GOP State Senator bolts party

UPDATED 3:14 p.m. Wednesday -- Williams statement, reaction from colleagues
State Senator leaves Republican Party, goes independent

UPDATE: 3:14 p.m. Wednesday:

At an afternoon press conference Williams confirmed his departure from the Senate Republican Caucus, citing his displeasure with what he called the "overwhelming partisanship" of the State Senate.

Standing alone at the podium in Tennessee's Old Supreme Court Chambers, Williams said that he could no longer embrace the partisan nature of the Senate and that people were being "led down a path of bitterness and divisiveness." He further went on to compare what has happening locally to what he said is prevalent in Washington, D.C.

He said that he would remain an independent, not caucusing with either party and voting on bills "that have the best interests for the people of Tennessee at heart" regardless of whether they were sponsored by a Democrat or Republican.

Reaction was swift throughout the State Capitol, with most agreeing that not much would change in the day-to-day operation of the State Senate.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey issued a statement to the media that he reiterated to reporters in person, saying,"Just 64 days ago, Sen. Williams voted for me for Speaker of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor. I appreciated his support and the Senate Republican Caucus wanted him to be a valued and contributing member. Unfortunately, Sen. Williams did not feel comfortable with conservative Republican leadership. Apparently his ideology no longer fits within the Republican philosophy. I wish him the best."

State Senators Diane Black (R-Gallatin) and Dewayne Bunch (R-Cleveland) said that they were disappointed but that Williams leaving the caucus would not change how business was done.

State Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) noted that since the Senate is now divided 16-16-1, it has no majority leader. But he too said there would be no change in the leadership or committee structure of the senate.

The most colorful, and angry, reaction from the day cam from State Sen. Paul Stanley (R-Memphis).

"He has given us a hunting license to go into his district and I intend to go there," a visibly upset Stanley told reporters. "He's looking for attention and has put himself on an island, I hope he likes it there."

As originally posted:

State Sen. Mike Williams (Maynardville) will announce today that he is leaving the Republican Party, according to sources. According to our sources, he will become an "independent."

Williams, who served as Speaker Pro Tem of the Senate when State Sen. John Wilder (D-Mason) was lieutenant governor, has long been a thorn in the side of current Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville).

The last member of the State Senate who switched parties was Don McLeary of Humboldt, just last year. McLeary joined the Republican party during the controversial recount of the election of State Sen. Ophelia Ford, sayinghe was uncomfortable with the direction of the Democratic Party. McLeary subsequently lost his re-election bid to Democrat Lowe Finney.

Prior to his elevation to the lieutenant governor's post, Ramsey had stated of Williams that "Democrats laugh at him behind his back" for his past support of Wilder.

In 2004, Williams and Knoxville Republican State Sen. Tim Burchett crossed party lines and installed Wilder into what would be his last term as Lt. Governor. Williams voted for Ramsey to become the new Lt. Governor this past January, although the sincerity of his vote has been questioned.

Prior to the election of the Lt. Governor, Williams would not say who he would vote for, and by the time his name had been called to vote, State Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) had already defected from her own caucus to vote for Ramsey.

Williams defection will likely not come as a surprise to Tennessee Republicans. He has been called everything from a maverick to a traitor for striking out on his own and going against the wishes of his former party.

At a meeting of the Tennessee Republican Party's Executive Committee earlier this year, a resolution was passed that would have rebuked any Republican for voting against the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. The move was largely seen as a preliminary step to isolate Williams should he cross party lines again.

Recently, Williams told in passing that he missed the leadership of former Senate Republican Leader Ben Atchley (Knoxville) who retired from the Senate after 28 years in 2004. In what seemed like an innocuous statement at the time, Williams added, "this place just gets too partisan."

There is no word on whether Williams will run for re-election in two years, nor whether he will caucus with Senate Democrats.