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Political Mercury

Jan 19, 2012
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J.C. Watts: Grandfather Gingrich is ‘changed’

By Douglas Burns

A leading conservative commentator and former member of Congress during Newt Gingrich’s run as speaker of the U.S. House says the presidential candidate from Georgia is a different man today than two decades ago.

In an interview, J.C. Watts, an Oklahoman who rose to political prominence in the late 1990s, said he’s convinced Gingrich makes the most compelling case for the White House. Watts has been one of Gingrich’s visible surrogates.

“I can tell you Newt is not the same person today,” Watts said.

He added, “He’s a different person today than I knew 15 years ago.”

Gingrich has been married three times and has admitted to marital infidelities during his service in Congress — a matter Watts addressed during the interview.

“If you’re going to point to Newt Gingrich’s addictions, I have no problems with that,” Watts said. “But Newt’s not the only one that has flaws. Every one of us are flawed, and we come into the world flawed. You don’t have to teach your kids to be bad. They’re automatically bad.”

That’s why in faith circles, Christians often choose to be born again, Watts said.

Watts said Gingrich has grown since leaving the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I think being a granddad, I think that has tremendously changed Newt,” Watts said.

Watts said Christians would do well to remember their Bibles when judging politicians.

“I’ve looked from Genesis to Revelations trying to find a loophole on forgiveness to where I wouldn’t have to forgive,” Watts said.

For his part, Watts was elected to Congress in Oklahoma in 1994 — buoyed by Gingrich’s Contract with America. In 1998, Watts was named chairman of the Republican Conference, the fourth-ranking position in the House. Watts, a standout quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, was Most Valuable Player of two Orange Bowls — in 1980 and 1981. From 1981 to 1986, he played for Toronto and Ottawa in the Canadian Football League.

A high-profile African-American conservative, Watts dismissed the suggestion that many of the rhetorical attacks against President Obama are driven by race.

“I think much of that is the nature of what politics is today,” Watts said. “It happened, the same thing, with President Bush. And I warned against it when it was happening to President Bush.”

Watts said politics — black and white, Republican and Democrat — is just a nasty business today.

“I think it’s over the edge in many respects,” Watts said.

If Republicans are criticizing the president, and say it is because of the policies, Watts said, he can’t jump to any conclusions about potential racist motivation.

“I can’t see their hearts,” Watts said. “I don’t know what their motives are.”

Watts’ late father — J.C. “Buddy” Watts Sr. — famously said that a black person voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.

“You bet it was my dad,” Watts said. “… And I got a good laugh out of it.”

Watts said he has seen Gingrich up close and personal in politics.

“I do think that Newt is uniquely qualified to get us all where we want to be,” Watts said.

Specifically, Watts cited welfare reform as a signature accomplishment during Gingrich’s tenure in the U.S. House.

“We did it with a Democrat president in the White House,” Watts said.

Gingrich’s 2012 message about reducing spending and reforms resonates with Americans.

“Newt has done the things that most Americans today are talking about doing,” Watts said.

Watts said there is a reason more former members of Congress haven’t come forward to support Gingrich. Gingrich made some freshmen legislators in 1995 chairs of subcommittees in the House. That, and other reform-minded moves, ruffled feathers of the establishment, Watts said.

“At the end of the day, don’t look at the politicians that he offended, look at the results that he got,” Watts said.CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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