Tanner vs. McCartt for Potter County judge

I’m going to make some assumptions about the upcoming race for Potter County judge in 2014.

One is that the two most serious Republican candidates already have declared their intention to seek the seat now held by County Judge Arthur Ware. The other is that no serious contender is going to enter the contest. A third assumption is that there won’t be a serious Democrat running for the seat, given that the Potter County Democratic Party is virtually comatose.

So, we’re left with two women with vastly different capabilities: former county court administrator and Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, Nancy Tanner, and former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt.

Ware, who’s not running for re-election, has endorsed McCartt — which shouldn’t be a surprise given that he fired Tanner from her county job earlier this summer for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

So the question becomes: How will these women present their political credentials and what will they say is their strongest suit?

Tanner has a long list of actual accomplishment on her dossier. She’s run the court system; she has been at Ware’s side during the two decades Ware has been county judge; and she’s done much of Ware’s actual job since the judge suffered a devastating stroke in 2010. She knows the county well. She is well acquainted with county department heads and elected officials.

McCartt’s history is quite different. She served as mayor for three terms after serving a couple of terms on the Amarillo City Commission. McCartt is an immensely popular personality in Amarillo. She loves the city and served admirably as Amarillo’s chief spokeswoman during her mayoral tenure. However, the city’s political structure doesn’t give the mayor much actual power; the administrative duties are done by the city manager. Furthermore, the mayor and the four commissioners all represent the same constituency, since they all are elected at-large. But I’ll go back to my thought about McCartt’s personal popularity. It’s huge and I believe it will matter a great deal when the two candidates square off in public forums to debate the issues.

Potter County voters already have demonstrated a tendency to go with popularity over professionalism, as they did in 2000 when county Republicans nominated Mike Shumate to be sheriff over Art Tupin. Shumate had a checkered career with Amarillo Police Department, but developed a cult following when he ran the APD Crime Stoppers program; Tupin, meanwhile, served as chief Potter County deputy sheriff under Jimmy Don Boydston and was eminently more qualified for the job than Shumate. That didn’t matter to county Republicans. Shumate then breezed to victory in the general election that year over a Democratic candidate no one has seen or heard from since the votes were counted.

I am thinking the same dynamic may play out in the Tanner-McCartt race.

Tanner’s learning curve would be much less severe than McCartt’s, given that Tanner has done much of the job already and McCartt has little actual hands-on experience with managing the complexities of government.

Let’s all stay dialed in on this contest. It’s going to be a fascinating campaign that likely might reveal lots of things about Potter County’s voting public.

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