I had tried to warn James Chaffin about sitting at our table. The back table at the weekly Athens Rotary Club meeting has a bit of a notorious reputation. It’s full of former military and law enforcement officers. I am neither so my assumption is that I’m allowed to sit there in case anyone needs their water or coffee refilled. Nearly everyone is retired and far removed from the kind of guardrails employment might put on ones table talk. Most are watching their sodium but the conversation often remains a bit salty.
James fits in everywhere. He’s thoughtful and has a fantastically dry sense of humor. His timing is perfect and I imagine that makes him a good trial lawyer. When James is sharing a story, we all listen. That’s not why I’m voting for him to be our next District Attorney. Sure- I like his even temperament and cool demeanor- an aspect that dramatically changes when the topic turns to domestic violence and crimes against women. Let’s just say James takes his work as a special victims prosecutor very seriously and very personally. But the reason I’m voting for him is because I believe something bigger than the District Attorney’s office. I’m voting for him because I believe in expertise. I’ve gotten to know many of the folks at the District Attorney’s office through the years. They are great people. It’s a really tough job. Many could be making more money and have less stress elsewhere. They cry with victims and then go home and cry on their own. They see some of the worst situations in our society. Yet some see it as a calling. A tough job that must get done. So they skip the allure of a private practice or a big firm to instead serve our community. James has been at it nearly two decades. I believe in his expertise. I believe that he has gained enough sense of the system to keep the office running within the right legal and ethical lines. I believe he will attract and coach and consul the new attorneys that will join the office and help them manage what can be a challenging and sometimes heartbreaking job. I believe in James’ expertise. But more than that, I believe in expertise. I believe in the people all around our town who have put the time in learning their craft from successes and mistakes so they keep getting better. I believe that there are so many people who do the unglamorous but necessary work to keep our community running, safe and thriving. Our community has struggled from time to time weighing ideas versus proven ability. We are sometimes lured to what we like to hear rather than what we know is best or likely. It’s gotten us in to trouble a few times. The contest for District Attorney is not simply between candidates. It’s a test of whether or not we believe in experience or rhetoric. It’s test of whether or not we value the hard work of people who spend years doing the tough and uncelebrated work or do we simply line up for those who say what we want to hear. For a town with so many skilled workers and so many government jobs, I hope we don’t vote in a way that says a persons expertise means nothing in the face of unproven feel-good campaign promises. Deborah Gonzales seems like a nice person. I admire how hard she’s worked getting out and about in the community. But I can’t vote for her. Because I’m voting for the city planners that craft our future plans. I’m voting for the firefighter, who after a bunch of years- just made Lieutenant. I’m voting for the unsung hero in a cube- working in student services who has 20 years experience keeping it all together and still making it look easy. I’m voting for experience. I’m voting for James Chaffin because he has it.