Williams quits; will he now run?
Williams, 57, a car dealer from Weatherford, prominent fundraiser for President George W. Bush, and secretary of state since Jan. 1, 2005, said in a press release he's quitting as of July 1 "to pursue other options."
He has made little secret of his desire to run. The secretary of state's office is relatively high profile, and governors have often used it to help boost political careers of allies.
The secretary's name appears on millions of pieces of correspondence and forms - not to mention television advertisements.
As the state's chief election officer, the secretary of state is ideally placed to appear in state-paid commercials urging Texans to register and vote. Williams has used that perk as shamelessly as several of his predecessors of both parties.
The secretary of state also deals with hundreds of county and city officials on elections and other matters. And corporations registering to do business in Texas do so through the secretary of state's office.
The principal question about Williams' future as a candidate seems to be when, for what. But the only two statewide non-judicial offices up in 2008 have Republican incumbents, presumably seeking re-election: John Cornyn for U. S. Senate and Michael L. Williams for Railroad Commission.
That leaves 2010, a non-presidential election year when statewide offices with four-year terms come up. Roger Williams is thought to have his eye on governor, unless Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, 63, decides to run.
Hutchison, re-elected in 2006, could seek the governorship in 2010 without having to relinquish her Senate seat, since it's not up until 2012.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is also interested in the governor's job, and has large personal wealth plus a position from which he can leverage big campaign contributions.
There's also talk Williams might run for lieutenant governor, though if Hutchison runs, Dewhurst might stay put. Also, Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott is said to covet that spot. He almost ran for it in 2002, but switched to attorney general.
Williams could also seek a lower position on the political totem pole, and hope to move up later. A long line of people ambitious for higher statewide office have done so - including Gov. Rick Perry, who was agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor before becoming governor; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was land commissioner first; Atty. Gen. Abbott, whose first statewide position was the Texas Supreme Court; and Comptroller Susan Combs, who moved up from agriculture commissioner.
Since 1950, 12 of the 31 secretaries of state prior to Williams subsequently ran statewide, and one other ran for congress (Democrat Henry Cuellar). Nine of the 12 were successful, though two of them lost a statewide race before winning. And two (Zollie Steakley in 1961, Alberto R. Gonzales in 1999) were first appointed to the Texas Supreme Court and then re-elected.
Williams might be forewarned that since the Civil War, the number of Texas secretaries of state elected governor without first holding some other office is not large: zero.
Since 1950, three former secretaries of state have run for governor. But the only one who was successful was Democrat Mark White in 1982, and he served four years as attorney general first.
The two who tried for governor and didn't make it were John L. Hill, who finished sixth in the 1968 Democratic primary, and Republican Jack Rains, who finished fourth in the 1990 Republican primary.
White, in fact, was the only former secretary of state to become governor since Edward Clark in 1861.
That said, neither White nor Hill nor Rains share the same name as the musician Roger Williams, who claims to be the best-selling pianist in history.
Reach McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 323-0248.