Watts Becomes National Chairman of GOPAC

Posted March 12, 2003 at 6:20pm

During his eight-year tenure in the House, former Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.) constantly stressed his personal commitment to the Republican team. Now the former football star has a shot at becoming one of the party’s chief recruiters.

Watts has joined GOPAC, the once notorious education and training organization for Republican state and local candidates which was once the power base of former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) career, as its national chairman.

“J.C. is no longer an elected official, but he still very much cares about the heart and soul of the Republican Party and wants to be in a position where he can help mold and shape it,” said Watts spokesman John Vandenheuval.

Watts will be the second Oklahoman to chair the group. Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating is the outgoing chairman and played a key role in convincing Watts to take the job.

Keating broached the topic with Watts last fall after the onetime chairman of the House GOP Conference announced his plans to retire.

Vandenheuval said Watts has always had a “soft spot” in his heart for GOPAC and is thrilled with the opportunity to help raise a GOP farm team that will include more minorities and women. In fact, GOPAC and the material the group provides helped influence Watts to launch his first bid for state office.

In a statement released Wednesday, Watts said he’s proud of his party’s accomplishments in the past decade, which include “landmark reforms of welfare, tax and national security policy.”

“Many of the leaders of this change were recruited and trained by GOPAC, including me,” he said. “Now under President Bush’s leadership in the White House, we need to seize this golden opportunity to concentrate our resources to help recruit, train, mobilize and elect Republicans in state and local government who will be our leaders across the nation for decades to come.”

GOPAC consultant Cheri Jacobus said the organization is delighted to have Watts on board and believes his high name identification, energy and wide appeal among party activists across the country will help raise the organization’s profile even more.

“[Democratic National Committee Chairman] Terry McAuliffe will be shaking in his boots,” she claimed. “Democrats have always been quick to criticize GOPAC because it’s an effective organization. J.C. Watts is very well-known and is very good at rallying the troops, and that’s a double wallop.”

Despite the enthusiasm, the job will not be easy. Since its heyday when Gingrich controlled it, GOPAC has faded a bit, although it still raked in roughly $1 million for each of the last two election cycles.

Since Watts retired in January, the former Congressman has been keeping himself busy traveling to and from Oklahoma and D.C.

He formed the eponymous political consulting firm J.C. Watts Companies and worked with GOP pollster Frank Luntz to create Watts-Luntz Communications as a subsidiary.

In between showing up at parent-teacher conferences and his son’s basketball games, Watts also joined the boards of ClearChannel Communications, Dillard’s department stores and Terex Corporation, a Fortune 1000 manufacturer based in Westport, Conn.

He is also an active member of the lecture circuit thanks to his affiliation with the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, which helps him rake in about $30,000 to $40,000 a speech, according to an aide.

In a recent interview with Roll Call, Watts stressed the dire need for Republicans to expand their outreach efforts. And he said GOP leaders had to do more than just make a commitment to hire more black staffers — as they have promised to do — although he believed that was a good first step.

As an example Watts described the efforts he made to attract people of different races to the church he attends in Oklahoma.

After years of commitment to the policy, he said, “You walked in on Sunday and it looked like the United Nations.”

“Until outreach becomes a culture, until it becomes a conviction, it has no teeth,” he said. “I don’t say that to reflect on anybody in particular, it’s just that you need outreach in your church, like in recruiting in athletics. It’s the lifeblood of a successful program. You can’t have a John Elway go down and retire and not have somebody to replace him.”