The first ever Republican state Senate president will end his 12-year reign by taking a circuit court judgeship back home. David Williams will resign his leadership position and Senate seat next week to start a judgeship that he was appointed to by his chief rival, Gov. Steve Beshear.
It ends Williams' nearly 30-year legislative career, which included more than a decade as his chamber's leader. Williams leaves his party with a "super majority" in a Senate that's part of a divided state government.
Williams, of Burkesville, was nominated on Thursday by the Judicial Nominating Commission, alongside Angela M. Capps and Stephen Douglas Hurt. Capps is the Clinton County public defender and Hurt is a senior judge who retired in 2009 from a district judgeship, a state news release said.
Williams has been the Republican leader in the Kentucky State Senate since 1999, and a state senate president since 2000. Last year, Beshear and his running mate, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, beat by 20 percentage points Williams and his running mate, then-state agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer.
But Williams' departure appears to have been in the works well before he took Beshear's appointment. After announcing his acceptance, Williams said his goal all along was to run for the same judgeship in 2014 -- a pre-arrangement plan he made with the previous judge, the late Eddie Lovelace.
Williams declined to define his legislative tenure, one filled with education reforms but also fights with multiple governors. Williams also helped turn state government into a two party system after decades of Democratic Party dominance.
“We had 12 years with no scandal, no financial scandal what so ever here, we ran an honest Senate, there was never any question about any undue influence," he says. “Do I have regrets, I do have regrets that we didn’t accomplish some things I that I would have liked to, but if I had stayed here 20 more years I’m sure I’d still have regrets."
Williams move is the third by a Republican state senator into a another post offered by Beshear. But the senator says he's unsure his departure will allow Beshear an easier road for his legislative agenda, including expanded gambling.
He also avoided taking shots at Beshear or any other rivals, saying he hopes to make any amends necessary before transitioning to the judicial bench.
As for his pension, Williams says since he will not have a break in service and because he plans to serve as judge for a long time, he will not benefit from a criticized pension loophole that would have made his move boost his legislative pension.
Williams says he plays to run for re-election to his new position in 2014 and likely multiple terms after that.
He also declined to say who his successor as Senate president would be. The Republican caucus will pick a temporary fifth member of leadership on Thursday. Full leadership elections will occur in January, when the legislature reconvenes.
“It will be none of my business at that point, because the next day I will be sworn in and vacate the office and I don’t think would be appropriate for me to try and be involved in those selections,” Williams said.
And in the end, Williams says he's happy to be returning home to fulfill a long-held dream of his and to live up to his father's hopes for his future.