Panel Defeats Watkins' Trade Secretary Post

Article excerpt

Gov. Frank Keating's nomination of former 3rd District Congressman Wes Watkins as the state's first international trade secretary was defeated by a Senate committee Tuesday.

Watkins' rejection by the Senate Rules Committee follows the full Senate's rejection Monday of an appropriations bill that would create an international trade department for Watkins to oversee.

Watkins had wanted to pull the trade efforts of the state commerce and agriculture departments into a unified international trade department.

At Tuesday's Rules Committee meeting, Watkins offered to work for $1 a year, but senators who spoke against the nomination objected to Keating creating a new cabinet post while pledging to trim the state's bureaucracy.

Watkins also offered to delay his nomination in light of the Senate's rejection Monday of the appropriations bill for his position.

"I don't need this job. Lou (his wife) and I don't need this job for the money. But I'm committed to do everything I can to build this state."

More than one senator suggested Watkins could advance his trade philosophy by taking a position within the state commerce department's international division.

"I will not take a midlevel bureaucratic job," Watkins replied, adding later, "I enjoy my freedom."

Watkins addressed Henryetta Democratic Sen. Frank Shurden's earlier comments that Keating's nomination of Watkins was a political payoff for the former congressman entering the gubernatorial race as an independent.

Democratic critics have said Watkins spoiled the race by taking "Little Dixie" votes from the Democratic candidate _ thereby throwing the race to Keating.

"Do you think I worked that hard (in the gubernatorial campaign) to come in second?"

Watkins sidestepped a question from Sen. Bill Gustafson, R-El Reno, about how much the state would have had to spend, in addition to Watkins' salary, to establish a state international trade department.

"If we've got to do it with less money, we will," Watkins said.

Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, said he is concerned about Watkins' independence while serving at the pleasure of his former opponent in the 1994 gubernatorial race.

Watkins said others have asked him whom he will support in the 1998 race.

"I don't know. …