Tuesday, January 13th brought some definite surprises to the Tennessee House of Representatives. In case you hadn’t heard, former Republican Kent Williams from Carter County Tennesesee was elected to the position by a vote of 50 to 49 in which all house democrats voted for Williams and then Williams cast the tie breaking vote by voting for, and effectively electing, himself. There are several videos of the madness that ensued. In a matter of seconds, party favorite Jason Mumpower – R was ousted, much to the astonishment of those in attendance.
The question on many Tennesseans minds was the same. Who is Kent Williams? And how did he end up as Speaker of the House? And why did the democrats vote for him?
When Williams was first elected to his county’s seat in 2006, he was shown around the capitol by the former seat’s occupant, Jerome Cochran. After settling in, he made a loud first splash by voting for a democratic speaker of the house with a very small group of republicans. Williams reasoning for voting for Jimmy Naifeh was the same as many of the other republicans who cast their vote for the democrat, they believed that to get anything done, the speaker needed to be a member of the majority party. This vote was the start to a very tumultous relationship with his own party.
While he seemed to step on a few toes to get things done, residents in Carter County seemed to generally agree that he was working hard for them but when his name came up for reelection last year, members of his own party tried to oust him by launching a campaign aganist him. Mumpower eventually put a stop to the parties antics fearing a split amongst caucus members and he was successfully brought back to nashville for the next term.
As he made friends on the hill, he got close to a group of bi partisan politicians, furthur alienating some of his Republican Party members. After his point, the stories become blurred as to exactly how the House democrats ended up electing him. The Tennessean reported that Rep. Brian Kelsey had a conversation with Williams in which Williams stated he would be speaker because he couldn’t vote for Mumpower. However, Kelsey believed that after almost an hour of conversation he had convinced Williams to instead vote for the Republican majority. Clearly, he changed his mind.
Since that stormy day in January, Kelsey has called for William’s resignation based on moral and ethical grounds saying that it was achieved through deception. And most recently, Tennessee Republican Chair Woman, Robin Smith ousted him from the GOP, leaving him no other choice but to run as an independent during the reelection campaigns in 2010.
While any clearly defined progress has yet to be made, the committee chairs have been appointed with a total of 7 republicans and 6 democrats. A pretty fair ratio by many people’s standards.