Kathy Gwinn: "Just a clerk" becomes "Justice of the Peace"
Judge Kathy Gwinn is the Justice of the Peace (JP) for Precinct 3 of Hood County located in the small town of Granbury, Texas. In 2014, after making it through the Republican primaries, Gwinn won a runoff election with just over 60% of the vote. After serving her first four-year term, she was re-elected this year uncontested.
Gwinn grew up in the small town of Bucyrus, Ohio in a conservative, Catholic family of twelve. She described her childhood home as one where “everyone did their part” and reflected on her values that were formed during her early years. Much of her work ethic came from her upbring. Her family lived frugally and encouraged each child to work as early as possible to pitch in. As the fourth oldest, Gwinn had more responsibility to help around the house with her younger siblings. She recalled that her mother enjoyed working at the polls during election seasons, and was introduced to politics and by her mother’s willingness to serve their community. After leaving her home for continuing education, Gwinn became a flight attendant ─and traveled the country to explore what was beyond her hometown.
Gwinn moved to Texas after she married, and became a full-time mother to two girls. Though she paused her career to be at home and raise her children, she never stopped doing her part for her community. Gwinn worked to support her daughter’s schools whenever the opportunity came, and became a volunteer for the American Red Cross. She played an integral role in the humanitarian efforts as a shelter manager after a devastating tornado ripped through lower-income areas of Fort Worth. When her daughters were old enough, Gwinn decided to resume her full-time career as a clerk for Hood County’s Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3. After spending almost a decade in the JP office as a clerk, and later an office manager, the current judge announced her plans to retire and Gwinn decided that she would be fit for the job. “It wasn’t necessarily about being in politics,” Gwinn said. “[But] I knew I could do the job. I knew the backside of it.”
Now having been in the position for four years, Gwinn applies principles from her upbringing and adult life into her role as a JP. She serves with diligence the members of her community who enter her courtroom- even those who are not familiar with second chances. “My biggest goal is to always make sure that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you do, that I'm going to listen and I'm going to be fair and impartial.”
Despite admittedly not having campaigned for herself before and not always feeling comfortable doing it, Gwinn did her research and then began running for the position of JP. She relied on her experience in the JP office to let voters know she was qualified for the job. Gwinn’s opponent in the run-off election even attempted to downplay Gwinn’s qualifications in his own campaign materials. “Someone had given me one of the cards that they received in the mail from him,” she recalled. “It said something like… [D]on't be misguided by my opponent who's just a clerk. We don't need another clerk. The office already has plenty of clerks.” Gwinn noted her frustration at this “just a clerk” comment. “All I could do was run on my qualifications… [A]nd try and ignore [it].”
Though facing some tough challenges while she ran, Gwinn had a supportive team that helped the entire campaign come together. She mostly relied on close friends and family for emotional support, especially her husband and daughters. “I couldn’t have my husband in the room during meet-and-greet events,” she said. “I could see the emotion and the love in his face [and] it would totally throw me off track... I would just go blank! But it was so sweet and I just loved him and I knew he loved me so much that no matter what happened, he was there to support me.” Others working on the campaign contributed in unique ways. Gwinn mentioned a close friend who didn’t particularly enjoy blockwalking; “I had a good friend that said, ‘I can't go out and knock on doors, but I'll be your treasurer.’ So she handled all my financial reports for the campaign.” Gwinn also talked about the support of other women similarly situated and running for positions in the county and about the importance of donations and her appreciation for those who helped her financially to reach her goal. Most essential though, was her one-on-one contact with voters. “I would knock on doors, leave my card if no one was there, but if they were I would talk with them about who I was and why I would do a good job as JP. I met a lot of great people that way,” she said.
Gwinn has advice for other women thinking about pursuing an elected position; If you think you’re good for the job, don’t be afraid to run for it. “Be yourself and be honest with everyone,” she said. “You're not going to get everyone to vote for you because of difference of opinions… but when people know that you are honest, that you have integrity, that you want to serve, it will go a long way.”