JIM BOWLES TRACY ROWLETT
After more than 50 years in law enforcement, Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles is facing forced retirement in January. Bowles says he is the victim of a political “witch hunt” that led the Dallas Morning News to raise questions about a $20 million contract he awarded to an associate named Jack Madera. A five-month investigation by a special prosecutor followed, and though several indictments were handed down, they were all eventually tossed out. But it was too late for Bowles to salvage his political career: he was defeated in the March primary by a former deputy.

ROWLETT: Your defenders say you were set up for a fall and that you were treated badly by fellow Republicans. Were you?
BOWLES:
It was all politics. As Harry Truman used to say: “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” I went to the kitchen once too often, I guess. 

ROWLETT: Whom did you offend, and why?
BOWLES:
Principally, the Commissioners’ Court. I kept insisting that the Dallas County Sheriff’s employees were entitled to pay parity with the rest of the police agencies in the Dallas County region. We were dead bottom.

ROWLETT: Did the Republican Party ask you not to run again?
BOWLES:
After the thing started. Before that I had a slate two pages long of people supporting me: congressmen and senators, members of the state legislature, and local business people.  But as [my opponents] kept hacking away and hacking away, I had people pull off my list, and the money stopped coming in.

ROWLETT: Are you bitter that your former chief deputy, Danny Chandler, ran against you?
BOWLES:
I’m not bitter or angry, but I’m sorely hurt. I’ve spent 54 years in law enforcement and have given my life to this community in honest and virtuous service. I’ve not done a thing wrong. I should have been entitled to retire with quiet dignity and with my reputation and pride in place. But as it is, I’m going out kind of like a whipped dog with his tail between his legs. And there is this doubt or suspicion now. Some people go out and they’re eulogized and given a gold watch. There won’t be any gold watches for this kid because he got shamed. The trouble is it was imposed shame, not deserved shame. It was put on me to get rid of me because I was creating a problem because I wanted things for this county.  

ROWLETT: Well, regardless of who replaces you as sheriff, do you think things will change?
BOWLES:
It will not. Those people on the Commissioners’ Court are terrified of raising taxes. It’s a song and dance they play.

ROWLETT: You were accused of giving a jail commissary contract to a friend who did you favors. What was your relationship with Jack Madera?
BOWLES:
He was my commissary operator for about 17 years. He was the best in the business. Other than that, we had no relationship. They painted it to be some kind of a nefarious, sinister, gee-whiz, golly-gosh, y’all are in bed together. No! We don’t socialize. I’ve never been in his house in my whole life. I’ve never been to dinner with him except that we would run into each other at police or Republican events.

ROWLETT: So all the accusations about his buying you food, doing favors, and putting in your driveway...
BOWLES:
It’s all nonsense. I do cop out to going to lunch with him about two times a month. But most often we’d go down here to Luby’s and talk business.  So, yes, we had gone to a few places together. They made a big deal out of our going to this Italian place with a big canopy over on Hall Street. But I don’t even like Italian, and I’d get a half order of spaghetti. It cost about $4.95.

ROWLETT: Did you ever think he shouldn’t be buying your lunch?
BOWLES:
No.  Who took the senators to lunch yesterday, or the governor the day-before-yesterday, or the congressmen to Jamaica last summer? They’re not going to outlaw lobbyists, and this man isn’t even a lobbyist. He was a business associate with business to discuss. 

ROWLETT: What about the driveway?
BOWLES:
The driveway. My wife was having trouble finding somebody because it was such a small patch of work. Madera said he thought he could get somebody to it.  The next thing we know somebody comes out and starts digging it up. It wasn’t a full driveway; it was a piece of a driveway. She paid $489 cash, and I gave them about $3,500 in shop equipment and yard equipment. It was an $1,800 job. And they used surplus concrete from another job. [The prosecutor] made a big deal out of it, wanting to see the contract with [Madera]. He didn’t even do the job. He sent a contractor out who had been working for him on another job. But I didn’t ask for it. My wife didn’t ask for it. He just did it.

ROWLETT: Have you had recent contact with Madera?
BOWLES:
We’ve gone to lunch a couple of times, but I haven’t even talked to him on the phone for two or three weeks. 

ROWLETT: Just business as usual?
BOWLES:
That’s all it’s ever been. He and I are not social friends, but friendly only in business.

ROWLETT: Are you concerned about an FBI investigation?
BOWLES:
There is no investigation. There’s nothing there to investigate. There never has been. It’s just like this trumped-up grand jury. What’s the charge? I’ve never been charged with anything. That was a political witch hunt, a hatchet job. I was never charged with an offense, and the proper venue for that action should have been a court of inquiry.

ROWLETT: But Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill is also a Republican. Do you have problems with him?
BOWLES:
He feeds at the same trough I do. If he sides with me, he has trouble. Why would he want to ask for trouble?

ROWLETT: So, your career is over, and you’ll play no role in any upcoming election?
BOWLES:
I’m nearly 76 years old. I’ve done the best I can for as long as I can.   And when they said, “We don’t appreciate what you’re doing; we’re going to listen to the crap they say against you,” I said, “Fine, I’m gone. I’m out of it.” The people will get what they deserve. But I’m proud of what I’ve done, and the Lord has blessed me.

ROWLETT: What are your future plans, Sheriff?
BOWLES:
I don’t have any, really. That swooping sound you hear is me, going into a vacuum.

Photos: Rowlett: Tom Hussey; Bowles: Cheryl Diaz Meyer/Dallas Morning News