Serving dual roles in Congress and as state Dem chair, Nikema Williams looks to 2022

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams plans to remain chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia at least through 2022. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams plans to remain chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia at least through 2022. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

WASHINGTON — Even after winning her own seat in Congress and helping President Joe Biden carry Georgia during the general election, Nikema Williams felt there was more she needed to do as chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

She pledged to stay in that role at least a few weeks longer to support Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who were in competitive U.S. Senate runoffs. After helping them win their races and ensuring Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, Williams still is not done.

The Atlanta Democrat has decided to remain chair of the state party at least through 2022, when Warnock will be on the ballot seeking a full six-year term and Democrats have pledged to compete in every statewide race, including an expected rematch between Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams.

Having a member of Congress who also serves a prominent role in his or her political party is rare but not unheard of. Recently, there was an attempt to bar a member of Congress in Illinois from running for Democratic Party chair in that state. Ultimately, the member agreed not to fundraise for state and local candidates and went on to win that contest.

Williams declined to comment for this report. Warnock said he watched her serve dual roles last year and has confidence she will be able to handle all her various roles: political, congressional and personal.

“I think all of us are juggling more than one thing,” he said. “And the biggest job she probably has while doing this job is being the mother of a young child.”

Williams has a 5-year-old son.

She first served as acting chairwoman of the party for a few months in 2013 when then-Chairman Mike Berlon resigned after facing fraud allegations. In January 2019, party activists elected her to succeed the retiring DuBose Porter.

At the time, Williams was a state senator and close ally of Abrams, who had narrowly lost the 2018 gubernatorial race. As party chair, she campaigned across the state with Biden, Kamala Harris, Ossoff and Warnock, among other Democrats. At the same time, she was waging her own campaign to succeed the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis in Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.

Ossoff said Williams did so seamlessly and was key to the success of his campaign and others.

“I’m a close friend and supporter of Congresswoman Williams, and she deserves huge credit for leading the Democratic Party of Georgia through these historic victories,” Ossoff said. “I haven’t yet discussed with her the future of the state party organization, but I have tremendous confidence in Congresswoman Williams.”

Being a member of Congress and a party leader are two distinct jobs, but some have done it.

Florida U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz served as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee from 2011 to 2016. Mel Martinez was a U.S. senator from Florida when he was selected to serve as general chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2007-2008 election cycle.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly was recently elected to lead the Democratic Party of Illinois, although she faced questions about whether serving in that role while also being a member of Congress could run afoul of federal campaign finance laws.

During her campaign for that job, Kelly pointed out that Williams was also serving in these roles in Georgia. Williams also provided a strong endorsement.

“Excited to see people with vision & clarity stepping up to lead their State Party,” she wrote on Twitter. “@RobinLynneKelly is the right person to lead the Democratic Party in #Illinois. As Chair of @GeorgiaDemocrat, I know what it takes to lead a state party.”

Kelly won that contest, but not before a competitor released a legal opinion that questioned whether a sitting member of Congress was eligible to run. Kelly eventually received guidance from attorneys that said she could serve in the role but would not be allowed to raise money on behalf of state or local candidates.

At the time, she described the limitations as an opportunity to empower other members of the Illinois state party to step up.

“I will not only make sure we follow the letter of the law, but have an inclusive, team-approach to all decisions that involve the party’s finances,” Kelly said in a statement to The Chicago Sun-Times.

Williams has not said whether she agreed to similar limitations. Sachin Varghese, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s general counsel, said the organization has ensured Williams is following the rules.

“With regard to Congresswoman Williams’ position as chairwoman, the DPG is complying with all applicable law,” Varghese said in a statement. “Day-to-day operations of the DPG are the responsibility of executive director Scott Hogan.”

Although Williams will also be running for reelection in 2022, that race is not expected to be a tough one. Her district is likely to remain one of the nation’s bluest seats, and it will be tough for any Republican to mount a winning campaign. So far, no prominent Democrats have said they will challenge Williams in the primary.

At the same time, Hogan and party officers say the organization is set up in a way that gives Williams flexibility to focus on her duties as a congresswoman while also remaining its top official. Ted Terry, who serves as the party’s first vice chairman as well as being a first-term member of the DeKalb County Commission, believes that is the makeup of a winning formula.

“It’s amazing; we’ve already built up the team,” he said. “We’re already ready for 2022.”

About the Author