Potter County judge race could get testy

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware has announced — in a statement delivered by his wife — that he won’t run for re-election in 2014. He is to be commended for realizing the obvious, that his 2010 stroke has rendered him incapable of campaigning for his office, let alone performing the duties that go along with it.

Then came this thunderbolt: Ware has endorsed former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who plans to announce soon her intention to run for the office. You want more theatrics? We have Nancy Tanner, Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, who worked as his administrative assistant for 20 years before being fired summarily for reasons that haven’t yet been disclosed publicly. Tanner also wants to be the judge, and she contends she has the chops to do the job, given her vast knowledge of court matters, probate and much of the detail that goes with it.

Let’s backtrack about 13 years to the 2000 Republican campaign for Potter County sheriff. Longtime Sheriff Jimmy Don Boydston stepped aside. Up stepped his chief deputy, Art Tupin, Boydston’s go-to guy at the sheriff’s office. Tupin was supremely qualified for the job. He didn’t win the GOP primary that year. The winner turned out to be Amarillo Police Officer Mike Shumate, the former head of the APD Crimestopper program, who went on to trounce an unknown Democratic opponent. How did Shumate win the primary? He had developed something of a cult following because of his rather, um, colorful way of portraying bad guys and the way he would seek to drum up tips from radio listeners that would help the police department solve crimes.

In a perfect world, Shumate wouldn’t have been elected. He wasn’t nearly as qualified as Tupin for the job. As it would turn out some years later, Shumate got himself into some serious trouble and was convicted of crimes relating to the sheriff’s department relationship with vendors supplying food and other materials to the jail. He was kicked out of office and sentenced to a jail term in Armstrong County.

Now we have another case of a popular public figure, McCartt, possibly running against someone, Tanner, who on paper is far more qualified for the job both of them likely want.

Please understand: I am not equating McCartt fully with Shumate. The comparison I want to make is as an overarching public personality. McCartt served three successful terms as mayor until 2011. But as the mayor in Amarillo’s system of government, she didn’t do any heavy lifting. Her job — which she did magnificently — was to be the city’s voice and face. She remains an ardent advocate for the city and she is to be saluted for the job she did in trumpeting the city’s many virtues.

All the nuts and bolts are handled by the city manager and his staff.

I have kidded McCartt many times over the years that I think she’s really a hologram, in that she was able to be at several places at the same time.

Nancy Tanner is another kind of public figure. She isn’t nearly as well known beyond the county courthouse. She was a workhorse for the county judge. By my reckoning, Tanner possesses a superb knowledge of county government. I believe that in all the factors that ought to matter, Tanner is more qualified for the job than McCartt — just as Art Tupin was more qualified to be sheriff than Mike Shumate.

I admire both Tanner and McCartt greatly, for reasons I think I’ve made clear in this blog post.

The question now becomes: If the campaign boils down to these two individuals, who will the voters select? If history is a guide, I’d have to say the stars are lining up in McCartt’s favor.

Then again … there might be someone else who can make the most compelling case of all for succeeding Arthur Ware.

I absolutely am going to watch this campaign with keen interest.