow Republican incumbent Frank Lucas depending on how Oklahoma's congressional districts are redrawn.

When elected to Congress in 1992, Istook announced he would not be a ``pork-barreler'' and would not support any project that didn't benefit the entire nation.

He drew criticism in 1993 when he voted against a spending bill that included funding for Tinker Air Force Base. Two years later, Istook used his position on the Appropriations Committee to put limits on funds for Oklahoma City's recovery from a bombing that killed 168 people.

Another member of Oklahoma's House delegation, Rep. Wes Watkins, also served on the House Appropriations Committee for years. Watkins said he believes Istook's approach to that position has changed.