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Thursday, November 23, 2017, 12:51 p.m.

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Senator appointed to energy board, loves serving people

By Mark Buffalo

This article was published November 12, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, stands in front of the Arkansas State Capitol, where he has served since 2011. Williams was recently appointed by President Donald Trump as the federal representative to the Southern States Energy Board. Williams said he will resign his elected position when he is sworn in as a member of the board in the near future.

Eddie Joe Williams said anyone’s life is full of milestones.

“You’re born, you go to school, you graduate … it’s a big deal,” the Republican state senator from Cabot said. “Military, get married … it’s a big deal. You have kids. They get married. You have grandkids. Then you retire. Then you die.

“I don’t want to reach that retirement, then die. I wanted to continue anew and fresh — things that kind of stretch me a little bit, even at age 63.”

Williams, who has served in the Arkansas Senate since 2011, was recently appointed to the Southern States Energy Board as the federal representative by President Donald Trump. The appointment is a paid position.

Williams has served on the City of Cabot Planning Commission and was elected as a Cabot alderman, Cabot mayor and, of course, state senator.

The Southern States Energy Board is a nonprofit interstate compact organization created in 1960. Its mission, according to the board’s website, sseb.org, is to enhance economic development and the quality of life in the South through innovations in energy and environmental policies, programs and technologies.

The board represents 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. The board also represents the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“This will be exciting and new and fresh,” Williams said. “There will be a lot of new stuff I have to learn. I know that, but I”m excited about it. What an honor to receive a call from the Office of the President and offer you a job.”

Williams is currently on the 2017-18 executive committee for the energy board. He said he’s been interested in energy for several years.

“I think Arkansas is blessed,” he said. “We have some of the cheapest energy rates in the United States. We’re probably the fourth or fifth cheapest out of the lower 48 states. There is a reason for that. We have very diverse energy sources. With coal and Nuclear One [in Russellville], natural gas, a little bit of hydro … it’s very diverse.

“I’ve taken an interest in that. I want to make sure that we don’t get away from our base load. I took an interest in it and started speaking at national conferences and roundtable discussions, and someone took notice.”

Williams was asked about being the federal representative probably eight months ago.

“I didn’t hear anything for months,” he said, adding that he heard something during the late summer. He was required to fill out stacks of paperwork, which usually takes five days.

“They said we normally get five days, but they wanted it back today,” Williams said. “We got it all back. I didn’t hear anything for a month. Then out of the clear blue sky last Tuesday [Oct. 24], I got call from the Office of the President.”

Williams said the person he spoke with told him that he had been approved for the position; it just needed to be signed by Trump. Williams said he was told it could take up to 30 days for the appointment to be signed; it was signed Oct. 27.

Williams said he will resign as a state senator.

“I’m not going to resign until I’m sworn in,” he said, adding that he does not know for sure when that will happen. “You start talking about that level of an appointment, anything can happen. I’m not going to resign yet.”

Williams said that in the board position, he will serve at the pleasure of the president.

“I fully expect to serve three or maybe seven years if [Trump] is re-elected,” Williams said. “At that point, I’ll be 70. It will be time to go skydiving or something dangerous for a while.”

One of the first things that Williams will be working with while on the board is helping to get the power grid up and running again in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which both suffered massive power outages as a result of Hurricane Maria in September.

“I’ve already been told that one of the focuses will be getting the grid back up in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Williams said. “That is a big, daunting task. That’s not a vacation. That’s work.

“Getting it back up and working would be very rewarding. I’m used to managing large projects with the railroad.”

Williams is a 1972 graduate of Sheridan High School. A month after graduation, he joined the Army and served three years.

“I made eyeglasses. … I went to optical school,” Williams said, referring to Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center near Denver, Colorado.

“I was going to school during the day and working at night in a shoe store, where I met my wife,” Williams said of his wife of 45 years, DeLona. “We knew each other two weeks, then got married two weeks later.”

During his time in Arkansas, he traveled the world, working in optical labs.

“I came back to Sheridan and did a couple of jobs until I could find a permanent job,” Williams said. “I then went to work in the optical business and stayed in that for a year or so. Then the railroad had called me while I was serving in the Army. We connected again. I went to work as a laborer and spent almost 40 years.”

Williams worked for the Missouri Pacific and Union Pacific railroads before retiring a few years ago.

After working as a laborer, Williams was promoted to a manager but had to move to Kansas, then Missouri.

“Then I had the opportunity to come back here and be a manager,” he said. “When I came back, we went out to Maumelle and found a house. The school was about a block away. We had four daughters.”

However, living in the Pulaski County Special School District, the Williams girls would have gone to school in the College Station community, which would require riding a bus an hour a day.

“I said we’re not going to do that,” he said. “We can’t be involved with their school. My wife didn’t work. Her primary focus was raising the girls and being involved with them in the school. But if they were going to ride an hour a day on a bus, it just wasn’t going to work.” This was in 1986.

“I had been to Cabot several times,” Williams said. “My cousin, Opie Chambliss, was the first building inspector the city of Cabot had because of the tornado in 1976. I had been up there over the years. We moved out to Castle Heights. Two years later, the railroad moved me to California. I stayed there a couple of years, then went to St. Louis. I took over the eastern part of the railroad up there.”

Williams said he was sent back to Arkansas to manage a terminal in Little Rock.

“I moved the family back,” he said. “When it came time to move again, I said, ‘No, I’m not moving anymore.’ That is how I planted my roots in Cabot, and we’ve been here ever since,” adding that happened around 1993.

Williams got involved in politics when then Cabot Mayor Joe Allman asked him to serve on the City of Cabot Planning Commission.

“I went to church with Joe Allman, and he asked me if I wanted to serve on the Planning Commission,” he said “This is the first time I had ever been involved with politics. I told him I’d commit to it a year at a time.”

While on the Planning Commission, Williams said, he saw things in the city that he thought he could help with by being on the City Council.

“I’m an outside-the-box-thinking guy, so I ran for City Council,” he said, being elected three times. He resigned during his third term, as his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and Williams was spending more time taking care of his father in Sheridan.

Stubby Stumbaugh was elected Cabot mayor in 2002. Two years into his term, Williams decided he wanted to run for mayor.

“There was something that concerned me greatly that I had worked on so hard when I was on the council and I was on the Metroplan board,” Williams said, referring to money the city was setting aside to help pay for a railroad overpass on the north end of Cabot.

“I found out they had spent most of the money [that had been] set aside,” Williams said of the city. “I knew at that time I was going to run for mayor, and I did. I spent four years as mayor.”

He was elected Cabot mayor in 2006.

In 2010, State Sen. Bobby Glover of Carlisle was retiring, and Williams decided to make a run for the senate, defeating Democratic challenger Lenville Evans of Lonoke. Williams has served ever since.

Williams said when he first got on the Planning Commission all those years ago, he had no idea he’d be in the position he is today.

“Never in a million years,” he said. “At that time, I was working full time on the railroad. I was working 60 hours a week. I never had an inkling that I wanted to be in government or be a politician. It worked out. It’s been good. I’ve got no regrets.”

Williams said he will miss working for the people in Arkansas.

“I’ve made wonderful friends as a legislator,” he said. “It’s amazing to me how many people have issues that they need help with. At any one time, I’ll have 10 to 15 issues I’m working on for someone. Whether it’s DHS (the Department of Human Services) or someone who is wanting a pardon, whether it’s someone who needs to get into UAMS (the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences), family-related issues.”

Williams said he will miss working with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

“He and I talked about this,” Williams said. “He’s really apprehensive about me not being a senator, but he thinks it’s a great opportunity for Arkansas also.”

“Sen. Williams has been very active in the Southern States Energy Board,” Hutchinson said. “As immediate past chairman of the organization, I am personally familiar with Eddie Joe’s knowledge and passion for a diverse energy supply in our nation. He will be an excellent choice as the federal representative for the SSEB, and he will play a key role in supplying energy policy in the future.”

Despite the new job with the energy board, Williams will continue living in Cabot.

“I have an option of living here,” he said. “I’ll start out working at an office in the house, but I do have one in Atlanta. For the most part, I’ll be able to work out of the house and travel quite a bit. The wife and I go together. We travel a lot together. So for that, I’m thankful.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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