Former U.S. Dept. of Ed. Official Enters Race for Congress

By Sean Cavanagh — August 01, 2011 2 min read
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Michael L. Williams, who served as a top adviser in the U.S. Department of Education in George H.W. Bush’s administration, is running for a seat in Congress—though not the one he originally had in mind.

He’s campaigning as a Republican for the 25th District congressional seat, in Texas. Originally, Williams, a former commissioner for the Texas Railroad Commission, had jumped into the race for the U.S. Senate seat soon to be vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. But in June, Williams said he was dropping out of the Senate race to run for Texas 33rd District congressional seat, only to announce last week that he would compete in the 25th district.

Why the switcheroo? Texas has gone through a redistricting of the maps for congressional seats, the periodic reshuffling that results in incumbents and challengers scrambling to run in favorable districts and avoid unfavorable ones. The state gained four new congressional seats, and there is speculation in the Lone Star State that Williams would improve his odds by moving into the 25th.

“Precinct chairs, Tea Party leaders, GOP chairs, local elected officials, and Republican clubs have all recruited Michael to lead the fight in Washington as a representative of their district,” his campaign website said July 29. “And today he is proud to stand with them as a candidate for [district] 25.”

As a commissioner for the railroad commission, Williams helped set policies to regulate the oil and gas industry in the state. As a candidate, he pledges to support a limited approach to government and low taxes if elected, though his campaign site doesn’t appear to focus much on education issues.

Williams is a former federal prosecutor who served as the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights under Bush 41. It’s a position that was once held by current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and one that has sometimes been at the center of legally and politically contentious decisions.

In 1990, Williams caused a controversy of his own while serving in the civil rights post when he told officials at the Fiesta Bowl, a major college football event, that federal law would not allow them to award race-based scholarships.

Fiesta Bowl organizers had plans to donate money to each of the two universities with teams in the game for scholarships intended for African-American students. But Williams said that doing so wouldn’t be consistent with the law.

His position drew an angry response from civil-rights groups and university officials, who said it ran contrary to established policies.The Bush administration backpedaled from the policy, and then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander later withdrew it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.