Cole Floor Speech on Wes Watkins
WASHINGTON – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) gave the following statement on the House floor regarding Congressman Wes Watkins. Today the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1713, a bill designing a post office in Bennington, Okla. as the "Wes Watkins Post Office."
Mr. COLE: "Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege to be here with my colleagues and participate in honoring our former colleague in this Chamber, Wes Watkins. Usually when you come down to the floor on an occasion like this, you are armed with all sorts of wonderful prepared remarks, and you lay them out.
But I would rather talk about my friend, Wes Watkins, spontaneously and, frankly, from a rather unique perspective because I have run races against him, and I have run races for him. And I have to tell you, I never beat him when I ran a race against him, but I was a lot more successful working for him.
He is really an extraordinary political figure in his own right. As my friend, Congressman Boren mentioned, he served as a state senator. He was a Congressman. He ran for governor twice, frankly, nearly getting the Democratic nomination in 1990. Had he gotten that, he undoubtedly would have won the election and have been the Governor of our state. He ran again in 1994 as an Independent. Very unusual. By the way, his congressional district voted for him as a Democrat, voted for him as an Independent, and then later voted for him as a Republican. I have never seen a loyalty directed toward an individual that way.
In the course of his 1990 campaign, he got to be pretty good friends with my client, Frank Keating, who later went on to be Governor. Frank Keating thought so much of Wes Watkins, his opponent, that he offered him a job in his Cabinet as a Secretary for international trade because Wes was so passionate about bringing jobs and opportunity to the people of Oklahoma. That says a lot about you as an individual that one of your opponents thinks so highly of you that they want to move you over into their administration.
Unfortunately, some of Wes's colleagues in the state senate in Oklahoma decided that having run as an Independent instead of a Democrat, they were not inclined to do that. But a number of years later, an opportunity came up when the seat that he won came open again. Our good friend, Bill Brewster, decided to retire. And I remember, Wes was still registered as an Independent, and there was 17 days before the cutoff when you had to choose your party. The minute that Frank Keating, then Governor Keating, saw that congressional seat was open, he literally within 20 minutes called Wes Watkins and said, Wes, I want you to run for Congress. I don't care if you run as an Independent; I don't care if you run as a Democrat. I'm a Republican. I would like you to run as that. That doesn't matter. We are going to do everything we can. We need you back in the Congress of the United States. We need your passion and your commitment for economic development and to help the people of this State.
Wes honestly made, I would say, a tough political call because he would have won as a Democrat. He would have won as an Independent. He chose to become a Republican for a lot of reasons, but I think partly because he thought we were in the majority then, he thought he would be very effective in that role, and he was. He was an extraordinarily effective Congressman for his State.
Now, when I think about Wes, you can't think about Wes and not think about Lou Watkins, his partner, his only real political consultant and, quite frankly, now a regent at Oklahoma State University, one of the really fine public figures and one of the best classroom teachers I ever saw in my life. As a college political science professor, I used to occasionally go and deal with her students. And incredibly fair. Together, they have done so much good for our State. They are deep in the hearts of the people that they manage to serve.
I do want to tell one polling story and one media story about my friend, Wes Watkins. When he first decided to run as a Republican, the district was literally registered over 80 percent Democrat at that time. We did a survey. In the survey you ask what are called open-ended questions: What do you like most, what do you like least about this individual.
I never saw this before, 97 percent of the people could tell you something specific about Wes Watkins, all of it positive: he helped my father get a job; he helped bring this business to our community. It was the most incredibly impressive testimony for an individual's good deeds and using public office in an appropriate way to help people that I have ever seen in my life.
We sent the media consultant to travel with him around the district for 3 days. She came back and I asked, what did you think?
She said, in 3 days I only met one person who didn't call him Wes in every little town. She said it was actually a young lady, probably 16 or 17 years. She came up to say, Mr. Watkins, could I please shake your hand. Thank you for something you have done for my family. The consultant said he just threw his arms around her and said, Honey, just call me Wes.
He is just a remarkable human being. I want to thank both of my colleagues for this recognition, particularly my good friend, Dan Boren, who worked with him. Wes Watkins has done as much for our State as anybody I have seen in my political lifetime. And continues to do it. And so does Lou. This is such a fitting and appropriate honor. I am happy to join my friends as a cosponsor and look forward to voting for this particular piece of legislation with a great deal of pleasure."