Williams is also a former member of the elected Texas Railroad Commission, a regulatory body over, not railroads, but the oil and natural gas industries. He is the first African American to hold a statewide elected executive office in Texas history. He was appointed to the commission by Perry's predecessor, then Governor George W. Bush in 1999, and won elections in 2000, 2002, and 2008 to retain the office before eventually resigning in 2011. He is also the fourth African American to be elected to statewide office overall following Morris Overstreet, Wallace B. Jefferson, and Dale Wainwright.
On May 29, 2012, Williams ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the redrawn 25th congressional district seat that stretches southward from Tarrant to Hays counties.
In 1990, U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush appointed Williams to be Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights (the Office for Civil Rights) at the United States Department of Education, a post previously held by Clarence Thomas, whom Bush named in 1991 to the United States Supreme Court.
Previously, Williams served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement at the United States Department of the Treasury. In that capacity, he had oversight responsibility for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (August 1989 - June 1990).
He also served as Special Assistant to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh at the United States Department of Justice from January 1988 to June 1989. In 1988, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese awarded Williams the Attorney General’s "Special Achievement Award" for the conviction of six Ku Klux Klan members on federal weapons charges. Williams was a federal prosecutor from 1984 to 1988 and a former assistant district attorney in his hometown of Midland, Texas.
Williams address the 2004 Republican National Convention, at which he endorsed the reelection of President George W. Bush. He also spoke at the 2008 Republican National Conventionin Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he endorsed the party nominee, U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona for president.
Texas Governor Perry nominated Williams to be the next chief of the Texas Education Agency; he is the first African-American Commissioner of Education in Texas history.
Williams, the first African American in Texas history to hold an executive statewide elected office, chaired the Railroad Commission from September 1999 to September 2003 and again from June 2007 to February 2009. The chairman serves a two-year term. He comes up for election at the end of his chairmanship.
Williams formally chaired the Governor’s Clean Coal Technology Council and FutureGen Texas represents the governor and the Railroad Commission of Texas on the Southern States Energy Board. On September 14, 2005, Texas Governor Rick Perry designated Williams to lead the state's long-term Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Williams was also the Railroad Commission "point person" for agency regulatory reform and technology modernization efforts.
Williams is a past Honorary State Chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Texas which helps to enrich, encourage, and empower children through safe, positive, one-to-one mentoring relationships.
Before he joined the Railroad Commission, Williams served as general counsel to Wilkins Group, Inc., a telecommunications company based in Richardson, Texas. He also has served in a volunteer capacity as the general counsel of the Republican Party of Texas, the chairman of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and on the board of directors of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School.
Williams' effective use of social media tools earned him a Texas Social Media Award.
In 2000, Williams won the two-year unexpired term without Democratic opposition. He defeated the Libertarian Anthony Garcia and the Green Party candidate, Charles L. Mauch. Williams received 3,600,967 votes (77 percent) to Garcia's 740,340 ballots (15.8 percent) and Mauch's 334,706 votes (7.2 percent).
In 2002, Williams won a full six-year term on the commission. He polled 2,407,036 votes (54.8 percent) to 1,821,751 (41.5 percent) for Democrat Sherry Boyles. Two other candidates, including Charles Mauch once again, received a total of 162,482 votes (4.7 percent).
Williams ran for reelection for a second full six-year term to the Texas Railroad Commission in November 2008. He won the Republican nomination in March 2008 in an unopposed contest. Williams obtained the endorsement of several hundred Republican grassroots leaders across Texas. He was also backed by most members of the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC), more than one hundred county chairmen and both members of the Republican National Committee from Texas.
Ernest Angelo, Jr., who served as the mayor of Midland from 1972–1980, and Merrie Spaeth of Dallas were co-chairs of the Williams Senate campaign, which never materialized. Angelo was the Republican National Committeeman from Texas from 1976–1996 and Ronald W. Reagan state co-chairman in Texas in the 1976 presidential primary and in the 1980 general election campaign.
Williams declared that he was "humbled and energized" in receiving such broad party support. He vowed to work to "develop new energy sources, create a pro-growth energy policy, control government spending, and produce the next generation of mathematicians, scientists and engineers."
Williams was reelected in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, having defeated the Democratic candidate, Mark Thompson, and Libertarian candidate David Floyd.
Initially on December 16, 2008 Michael Williams announced via a Twitter message that he would seek a position in the United States Senate, noting the possibility of a special election in 2009 or 2010 to replace sitting senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison, however, did not resign the seat even after her defeat in the 2010 gubernatorial primary by Governor Perry. On January 13, 2011, Hutchison announced that she would not run for re-election in 2012. In July 2011, Williams decided not to run for the Senate but to seek the new 25th Congressional district seat.
Williams finished fifth among twelve candidates in the House primary, having polled 5,387 votes (10.5 percent). The leading candidate, Roger Williams, with 12,888 votes (25.1 percent), then won the party runoff and the general election and still holds the House seat.
Meanwhile, Governor Perry appointed Barry Smitherman, then of Harris County to fill the remainder of Williams' term on the Railroad Commission. Smitherman, a banker and lawyer, is a former member of the Public Utility Commission.
Williams is a 1971 graduate of Robert E. Lee High School in Midland. He is the son of public school teachers. He earned a bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He also obtained his law degree from the USC Law School in Los Angeles. He is married to Donna Williams, who resides in Arlington, Texas. He is a brother of the University of Texas chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon.