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web posted July 8, 2002

Watts announces no fifth-term bid

Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking Republican representative and the only African-American member of the GOP in the House, announced July 1 that he will not seek re-election.

Rep. J.C. Watts"I believe that my work in the House of Representatives at this time in my life is completed," Watts said. "It is time to go home, to go on with other things in my life and assume one of the most time-honored titles in America: 'citizen.'"

Watts has been weighing whether to retire from the House or seek re-election to a fifth term. He was part of the so-called Republican revolution in 1994 when the party won control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

"Many have urged me to stay, but all have told me to follow my heart and follow my conscience," Watts said. "That's what I'm doing today in announcing my retirement from Congress at the end of this current term."

Some who have worked closely with Watts said that his political career has never been the core activity for him that it is for many in Congress.

"Political people always like to see a political motive," said one close associate. "But he's never seen himself as a career-elected politician."

"He has a passion for politics, but it's not the be-all and end-all of his life," the associate said.

An aide to Watts said the former University of Oklahoma star quarterback led a sermon Sunday at a church in Ashburn, Virginia, in which he spoke of the need for good leadership.

Afterward, the pastor asked the congregation to pray for Watts, indicating he was making a deep personal decision.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, had asked Watts to stay. Watts thought about retiring in 2000, but Hastert helped to persuade him to seek re-election.

"The speaker wants J.C. back," said John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert. "He thinks he's an integral part of his leadership team."

"DeLay thinks it would not be helpful to have Watts retire," said an aide. "For one thing, he's the only African-American Republican in the House. And secondly, you would then have an additional leadership race."

"Stability is better than instability," the aide said.

But Watts' announcement came with a note of finality: "It has been a wonderful ride. It has been a wonderful journey," Watts said.

Some colleagues had said they were fed up with what they call Watts' "pouting" and "whining."

One House Republican leader indicated he would not try to talk Watts out of leaving.

"I'm not going to make myself available for more pouting," the Republican leader said, according to an aide.

Watts' chief of staff, Pam Pryor, said whoever made the comment was misinformed.

"That kind of comment comes from somebody who's never been faced with this kind of serious decision," Pryor said. "This is not just some sort of mental exercise for him. This is a really sober decision."

But Republican aides said some of Watts' colleagues are sick of hearing him threaten to quit or complain that he's unhappy.

"Same song, second verse," said one aide.

"It's become a little too routine," said another, who pointed to Watts' complaint that he was not given a larger role on the committee considering President Bush's proposal for a Department of Homeland Security.

Pryor rejected the characterization that Watts was simply "whining."

"When you've got a lot of challenges in your life, there's a lot to weigh," Pryor said. "It is a tough decision every time. I'm sorry that that process bothers some people."

Watts, 44, an ordained minister, is a father of five and feels obliged to spend more time with his family, associates said.

He delayed his return to Washington last week to attend a family reunion and meet other family commitments.

"As a citizen," Watts said in his announcement, "I intend to participate vigorously in the great ongoing debate on the future" of the United States.

Washington state court fines NEA over dues suit

A Washington state court fined the National Education Association more than $800,000 for intentional violation of state law, and barred it from collecting agency fees from thousands of Washington state teachers who are not NEA members.

The default judgment — issued by a Thurston County Superior Court judge on July 1 — came after the NEA ed a deadline the previous week to respond to a lawsuit filed by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative policy group based in Olympia, Wash.

The lawsuit, which the EFF says it filed on April 23, accuses the NEA of illegally spending money taken from teachers who are not members on politics without first getting their authorization, as required by state law. The court judgment finds the NEA guilty of this because the NEA failed to file its response to the accusation by June 23.

"We are astounded that the NEA ed or ignored this deadline," said EFF President Bob Williams. "Apparently NEA officials think complying with state laws isn't a high enough priority to merit close attention, but we expect this judgment to remind them that we value teachers' rights here in Washington."

The NEA, which represents 2.6 million educators nationwide, contests the date of the deadline. Michael Pons, an NEA policy analyst, said the NEA did not receive official notice of the EFF lawsuit until May 3, so the deadline for response should have been July 2. There is a 60-day window for response from the date a defendant is notified of a lawsuit.

"It is categorically untrue that we were served on April 23," said NEA spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons. "The judgment against us is based on a false statement that was provided to the court. We had counted on July 2 and we met that deadline legally."

The NEA mailed its official response to the court on June 28.

Pons believes the court's judgment will be overturned and, if it is not, the NEA will file the appropriate paperwork to contest it. The NEA operated on a $267 million budget for the 2001-02 year, which ends on Aug. 31.

The lawsuit centers on agency fees. Teachers who give up their union membership — often for political and ideological reasons ,the EFF points out — continue to pay fees to the NEA as "agency fee payers." Washington state law prohibits the use of any agency fees for political activity without first obtaining perion from each individual.

"If you're not going to prove to teachers that you're not spending their money on politics, the only fair remedy is to not take the money from them," said Marsha Richards, EFF spokeswoman. Richards said the EFF filed the lawsuit after Washington's Public Disclosure Comion found the union guilty of violating the state law, but was reluctant to prosecute and instead recommended a settlement with the state attorney general.

And she pointed out that the NEA's state affiliate, the Washington Education Association, was fined more than $770,00 last year for breaking the same state law.

Under the court's finding, in addition to the fine, the NEA will not be able to collect agency fees from roughly 4,000 teachers in Washington state who are not part of the union. Washington state teachers each pay $126 to the NEA each year.

In its ruling, the court found that the NEA, both in 1998 and 2000, had "intentionally used agency shop fees paid by individuals who are not members of the NEA" for political purposes, without their authorization. The court found that both years, the NEA collected the agency fees, commingled them with members' dues in the general treasury and then donated to political committees.

Pons and Lyons would not comment on the specifics of the case, but Pons said, "we don't believe there is a basis for the allegations."

He said the NEA and its Washington state affiliate "have scrupulously tried to adhere to every requirement within the Washington state law."

He said some provisions and regulations are relatively new and complex and that at times the NEA has been given vague answers by authorities as to whether a particular action would violate the law.

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