Today former Yell County Judge and FEMA Director James Lee Witt announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the Fourth Congressional District.
In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Witt said he was running “to make a difference and not a career.”
From Witt’s press conference:
“I’ve spent my adult life bringing people together at the toughest times of their lives. Nowhere in this country needs disaster relief management or consensus building more than Washington. We’re not going to solve the problems of the people from the Fourth District with more partisan noise and name-calling. My approach is simple: if we’ve got a problem, let’s use our common-sense and do the hard work necessary to solve it.”
Witt was elected Yell County Judge in 1978 and served ten years before then-Governor Bill Clinton appointed him to head the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Witt as the director of FEMA. After Clinton’s term ended, Witt founded a firm specializing in helping areas recover from disasters.
The first questions from the media focused on the issue of health care. In response to a reporter’s question, Witt said he would have voted against the Affordable Care Act if he had been in Congress.
“I think there’s some changes that need to be made to that law and I look forward to working to make those changes,” said Witt.
Witt declined to get into specifics on which changes he supported, noting there are 2,200 pages in the law and he wanted to make sure whatever changes proposed would benefit his district.
Witt said he supported Arkansas’s private option and believes it will help Arkansans.
Doyle Webb, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, released a statement attacking Witt prior to his conference call over consulting work Witt’s firm did in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
“The last thing hardworking Arkansas families need in Washington is just another self-serving politician like James Lee Witt. Anyone who could stomach turning a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina into an opportunity to exploit victims for a profit does not deserve to represent this great state.”
When asked by a reporter, Witt responded to Webb’s charge:
“All our rates in Louisiana, or anywhere we work, are approved by GSA regs, all approved by FEMA, all competitive in bid. And all participated in audits to ensure everything is and was done appropriately.”
Witt said during his Fourth District travels the issues of jobs, economy and jobs training were ones voters bring up and he plans to release position papers in the near future addressing those concerns.
“I will continue traveling throughout the District listening to people and discussing how a new voice can bring change and progress to Washington. Goodness knows we need it.”
Lea Ellen, James Lee’s wife of 51 years, lost a five-year battle with cancer in September. Witt has two sons and three grandsons. Witt is a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Dardanelle.
Janis Percefull has also announced as a Democrat for the Fourth District seat. Republicans include Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) and Tommy Moll. Earlier today, former GOP nominee Beth Anne Rankin said she would not enter the race.