Project 21 News

African-American Group Accuses Media and Black Leaders of Attacking Black Rep. J.C. Watts To Undercut His Star Status
in the Republican Party

Contact: Arturo Silva at (202) 507-6398 or

For Release: February 5, 1997

The selection of Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) to respond to President Clinton's State of the Union address may confirm his status as a rising star in the Republican Party, but a more telling sign is the attacks on him by his political opponents and the media, according to the African-American group Project 21.

Criticized for referring to "race-hustling poverty pimps" in a Washington Post interview, Rep. Watts said he was not referring to any one person specifically. Even so, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. sent a letter to Watts demanding an apology. Jackson Jr.'s office, however, refused to comment last year when asked by Project 21 about a November 1996 letter written by Rep. Bill Clay (D-MO) attacking now former Rep. Gary Franks (R-CT) as a "Negro Dr. Kevorkian." On February 5, The Washington Post ran a story with criticism of the comments regarding Jackson, and also of a Watts direct mail letter using his rising star status as a fundraising pitch. The lead sentence in the story states that these controversies may "undercut his status as one of his party's rising stars." The CBS Evening News also reported before the President's State of the Union speech on Watts' comments, saying that his remarks would strike a blow to Republican efforts to reach out to black voters.

Project 21 member Stuart Pigler, a legislative aide to Michigan State Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus, said the Post article and CBS Evening News report "are attempts to undercut his prominent status in the party because Watts is an articulate, black Republican -- not a good omen for a paper and news show whose love affair with the Democratic Party is well-known."

Project 21 member Horace Cooper, Legislative Counsel to House Majority Leader Dick Armey, said "While we agree it's inappropriate to describe Jesse Jackson as a 'race-hustling poverty pimp,' we are troubled by his seemingly long career in racial instigation, long-time promotion of big government liberal programs, and a willingness at self-promotion that goes beyond any appearance of genuinely working to help change the plight of the truly underprivileged."

Project 21 member Teresa Jeter-Chappell of the political consulting firm the Republican Vanguard says "black Americans must be met at the grassroots level face-to-face. By inviting Jesse Jackson to sit with his wife at the State of the Union address, Gingrich did not persuade any black independent-minded voters to change their voting habits. By embracing the same old liberal leaders, Gingrich is confusing the differences between what Jackson stands for and Watts stands for. What incentive do blacks have to change their voting habits?"

Stuart Pigler agrees that "Speaker Gingrich is making a mistake by inviting the ideas of Jesse Jackson on how to improve race relations. Jackson incites racial acrimony. Gingrich would be wiser to consult Dr. Glenn Loury or Shelby Steele, both are black conservatives who have made substantive contributions to the race debate in this country."

For more information, or an interview with a Project 21 member, contact Arturo Silva at (202) 507-6398 or