David Bautista, public defender, has key role in outdoor drama

By Rozella Hardin
star staff

  When the history of his youth called to David Bautista, he got involved in a big way.
  The First District Public Defender is cast in the role of Judge Henderson in this season's production of "The Wataugans." Bautista is a natural fit for the part, and knows well the story that the outdoor drama tells as well as who the man, Judge Henderson, was. Bautista says he became interested in local history while attending high school, studying about the Civil War and other events. "I conducted a personal study about Fort Watauga for the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, which caused me to get interested in our earliest history," he said.
  "When I saw 'The Wataugans,' I thought it was a truly wonderful production. I thought I was almost there -- I mean back there with them, when it really happened. And, that is a special gift," said Bautista.
  Bautista, who liked to tell people that Elizabethton is where America began, says most people agree with him once they find out the full story.
  Born on Burgie Street in Elizabethton -- just a stone's throw from Fort Watauga and Sycamore Shoals -- Bautista's father was manager and owner of the Franklin Club for many years. "I played all around that hallowed ground at Sycamore Shoals as a child and then worked at the Franklin Club as a lifeguard for several years before going to college, so my connections to Sycamore Shoals are long and deep," Bautista explained.
  A lawyer, Bautista said he chose law over medicine. "I wanted to be able to help other people. I knew medicine was not for me, and that perhaps law would be an equivalent. But, helping people was the main reason I chose to be a lawyer. It also provided an opportunity to be my own employer even though as a lawyer you may end up working with someone," he shared.
  He was a partner in the firm of Street, Banks, Merryman and Bautista prior to being named public defender for the First Judicial District in September 1989, by then Gov. Ned McWherter. He was elected to the post in the 1990 general election and was re-elected in 1998.
  Bautista recalls well his friendship with Herb Roberts, former director of Sycamore Shoals Historic Area. "He is a walking encyclopedia. I believe that his tireless work, going into school and telling the fascinating story of the Wataugans has been a wonderful thing for our community. He did much to promote the history of our area -- so much that the future of Carter County as well as the entire of Northeast Tennessee may lie in Sycamore Shoals," Bautista opined.
  "Tourism and our heritage is one of our richest assets. Tourism is one of our strengths, and our heritage, and the tourism opportunities it creates are second to none," the public defender said.
  In addition to his duties as public defender, Bautista serves as treasurer for the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce. He also is a major general, directing the Fourth Corps of the national Homeland Security Command, a volunteer organization made up of former military personnel, officers, NCOs, who donate their time to help train and prepare for homeland security.
  "Our command includes all of the southern states except West Virginia and Puerto Rico. It provides a great chance to continue our service to our country and to strengthen homeland security," Bautista said.
  Bautista and the cast of "The Wataugans" will take the stage Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. for the last of the 2004 performances.
  "We have a good season. The attendance has been great," said Jennifer Bauer, director of Sycamore Shoals State Historical Area, where the drama is being staged.