In his political life, Harry Berry follows his own counsel and it’s not always conventional.
Berry, 63, announced his intention not to to seek a sixth term as county judge-executive in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with The News-Enterprise.
He also is not afraid of being perceived as a lame duck. With more than three years remaining in his four-year term, Berry is ready to talk about stepping away.
“I’m not going anywhere tomorrow,” Berry said. “A point I’d like to make strongly is I’m not quitting, I’m not intending to resign, I’m not leaving office early. Of course, things happen but right now it is not my intention. I fully have three more years to work and intend to work it.”
He said voters, the staff and Hardin Fiscal Court can expect business as usual. He plans to be just as involved and engaged in his last three years of service as his first three.
Berry cites the quality and professionalism of the county department heads and staff as one of his proudest accomplishments. He said a talented staff and a positive relationship with fiscal court give him confidence that despite giving 37 months’ notice of his intention to step aside, his contributions will be pertinent and effective.
“I feel comfortable these days with fiscal court. We have a good mix of people who serve on the court. We know each other well. We’ve worked together a long time, some of us longer than others,” Berry said. “ … I’m not afraid of becoming irrelevant to them or being in a combative type of arrangement.”
In his characteristically analytical manner, Berry described his life as one of quarters.
The Missouri native said he spent the first 20 years growing and learning, the next 20 serving in the military and this segment of life in government service. In the next quarter of his life, he hopes to pursue travel opportunities and looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Jill, and their daughter, Kathleen, who’s scheduled to graduate next year from Butler University in Indianapolis. His skis remain in storage at his home but he has no plans to return to the slopes. In retirement, he would like to take up golf again, regularly visit and explore Civil War sites and continue to explore his affection for roller coasters.
Berry’s political life is as unconventional as the early announcement of his political plans.
After 20 years in the U.S. Army, the retired lieutenant colonel moved to a new community with zero connections and pursued his interest in government operations by becoming involved in Republican Party circles. He soon found others encouraging him to run for public office. Despite being a self-avowed introvert, he answered the call.
And he promptly lost.
In 2000, Berry challenged incumbent state Rep. Jimmie Lee and received only 42 percent of the vote. He said he learned a lot about campaigning in the process and found his competitive nature did not appreciate losing.
Two years later, he was back on the ballot. After winning the GOP nomination, he defeated former circuit judge Hugh Roark for the judge-executive role and has retained the seat in four subsequent challenges. He is the only Republican in Hardin County history to win the county’s top elected position.
Berry said he doesn’t believe term limits are necessary because he trusts voters to turn out public servants who need to be replaced.
“That being said, I do believe that whether it’s an elected position or not, we can all outstay our welcome,” Berry said. “We can stay longer than we should. I think that at the end of this term, it’ll be 20 years. I think that’s long enough.”
Berry said he plans to step away when he steps down and not second guess or shadow his successor. He said he enjoyed that professional courtesy from his predecessors, Glenn Dalton and R.R. Thomas.
But he’s not ready to close the door completely on public service. He said he might consider volunteer and advocacy roles and can’t predict what opportunities might arise in years to come.