Wesley Wade "Wes" Watkins (born December 15, 1938) is a politician from the state of Oklahoma. He is a retired member of the United States House of Representatives where Watkins had represented Oklahoma's 3rd Congressional District for 14 years as a Democrat and then for six years as a Republican.
Early life and career
Watkins was born in De Queen, Arkansas
but moved to Oklahoma as a boy. He graduated from Oklahoma State University
in 1960, receiving a master's degree
from that same school in 1961. After a brief stint working for the United States Department of Agriculture
, he worked as an administrator at his alma mater
from 1963 to 1966. During that time, he was initiated into Tau Kappa Epsilon
Fraternity as an honorary member while serving as their faculty advisor. Later, he spent two years heading one of the first economic development districts in the country, based in Ada
Entry into politics
Watkins became active in Democratic party politics
in the early 1970s, and was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate
in 1974. Two years later, U. S. House Speaker Carl Albert
announced his retirement after 30 years representing Oklahoma's 3rd Congressional District
. The district, which was based in the southeastern part of the state and known as Little Dixie
, was heavily Democratic in both local and national elections. After defeating Albert's Administrative Assistant Charles Ward in the Democratic primary runoff, Watkins gained Albert's endorsement and won with 82% of the vote in the general election. He was re-elected six more times, always by close to 80% of the vote. For most of this time, he served on the Budget
Committees, allowing him to bring large amounts of money to his mostly rural
district. He was also very active in oil
and natural gas
issues, and took particularly strong interest in economic development issues for his rural district.
Attempts at running for governor
Watkins didn't seek an eighth congressional term in 1990, but instead raised a then record setting 3 million dollars and ran for the Democratic nomination for governor
. He ran ahead of House Speaker Steve Lewis, yet lost to eventual winner David Walters
, who had been the Democrat Gubernatorial nominee 4 years earlier in 1986.
Watkins was openly disappointed in the lack of support of the hierarchy of the state Democratic party. In 1994, Watkins ran for governor again, this time as an independent. He only won 23% of the vote. However, his independent candidacy siphoned off enough votes from Lieutenant Governor Jack Mildren
, the Democratic candidate, to allow Frank Keating
, a Reagan administration official, to become only the third Republican
governor in Oklahoma history.
Return to Congress
In 1996, Bill Brewster
, a Democrat and former state representative from Madill, Oklahoma
who had succeeded Watkins in the 3rd District, decided to retire from Congress. Watkins decided that he wanted his seat back. The House leadership
persuaded him to run as a Republican. They promised a seat on the Ways and Means Committee
with full seniority if he ran as a Republican and won. No congressman had ever served on all three of the major financial committees (Appropriations, Budget and Ways and Means) before. Despite Albert endorsing Watkins' Democratic opponent, Watkins won a narrow victory, becoming the first Republican to represent Little Dixie
since Oklahoma joined the Union in 1907. The Republicans had never made a serious bid for the seat before.
He initially planned to retire from office in 1998 after undergoing brain surgery, but was persuaded to run again. He was handily re-elected that year and faced no major-party opposition when he ran for his third term in 2000.
Watkins' voting record in his first period in Congress had been characterized as somewhat moderate. During his second period, however, his voting record was strongly conservative, usually receiving ratings in the high 90s from the American Conservative Union.
Retirement from Congress
Oklahoma lost a congressional seat after the 2000 census
due to slower than expected population growth. After receiving indications that his home in Stillwater (where he had lived since 1990) would be drawn out of the 3rd district, Watkins announced he would retire for good. In an indication of how much his politics had evolved since leaving the House for the first time, Watkins served as honorary chairman for conservative Senator Jim Inhofe
's bid for a second full term.