Oct. 31, 2012 — When David Williams was elected to the Kentucky Senate in 1987, his Republican Party held only eight of 38 seats.
When Williams left the Senate last Friday to become a circuit judge, the GOP held a 23-15 majority and he had been Senate president for 13 eventful years.
Despite the fact his political foes called him “the bully of Burkesville,” Williams emerged without question as the most powerful man in Frankfort.
He dominated state politics but could not turn his legislative influence into enough votes to take the governor’s office from Gov. Steve Beshear.
Williams, no doubt helped by influence and funding from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, returned the General Assembly to a two-party system for the first time in nearly 90 years.
Hailed by both parties as a gifted legislative strategist, Williams used the sheer force of his will at times to alter the course of public policy in the Commonwealth.
His unwillingness to yield on fiscal matters resulted in three biennial budget deadlocks and he kept casino gambling from coming to a floor vote in the Senate until this year when it failed 16-21 in a vote largely along party lines.
We agree with the assessment of John David Dyche, a Louisville attorney and columnist for The Courier-Journal, who was quoted as saying Williams “has probably been the Republican in state government with the stiffest spine since Louie Nunn.”
Williams first rallied his Senate Republican colleagues to a protracted battle in 2002 when he triggered a budget deadlock over a few million dollars to fund public financing of gubernatorial elections.
Senate Republicans called the program “welfare for politicians”. Democrats later dropped the idea.
Williams strongly opposed legislation to allow expanded gambling designed to benefit the horse industry.
He consistently rejected accusations from Beshear and the industry that he never gave the issue a fair chance to get on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.
Commenting after his judgeship was announced, Williams said of casino gambling:
“It was heard in the committee, it was voted on in the committee. It passed out of the committee…it was voted on the floor. Now it will be harder for people to blame this issue on one person.”
Despite being described as an obstructionist, Williams said his record in the legislature does not support that accusation.
To his credit, there has been no hint of corruption or influence peddling in the Senate on his watch.
Sen. David Williams is gone but he will not soon be forgotten.