Renegade Speaker Booted from the Tennessee G.O.P.

Almost never does an election for a single legislative seat warrant a mention more than a year before the voting takes place. Almost never, though, ...
by | February 10, 2009

Almost never does an election for a single legislative seat warrant a mention more than a year before the voting takes place. Almost never, though, does a single legislator become a magnet for controversy in the way that Kent Williams has in Tennessee.

Williams was elected in November as a Republican. He is the new speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, an office he won on with 50 votes -- his own and that of the House's 49 Democrats. The other 49 Republicans voted for Rep. Jason Mumpower, the lawmaker they thought Williams would support and the lawmaker, therefore, every expected to be leading the House.

In this way, Republicans, despite a nominal 50-49 majority, were denied their first chance to run the Tennessee House since 1868. Not surprisingly, they were furious and are furious.

As the Tennesseean reports, they've responded by kicking Williams out of the party:

The Tennessee Republican Party stripped House Speaker Kent Williams of his GOP affiliation on Monday as punishment for the Jan. 13 vote in which Williams joined all 49 House Democrats to elect himself as speaker.

"The credibility of this party, our principles and our great people are not to be jeopardized, compromised or bargained away for personal gain," said GOP Chairman Robin Smith.

...

But the move may create still more uncertainties. Williams issued a defiant statement in which he appears to refuse to relinquish his GOP affiliation, saying "I remain a Carter County Republican with the same principles that brought me to the General Assembly in the 2006 elections."

Obviously, with the Tennessee House including 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one giant question mark in Williams the campaign for control of the chamber in 2010 will be exciting and competitive. But the election that really has me intrigued is Williams' own.

The Republican Party says he's out and that he can't run again as a Republican. Williams says he's not becoming a Democrat. So, it seems likely that he'll be running as an independent and running with a giant bull's-eye on his back (although, I'd guess he wouldn't have serious Democratic opposition).

The Republicans appear ready to go to just about any length to defeat Williams, as this line from the Memphis Commercial Appeal makes clear:

Williams said that moments after his election as speaker on Jan. 13 -- in which he joined all 49 House Democrats in voting for himself over the GOP nominee -- state GOP Chairman Robin Smith approached him and said: "Congratulations, Speaker; it's hard to kill the devil, but in two years you're a dead man."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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