Kent Williams (politician)

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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 68)
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

Kent Williams (born June 23, 1949) was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, first elected in 2006 to the Tennessee House of Representative as a Republican from the House District 4 (then entirely then Carter County in 2006 and subsequently reelected to the House in 2008.

Williams was the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives during the 106th Tennessee General Assembly (2009—2010). During January 2009, Williams, together with all 49 House Democrats (including former Elizabethton resident Rep. Gary Odom), cast the last tie-breaking vote from the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives to become the first elected Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives since 1969.

The Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, still stinging over the unanticipated election defeat of Rep. Jason Mumpower as the next Speaker of the House, voted to eject Williams as a bona fide member of the Tennessee Republican Party.[2] In response, Speaker Williams then chose "Carter County Republican" as his new party designation and was later reelected to a third term in the Tennessee House of Representatives by Carter County voters over the Republican Party primary winner.[1]

Republicans controlling the majority of the seats within Tennessee General Assembly following the 2010 U.S Census, gerrymandered the House 4th District boundary lines as to encompass parts of both Carter County and neighboring Unicoi County. Williams failed to win reelection within the redrawn House 4th District.

Early life, education, and business career[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]


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, a 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[edit]

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[edit]

  • Business and Utilities
  • State Government[20]


  1. ^ a b c "Speaker Kent Williams". Tennessee General Assembly. 
  2. ^ Emery, Theo (February 10, 2009). "Republicans kick Williams out of party: Tennessee House Speaker vote spurs action". The Tennessean. 
  3. ^ a b Thompson, John (January 17, 2008). "Now House speaker, Williams' life had humble beginning". Johnson City Press. 
  4. ^ a b c "Biography". Tennessee General Assembly. Retrieved January 20, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Kent who? Dazzling maneuver makes backbencher speaker," The Tennessee Journal Vol. 35, No. 3, January 16, 2009
  6. ^ John Thompson, Victor in 4th vows action on stalled projects, Johnson City Press, August 5, 2006
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
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  11. ^
  12. ^ Thompson, John. "Williams wins 4th again, says he won't run for speaker" Kingsport Times-News November 3, 2010
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Williams upsets House Speaker race". The Tennessean. January 13, 2009. 
  15. ^ Rook (January 13, 2009). "Humiliation! GOP Defeat in TN! State House in "Absolute Chaos!"". DailyKos. 
  16. ^ Anaxamander (January 13, 2009). "Right Wing Republicans Thwarted in Tennessee". DailyKos. Retrieved January 14, 2009. 
  17. ^ a b Naujeck, Jeannie (January 13, 2009). "Tennessee Legislature opens session with surprise vote". Nashville Business Journal. 
  18. ^ a b Schrade, Brad (January 18, 2009). "How Kent Williams became the House's new speaker; GOP rift that led to election surprise has deep roots". The Tennessean. 
  19. ^ Johnson II, Lucas L. (February 10, 2009). "Tennessee GOP ousts Williams". The Leaf-Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-02-10. [dead link]
  20. ^

External links[edit]

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