A few hours before he walked into the Rapides Parish Clerk of Court Office, my friend and former colleague called me and dropped a bombshell. “I’d been thinking about this for a long time. I was up until 4AM last night,” he said. “I know who I am, and I know that I want to become a public servant, that I will likely be a public servant for the rest of my life. I’ve decided to run for the Louisiana House of Representatives.”
“I’m proud of you, but you know, you’ll be taking a big pay-cut,” I warned.
“I’m not doing this for the money, Lamar. The only people who care about their money in this job don’t care about the public’s money,” he said. And he is right.
Daniel Williams is 31, good-looking, and undeniably charismatic. With a quick wit and an intuitive, principled understanding of the issues, he possesses a warmth and an empathy sorely lacking in the House that Huey Built. He’s the son of a preacher and the younger brother of a lawyer, which, to those who know him, makes complete sense: He possesses the patience of a caring preacher and the diligence of a good attorney.
When he was in his mid-20s, he launched an incredibly ambitious campaign for Alexandria City Council at-large. Even though he only picked up 11% of the vote, he demonstrated through hard work, retail politics, and a willingness to substantively engage with anyone he could that he was, in fact, the real deal. It earned him a job at City Hall.
Mr. Williams has spent the last three years heading the City of Alexandria’s Community Service’s Department, and his successes are undeniable: Newly-launched summer and winter activities and programs for qualified children, improved parks and recreational facilities, the successful passage of a dedicated revenue stream that promises to radically improve existing facilities and enhance programs, and a long string of successful music and arts festivals and events.
Daniel Williams may be the smartest and most qualified candidate to run for a seat in the Louisiana House in eight years.“
Williams’s main opponent, Jeff Hall, is also be a nice man, but he has a complicated and problematic history. Hall was once the most powerful African-American executive at Cleco, the large electric utility company headquartered in Pineville, during the same time in which his company had been allegedly, systematically defrauding Alexandria ratepayers. While Cleco’s Chief Diversity Officer, Mr. Hall was specifically named in numerous lawsuits alleging discrimination against minority employees. Then, as the chairman of the Alexandria Central City Economic Development District (ACCEDD), Mr. Hall had strongly lobbied in favor of the construction of an absurdly ambitious, mega-million dollar marina project, which seemed, to many, blatantly concocted to benefit a well-connected a local firm.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hall, seemingly worried about the newly-enacted ethics laws requiring him to disclose his income as the chairman of ACCEDD, opted, instead, to resign, leaving behind nearly a million dollars in languishing federal funds. His resignation was troubling to those who value open and transparent government, and it still poses legitimate questions about potential conflicts of interest. At the same time, Hall’s sister, Wanda Davis, the former executive director of the Alexandria Housing Authority, had been fired for allegedly providing herself nearly $200,000 in unauthorized payments from taxpayers.
Mr. Hall, who finished in a distant second place in last year’s election for Alexandria Mayor, a campaign that he largely self-financed, is now pouring even more of his own money into this special election. And apparently, according to independent sources, Mr. Hall is also attempting to align himself with LABI, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, a powerful Republican lobbying group that is currently led by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former chief of staff, Stephen Waguespack.
“I’m sure LABI does some great things, but I didn’t get in this election to represent someone else’s special interests,” Williams says. “I’m running to represent the special interests of the people in my community. Number one on that list is education.”
“Access to quality, affordable education should be our most pressing priority,” Williams says. “When our state cuts $700 million in higher education and threatens to cut another $380 million, the spreadsheets may look better, but the opportunities for our children and our families, especially the poor and the working class, are the first to go. I want to make it clear: I oppose these cuts, and if elected, I will work to guarantee that education is considered more sacred than the tax breaks for big business. Without education, there is no big business.”
Williams also believes in protecting public schools like Peabody Montessori and Peabody Magnet High School from being gutted by the state’s controversial school voucher program. “We have some of the best facilities in the state. If our schools are struggling, the solution isn’t to send our best students and much of our money to schools we’ve never heard of, miles way. The solution is making our own schools stronger.”
“We should also be focused on funding our much-needed technical college downtown,” Williams says, “and we should make sure that tuition remains as low as it possibly can be. Education should be considered a basic civil right, not simply the privilege of the elite or the wealthy.”
Mr. Williams also wants to focus on health care and infrastructure, lamenting the closure of Huey P. Long in Pineville. “We need more than these small clinics, because they simply can’t work as well as they were promised,” he says. “We need to be innovative again. We need to rethink the delivery of services, particularly in urban neighborhoods.”
Daniel Williams also champions infrastructure development, and to me, he’s pitch perfect. “Some people like to talk about government handouts,” he explains. “They like to blame others for being poor and relying on welfare. I think the best way to get people off of welfare is by improving infrastructure, by ensuring we all live in the 21st century. Paved streets, sidewalks, street lights, zoning laws that promote development instead of protecting slum lords, high-speed broadband, efficient public transportation.”
I rarely publish endorsements, but, to me, this one is important. With only three weeks remaining, voters have the opportunity to elect a candidate that represents the future not just of their district but also of the Gret Stet of Louisiana, a true, visionary leader who is currently battling an older man who may be nice personally but presents all sorts of political and professional problems.