J.C. Watts says he won't run for governor

Tuesday, August 23rd 2005, 8:51 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts bowed out of the 2006 governor's race Tuesday, leaving the GOP without a big-name candidate to challenge Gov. Brad Henry, the popular Democratic incumbent.

"I have determined that the timing for such an adventure is not right at this point in our lives, and that I will not enter the race for the Republican nomination for governor in 2006," Watts said.

Watts, 47, recently bought a home in the Washington, D.C., area, where he started a lobbying and consulting business after leaving Congress in 2003.

"I cannot in good conscience conclude that 2006 is right for me and for the family that I love so much, and I would not ask them to put themselves through the rigor of a statewide campaign at this time," he said in a statement.

Watts, a former star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, is the second Republican to decide against making the race. Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin has also announced she will run for re-election instead of running for governor.

Republican state Sen. Jim Williamson of Tulsa and Tulsa oil executive Robert Sullivan have said they will run for governor and Tulsa attorney Gary L. Richardson also is considering seeking the GOP nomination. Richardson finished third as an independent candidate in 2002.

House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, said Watts' announcement "has prompted many people to encourage me to make this race and I owe it to them to seriously consider doing so."

Hiett became the state's first Republican speaker in 80 years after the 2005 elections. "We were successful when we brought new and historic management to the House, but while it was a bold step, it clearly was only a first step," he said.

Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, said the decision by Watts "probably means that some other people will take a look at the race. At this point, I think whoever goes out there and lays out a plan that will address the problems of Oklahoma will give Brad Henry a run for his money."

Richardson said Watts' departure, along with Fallin's decision, opens up the GOP contest. "Those are the only two names I had heard that were of any real concern to me should I decide to make the race as a Republican," he said.

Lisa Pryor, state Democratic chairwoman, said Henry's popularity no doubt played a role in Watts' decision.

But Chad Alexander, who ran Watts' last two campaigns for Congress, said the former congressman loves a political challenge. "This was based on family commitments, business commitments. It was a matter of timing," Alexander said.

Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry, said the Democratic chief executive "views Congressman Watts as a friend and respects his decision."

"With respect to the 2006 election, Gov. Henry knows he will have a formidable opponent next November and will not take anything for granted," Sund said.

The Oklahoman Poll, released earlier this summer by The Tulsa World and Tulsa television station KOTV, showed Henry with a 72 percent approval rating. In a head-to-head matchup, the poll showed Henry getting 48.5 percent to Watts' 33.9 percent, with 17.6 percent not expressing a preference or refusing to respond. A total of 750 registered voters were surveyed, with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

Watts said that in talking to voters he picked up a sentiment that improvements are needed in the leadership of Oklahoma, which often compares poorly to other states in economic development and other areas.

"In almost 100 years, we have been unable to break out of that ranking in the lower 40s in any measurable barometer of prosperity and progress," he said. "This is unconscionable for a people as great as we are."

"I grieve when I hear outsiders talk of Oklahoma as a Third World state with no opportunity to grow. I grieve when I hear of the mass exodus of educators crossing our borders for greater opportunity in Texas, Kansas, Colorado and over 40 other states. I grieve when I hear that another business seeking to expand has bypassed our state for greater opportunity elsewhere."

Watts was elected to the U.S. House in 1994. He was the fourth-ranking Republican and the only black Republican in the House before announcing in 2002 he would not see re-election.

Watts was elected in 1990 to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, a state regulatory board.