James Lee Witt '80 percent' decided on 4th District congressional run | Arkansas Blog

Friday, October 11, 2013

James Lee Witt '80 percent' decided on 4th District congressional run

Posted By on Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

ON THE JOB: James Lee Witt among flood victims in North Carolina during his time as FEMA director. - FEMA
  • FEMA
  • ON THE JOB: James Lee Witt among flood victims in North Carolina during his time as FEMA director.
James Lee Witt
, the former FEMA director who now chairs the board of a crisis management company he started, tells me he's about "80 percent" decided to make a run for Congress from the 4th District.

The current representative, Tom Cotton, is running for U.S. Senate. Witt has been urged by former President Bill Clinton, gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross, Vice President Joe Biden and many others to make the race to reclaim an Arkansas congressional seat for a Democrat. "I've told them to stop calling," he said.

Witt will tour South Arkansas in the next week with a co-worker and longtime political player, Hal Hunnicutt, to continue his sampling of the mood and fund-raising potential for him in Arkansas. "I want to meet people face to face. If it feels good and looks good then I'll make my decision around the end of the month."

Themes? He's still working on that. He said Ruth Whitney likely would manage his campaign.

Witt, whose own company merged with another group at the first of the year, has been based in Dardanelle for five years as his wife of 51 years, Lea Ellen, coped with cancer. She died in September. But he still travels frequently. He mentioned visits with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Citibank and the head of New York Mets security in recent days. He said he was flying one day and reading accounts of current political disputes in the Washington Post and New York Times.

"It just absolutely breaks my heart to see what's going on up there," he said. "If I run, it's not to build a new career. [He's 69.] It would be just to help and make a difference. All the years at FEMA, I worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans. I treated everyone equally. I've supported a lot of Republican members of Congress because they're my friends. We've got to do something to try to change things. I think I could help."

Witt likely wouldn't be greeted with such magnanimity from the Republican side, where Rep. Bruce Westerman and Tommy Moll and perhaps others hope to succeed Cotton. A Republican political operative has already filed FOI requests for all internal communications by Witt's firm with government agencies for which it has done political work. This ranges from the Clinton National Airport in Little Rock to the city of North Little Rock. Hardball oppo research is not the style of politics Witt played as a county judge, state emergency services director, FEMA director or political consultant. His style is soft-spoken nice guy.

Witt's a lot more likely to talk about his remarkable life story than knock an opponent. He grew up poor — his father a farm laborer, his mother a housekeeper. He bought a $13 bike on time to run an Arkansas Democrat paper route and worked summers baling hay in Texas to pay for education. He became a draftsman for nuclear submarine construction in Connecticut but moved home and eventually started a successful construction business, then served six terms as Yell County judge. The farm on which his father once labored is now one of three totaling 2,000 acres on which Witt raises cattle and restores a fleet of classic vintage automobiles. He also  watches his grandson, a major college prospect, play defensive end for the Dardanelle Sand Lizards, and takes plenty of calls related to his ongoing consulting business. The firm, Witt O'Brien's, does about $80 million in billings a year. He's not ready to slow down. "I feel good. I'm in good shape." It takes good condition to run in the sprawling district.

Sen. Bobby Pierce of Sheridan has also been mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate. He told Roby Brock at Talk Business today that he also was nearing a decision on the race.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store


Comments (26)

Showing 1-26 of 26

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-26 of 26

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Charter school accountability: Non-existent in Arkansas

    A state audit finds charter school spending violated state law, but the state Education Department says it has no responsibility for ensuring proper management of charter schools. Say what?
    • Mar 5, 2016
  • Campus gun bill clears committee

    The so-called compromise amendment that will allow anyone 25 or older with a training certificate carry a concealed weapon on public college campuses was approved in a Senate committee this afternoon.
    • Feb 21, 2017
  • Policy group urges opposition to new charter seats in Little Rock

    The Arkansas Public Policy Panel is urging supporters of the Little Rock School District to tell state Board of Education members they oppose applications to be heard this week to dramatically expand the number of charter school seats in the Little Rock School District.
    • Mar 9, 2016

People who saved…

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Most Viewed

  • Death reported of Robert Johnston, former legislator and homeless advocate

    In a cruel coincidence, a new development in the city's ongoing struggle with how to deal with the homeless came the day of news of the unexpected death of Robert Johnston,  a tireless advocate for the homeless in a long career of public service.
  • Legislature itches for more control over 'independent' agencies

    Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports this morning on growing tension over the legislature's effort to exert more control over the state's constitutionally independent agencies. The immediae target is the Game and Fish Commission, but it's a sprawling dispute over balance of powers.
  • Who you gonna trust? Not GOP politicans on health care

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson keeps insisting that the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal will be great for Arkansas. Evidence keeps mounting that it will strike the state (meaning Arkansas human beings) a devasting blow.
  • Alternate homeless feeding plan falls apart

    A plan to establish a volunteer effort to feed homeless in the far southeastern corner of the city, well removed from downtown, has fallen apart as was inevitable.
  • Police shoot suspect in SW Little Rock

    TV news accounts this morning say a Little Rock police officer shot a criminal suspect near a church at 53rd and Geyer Springs around midnight last night when investigation what's been described as a potential rape.

Most Recent Comments



© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation