Defiant Kent Williams Challenges Enemies


In his press conference today, House Speaker Kent Williams repeatedly dodged questions about the sexual harassment complaint against him. But he had plenty to say about his No. 1 nemesis Brian Kelsey ("he needs some maturity) and the GOP's campaign to kick him out of the party and/or the House.

"All they have to do is come to me and tell me, 'We don't want you in our party.' And I will leave the Republican Party," Williams said. "I'll be out of the Republican Party, it's as simple as that. I am not here to represent a caucus. I am here to represent the people."  The Q & A follows:

Q: What do you have to say about Rep. Kelsey's ethics complaint against you?

Williams: Rep Kelsey is a bright young man. He needs some maturity. He needs to realize that he was sent here by the citizens to work for the citizens and get away from some of these dog-and-pony shows. Yes, I see a lot of talent in Rep. Kelsey, and I think he needs this for his political career. He can develop his political career into something that can blossom over the years. He just needs to be focused in the right direction. Just because he doesn't agree with my politics, I'm not going to leave him out in the cold. I'm going to utilize his talent. He's one I will be keeping a close eye on.

Q: Would you respond to the substance of his complaint?

Williams: He claims that I'm lying about sexual harassment. We're not going to touch that because I can't. The same statement stands. That's what I've stood by. Once we get through this complaint, I think the state of Tennessee is going to see that Kent Williams is here to govern, and that Kent Williams will be cleared of any charges. This is the only charge out there.

Q: What is the statement that you stand by?

Williams: That I have never harassed anyone in my life.

Q: Do you think the ethics committee should investigate, have a full investigation?

Williams: I think we follow due process. I'm not going to tell the ethics committee what they should do or should not do. I'm not on that committee. It'll be up to that committee to decide from the merits of what they get what they should do.

Q: Would you break a tie in that committee on this issue?

Williams: No. I would not break the tie.

Q: The Republicans say this wasn't a formal complaint.

Williams: I'm not addressing any of that.

Q: The Republicans say confidentiality doesn't apply. That's why they released the memo. If they can talk about it, why can't you?

Williams: No, I've been told by our legal staff that I'm not allowed. I'm prohibited to talk about it. So you take it up with them. And that's the last question. We'll talk about committees and then I've got some other things, because I think I've addressed that enough.

Q: You were asked [by Kelsey] to recuse yourself from appointing the ethics committee. Did you do that?

Williams: We had already chosen that committee before we got the complaint from Kelsey. And those committees  weren't chosen by me. Those committees were chosen by Leader Mumpower and Leader Odom and their leadership. I didn't choose the ethics or the rules [committees]. They did that.

Q: Speaker Williams, you've talked today about your love for open government. Do you think the law should be changed to make it public when there are sexual harassment complaints against legislators?

Williams: I'm not getting into that. Don't ask me any more questions about that. I'm not going there. No comment. That's a ridiculous question. Next question.

Q: How will you mend relations with Republicans?

Williams: I think over time hopefully it'll mend. I'll make the same statement I made last week when I was elected speaker. I'm a Republican. In my heart, I'll always be a Republican. But my party, they don't have to put on a dog and pony show, do fund-raisers to kick me out of the Republican Party. Which is going on, you probably all know. They even made a call to my mother's house collecting money to kick me out of office or to defeat me in two years. I'll tell 'em right now, they're not going to defeat me in two years. All they have to do is come to me and tell me, 'We don't want you in our party.' And I will leave the Republican Party. I'll be out of the Republican Party, it's as simple as that. I am not here to represent a caucus. I am here to represent the people. I've loved my party for years, but our party needs some changes, and I think most Republicans realize that. No wonder we couldn't govern for 140 years. Doesn't that tell us something, that we're doing something wrong in the state of Tennessee? Now we get a majority of one and all of a sudden we're king of the hill. Taking that attitude, we're not going to be the majority very long.

Q: Can you respond to something that Rep. Kelsey said, that on election night, he called you and you had a long conversation and you said, 'I'm going to be the next speaker.'

Williams: No sir, I did not. Brian Kelsey, that's not the guy I wanted calling me on election night. ... I was driving home, and I had no idea who had won the majority. But Brian Kelsey called me. 'We've got the majority.  Are you with us?' And it caught me off guard. You want the exact conversation. He said, 'Can you vote for Jason Mumpower for speaker?' And I said no. And he said, 'Who can you vote for?' And I said, 'Me.'  But at that  time, I wasn't thinking about being speaker. But that was our conversation. I did not say I will be the next speaker. Who would make a ridiculous statement like that? Brian Kelsey.

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