WASHINGTON – Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., will retire at the end of this term, citing family concerns.
He made the announcement official in a Monday press conference in which he said, "My work in the House of Representatives, at this time in my life, is completed. It is time to return home."
"Serving in Congress has been more than an honor; it has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life ... It has been a wonderful ride. It has been a wonderful journey," he added.
Watts broke a term limits pledge in 2000 when he ran for re-election at the urging of the Republican leadership. He is the Republican Party's only black congressional member, and as House GOP Conference Chairman is fourth in the GOP leadership. Republican Reps. Deborah Pryce of Ohio and J.D. Hayworth of Arizona have both announced their intention to seek the chairmanship.
Watts is the second member of the GOP leadership to announce his departure. House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, R-Texas, announced his retirement last December.
In recent days, Watts has gotten calls from President Bush, Cabinet-level officials and Republicans around the country who have pleaded with him to stay in office.
"Many have told me to stay but all of them have told me to follow my heart and follow my conscience. That is what I am doing today," he said.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was sorry to see Watts go.
"J.C.'s departure — coupled with the retirement of Dick Armey — will leave a void that won't be easily filled. J.C. is someone who is focused on the most important things in life and I respect his decision," DeLay said.
Watts told Fox News that he won't miss the travel to and from Oklahoma but he will miss his friends in Washington.
Watts said he is pleased with what the Republicans have done for the United States since 1994, when he was among a new brand of lawmakers who ushered in the Republican Revolution.
He cited welfare reform, tax cuts, a balanced budget, upgrading the military, and helping individual constituents as some of the priorities he was pleased to work on. But, he added, with all its achievements, Congress is still not a perfect place.
"It cannot be, for it is an institution run by imperfect people. But I do believe that Congress is more responsive to the will of the American people, and that today neither party believes it holds a permanent majority in the United States House of Representatives. That's a very good thing for the American people and the health of our political system."
He said that the GOP should have no trouble holding on to 4th Congressional District seat, which he won with 65 percent of the vote in 2000.
He added that he will continue "to participate vigorously" in "the future of the most wonderful nation in all the world."
Watts was the a star quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, and played for the Canadian Football League before joining Congress in 1994. He is also an ordained minister.