Williams seeking a return to Raleigh

Published 3:26 am Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Staff Writer

Asked to highlight legislation of which he is proud, state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, didn’t hesitate in an interview that focused on his re-election effort.
Williams pointed immediately to House Bill 2167, a measure that increased the legal width of boats transported on state roads at certain times.
As the primary sponsor of the bill, Williams won a national award from the Boat Owners Association of The United States.
“That was all about access,” Williams said. “If a person can’t pull his recreational boat down the highway, then he doesn’t need the boat.”
Williams successfully sponsored the bill “to revise state law … that was preventing boat trailers wider than eight-feet, six-inches access to state roads on weekends, holidays and at night — all prime travel times,” reads Boat U.S.’s Web site.
The bill was approved by the House and Senate, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Mike Easley in 2008. The veto was overridden by votes of the House and Senate.
“It’s not easy to take the governor on, but I have learned how to count,” Williams said. “I had the votes. I think I had a lot of votes across the aisle that they didn’t know I had, and I was very proud of that.”
Williams said he learned his first legislative lessons from the now-late state Sen. Ed Warren, D-Pitt, for whom he served as Beaufort County campaign chairman.
“Ed Warren told me this back 10 or 12 years ago,” he said. “You can either vote with the people back home that sent you up there or you can vote with the people up there. So, I think I chose to do the former. I ran that bill (2167) for the people in my district.”
Williams indicated his belief that his constituent-centered approach will return him to Raleigh next year.
Asked about the reported vulnerability of some Democratic lawmakers in this election year, he said, “I can only speak for myself. I think my basic goal up there is to look after Arthur and look after my people. I have a very good relationship with all the people in Raleigh.”
First elected in 2002, Williams long ago shed his newcomer status.
Williams said he followed the lead of Warren and state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, president pro tempore of the Senate, as he found his way on Jones Street.
“I learned a lot from them,” he said. “I learned my way around Raleigh. A lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s the governor this and the governor that,’ but it’s not always the governor, it’s the background people. And I think I learned the system. I’ve been told I do very well at that up there in Raleigh.”
Williams is chairman of the Wildlife Resources Committee, vice chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, to name three committee assignments.
The representative responded to a question about scandals that have enveloped Easley since the two-term governor left office.
“I think it’s terrible,” Williams said. “Well, I would certainly hope it doesn’t bother me. I certainly haven’t been a part of it. What I do, I think everybody in this district knows, is on top of the table, and I don’t get into those kinds of things.”
Williams has proved to be an effective fundraiser.
He had $100,596 cash left in his campaign account at the end of 2009, updated state records showed. He listed $49,538 in individual contributions and $3,350 in contributions from political action committees.
Williams has no opponent in the primary election, but will face Republican Bill Cook in the general election.
Cook is a retired electric-utility executive from Washington, D.C. He said he has lived in the county for about six years.
The Beaufort County Republican Party’s Web site lists him as finance chairman of the county GOP.
Cook has said he’s challenging Williams because he thinks he can make a difference, adding “our liberal friends in the Legislature” have increased state spending.
“I hope I don’t sound too radical, but I think I can do something to stop that in our Legislature,” Cook told the Washington Daily News in mid-January.
Williams wished his opponent luck.
“I’m going to run my own campaign,” he said. “My mother told me one time that putting people down in life doesn’t get you anywhere, so I don’t care to get into that.”
Washington Mayor Archie Jennings said it would probably be unfair for him to endorse anyone, but he did call Williams “a very, very effective legislator and an ally for the city and the county.”
Williams helped “tremendously” in sustaining the public-private partnership that led to the completed restoration of the historic Turnage Theater on Main Street, Jennings said.
“Certainly his involvement at the state level was a final piece of the puzzle,” the mayor said.
Staff Writer Betty Mitchell Gray contributed to this report.