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Watts, J. C. Jr. 1957–

J. C. Watts, Jr. 1957

Politician

At a Glance

Football Star and State Hero

Minister and Businessman

Successful Bid for Congress

Sources

J. C. Watts, Jr. is the first black Republican from a Southern state to win national office since Reconstruction. A former University of Oklahoma football star and a Baptist minister, Watts serves as Congressman for the fourth district in Oklahomaa district that is 90 percent white and predominantly Democratic. Watts won his seat by adopting a conservative political and social agenda, in many ways identical to the G.O.P.s Contract with America. He favors welfare reform, capital gains tax cuts, and a balanced budget amendment while opposing abortion rights, gun control, and cuts in defense spending. Wattss political philosophy often puts him at odds with other black members of Congress, but he feels that more and more African Americans are embracing the Republican platform, with its emphasis on ending big government and promoting family values.

A central tenet of conservatism is the notion that anyone can achieve the American dream by working hard and holding high standards of performance. Success has to come from the individual, Watts told The Washington Monthly. My papa always said that the only helping hand you can rely on is at the end of your sleeve. This attitude, paired with deeply held views on moral issues, made Watts an attractive candidate to such right-wing groups as the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority. Today the personable congressman is trying to broaden the base of black support for the Republican party by demonstrating how Republican ideas on free enterprise and private sector investment can improve the lives of the urban and rural poor. According to Amy Waldman in The Washington Monthly, Watts has adopted the [Republican] partys platform heart and soul. Indeed, hes become one of the most articulate espousers of its philosophy.

Julius Caesar Watts, Jr. was born and raised in the small farming community of Eufaula, Oklahoma. His father often worked two jobs simultaneously to support J. C. and his five siblings, and the family was closely tied to the Baptist church. Both J. C. Watts Sr. and his brother were also active politically for the Democratic party and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wade Watts, the congressmans uncle, headed the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP. His father sat on the Eufaula City Council. On every occasion, Watts and his siblings were encouraged to work hard, be selfreliant, and follow the tenets of the Christian faith.

At a Glance

Full name Julius Caesar Watts, Jr.; born November 18, 1957, in Eufaula, OK; son of Julius (a minister and businessman) and Helen Watts; married Frankie Jones; five children. Education : University of Oklahoma, B.A., 1981. Religion : Baptist.

Player for teams in Ottawa and Toronto in Canadian Football League, 1981-86; Baptist minister and businessman in Oklahoma, 1986-89; member of Oklahoma State Corporation Commission, 1990-94; member of United States House of Representatives, 1995. Spokesman for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, March of Dimes, and anti-drug programs.

Member : Fellowship of Christian Athletes (board of directors), National Drinking Water Advisory Council, Oklahoma Special Olympics.

Selected awards : Named Orange Bowl Most Valuable Player, 1980 and 1981; Grey Cup Most Valuable Player, Canadian Football League, 1981; inducted into Orange Bowl Hall of Honor, 1992.

Addresses : Office 2420 Springer Dr., Suite 120, Norman, OK 73069.

Football Star and State Hero

Tall and athletic, J. C. Watts Jr. found his greatest success on the football field. He was the first black player ever to make varsity quarterback at his high school, and when the coach named him to the slot, some of the white players walked off the team. They were not missed. Watts excelled at quarterback and soon caught the eye of college scouts from all over the region. He was heavily recruited, and he finally accepted a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, where the football team was coached by a man named Barry Switzer.

Switzer, who today coaches the Dallas Cowboys, recalled his former student-athlete in Jet. I always knew J. C. was a leader, the coach said. He never gave me an ounce of troublewish I could say that about all my players. He baby sat my children. He was dependable.

For Watts, however, the experience at the University of Oklahoma was not entirely rosy. As a freshman benchwarmer, seventh on a roster of eight quarterbacks, he grew disillusioned and quit twice, returning to Eufaula on both occasions. His father persuaded him to persevere by telling him, If what youre doing was easy, everybody would be doing it, or so Watts recalled in U.S. News and World Report. Whatever goaded him to try again, Watts did. He was soon rewarded handsomely.

Promoted to the starting quarterback position in 1979, Watts led Oklahoma to two consecutive Orange Bowl appearances in 1980 and 1981. Both times the Sooners won, and both times Watts was named Orange Bowl Most Valuable Player. The Orange Bowl victories gave Oklahoma the Big 8 Championship in both of those years as well. Needless to say, the dependable J. C. Watts became a hero throughout Oklahoma.

Soon after his 1994 victorious congressional race, Watts was asked which meant morehis becoming a congressman or winning two Orange Bowls. The election probably means more, but I dont know in this state, he quipped in Sports Illustrated. Not after having played against Nebraska and Texas.

Minister and Businessman

Even while he was in college Watts spent much of his spare time giving motivational speeches and preaching in Baptist churches, especially to the youth. He became known statewide for his stirring sermons and his ability to hold the attention of a crowd. After earning his bachelors degree in 1981, Watts joined the Canadian Football League for a six-year stint as quarterback for teams in Ottawa and Toronto. In his first year he won Grey Cup Most Valuable Player, an equivalent honor to the American Super Bowl MVP. During the off-seasons Watts returned to Oklahoma, where he preached, operated a small business, and invested in real estate.

What Watts wanted to do was go into politics. Here, however, he faced a dilemma. During his college years he had been impressed by the views of Republican senatorial candidate Don Nickles. Gradually, as the 1980s progressed, Watts became more and more disenchanted with the Democratic party. He felt the party was taking its support from blacks for granted, offering them few incentives to keep their loyalty. This opinion was confirmed when he wanted to start a real estate venture and got help from local Republicans. Later, when he expressed his interest in politics to the Democrats, their response was decidedly lukewarm. Watts saw more potential for success in the Republican partyand besides, that partys conservative ideals and moral stance more closely resembled his own values. He changed his party affiliation in 1989.

By all accounts, Oklahomas conservatives were delighted to have Watts in their fold. Here, they hoped, would be a pioneer who could make the Republican party more attractive to black voters. Watts was intelligent and articulate. He made a compelling case for the conservative agenda. And he quickly drew a high rating from the politically potent Christian Coalition for his stands against abortion rights, gun control, and gay rights.

Within one year after switching parties, Watts became the first black ever elected to a statewide office in Oklahoma. He won one of three seats on the states Corporation Commission, a powerful body that is charged with regulating the telephone, gas, and oil industries in Oklahoma. His stay on this commission was controversial. According to Amy Waldman, Campaign contribution reports showed [Watts] had accepted nearly $100,000 from individuals whose businesses were regulated by the commission. The reporter added: Oklahoma elects rather than appoints its utility regulators, but doesnt bar them from accepting funds from the industries they regulate. The potential for unhealthy relationshipsunhealthy for the states consumersis obvious, and often realized. But Wattss service on the commission was particularly industry-friendly, according to commission observers. U.S. News and World Report cited a Oklahoma Observer editorial that said of Watts: As a commissioner, hes been a wholly owned subsidiary of the utilities hes supposed to regulate.

Successful Bid for Congress

Watts denied any improper activities while serving on the Corporation Commission, and the voters believed him. He became the Republican candidate for Congress in Oklahomas fourth district in 1994 and, riding a national tide of anti-Democratic sentiment, was elected by a comfortable margin of nine percentage points. No black Republican had been elected to Congress from a Southern state since the Reconstruction era just after the Civil War. The importance of the occasion was not lost on prominent Republicans such as Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, George Bush, and actor Charlton Heston, who supported Watts actively during his campaign and befriended him in Washington, DC afterwards.

For his part, Watts lent his full support to the Republi-can-sponsored Contract with America and the many pieces of legislation connected to it. According to Waldman, he supported a tax cut for the wealthy, and cuts in programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Head Start, Medicaid, school lunches, and student loans and grants. Perhaps not surprisingly, Watts declined an invitation to join the Congressional Black Caucus, because so often he votes differently from most of its members. He told Black Enterprise : I think the CBC and I want the same things for the black community. The difference is how we get there.

Watts has his own ideas about improving the lot of the urban poor. In 1995 he and Congressman Jim Talent of Missouri initiated a wide-ranging anti-poverty program called the Renewal Community Project. Watts and Talent conceive a series of legislative acts that would give tax breaks and reduced regulation to small businesses, provide school vouchers so that parents could have more choice over the schools their children attend, and offer funding to organizations that attack social problems from a faith based foundation. Weve allowed big government to replace the institutions that formerly gave structure and order to our neighborhoods, Watts explained in Black Enterprise. The reality is that big government and increased federal money are part of the problem.

Nor is Watts completely satisfied with affirmative action programs as they stand today, although he has proven a moderating influence among Republicans who would scrap affirmative action altogether. Noting that he opposes affirmative action in principle, Watts told The Washington Monthly : I dont believe we should pick winners and losers based on skin color or gender. The group cannot get educated for you, the group cannot make responsible choices for you, the group cannot be a self-starter for you: We can lock horns as a group to fight racism and discrimination, but success has to come from the individual.

Watts was prominently featured at the 1996 Republican National Convention that nominated George Bush as its candidate for president. Most political observers noted that Wattss speech in support of the Republican platform was one of the highlights of the event. The national notoriety carried over into his own congressional race, and Watts easily won re-election in his district in 1996. While some magazines have hailed him as the GOPs Great Black Hope, Watts is quick to point out a few problems with that tag. First of all, he represents a district that is almost all white. Second, he finds the emphasis on his race disturbing, because it would not be an issue if he were a Democrat. You always hear black Republican, but you never hear white Democrat, he told Sports Illustrated. Weve got to get beyond the labels and the stereotypes. Other people have hang-ups about it. I dont.

J. C. Watts commutes between his offices in Washington, DC and his home in Oklahoma, where he and his wife Frankie have five children. Difficult as the long-distance travel is, Watts feels it is essential for voters to see that he practices what he preachesstrong family values. The quickest way to destroy America is to destroy the family unit, he stated in U.S. News and World Report. I can help in making sure Congress understands the strong foundational role the family plays in society.

Sources

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, June 1995, p. 38; July 1995, p. 22.

Jet, June 12, 1995, p. 7.

New York Times, October 8, 1996, p. A21.

Sports Illustrated, November 21, 1994, p. 57.

U.S. News and World Report, December 26, 1994, p. 90.

Washington Monthly, October 1996, pp. 34-40.

Anne Janette Johnson

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