By Jimmy Patterson
AUSTIN — There are more than a handful of Austin insiders who will tell you that the next big charismatic political figure to emerge on the national scene is a Catholic from West Texas.
Popular sentiment last year was that Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a Midland native and graduate of St. Ann’s School and Midland Lee High School, was to be hand-picked by Gov. Rick Perry to fill what was to have been a vacant U.S. Senate seat. But then Kay Bailey Hutchinson did not vacate that seat during her unsuccessful bid to win the Republican nomination for Texas governor. And that was, as they say, all she wrote.
Now, instead, Williams is left to work hard for what he gets. Instead of being named to fill a senate seat, it is believed that he will campaign for that seat. Even he strongly hints at that possibility, but will say little more at this time.
“Nobody knows if Kay will stay,” Williams said in November. “And then I’d have to mount a challenge to a sitting senator. Right now, though, we’re gonna focus on the people’s business between now and June and then go straight into the campaign.”
Currently a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament in his hometown of Arlington, Williams counts as his early influences former history teacher James Bradford and student council sponsor Olga Banks, fellow Catholic and former Midland mayor Ernie Angelo, former Midlander President George W. Bush, and Sisters Bonafee and Leonardene at St. Ann’s School.
When we talked on Election Day at his downtown Austin office, Williams also shared his feelings about the current president, Barack Obama. His review wasn’t exactly glowing.
“We know there’s some real buyers’ remorse going on right now. If you were listening closely to the president and not just to the style but to the substance — if anyone had actually scratched the surface and looked deeper than just the performer — we probably should have known this was coming,” Williams said. “The president has truly overplayed his hand. Maybe he’ll do what President Clinton did in 1994, but I don’t see him pulling back into the center. I just don’t see him doing that. When he said he was for hope and change, people had no idea how much change he was really talking about.”
Williams is different from a lot of public officials in that he personally authors his own Tweets and Facebook posts. He has long recognized the power of not only the media, but the new media today that is social networking.
“I love social media,” Williams said. “We have to find new ways to talk to people and new ways to have a new conversation. Voters want to sit down and have a conversation with you now. And they want to be with you, and be an authentic voice and if they can’t, they’re gonna let you know about if.
“Do you realize that we are going to end an election cycle where the person at the top of the ballot (Gov. Rick Perry) says ‘I’m not going to do editorial boards and, oh by the way, I’m not gonna do a debate, I’m going to have my conversation directly with the voters, unfiltered by the print media. That’s a turn of events. That’s a fundamental change of the landscape. And he got away with it.”
Williams said he posted a YouTube video regarding a topic in the Railroad Commission office and a constituent responded by sending him a video response on YouTube. Another example of a fundamental change in communications that we are all currently involved in.
“Is it all positive?” Williams asked. “No. There are no filters. My chief of staff is concerned because her job is to see that I stay out of trouble and my habit is to drive the car as fast as I can in the direction I think it should go.
“There are going to be certain problems but we’ll figure out what the rules are. If a guy goes out and posts something there are millions of spell checkers and fact checkers, and if you post something silly, a bunch of folks are gonna respond to it. I love the way the game has changed. Now, everybody is a publisher, and everybody is a fact checker. Now, everybody can participate.”