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For immediate release
July 2, 2002
Contact:
NPR: Laura Gross,
202-513-2304,
lgross@npr.org



J.C. Watts Speaks About His Decision To Retire From Congress In Interview With NPR's Tavis Smiley

LOS ANGELES, CA- J.C. Watts (R-OK), announced his retirement this morning, and within the hour, was on the phone with NPR's Tavis Smiley for the first one-on-one radio interview discussing how his departure might affect Republican politics. The interview will air tomorrow, Tuesday, July 2, 2002 on The Tavis Smiley Show from NPRŽ

Smiley, host of The Tavis Smiley Show, spoke with Watts about what his departure means to the Republican Party's efforts to reach out to the black community; whether his race was a factor in his rapid rise to the top echelons of the party; and how people in his district, which may now lose the Republican seat, feel about his decision.

The Tavis Smiley Show from NPR, a daily one-hour magazine that engages national radio audiences with new voices and fresh perspectives, premiered in January 2002. The show reaches listeners through 32 public radio stations, including WNYE and WNYC New York, WHYY Philadelphia, WEAA Baltimore, KTSU Houston, KUOW Seattle, KPCC Pasadena, KERA Dallas, WCLK Atlanta. Internet users can listen to the program and find local stations at npr.org/programs/tavis. Audio from the July 2 program will be available at www.npr.org/programs/tavis after 7:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, July 2.

Excerpts from the interview:

Why Watts is leaving: "I was looking into retiring well into the 2002 cycle... I never really got into politics for a career, trying to build an empire. It really has been public service. But I wanted to make sure we got a Republican president, that Speaker Hastert kept his speakership...and we've gotten through redistricting in OK. Those were my three missions, and all three have been accomplished."

Watts' relationship to the black community: "I've done a lot of work in terms of outreach (to the black community as a black republican) but I've done it because it was the right thing to do. Good policy makes good politics and what I've done has been good politics. Now that I'm gone, the things I've mentioned continue....George W. Bush gets it: he supports HBCUs, the faith-based initiatives. It doesn't hurt to have the leader of the free world chiming in to make sure those things continue."

How family obligations affected Watts' decision to leave Congress: "I did get out because of my family. I'm the only Republican leader in the top 4 who still has kids at home... I can't be so concerned about saving America's families that you mess around and lose your own family... There has to be a balance."

The affect of race on Watts' political career: "If I'd have run for conference chairman and I hadn't won, some people would have said "it's because he's black." Well, I won, and then some folks said 'It's BECAUSE he's black!' So I'm sort of in a Catch-22 here..."

The glass ceiling in the Republican Party for black Republicans: "I thought about running for majority leader, or majority whip, but two things: one, I didn't need an intra-party squabble for 10 months and two, me being majority leader would have put me further INTO this game when I was contemplating how do I bow out, and back off?"

Life after leaving Congress: "Bill Gray didn't stop making a contribution just because he left the leadership of the Democratic Party. I still think I can make a contribution...that contribution needs to be made as an American citizen, not as an American congressman."


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