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January 12, 2013

Longtime Cullman Democrats retire (WITH PHOTO GALLERIES)

CULLMAN — Long political careers ended Friday at the Cullman County courthouse, culminating in a gathering for two longtime elected officials whose successful tenures in office brought more than 200 well-wishers out for a reception in their honor.

Circuit Judge Don Hardeman and Circuit Clerk Robert Bates were both feted at the event, held to commemorate their combined 50 consecutive years in office, with peers, family and friends — some officeholders in other counties — turning out to thank the two elected Democrats for their public service.

At times during the hour-long event, the bipartisan crowd stood to applaud both men, who became emotional at the outpouring of gratitude.

“I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, and, frankly, today has turned out to be a bit more difficult for me to get through than I expected,” Hardeman said when his turn before the crowd came. “It has truly been a high honor; the highest honor, to serve as circuit judge for Cullman County.”

“You’ve really bestowed a high honor on both Judge Hardeman and myself,” said Bates, whose fifth term as circuit clerk draws to a close Monday. “The thing I really appreciate and remember about serving with Judge Hardeman was that we were always able to sit down and work through things as friends — first of all — and then as professionals. We had a great, close working relationship, and I appreciate all of you so much.”

District Judge Kim Chaney emceed the reception, noting that Bates and Hardeman — both Democrats — had built reputations as elected leaders who fostered cooperation and goodwill among local residents of both political persuasions.

“Today, this is a bipartisan event,” Chaney said. “But, as good public servants do, it never made a difference to these men whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. If you came to the courthouse, your needs were met with Judge Hardeman and Circuit Clerk Bates, and that’s what these public servants have always done throughout their whole careers.”

Both Hardeman and Bates received a number of commendations from local and state organizations, including the Alabama Supreme Court. They each extended thanks to a long list of peers and supporters, and each offered the caveat that, under the spotlight, they might be forgetting someone.

“I’m afraid to start trying to list everyone, because there have just been so many people who have helped me throughout my career,” Hardeman explained.

Hardeman was elected to the circuit judge’s seat in 1994, and won re-election in 2000 and again in 2006. He announced in August of 2011 he would not seek a fourth term.

Bates won his first term as circuit clerk in 1982, and, through a three-decade span of flawless financial audits and trouble-free adaptation to state-mandated changes in court operations, enjoyed consecutive reelection bids through 2006. Like Hardeman, he announced in August of 2011 he would not seek another term.



* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 270.

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