Of all the political races that will be decided in Hamilton County on Aug. 7, the one that concerns me most is the office of Criminal Court clerk. Two people who I consider as friends, incumbent Gwen Tidwell and challenger Vince Dean, are vying for votes in what is expected to be a tight race and, as is my custom whenever friends are involved, I hope both do well.
Technically that is impossible, of course, but allow me to let you in on another secret – there is no way this race should be close. When I remove friendship and admiration of both from the equation, it is easy to see that Gwen Tidwell is head-and-shoulders above any possible challenger – not just Vince – and she should be elected in a demonstrable landslide to begin her fifth consecutive term in office.
Her qualifications are a given and the fact she has a law degree and once was a practicing attorney assures such excellence. Hers is an administrative post – the clerk makes no policy – and a growing list of endorsements from over 75 trial lawyers who depend on her office every day is a well-deserved tribute. Her staff adores her – this from a co-worker whose name must be anonymous for obvious reasons – and a long list of ringing endorsements from politicians starting with former Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey can’t be ignored.
Her detractors point to some $50 million in uncollected court fees and jail costs but they never “finish the sentence.” It is true there is a huge amount that has not been collected but she can also show she has taken in – drum roll – over $70 million. Another truth is that Tidwell’s office has the highest collection percentage among criminal courts in the state – more than Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville. Let’s squelch that misperception right now
Don’t you see? The $50 million in uncollected fees is meant to be a political ruse. Everybody knows a repeat offender, one in and out of jail regularly, has no way of getting a job and paying court and jail fees. Gwen can garnish bank accounts, payroll, and prison commissary accounts but thank God she is the type of court clerk who will not decimate some guy’s total savings because it would accomplish little more than driving him back to crime. That’s what makes Gwen Tidwell such a joy.
Vince Dean neither has the experience nor the credentials that Gwen Tidwell has used over the past 20 years in office. His biggest asset is that he is a Republican in a super-majority state while Gwen is a Democrat. The antidote is that anyone who votes for a party rather than a person is making a profound mistake. Tidwell’s office is not political at all, instead offering a service. There will be some hard-line Republicans who will vote for Dean while hard-line Democrats will vote for Tidwell but wisest voters will ignore the party in every contest and instead pick the person best qualified.
There is no room to doubt that Gwen Tidwell is the best qualified of the two. Vince served as a policeman for 27 years before serving admirably in the state legislature. He is a nice guy who was a city councilman in East Ridge before retiring as the town mayor.
Vince is well-respected in the legislature but hardly has the background or the expertise to run the Criminal Court clerk’s office. This isn’t meant as criticism, not at all, but voters should be assured political party has nothing to do with the mammoth task of overseeing the Criminal and General Sessions Courts.
Some believe anyone running with a (D) behind their name is “doomed” in the conservative South but in Gwen Tidwell’s case it hardly stands for “dumb.” She is a great servant to the people and a great favorite at the Justice Building. If Hamilton County voters believe they should fix “something that isn’t broken,” I believe our local courts will suffer as a result. I have a list of about 80 lawyers who will readily agree.
Let’s keep Gwen Tidwell right where she belongs. We need people like her more than ever before.