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State GOP Ousts Speaker Williams, Who Says He's Still a Republican as Democrats Ask Him to Switch

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It’s official now – on one side of the argument, anyhow. Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams of Elizabethton is no longer a Republican in good standing. The Tennessee Republican Party stated as much in a press release on Monday. Kent Williams, though, begs to differ, extolling a “bigger tent” and calling himself a "Carter County Republican" in a countering press release of his own.

The state GOP’s release, a resolution of the state executive committee dated January 30, recapitulates Williams’ vote in his first term for Democratic state representative Jimmy Naifeh and his bombshell vote last month for himself as Speaker in tandem with 49 Democrats. It notes his decision to parcel out committee assignments and chairmanships on an equal basis to Democrats and Republicans, and accuses him of “a pattern of lies and dishonor” in concealing his intent to pursue all of these actions.

The resolution goes on to proclaim that Williams “be forever barred from seeking elective office in Tennessee on a Republican ballot,” and that he be banned from receiving any form of financial or other support through official party auspices, and it requests that the media cease referring to Williams as a Republican.

Williams responded by referring to the outcome as a result fore-ordained by state Republican chair Robin Smith, who “has determined that I am not a Robin Smith Republican---that is, a Republican in her mold.”

Williams continued: “I have hoped for some time that my party would work to build a bigger tent, a more inclusive tent. My hopes may have been in vain. The tent Robin Smith wants is a small tent. A narrow-minded tent. A tent with no room for alternative ideas.”

After defending his status as a “Carter County Republican” on the basis of votes on such issues as opposition to abortion and support of gun rights and a “100 percent record” of support for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Williams statement says, “She [Smith] has made her decision. So be it. Now let us move past this distraction and get to the real work at hand.”

Gary Odom, the Democrats’ leader in the House, issued his own statement, pronouncing the GOP’s resolution “curious” and suggesting that the Republican action “surrenders not only the Speaker position but also the Republican majority in the House.” And Odom’s statement concludes: “I look forward to once again inviting Speaker Williams to become a member of our State Democratic Party and I ask that he reconsider the seven Republican Chairmanships which he appointed in January.”

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