Union County Mayor Mike Williams says he was wrongly excluded from running as a Republican for the state Senate and will not be backing any of the four candidates still seeking the GOP nomination in state Senate District 8.
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney told the state election officials in an April letter that Williams is not considered a “bonafide Republican” and is thus ineligible under state law to run for office under the party banner. The letter said Williams “renounced his affiliation with the Republican party in March 2007.”
In an interview, Williams said that is not correct.
“I never left the Republican party. I never said that. I did say that I was not going to meet with the Senate Republican Caucus. I think I did say that the Republican party had left me,” Williams said.
Williams was elected as a Republican to the Senate seat, which covers six counties of Northeast Tennessee, but ran for reelection in 2008 as an independent. He lost by by about 200 votes to Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, who is now retiring. Williams had filed a qualifying petition for the Republican primary to succeed him but his petition was rejected after Devaney’s letter.
Williams emailed a copy of his 2007 speech text to a reporter. He said that it was “carefully worded” to leave open a possible return to the party fold.
“No longer, at least for the duration of this term in office, can I embrace and endure the partisan brand of Republican,” the text reads. “My decision is based on the fact that some in the Republican party are trying to lead us down a path of bitterness and divisiveness and, in doing so, have left me and the people I represent behind.
“…I leave the door open for them to return again to true Tennessee values and the reasonableness of great statesmen like Senator Howard Baker,” the statement said.
Williams said that, when he filed the qualifying petition, he had been urged to do so by many people in the district. While realizing party officials might reject his effort, Williams said he decided to test whether Republican officials now would “be willing to let Republican voters decide, through their votes, who is a Republican.”
“I guess this proves the point that they don’t want the people to have a voice. They want the control,” said Williams, who in April did not return reporter calls for comment on his exclusion from the ballot.
Jeff Brantley, a Union County commissioner who is one of the four candidates now running for the seat, said last week he hoped Williams – a longtime friend – would support him.
“I’m not backing anybody,” said Williams. “I’m staying out of it.”
As Union County mayor, Williams said his top priority this summer is fashioning a county budget under financially trying circumstances and getting it approved by the country commission.