Letter to the Editor: Who Jim Watt Really Was

Dear editor: Although I enjoyed the discussion of Jim’s experience with the One-Shot-Antelope Hunt, I was disappointed that the column got so much wrong. I will give you just three instances

June 10, 20234 min read

James watt 3 6 9 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Dear editor:

I just read the column on Jim Watt (in Friday’s Cowboy State Daily).

 Although I enjoyed the discussion of Jim’s experience with the One-Shot-Antelope Hunt, I was disappointed that the column got so much wrong. I will give you just three instances:

1.     Jim NEVER told “off-color jokes.”  An evangelical Christian, Jim lived his faith in public and private. As I wrote in Sagebrush Rebel: “Watt…considered it a virtue that the private Watt [was] exactly the same, word-for-word, as the public Watt.”  So evident were Jim’s views on public decorum that even some of the tough characters leading the Department, including several Marines, restricted their language around Jim.

2.     To assert that the “political atmosphere” in which Reagan and Jim found themselves in the 1980s was not “highly charged” is contrary to the facts. Although, for example, the conventional wisdom is that Reagan and Tip O’Neill were great friends, the fact is Tip attacked Reagan viciously so often that Reagan called him on it.  “I thought we were friends,” complained Reagan. Thus, Jim found himself in the midst of a “highly charged political atmosphere” not of his making. 

One reason was that Jimmy Carter, who was the first president to embrace totally the “To Do” list of radical environmental groups, had put the country in terrible shape, economically, energy-wise, and geopolitically. Therefore, when Reagan sought to put an end to Carter’s crazy policies, environmental groups went nuts and took after Jim with lies, distortions, and malicious personal attacks. 

As Reagan said of these radical environmental groups, “I do not think they will be happy until the White House looks like a bird’s nest.”

3.     Neither was Reagan a “favorite of the media,” nor did he hire Watt as an “attack dog.”  Reagan hired Jim to accomplish certain things at the Department of the Interior, specifically, for one, to pursue energy independence. Then Reagan put Clark at Interior to continue what Jim started, which Clark acknowledged in a letter to Reagan on his departure (the letter is in my book).

Finally, Reagan put Hodel at Interior to complete what Jim and Clark began and pursued. Said Reagan of Jim, “Someone in the press the other day said if Jim discovered a cure for cancer, there are those who would attack him for being pro-life.”

As to Mountain States Legal Foundation, which Jim led as its first president, neither Jim nor I pursued “legislation;” in fact, an IRS 501(c)(3) is barred from pursuing legislation.  It acts only through litigation.

I know for my 30 years there, I represented people (not big corporations) who could not afford to hire attorneys when besieged by the government.  Long before the Sacketts (you read about their victories at SCOTUS in 2012 and earlier this year), I was representing Larry Squires of Hobbs, NM in 1992 through 1996, on the two legal issues on which the Sacketts prevailed unanimously before the Court.

The two issues:  1) Could Squires sue the EPA when it stopped his use of his land because the EPA asserted it was a “wetland”? 2)  Was the EPA right in declaring his land “waters of the United States”?  

By the way, Jim’s Department began the “area-wide leasing” of the Outer Continental Shelf, which is still in place although Biden has illegally stopped issuing leases. Jim’s Department initiated the Exclusive Economic Zone proclamation that Reagan signed, giving the U.S.A. jurisdiction over a vast area surrounding our country.  

Jim’s Department obtained a billion dollars to pay for restoring the national parks, which was the amount of the deferred maintenance in the NPS then on the books. And, Jim’s Department ensured the presences at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of the American Flag, a heroic inscription written by Jim Webb (later senator from Virginia), and an inspiring statue, “The Three Fighting Men,” by the late Frederic Hart.


Perry Pendley

William Perry Pendley is an American attorney, conservative activist, political commentator, and government official who served as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management from 2019 - 2021.

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