Channeling President Donald Trump, state Sen. Michael Williams is basing his run for governor on a pitch to upend the “rigged” system of Georgia state government.
Williams’ rise in Georgia party politics looks much like Trump’s own rise to the national political stage. He’s a business owner from Cumming who upset longtime incumbent Jack Murphy in a runoff by a dominating 32 percent in 2014.
Williams owned a large, multistate chain of SportClips barbershops, but was trained as an accountant. He sold his business after the passage of the Affordable Care Act and decided to jump into the Georgia GOP through a self-funded campaign for a state Senate seat.
It worked, and for three years Williams has represented Senate District 27 covering most of Forsyth County. Within a year of being elected, Williams became the first politician from the Peach State to endorse Trump early in the 2016 Republican primary.
In 2017, he’s taking the same self-funding approach (though Williams is accepting donations and touts his small-dollar, individual donations) — and a bit of the president’s rhetorical flair — into Georgia’s gubernatorial race.
Speaking to an audience of about 20 people at the South Hall Republican Club on Monday, Williams described his enthusiasm after winning his 2014 election and his later disappointment.
“I was excited. I had all these ideas — my mojo — going down to the Capitol. I was going to change Georgia. Well, guess what I found out when I got down there,” he said, drawing knowing chuckles from the audience. “It’s a rigged system. The system is rigged, and it’s not rigged for you and I. It’s rigged for lobbyists, special interests, the wealthy elite and big corporate.”
As a fiercely conservative candidate, Williams supports cutting taxes, school choice legislation, cutting regulation on companies like Uber and Lyft and financial accountability laws on state departments and the Georgia General Assembly.
His voting record has earned him solid ratings from a host of conservative watchdog groups, but Williams’ position as a firebrand in Atlanta has earned him few friends and made passing his reforms difficult — an issue he acknowledged on Monday.
“I was able to stay true to my values over the past few sessions,” he said, condemning wasteful spending on the part of both lawmakers and state employees.
The second-term senator talked about several of his policy proposals for Georgia, starting with economic ideas.
Williams said he sees Georgia becoming a national economic leader through private sector investments in financial technology, logistics, cyber security and agriculture. But his positive push circled back to criticism of the state’s status quo.
“How is Georgia currently stimulating our economy? Tax credits,” Williams said. “We go and we take money out of your pocket and we give it to big corporate so they can bring in jobs.”
He said the state needed to create a more welcoming environment for businesses — starting with reducing the demands of permitting and licensing needed to start and operate a business.
Williams also staked out positions on some controversial issues. He knocked state lawmakers for failing to pass a constitutional carry bill into law, which would allow Georgians to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, and said the state needed to withhold all funding from “sanctuary cities.”
But he also holds some conventional positions: Williams supports road construction outside of Atlanta to connect suburban, exurban and rural communities; he wants parents more involved in education; he supports a pay raise for state and local law enforcement; he wants to cut state taxes and fees and criticized state government for its budget growth in the past few years.
Williams also called for the direct popular election of state school board members, who are currently appointed by the governor, and term limits for state officials.
Many of Williams’ positions track with Trump’s own ideas for governance, and for good reason.
“I still believe this: (Trump) is going to end up being one of the best presidents we’ve ever had. He’s fighting that culture (to) drain the swamp down in D.C.,” Williams said. “We need that same mentality in Atlanta. We need to go down there and fight the establishment, fight that corrupt system that exists down there.”