Gonzales County Judge David Bird has been presiding over the county courts for nearly 20 years. Thus far he has heard 8,200 cases and will likely hear another 500 before he retires in 2018.
That's right. His name will not appear on a ballot next year. Bird said life is an adventure and he's going to take it while he can.
A little-known fact about Bird, he was first elected in 1998 when the county was building Gonzales County Jail and he, along with former sheriff Glen Sachtleben, County Commissioner Dell Whiddon and now-County Commissioner Kevin LeFleur, as well as former commissioners Bud Wuest, Jim Kelso and David Kuntschik worked side-by-side with hammer and trowel to complete the jail.
Over the years, Bird has tackled some big jobs, like jails and redistricting. He has had a number of ups and downs, but says the good far outweighs the bad. He has remained humble enough to admit his own shortcomings – and even laugh at himself when the time comes.
"We were doing Voir Dire and one of the common questions for jury selection is 'Can you be fair?' and one of the jurors – a school teacher – raised her hand," Bird said with a laugh, while mindfully noting this incident took place during his second trial ever. "Instead of calling the juror up to the bench, huddling up and whispering, I asked her right out 'Why can't you be fair?' and she said '180 days I had him in class and 180 times I sent him to the office!'"
The result was a long moment of silence – and a mistrial Bird is still laughing about almost 20 years later.
When Bird is not laughing at himself, he is focused on the courts and county business. Across 20 years Bird said the toughest part of his job has been keeping everybody "pulling in the same direction."
"It's been a chore," he said. "Right off the bat the budget was difficult — because of no money — and we had a huge inequity as far as road miles; but the commissioners that had had the stroke in the past didn't see it that way – they liked to divide everything up evenly."
Bird said he worked diligently to balance voters and road miles between the precincts when he drew new precinct lines.
"That was one of my biggest successes, that '01 redistricting where we got everything equaled up for the commissioners," he said.
A question often asked of Bird is, how did a democrat hold on to an elected position in Gonzales County?
Bird says that's easy, when he came into office, the political scene in Gonzales was mostly democrat.
"That was the start of the change, when George Bush ran for Governor," Bird said. "We were very much democrat – probably was an older population still here at that time, so being democrat was very successful right then; but two years later we had the first democrat who ever lost a race – it happened that quick."
Bird said he never felt like he was losing ground with his constituents as the political scene changed. Bird has run opposed only once in his career, eight years ago. He won with 69 percent of the vote.
"I feel like the difference in Gonzales County has been what we'd call conservative, it was just 'old democrat' and really and truly I think the old democrats were far more conservative than the republicans are now," Bird said. "I think maybe that's how republicans have taken the old south so much, because they can say all the same things that everyone has always said – except I think at the state level and higher they leave out education, which the democrats always had."
Now Bird is looking forward to retirement. He also said he would stay active with the Gonzales Youth Center Board of Directors and with his Breakfast Lions Club as well as the new local chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas.
Outside of community obligations, clubs and boards, Bird said he will be spending more time with his family and out at his mom's place, caring for his horses.
Bird has been married to his wife Leslie for 30 years. They have three Children: Kristen, a teacher; Jacob, who works for GVEC; and Kevin, pursuing his Master's Degree.
Bird said his wife retires in June and he looks forward to enjoying more days with her.
"She has six months to make a list," he chuckled.