Tennessee GOP ousts House Speaker Kent Williams from party

Associated Press • Feb 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The first Republican to hold the Tennessee House speaker post in 40 years was kicked out of his party on Monday.State Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith said at a news conference that she will "no longer recognize Rep. Kent Williams as a Republican in good standing in the state of Tennessee."Smith called the move regrettable but necessary after the party's top leaders last week approved a resolution to oust Williams.Williams won the top House position in January when he banded with all 49 Democrats in the chamber to beat the GOP nominee for the spot.He said Monday that he was disappointed by the GOP's decision but has no intention of joining the Democratic Party. Williams said his ouster reflects poorly on Smith and the party."Today I think our state party just hit rock bottom," he said. "Hopefully we will have some changes in our Tennessee GOP, maybe we will have someone more levelheaded, someone who doesn't rule by hate."The ouster of Williams, a two-term representative from Elizabethon, has cost the Republicans their one-vote majority in the state House. Smith said the move was necessary."The politically expedient thing to do would be to overlook whatever he's done," Smith said. "If we claim to stand for something, and we continue to look the other way when people behave in such a manner, it really negates all that we stand for."Republican Party bylaws require members to vote for Republican nominees.Williams said despite the ouster move, he won't restructure the House committee assignments he announced in January that divided chairmanships and membership fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats."Not going to happen," he said. "We've got the best of the best, and that's how it's going to work."The decision means Williams won't be able to run for re-election as Republican in 2010. Williams said if he does run, it will be as an independent."I can become a Democrat and win the speaker of the House, but I probably couldn't get re-elected in my community," he said. "But I'm not a Democrat, I'm a Republican."The ouster is just the latest GOP dagger thrown at Williams since he allied himself with the Democrats.About a week after winning the speakership, sexual harassment allegations from two years ago came to light when House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, released a memo accusing Williams of making inappropriate comments and giving an unwanted embrace to Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet.Williams has denied any wrongdoing but has declined to go into specifics because of a strict confidentiality rule regarding sexual harassment cases in the Legislature.A day after the memo was released, Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed an ethics complaint seeking to have Williams removed as speaker over the sexual harassment claim. The House Ethics Committee later decided it had no authority to hear the complaint.The Republican Party had been expected to oust Williams.Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said at a newsmakers session last week hosted by The Associated Press and Tennessee Press Association that he had encouraged Williams to voluntarily leave the Republican Party."I think our working relationship could actually be better if he was an independent," Ramsey said.In 2007, Democrats forced one of their own to become an independent.Former Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville voted for Ramsey over longtime Democratic Speaker John Wilder, infuriating fellow Democrats. After she won an 11-vote victory in the August Democratic primary, Democrats stripped her of her nomination, forcing her to run as an independent. She lost in the Nov. 4 election.___

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