Michael Williams and the history of a press conference that failed

State Sen. Michael Williams. (Williams campaign photo.)
State Sen. Michael Williams. (Williams campaign photo.)

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

State Sen. Michael Williams, a Republican candidate for governor, held a press conference in the state Capitol on Thursday.

Here’s one solid fact that came out of it – perhaps the only fact: After Williams said his piece, the “no excuses” candidate made his excuses and rushed for the nearest exit.

He skedaddled.

He vamoosed.

He fled the journalists he had so noisily summoned.

Williams, a two-term state senator and Forsyth County businessman, is engaged in a grand political experiment. He and his campaign manager, Seth Weathers, are attempting to divine whether a Donald Trump-style campaign – high on outrage and innuendo, but untainted by evidence — can survive and thrive in Georgia.

Williams had drawn reporters and maybe a score of supporters to the Capitol with a promise to discuss “reprehensible actions” by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, one of several Republican rivals in the 2018 race for governor.

“Actions and corroborating details will be presented,” the press release said.

Now, some of you in the audience might be wondering why Williams would have to promise to bring bullets to a gun fight. If you had been in Augusta last month, you wouldn’t have to ask.

In a state GOP convention speech to a thousand or so attendees, Williams pronounced himself an enemy of “Big Corporate” and crony capitalism. He claimed proof, pointing backstage.

“Not 25 minutes ago, back there in this room, I was offered the appropriation chairmanship for the Senate if I did not run,” Williams said. Friends of Cagle, who as lieutenant governor is president of the state Senate, immediately sent word that Williams was bearing false witness.

Afterwards, we members of the press at the Augusta meeting invited Williams to prove what he had just said. He smiled and said he had no more to add. For now.

And so we come to last Thursday. Williams again claimed that the unnamed powers of the Capitol had offered a veteran of a mere three sessions of the Legislature (Williams was first elected in 2014) major say-so over a $23.7 billion state budget. If only he wouldn’t rock their boat.

And the corroborating details? Plenty of time for that later, Williams said.

Now, as for the “reprehensible actions” by Cagle. There were no murdered puppies, no grandmothers robbed of savings. Bottom line: Two of Williams’ bills didn’t pass this spring, and he blamed the lieutenant governor.

Gov. Nathan Deal had included a hefty raise for members of the State Patrol in the fiscal year that began on July 1. Sheriff’s deputies and police officers paid by counties and municipalities weren’t part of the largesse.

Williams introduced two bills to address law enforcement pay across the state. Senate Bill 254 was filed on Feb. 23, a month into the session and 12 days before a March 7 deadline that required passage of the bill by his Senate colleagues. Only two other senators signed on. SR 377 was filed March 6.

Neither made it out of the Senate public safety committee. Asked why he blamed Cagle, Williams pointed to his fellow Republican senators: “The comments that they made to me.”

Names? Corroborating evidence? Williams declined. (His legislation, by the way, is very much alive, and can be taken up next year.)

What is “reprehensible” to Williams is that he had called dibs on an issue, and Cagle has out-maneuvered him. In May, the lieutenant governor had announced the creation of a “task force” to look into the pay issue. With a co-sponsor of Williams’ legislation.

Last week, Cagle broached the idea of setting a minimum wage for law enforcement officers in Georgia.

“If there’s any issue that should be above political games and false rhetoric, it’s our law enforcement. Their livelihood should not be a campaign issue used to get votes for the political gain of career politicians,” said Williams, as he was in the process of doing the very thing he damned.

Williams closed by saying he had a “long” list of complaints against Cagle, the only rival he mentioned. He just wasn’t ready to say what those complaints were. “Your days are numbered,” Williams threatened.

With that, the state senator opened the floor to questions, answering none of them. After three or four reporters had tried and failed, he dropped the mic.

And then Williams skedaddled. Out the south doors of the Capitol and down the stairs with his campaign manager.

You can understand the scenario he was going for: The noble maverick throws up a cloud of dust before an evil press and trembling Capitol bureaucrats, only to abruptly vanish like an unmasked Clayton Moore. The script now calls for millions of inspired voters to speculate about what this daring fellow will say next.

And so we are obliged to speculate. We are obliged to speculate that a man who makes public accusations without a fact to back them up simply lacks those facts.

But let us go back to what Michael Williams said as he opened his Thursday press conference.

“I have always advocated that politics should remain focused on the issues rather than the individuals. However, it has become unavoidable to ignore the character of someone who seeks the highest office in our state,” Williams said.

So I stand corrected. A fact did surface at the senator’s press conference.

Governors are indeed required to have character. Which means they stand and defend the words that come out of their mouths.

They do not skedaddle.

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