Tag Archives: Potter County judge

Judge will marry gays, if duty calls

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner is on record already on an issue that well could generate a good bit of controversy.

Back when she was running for the office to which she was elected, Tanner — along with her four Republican primary opponents — took part in a candidate forum sponsored by Panhandle PBS. I was privileged to be one of the journalists questioning the candidates.

One of the panelists asked all the candidates a most probing question: Given that Texas law gives county judges the authority to perform marriage ceremonies, would you — as county judge — be willing to perform a ceremony uniting a same-sex couple in matrimony?

Some of the candidates hemmed and hawed. One of them said “no,” he wouldn’t do it.

Tanner’s response? She was unequivocal. If the courts rule that gay marriage is legal in Texas, then she would follow the law. She would marry anyone with a valid marriage license. That would be her responsibility as county judge and she would perform it.

Her answer was straightforward as it could have been. It didn’t harm her at the polls, as she won the GOP primary outright and went on to be elected county judge in November 2014.

As of this morning, the issue hasn’t yet presented itself to Judge Tanner. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses if they have a religious objection to the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage.

There’s been no word that I’ve heard about whether Potter County Clerk Julie Smith is going to follow the law or ignore it, per Paxton’s decision.

Tanner’s take on the issue is clear. What’s cloudy and muddled is whether another countywide elected official, Smith, is going to follow the law.

Stay tuned. This could get dicey.

How about changing the oath of office?

IN THE NAME AND BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF TEXAS, I, John Q. Public Servant, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of county clerk of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.

That, right there, is the oath of office county clerks must take before they can perform their duties on behalf of the people they serve in their respective counties.

In Texas, all 254 counties are governed by state statute, which means the state sets the laws by which county residents — and their elected officials — must abide.

I found it on the Texas Secretary of State’s website. It’s kind of a generic oath that county officials must take. Granted, some county officials take longer oaths, but it must include this particular pledge.

Just as an aside, I attended the swearing in on Jan. 1 of newly elected Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner and the oath she took was tantamount to the “War and Peace” version of the mandatory oath given to county officials.

I mention this oath in light of what Republican presidential candidate — and Texas’s junior U.S. senator — Ted Cruz said about how county clerks “absolutely” should be given the right to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Texas. He said the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage amounts to a declaration of war on religious liberty.

As I look at this oath, I don’t see any reference to the faith of the person taking it. I see nothing in there that enables the elected official to not follow all “the laws of the United States and of this State.”

I read the oath as requiring that those who take it must adhere to it — to the letter.

A majority of the justices on the Supreme Court has declared that gay marriage is now legal everywhere, in each of the 50 states. That includes Texas.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another GOP presidential candidate, said that we could save a ton of money if we just got rid of the court. I don’t know how serious he was about that suggestion.

Sen. Cruz, though, seems to be dead serious in encouraging county clerks to violate their sacred oath, which does end with “so help me God.”

Hey, let’s just change the oath and have county clerks affirm that they’ll uphold only those laws that do not trample on their religious beliefs.


Amarillo facing potentially hot election

Amarillo’s municipal elections have this history of dismal, abysmal voter turnouts.

Something tells me the turnout this coming May 9 might just be, oh, low to middlin’. Could it become seriously busy? Let’s allow the campaigns to play out.

Five candidates are running for Place 4 on the council, the seat now held by Ron Boyd, who’s not running for election; Boyd was appointed to the seat after the death of Councilman Jim Simms.

Five more candidates are running for Place 3, currently occupied by Councilwoman Lilia Escajeda, who is running for re-election.

As I look at the lineup, though, perhaps the most intriguing matchup occurs in the race for Place 1. Incumbent Ellen Robertson Green will run against Elisha Demerson, the former Potter County judge and the first African-American ever elected to a countywide seat in Potter County.

Demerson is a worthy challenger, but he would be more worthy if he had been active in city affairs before deciding to run for Green’s council seat. Still, the gentleman has name identification, as does Green.

All told, the ballot will contain 16 names. Many of them have been involved in municipal political affairs. Most of them are newcomers to the City Hall game.

What’s driving the interest? Best guess is it’s downtown redevelopment and the hiccup that occurred when Wallace Bajjali, the city’s one-time master developer, vaporized into thin air in January. WB’s disappearance left the city to take care of three key projects itself — a downtown convention hotel, a parking garage and a multipurpose entertainment venue … aka a ballpark.

There’s been considerable discussion about the ballpark in particular and whether it’s a good fit for the city. My own view is that the city has come up with a great concept for downtown. The execution of that concept, though, has been clouded a bit by Wallace Bajjali’s disappearing act.

My fondest hope for the upcoming election — so far, at least — is that the turnout will be much greater than the single-digit events that have occurred all too frequently.

If the city is roiling with controversial issues, then it’s good to have as many voters as possible taking part in the most fundamental aspect of living in a free society: casting your ballot for whom you want to lead our city.


Welcome aboard, Judge Tanner

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner has just assumed a monstrously full plate of issues.

She took her oath of office today — an oath that seemed to have no end, to be candid — after telling the crowd crammed into the Santa Fe Building auditorium that she plans to get right to work as head of the county’s commissioners court.

* The Santa Fe Building is one-third empty, Tanner said, and she plans to put more county employees into the 85-year-old structure. Where is she going to get them? From the Courts Building across the street from the old County Courthouse. The Courts Building needs major work to make it less of a hazard and Tanner said she has plans to deal with the lousy structure that former County Judge Arthur Ware has referred to as “The Grain Elevator.”

* Morale is low in several county departments, Tanner said, and she plans to improve it.

* Taxes are “too high,” according to the new county judge, who said the best cure for that is to bring “more business” into Potter County. No specifics came today on how she plans to do that.

Tanner’s swearing-in ceremony was festive and friendly. Tanner is a dedicated Republican officeholder, but I was glad to see a smattering of known Democrats among those who attended the event. They’re all friends of the new judge. Indeed, retired Court at Law Judge Dick Dambold — who administered the lengthy oath to Tanner — held office as a Democrat. So it was good to see Tanner spread the love across partisan lines in Potter County.

The judge took note of how she was able to be elected to the office by defeating four other Republican candidates outright, avoiding a runoff — a result that surprised a lot of political observers, including yours truly.

Still, I am delighted for the county as well as for the new judge. Her former boss, Ware, fired Tanner in 2013 from her job as administrative assistant to the county judge for reasons he’s never explained publicly. Tanner’s dismissal was part of an awkward and embarrassing set of events that included Ware’s endorsement of one of Tanner’s opponents in the upcoming primary.

Happily, though, Ware and Tanner have made peace and they’re back to being friends.

It’s a new day, though, in Potter County. Tanner took note that she becomes the county’s first female county judge.

She took the oath, applause rang forth from the crowd in attendance, the curtain parted on the stage of the top-floor auditorium — and it revealed a sign: “History Begins Today.”

Congratulations, Judge Tanner.

Now, get to work.

A perk awaits semi-retired journalist

Now that I’m no longer a full-time journalist, I plan to accept an invitation I otherwise might  have declined.

I look forward to this event.

On New Year’s Day, Potter County Judge-elect Nancy Tanner is going to take office as the presiding officer of the county’s Commissioners Court. I’ll stand and applaud when she takes her oath of office.

Reporter Decorum Rule No. 1 prohibits such outward displays of support from the media. Reporters, editors and opinion writers are supposed to maintain a public appearance of neutrality. I couldn’t cheer for speechmakers at the two national Republican presidential conventions I attended — New Orleans in 1988 and Houston in 1992.

I did, though, attend the Democratic convention in Charlotte in 2012, but that was about a week after I had been “reorganized” out of my job at the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years. I had obtained press credentials for the convention and planned to cover it, but since I was a “civilian” when I got there, I was allowed to cheer.

Back to the present. I’m still a civilian. Sure, I might have attended the swearing-in as a journalist, but I’d have to put on my best professional face and demeanor.

Nancy Tanner was elected county judge this year in a clear statement of good sense and reason from Potter County’s voters. I am quite glad she won and I’ve stated so already on this blog and to whomever I’ve spoken about it since her victory.

Tanner sent me an invitation to attend the swearing-in at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo. Barring a catastrophic illness or some other unforeseen emergency, I plan to be there. I am likely to give the new judge a hug and will wish her well as she embarks on this new phase of her public service career.

Yes, indeed. Semi-retirement does have its perks.


New judge, old judge bury the hatchet

Potter County Judge-elect Nancy Tanner has just posted some pictures on Facebook showing her yukking it up with the man she’s succeeding, Arthur Ware.

Why is that worth this brief comment?

Tanner served as Ware’s administrative assistant for two decades. Then in 2013 she announced publicly that she was thinking of running for county judge. Ware had been disabled seriously by a stroke in 2010 and it was unclear whether he would seek another term.

Ware then summarily fired Tanner, and threw his support to former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who had announced her candidacy.

Ware never has explained his reasons for firing Tanner, who then went on to win the Republican Party primary outright. With zero Democrats on the ballot, her nomination was tantamount to election.

They threw a retirement party for Ware. Lo and behold, the judge-elect was there to give Ware a rousing sendoff.

What’s the moral of the story? I suppose it can be that longtime friendships have a way of outlasting temporary political snits.

Hoping for a smooth handoff

Political traditions often consist of unwritten rules of decorum and courtesy.

One of them involves the transition from one elected official to another in a particular office. Let’s take, just for kicks, the Potter County judge’s office.

Will courtesy be the rule of the day when Nancy Tanner takes over at the end of the year from her former boss, Arthur Ware?

Tanner — who served as Ware’s administrative assistant during his tenure as judge — won the Republican Party primary in March in the race to succeed Ware, who didn’t seek re-election after serving as county judge for 20-plus years. Tanner’s road to victory got a little bumpy right off the start.

She declared her intention to seek the office before Ware announced this would be his final term. She didn’t officially declare her candidacy, just let it be known she was thinking about it.

Ware then fired Tanner from her job. You’re out! he told her. Pack your stuff up and hit the road. Ware then announced he would retire from public office at the end of the year and endorsed former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt in the GOP primary.

Ware never has explained precisely why he fired Tanner.

Tanner won the primary outright. No Democrats are on the ballot, so pending the outcome of November election — which Tanner will win — she’ll become county judge-elect.

One of the more interesting facets of the campaign is that Tanner ran on her experience as Ware’s top hand. During a Panhandle PBS-sponsored candidate forum, Tanner declared that “only two people on Earth” know the details of the job of county judge: Arthur Ware and Nancy Tanner.

So, I cannot help but wonder if Tanner and Ware will be able to set their acrimony aside long enough for Ware to show Tanner all the ropes, the hidden tasks and responsibilities and perhaps share a secret or two with her that even she doesn’t know.

I hope for a smooth transition and seamless handoff. Hey, if presidents of the United States can be beaten senseless by challengers and then leave nice notes in the Oval Office desk drawer for them when they depart …

Surely a county judge in Texas can show some grace as he leaves the public arena.

Revisiting Potter County judge contest

Indulge me for a moment, maybe two, as I look back to the March 4 Republican Party primary race for Potter County judge.

I ran into a long-time acquaintance the other morning. We talked about the contest and we asked each other whether we were happy with the outcome. I was, given that Nancy Tanner won the election outright in a five-candidate field; she’ll take office in January, given that there are no Democrats on the ballot this fall.

My pal wasn’t so sure about it. We both live in Randall County, so neither of us had a vote to cast in that contest. We both know all the contestants, some better than others.

He said something curious. He didn’t think Tanner was necessarily the right pick, even though she worked for 20 years as County Judge Arthur Ware’s administrative assistant and for a couple of years assumed many of the actual duties of judge as Ware has tried to recover from a devastating stroke.

Ware fired Tanner from her job this past year for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

I asked my friend: Why not support Tanner’s election?

It would be like asking the city secretary to take over as mayor of Amarillo, he said. I responded, “Huh?”

The city secretary is a capable individual — who succeeded another highly capable person at that City Hall post. The secretary, my pal said, is capable of doing all the administrative functions, but she isn’t necessarily a leader.

Thus, he contends, Tanner is succeeding to a post where she hasn’t demonstrated any leadership qualities.

Well, I differed with my friend — as I do on most political matters. I consider him a contrarian; he likely thinks the same of me.

I’ll just go on believing that Potter County Republicans chose wisely when they elected Tanner with a 50.5 percent majority. She’s done the job already. She knows the players. She understands county government. She’s experienced, highly qualified, understands the intricacies of probate law and mental health commitments.

The leadership part? I am confident Nancy Tanner will show her mettle.

Some thoughts on Potter County judge contest

First, I have to stipulate that I don’t have an electoral voice in Potter County, given that I live in Randall County.

But I’m going to weigh in anyway on the Potter County judge’s race, as I am acquainted with four of the five candidates and I know two of them quite well. The fifth one I met only recently.

The reality of this race is that it actually shouldn’t be a close call. Of the five individuals seeking to succeed 20-year County Judge Arthur Ware, the best qualified person for the job is Nancy Tanner, Ware’s long-time administrative assistant.

I’ve known Tanner well for more than 19 years. My former job as editorial page editor of the local newspaper enabled me to consult with her many times on the issues of the day. She’s competent. She knows the job. Indeed, she had been doing much of the judge’s job since Ware suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010.

Tanner’s learning curve would be far less steep than any of the other candidates.

Debra McCartt touts her experience as Amarillo’s first female mayor, her stint as head of a statewide municipal association and her prior experience as a city commissioner. She contends that leadership matters — and it does. As much as I like McCartt personally and admire the job she did as mayor, it needs to be said that the mayor’s main job in Amarillo’s form of government is “showing up.” McCartt did it beautifully. She showed up seemingly at every event where her attendance was required. She often appeared to be at more than one place at a time.

To be mayor, though, required little heavy lifting; that is done by the city manager and his staff of department heads and assistant managers.

The third possible dark horse in this contest is Bill Bandy, the candidate I know the least about. He once worked for former state Rep. David Swinford and professes to be close friends with Rep. Four Price, Rep. John Smithee and Sen. Kel Seliger. He seemed to jump out of the tall grass at the last minute to run for county judge. I am unaware of his previous involvement at any level of county government. He, too, is smart and articulate. It seems that his own experience falls far short of Tanner’s.

Bill Sumerford and Jeff Poindexter are the two remaining candidates. Sumerford has been little more than a political gadfly for the past decade. He’s an anti-tax hawk who for a time was leading various efforts to put key city council decisions to a popular vote. Poindexter has run several times unsuccessfully for public office — and that’s all I say about that.

This contest likely won’t be decided next Tuesday. The smart money suggests a runoff is in store for the top two candidates. I won’t predict who will finish first and second, other than to suggest it appears to be a combination that involves Tanner, McCartt and Bandy.

If I had a vote in this race, I’d cast it for Nancy Tanner.

Potter County judge race handicapping is tough

Let’s play a little game of political prognostication regarding Potter County’s five-person race for county judge.

Five Republicans have filed to fill the seat occupied by County Judge Arthur Ware, who’s decided not to seek another term. He’s still trying to recover from a devastating stroke.

I’ll stick by my contention that the two frontrunners remain Nancy Tanner, Ware’s long-time assistant, and former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt.

Three more candidates have filed: Bill Bandy, Bill Sumerford and Jeff Poindexter.

Of the three, let’s look at Bandy as the serious third choice behind Tanner and McCartt. Bandy has been involved at many levels of government and civic organizations … or so I understand. Sumerford and Poindexter have run unsuccessfully for other offices. Poindexter is a nice fellow. Sumerford is nice enough, too. Neither of them should be serious factors.

Back to the top three.

Tanner, McCartt and Bandy all figure to gain the lion’s share of votes. In a five-person race, therefore, it becomes difficult — as I see it — for one candidate to emerge with an outright majority in the GOP primary next March. That means a runoff would take place with the top two candidates.

If I were a betting man — and I’m not — I’d suggest that in a runoff, the second-place finisher is in the catbird seat. The individual who finishes first has his or her supporters on whom to count. The person who finishes second has his or her supporters, plus the whole rest of the votes cast for candidates other than the person who finished first.

I’ve seen this scenario play out before in Randall County, where the No. 2 candidate scarfs up enough of the anti-first-place vote-getter’s supporters to win a runoff.

Will this occur next March in the critical race to see who becomes the next Potter County judge?

I cannot predict it will, but it could emerge quickly as a distinct possibility.

Stay tuned for a most entertaining campaign.