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Kent Williams (politician)

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Title: Kent Williams (politician)  
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Kent Williams (politician)

Kent Williams
80th Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives
In office
January 13, 2009 – January, 2011
Preceded by Jimmy Naifeh
Succeeded by Beth Harwell
Member of the Tennessee House of Representatives
from the 4th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Preceded by Jerome Cochran
Personal details
Born (1949-06-23) June 23, 1949 (age 65)
Carter County, Tennessee
Political party Independent (self-proclaimed Carter County Republican)[1] (2009—present)
Republican (until 2009)
Spouse(s) Gayle Williams
Residence Elizabethton, Tennessee
Alma mater Unaka High School
Occupation Restaurateur, Farmer
Religion Southern Baptist

Kent Williams (born June 23, 1949) is a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, representing District 4. He was the speaker of that body in the 106th Tennessee General Assembly (2009—2010). He was elected to the House in 2006 and reelected in 2008 as a Republican. During his second term, he voted with all 49 House Democrats to elect himself Speaker. Shortly afterward, the state Republican executive committee threw him out of the party.[2] Williams chose "Carter County Republican" as his new party designation.[1]

Early life, education, and business career

Williams was born in Carter County, Tennessee in 1949. His father worked as a laborer in one of the Elizabethton rayon mills. His family lived in Dale Hollow in the Sadie section of Stoney Creek, at the foot of Holston Mountain.[3] Williams graduated from Unaka High School.[4]

He left Carter County to find work in Michigan, where he worked in the kitchen of a large hospital and where he met his future wife, Gayle. Williams later returned to Elizabethton, where the couple raised their four sons.[3] Williams is a farmer and owns a restaurant in Elizabethton.[4][5] He was previously a vice president of Steak Houses of Homestead Inc. and Family Steak Houses of Miami Inc.[4]

Early political career

Early in his career he worked for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, but because he had been hired during a Republican administration, he lost that job in 1975 after Democrat Ray Blanton became governor.[5]

Tennessee House of Representatives


Williams first ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2006. He challenged incumbent Republican Jerome Cochran of Tennessee's 4th house district. He chastised Cochran for a lack of progress in state-funded projects in Carter County.[6] He defeated him in the August primary 54%-46%.[7][5] In November, he won the general election unopposed.[8]

In 2008, Cochran challenged Williams to a rematch. Williams defeated him again, this time by a larger margin, 65%-35%.[9] In November, he won re-election to a second term, defeating Independent candidate Priscilla Steele 83%-17%.[10]

After being ousted by the Republican Party of Tennessee, Williams ran for re-election as an Independent, or as he called it: Carter County Republican. In November, he defeated Republican nominee Jerome Cochran, in the second rematch, 57%-43% (no Democrat filed to run here).[11] In the sweeping victory of the Republican Party statewide, he would not seek re-election as Speaker and would continue to caucus with Republicans.[12] He was succeeded as Speaker by Republican Beth Harwell.

In 2012, he won re-election to a third term, defeating Republican nominee Thomas Gray 54%-46%.[13]



Williams was elected as speaker of the Tennessee House on January 13, 2009, in a surprising divergence from the Republican party's accepted plan for succession. Democrats, who had lost the majority in the House for the first time since 1969, threw their support behind Williams as a means of keeping House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower out of the office.[14][15][16] Williams, one of 50 Republicans in the 99-seat House, voted for himself alongside the assembly's 49 Democrats to clinch the position, defeating Mumpower by a vote of 50 to 49.[17] Outgoing speaker Jimmy Naifeh instructed the House clerk to depart from the normal practice of conducting a roll call of the members in alphabetical order, instead calling first on the Democrats, then on the Republicans. This allowed Williams to vote last, so that before he voted he knew that his vote for himself would be the deciding vote. After the vote he was booed[17] and called a "traitor." Subsequently, Williams voted with the Democrats to elect Democrat Lois DeBerry as speaker pro-tem over Republican Beth Harwell.

Voting record

Williams is considered a moderate by Tennessee Republican standards. He was one of seven Republicans who in 2007 had voted for Democrat Naifeh as speaker of the 105th General Assembly. He explained to a friend that if he "wanted to get anything done in Carter County [he] had to vote for Jimmy Naifeh."[18]

After the November 2008 election in which Republicans won a one-seat majority in the House, Williams had joined the other 49 Republicans in the House in publicly pledging to vote for a Republican for speaker.[5] He also had privately promised to vote for Mumpower.[18] After voting with the Democrats, Williams acknowledged that he had broken a promise, but said that his votes were made in the best interest of the state.[5] After his election as speaker, the House Republicans expelled Williams from their caucus. The party's state executive committee discussed removing him from the party.[5] On February 9, 2009, the Tennessee Republican Party ousted Williams from the party. Williams said he had no intention of joining the Democratic Party of Tennessee,[19] but continues to personally consider himself a Republican.[1]

Committee assignments

  • Business and Utilities
  • State Government[20]


External links

  • Biography
Political offices
Preceded by
Jimmy Naifeh
Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Beth Harwell

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