Republican Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison announced today she isn't running for reelection in 2012. Hutchison had planned to resign from the Senate to run for governor last year, but chose to serve out her term after losing the Republican primary for governor to incumbent Rick Perry, who went on to win a third term in November.
Expect to hear more about Michael Williams, the Republican Texas Railroad Commissioner who is running for the seat. John McCormack profiled the Jim DeMint-backed Williams in 2009:
From 1984 to 1993, Williams held a number of positions in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, including deputy assistant secretary at Treasury and assistant secretary of education. He then worked as a lawyer in the private sector and was appointed by Governor George W. Bush to the Texas railroad commission, which regulates the oil, gas, and mining industries. Since his appointment in 1999, he's won statewide election to the commission three times and developed an expertise in energy policy. After ticking off statistics on wind and coal power in one recent speech, Williams began talking about the benefits of nuclear power. "If the French can figure it out, surely we can," he said.
Williams's good nature and wonkishness don't fit the stereotype of the tea party activist. But then according to conventional wisdom, Williams, who was born in 1953 and grew up in the segregated South, is supposed to be a Democrat.
The son of public school teachers, Williams lived in Texas until high school, when he attended a boarding school run by Benedictine monks in Colorado. At the University of Southern California he was a hurdler. "I was anything but a conservative" back then, Williams told me. He cast his first vote for George McGovern in 1972 and served as president of the black student union at USC law school. By the early 1980s, however, Williams was a conservative Republican.
While he credits his parents and his Catholic faith for instilling a "conservative values system" in him, the thinkers who most influenced his political evolution are Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell. "Even though I didn't think of myself as a conservative, I was always reading. I was always examining my own thoughts," Williams says. Friedman's Free to Choose helped him realize that the welfare state played a big role in keeping the poor and vulnerable from succeeding. And Sowell was "central" to him. "It was important to me," Williams explains, not only to find affirmation for "my own thoughts and thinking and in many ways to expand my understanding of these values and principles, but to get it from somebody that looked like me."
"People would say, 'Someone who looks like you cannot think what you think,'" says Williams. "That rarely happens nowadays."