Tennessee state Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville, the state Senate’s only independent, isn’t saying whether he will run for re-election.
“I don’t know,” said Williams, who is often viewed as the swing vote in a legislative body evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Last year, Williams lost major committee assignments and his job as speaker pro tem when Republican state Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville defeated longtime Democratic Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Mason in the Senate speaker’s race.
Three years ago, Williams was one of two Republican senators who voted to keep Wilder over Ramsey’s bid to be speaker. Last January, Williams would not disclose his voting intentions when Wilder and Ramsey vied again for the speaker’s job. But Williams voted for Ramsey after state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, a Clarksville Democrat, sealed Ramsey’s victory with her crossover vote.
Then, last March, Williams left the GOP and declared himself an independent although he was elected as a Republican.
The Senate now has 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats and Williams, whose six-county 4th Senatorial District seat has become a target for Republicans this year. The district includes Hawkins and Hancock counties in Northeast Tennessee.
Church Hill attorney Mike Faulk, a Republican, is expected to mount a challenge for Williams’ seat with the help of powerful GOP friends, including Ramsey, who wants to expand Republican influence in the Senate.
When asked about the thinking going into his decision, Williams said he believes in doing things that are in the state’s best interest regardless of party affiliation.
“There’s no question, no doubt, and I would stake my life on the fact that there are some decisions down there (in Nashville) being made ... as to what is politically best for one party or the other,” Williams stressed. “I’m not saying that’s the case all the time, but it’s happening more and more. ... Voting in the legislature is becoming Washington-like in that Republicans vote for Republican ideas, Democrats vote for Democrat ideas ... then you start having the type of stalemate that we always hear people complain about in Washington. I don’t want to be a part of that, and I don’t want us to be that way.
“I guess I’m waiting to see if the leaders will back off of that a little bit.”
Williams insisted he still holds Republican philosophies.
“I just think there’s a bigger picture, that the bottom line when you’re down there you better be doing what’s in the best interest of the state or we all suffer,” he said.
Williams said he’s getting different treatment from Democratic and GOP Senate members.
“A lot of them individually will tell me they understand why I went independent and they thought it was a good thing,” he explained. “They’ll never say that publicly, and I understand that because of the current climate there. Everybody is cordial. I don’t feel like anyone has been rude to me. ... If they have a bill or issue where they want me to hear, I go to listen.”
Williams promised to make a decision on his plans by April.
“I’m not fearful of losing. ... I’ve always been outspent in every election,” he said. “It really comes down to my wanting to be there or not be there.”