Friday, November 10, 2006

Let Sen. Williams Know What You Think!

From today's Knoxville News Sentinel:

State Senate may split evenly
Shift in power could result if speaker pro tempore leaves Republican fold_BY TOM HUMPHREY

November 10, 2006

NASHVILLE - Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Williams said Thursday that he is considering a change in political affiliation from Republican to Independent, a move that would split the state Senate evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
"If I have to be Independent to do what's best for this state and my constituents, I'll do it," Williams said.

The comments come with Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey hoping to become the first Republican lieutenant governor and Senate speaker since the Reconstruction era.

Williams was one of two Republican senators who sided with Democrats after the 2004 elections to re-elect Democratic Lt. Gov. John Wilder to his 18th two-year term in the office.

He said he has not yet decided whether to support Wilder or Ramsey when senators fill the office with an election after the Legislature convenes in January, though he has talked with both men and has been "under a lot of pressure" from others.

"I'm just trying to evaluate who would be best for the state," Williams said. "It's not a personal thing and I'm not trying to cut a deal with anybody. I'm just trying to step back and get a breath of fresh air."

Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, who joined Williams in voting for Wilder previously, said Wednesday that "I gave my word" to support Wilder on the earlier occasion. Burchett said he has not made such a promise for the next speaker's election.

"I'm generally independent, but I think my allegiance is to the Republican Party," said Burchett. "I haven't publicly, or any other way, made any commitments. I'm not going to be threatened or pressured. I'll just vote my conscience when the time comes."

Burchett said he had talked with Williams on Wednesday and "he knows the pitfalls."

Sen. Don McLeary of Jackson switched parties earlier this year from Democrat to Republican, giving the GOP 18 seats for much of the 2006 legislative session. But McLeary lost his bid for re-election Tuesday to Democrat Lowe Finney, leaving Republicans with a 17-16 majority - the same they held after the 2004 elections.

Should Williams, of Maynardville, become independent, the Senate would have 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one independent.

"I really think our government works best when we don't have one party in total control," Williams said.

Williams said he "heard that (the Republican) party is thinking of taking action against me if I do not vote the way they want me to vote."

A change in bylaws adopted by the state Republican Executive Committee in 2005 authorizes party officials to work against Republican candidates in primary elections if the candidate in question has voted for a Democrat in a legislative election. Another rule authorizes the party to forbid anyone running in a primary election if the individual is deemed not a "bona fide Republican."

"I think that would be precedent-setting: To say, 'If you don't vote the way we want, we throw you out,' " Williams said. "That's not a democracy."

He also said state Republican Chairman Bob Davis had been quoted as saying Williams "needed to do some soul-searching."

"That really bothered me," Williams said. "I think I've always been independent-thinking and search my soul rather than awaiting a directive from the chairman of the party."

Williams will be up for re-election in 2008. His district covers Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties.

Davis said he has "not said anything publicly or privately to Mike Williams of any kind of threatening nature" and "no one in this party has said that any action will be taken against Mike Williams if he doesn't vote a particular way."

"I believe Mike will do the right thing."

Ramsey said that voting to support one's own party members for leadership positions "is the one vote where allegiance is expected. After that, you can go your own way in voting (on issues)."

"I think Mike knows in his heart that voting for me would be the right thing to do," he said, adding that a Republican vote for Wilder would be comparable to U.S. Sen.-elect Bob Corker "going up to Washington and voting for Harry Reid."

Ramsey said he told Williams during "a very cordial and open discussion" that "he would come out being a hero" by supporting the Republican candidate. The earlier vote for Wilder, he said, could be understood given Wilder's past alliance with Republicans.

"Last time and this time are two different worlds," Ramsey said. "If he does not vote for me this time, there will be a lot of Republicans across the state who will be very upset. I think that's understandable. It's just common sense."

Ramsey said Williams did not mention the possibility of becoming an independent during their discussion.

State Democratic Chairman Bob Tuke said a day earlier that Democrats have "effective control of the Senate" despite the official 17-16 GOP majority.

"Mike (Williams) and others will often vote with the Democrats because they look past partisanship," said Tuke.

Please call, write, e-mail, or fax Sen. Williams and suggest to him that voting for Ron Ramsey is both "best for Tennessee" and the "loyal" thing for a Republican to do. Here is his contact information:

District Address

P.O. Box 176
5224 Maynardville Highway
Maynardville, TN 37807
Phone (865) 992-6254

Nashville Address

4 Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243-0204
Phone (615) 741-2061
Fax (615) 253-0286

Staff Contact: Dorris Barnes and Skip Cauthorn, Executive Asst. for Policy and Research

Internet E-Mail Address
Sen. Mike Williams


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