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Bow-tied former railroad commissioner appointed Texas' new chief education official

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August 28, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Texas
Michael Williams (R) will succeed Robert Scott as Education Commissioner on September 1, 2012.

AUSTIN, Texas: Michael Williams will take office as Texas' Commissioner of Education on September 1, 2012. Governor Rick Perry's appointed him to replace Robert Scott as the state's chief education official.[1] Scott resigned earlier this summer, months after state budget cuts left public schools out $5 billion and in generally dire straits.[2]

Williams was reportedly plucked from a pool of Republican candidates that included state senator Florence Shapiro and state representative Rob Eissler, among others, for the technically nonpartisan role.[1] Prior to his appointment Williams spent nearly 14 years on the Texas Railroad Commission.[3] In 1998, then-governor George W. Bush appointed him to fill a vacancy on the commission. In so doing, Bush made Williams the first African American to hold a statewide elected position in Texas history. Williams was subsequently elected to the post three times -- in 2000, and 2002, and 2008 -- before stepping down in 2011 to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful bid for U.S. House representing the 25th Congressional District of Texas.

A longtime conservative activist and member of the Texas Republican Party, Williams' profile within the GOP has risen steadily over the years due to his work as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice under President Reagan, and dual appointments by former President George H.W. Bush to serve as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education and as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.[3]

Texas' commissioner of education is the educational leader of the state, serving as the executive officer of the Texas Education Agency and executive secretary of the state Board of Education, overseeing the state's 1,200 school districts and charter schools.[4] The commissioner carries out duties as directed by both state agency and the state legislature in adherence to Title 2, Subtitle B, Chapter 7, Subchapter 1, Section 7.055(b) of the Texas statutes. The position has a reputation for being lofty and demanding, and has proven hard to sustain by any one person for more than a few years. In fact, at the time Scott tendered his resignation, he was the longest serving education commissioner the state had had in two decades.[1] He held the office for five years.

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