Sheriff Jim Bowles Redux

When former Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles made the last-minute decision to get in the race for his old job, it surprised almost everyone. After all, he left office under a cloud of suspicion and has been blamed by his successor for everything going wrong with the jail, and there is plenty going wrong there.

Just two weeks before he filed for the race, he was introducing sheriff's candidate Charlie Richmond at the Dallas County Republican Christmas Party. Bowles was the last person anyone expected to see scrambling to file for the March 4 primary, but Bowles is back and has some criticism for Sheriff Lupe Valdez. He has also pulled back the curtain on the accusations that ended his 20-year run as sheriff.

Bowles' unlikely comeback try began at that December 18 party at Prestonwood Country Club. After speaking to nearly 400 people that night, he received a standing ovation. People quickly came up to Bowles' table, where Richmond was sitting with his family, and began asking Bowles if he was considering running.

"I have a keen affinity for the department and the employees, and I want to help them get their heads back in the sun," Bowles says.

Bowles' late entry leaves him facing a number of obstacles. Lowell Cannaday, someone Bowles knows from their days in the Dallas Police Department, has secured most of the key endorsements, and his campaign has raised more than $150,000.

Bowles acknowledges that he doesn't have the time or opportunity to score comparable endorsements or raise a lot of cash, but he already has name recognition without the endorsements.

"Other people have to put out yard signs and mail out literature telling people who they are, what they've done and what they're gonna do 'cause nobody knows them. They know me," Bowles says.

Cannaday says he was surprised Bowles decided to run but stresses that it won't change his approach at all. He doesn't necessarily view Bowles as his biggest competition in the primary, saying he takes each one of his three competitors seriously. But his past relationship with Bowles certainly separates him from the pack.

"I kinda lay that aside," Cannaday says. "We're both just applying for the same job—nothing personal about it."

Bowles is at first circumspect when he's asked about Valdez's performance—"What's the next question?" he quickly counters. He went on to say, however, that Valdez doesn't understand the job and hasn't been present enough to do it well. Bowles says that when he was sheriff, he answered his own calls and made himself available to anyone who wished to see him.

"I was there more in any one month than she has been so far in three years," Bowles says. "She hasn't been available enough and doesn't seem to have the grasp of the task."

Valdez offers a simple reaction to Bowles entering the race. "It's a democracy," she says. "You can't tell anybody not to run." She laughs at his suggestion that she doesn't spend enough time at her job.

"I spend about 14 hours a day in this place. I don't know how much more time I could spend here," Valdez says.

Another obstacle for Bowles is that Valdez has put the blame for problems in the jail squarely on him, saying she inherited a mess from Bowles when she took over in 2005. Valdez cites inmate overpopulation, understaffing and poor maintenance as three major problems she has had to turn around.

"When I was in the military, the first thing they taught us was to go after the gushing wounds," Valdez says. "There were so many gushing wounds that we're barely at the point where we are starting to look at other things."

The elephant in the room for Bowles is the way he left office in 2004 under a suspicion for, among other things, taking bribes from businessman Jack Madera. Bowles describes the allegations against him as a "hellacious, vicious political conspiracy."

After The Dallas Morning News reported that Bowles received thousands of dollars worth of trips and meals from Madera before he was awarded a $20 million jail commissary contract, then-Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill appointed an independent prosecutor to investigate the relationship between the two men in October 2003.

Collin County Assistant District Attorney Chris Milner eventually filed five special grand jury indictments against Bowles, which devastated his chances in the GOP primary, which he lost to Danny Chandler. All five indictments were dismissed by then District Judge Karen Greene by April 2004.

Madera sold his company, Mid-States Services Inc., to John Sammons in February 1999. As a condition of the sale, Madera signed a three-year non-compete clause. During this time, Bowles says Madera worked as a public relations consultant for Sammons. He admits they went to lunch on several occasions and Madera paid for Bowles' meals, but Bowles says his relationship with Madera was professional, and he "never took a damned penny from him" as a bribe for any contract.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten

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