There goes another good man

Just as I was trying to recover from the shocking death of a man I admired and for whom I had deep affection, another event hit me right in the face.

Buddy Seewald’s death this past weekend in an early-morning auto accident in Amarillo hit me hard. Buddy was a friend and a frequent contributor to the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years before leaving that job a year ago.

And for years Buddy would joust with another gentleman in a feature we called “Point/Counterpoint.” They would pick an issue on which to disagree; Buddy would write the liberal argument while his “opponent” would argue the conservative view.

The foe was Amarillo resident Virgil Van Camp, who died this past weekend at the age of 87.

First it was Buddy, then it was Virgil — another man I considered a friend — who would leave this world.

My goodness, what a profound coincidence.

Virgil was a dedicated World War II veteran who saw action in the South Pacific. He was immensely proud of his service in the Army Air Force and he continued his interest in aviation well into his senior years. He flew airplanes and gliders. Virgil became active in the Civil Air Patrol. He offered more than once to take me gliding. I accepted his offer, but sadly never collected on my friend’s generosity.

Virgil and Buddy could not have been more different in any conceivable way you can mention. Buddy was an unabashed liberal activist; Virgil was a rock-ribbed conservative. Buddy was openly gay; Virgil was married to the same woman for 50-plus years. Buddy was involved in political causes; Virgil didn’t pick up the bullhorn, choosing instead to go about his life more quietly.

Here, though, is the lesson both men taught me over my many years knowing them both: They could differ on issues of the day, but they remained friends and, as near as I can tell, they each had a mutual affection for each other.

We would meet every quarter or so for lunch. Virgil, Buddy, myself and my administrative assistant, Debbie Dudley, would go through topics they could debate in print. We’d settle on the issues, they might tussle a bit at lunch over why they were right and the other guy was wrong. We’d finish in about an hour; we’d stand up, shake hands and go our own ways.

Buddy and Virgil both were gentlemen and gentle men. They were wedded to their ideologies but their zeal never got in the way of their friendship.

Oh, how I wish we could have just a touch of that to soothe today’s poisonous political climate.

At this very moment, I am absolutely certain Buddy Seewald and Virgil Van Camp have ascended to the Great Beyond and are picking up right where they left off. I am likely to think of them both the next time I hear a clap of thunder.

Waiting on Texas Democrats

As I watch the 2014 Texas political campaign take shape, I keep waiting for some news — any news — about Democrats.

So far, I’m hearing none.

There likely will be a change in one race, the one for governor, if state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, jumps into that contest.

But to date, all the interest, excitement and anticipation are on the Republican side of the ballot.

This tells me at least two things:

The Texas Democratic Party is as near-dead as ever before and the Texas Republican Party is feeling its oats while the opposition continues to flounder.

I wish the Democrats could somehow spring to life, if only to challenge the Republicans and to hold them accountable for the policies they keep enacting into law.

The Republican side is so exciting, actually, that there’s some talk simmering about whether some “mainstream” GOP officeholders will be challenged by tea party candidates. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican member of Congress, is facing such a challenge. There’s been talk of the tea party zealots challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Good luck with that one.

Democrats? They’re virtually nowhere to be found.

The Dems keep talking bravely about staging a comeback. Hollow talk, though, won’t get the job done.

As for the Republicans, they might have their hands full trying to maintain some semblance of control within their own ranks. Hold on. It’s likely to be a bumpy ride through GOP Land.

News hits like a punch in the gut

Well, I’ve just taken an emotional punch that takes my breath away.

Word came out today that William Hughes “Buddy” Seewald has died in an auto accident. I don’t know the details, except that a good man — and someone I called a friend — has been taken from us.

I won’t linger too long over this post, except to say that Buddy was one of the smartest, most politically astute and decent men I’ve had the pleasure — and honor — of knowing.

We shared a lot of views over many years during my time as a daily journalist in Amarillo and his time as a contributor to our opinion pages. He could be biting in his critique of the prevailing attitude among most Panhandle residents. He was a distinctly progressive voice in a community dominated by conservative thinking. Buddy was fearless in his belief in liberal political causes.

I admired him as a political thinker and activist. Moreover, I always enjoyed our time together — usually over lunch — in which we would kick ideas around and occasionally share in some common political fellowship.

I had not seen much of Buddy in recent years. His myriad business interests kept him busy. I exited my career in daily journalism a year ago and have moved on to other pursuits.

But I will always cherish my memories of this larger-than-life soul. I’ll miss him terribly.

Tragedy defies ability to comprehend

There are times when national tragedies go far beyond people’s ability to understand.

Today was one of those times.

Twelve innocent victims are dead at the hands of a gunman, Aaron Alexis of Fort Worth, who then was killed in a fire fight with law enforcement authorities at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard.

How does one grasp something like this?

A few questions popped into my head during the day as I was running around at work and catching snippets of news broadcasts on TV.

I learned that Alexis had a concealed handgun carry permit, issued in Texas. I also learned that he had two minor firearms-related incidents on his record, one in 2004 and another in 2010. I haven’t yet heard when Alexis was issued his concealed carry permit. Was it after those incidents? Was it before they occurred? If he received the permit after the shooting-related incidents, how did he qualify to carry a handgun on his person? If he received the permit beforehand, were the incidents entered into his background data base? If not, why not? If so, how was he allowed to keep his permit?

Of course, Alexis reportedly was carrying three weapons into the Navy Yard: a pistol, a shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle. The only weapon covered by the concealed carry permit would have been the pistol.

However, he purchased all the guns legally — including the assault rifle, according to news reports.

Again, given his record of firearms-related disturbance, how did that happen?

This tragedy is going to take some time process.

Our hearts are broken once again.

First ‘real’ RV outing awaits

This is another in an occasional series of blog posts about impending retirement.

Our next significant hurdle looms as my wife and I prepare for our first out-of-town excursion in our shiny new fifth wheel travel vehicle.

We’re taking our rig on the road, westbound on Interstate 40 to an RV park on the western edge of Albuquerque, N.M.

My wife made this call and, as usual, it’s a good one.

We chose Albuquerque as the place where we’ll indoctrinate ourselves with the open road for a couple of reasons.

One is that we love the city. There’s plenty to see and do there. Downtown is quite interesting, with a wonderful Historic Route 66 district. Old Town is quaint. Sandia Peak features a spectacular tram ride to a summit that’s more than 10,000 above sea level.

The other reason is that Interstate 40 is a relatively straight shot between Amarillo and Albuquerque.

We don’t envision a lot of challenges between the cities. The landscape is wide open. We’ll just set the cruise control on 60 mph (or thereabouts) and head west. There will be some mountain grades to climb as we approach Albuquerque, but our Dodge Ram pickup — which we’ve named Big Jake — is quite capable of completing the climb.

The “Big I,” which is the I-40/I-25 interchange in the middle of the city, could present a mild challenge as we navigate our way through. Our hope is that we’ll time it so that the traffic isn’t so bad once we get there.

We’ll spend three nights at the fully equipped RV park, getting more acquainted with our rig. We broke it in nicely a few weeks ago with a local outing in Amarillo. The time is coming for our next big challenge. We’ve been to this place already, visiting my sister and brother-in-law who were camped there overnight this past March. It’s got all the amenities we need: water, sewer, electricity, cable TV, Internet access.

We’re trying to be systematic and methodical as we adapt to this new way of life.

Wish us luck.

Social media reveal racists among us

I’ve discovered an unexpected plus about the advent of social media on modern society.

They reveal individuals’ character or their lack of it while identifying who these individuals are to the rest of the world.

Consider the reaction to last night’s crowning of the new Miss America, who is a young woman named Nina Davuluri. She hails from New York. She’s the first Indian-American to be crowned Miss America. The reaction from some of her countrymen? Well, it was quite revealing.

The link attached here reveals the moronic attitudes of Americans toward people of certain ethnicities. I won’t detail here what some of the individuals said about Davuluri. You can access it by clicking on the link.

Suffice to say the young woman comes from a successful family. Her dad is a physician. Nina aspires to follow in his footsteps. She’s a young woman of considerable accomplishment. She is the latest in a long line of such women to own the title of Miss America.

As for social media’s influence on modern culture, we’re seeing by the reactions posted on Twitter to this event, there’s a certain value in allowing idiots to express themselves freely. They’ve exposed themselves to the rest of the world.

As an old friend once told me, it’s better to keep your enemy out front where you can see them rather than have them hiding in the bushes.

Obama is winning the Syria debate

With all due respect to the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, President Obama is emerging as a victor in the struggle to rid Syria of the chemical weapons it now says it possesses.

Mike McCaul, R-Texas, said on Fox News Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the big winner here and that President Obama has been reduced to a bit player in this ongoing drama.

Well, that’s about what we’ve come to expect from a leading House Republican.

Living as I do in the heart of Anti-Obama Country, I am acutely aware of the negative views of the president’s handling of the Syria crisis. I am not happy with the way he’s handled some developments in this crisis. I wished initially he hadn’t backed off his threat to strike Syria in retaliation for that government’s gassing of civilians.

But consider what’s happened.

* Barack Obama issued the threat to hit Syrian military targets to dissuade Syria from using chemical weapons in the future.

* Russia, one of Syria’s main allies, steps in with a plan to get Syria to turn its chemical weapons over to international inspectors.

* The Syrians, who at first denied having the weapons, agreed.

* Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart agree to the deal and have given Syria a timetable to comply.

I agree the deal is fraught with danger. Syria might not comply, forcing the United States to follow through with its strike threat.

What was the catalyst for all this? The president’s initial threat to hit Syria.

Does that make Barack Obama look stronger or weaker? I believe it strengthens the president. Of course, those in the opposing party say he is weakened by all this. I would suggest that a strategy that results in Syria giving up its chemical weapons without having to bomb them into doing it takes us closer to an end to a serious crisis.

That view, of course, will be a non-starter for those who think the worst of the 44th president of the United States.

Audie Murphy finally honored by state

I’ll admit to being a little slow on the uptake, but I have to give a huge salute to the Texas Legislature for doing something it should have done, oh, about 15 years ago.

It honored the late Audie Murphy — the most decorated soldier in Texas history — with the Texas Legislature Medal of Honor. Gov. Rick Perry made the award official on Aug. 19 when he signed House Concurrent Resolution 3, which the Legislature approved during its second special session this summer.


The Legislature Medal of Honor was begun with the 1997 Legislature. Murphy should have been the first man so honored. But he wasn’t, for reasons no one has explained.

Murphy, who died in a 1971 plane crash, served in the Army during World War II. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in connection with his duty in France, when he killed an estimated 200 German soldiers in a single fire fight. His exploits became the subject of legend and lore. Murphy went on to become a film actor and portrayed himself in the film “To Hell and Back,” which told the story of his battlefield heroism.

The failure to honor Murphy, a native of Hunt County, was something of a comedy of errors over the years. The Legislature formerly only honored a single individual per session. It expanded the ranks to two per session in 2011. It’s as if his name kept slipping through the cracks as lawmakers pondered who they would honor.

This man has been honored by foreign governments in Europe, where he fought to liberate a continent from tyranny. When you look up the term “hero” in the dictionary, there ought to be a picture of Audie Murphy included in the definition provided.

The Texas Legislature has corrected a serious oversight by honoring Audie Murphy with this long-overdue recognition.

Don’t mess with this Texas slogan

Texas tries to get serious about littering … so much so that it has adopted a slogan that to many millions of Americans, and even some Texans, has taken on an entirely new meaning.

“Don’t Mess With Texas” has been around since the mid-1980s. The state’s General Land Office launched the anti-littering campaign with the slogan that has, shall we say, become as popular as a Friday night football tailgate party.

The New York Times story linked here discusses how Texas is trying to protect the integrity of its slogan. I have an idea: How about using it exclusively for its intended purpose, which was to tell people they shouldn’t litter the state’s vast and varied landscape.

Texas officials say they’re trying to preserve the slogan’s original meaning. Some leading politicians, though, aren’t following suit. As the Times article noted, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush used the phrase in a political context when he accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Other pols have thrown the slogan around to tout some people’s view of Texas machismo.

As the Times reported: “The phrase is known around the world, and it is important for everyone to recognize that ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ means ‘Don’t litter,’ ” Veronica Beyer, a (Texas) Transportation Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “When an alleged infringement is discovered, the department quickly seeks the appropriate legal remedy, which is usually a cease-and-desist demand of the unauthorized use and all future uses thereof. In the majority of such cases, our request for the violator to cease and desist has been all the action required.”

I couldn’t agree more with that view. The problem for the state, though, is how to reel in those who keep abusing the slogan.

Tanner vs. McCartt for Potter County judge

I’m going to make some assumptions about the upcoming race for Potter County judge in 2014.

One is that the two most serious Republican candidates already have declared their intention to seek the seat now held by County Judge Arthur Ware. The other is that no serious contender is going to enter the contest. A third assumption is that there won’t be a serious Democrat running for the seat, given that the Potter County Democratic Party is virtually comatose.

So, we’re left with two women with vastly different capabilities: former county court administrator and Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, Nancy Tanner, and former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt.

Ware, who’s not running for re-election, has endorsed McCartt — which shouldn’t be a surprise given that he fired Tanner from her county job earlier this summer for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

So the question becomes: How will these women present their political credentials and what will they say is their strongest suit?

Tanner has a long list of actual accomplishment on her dossier. She’s run the court system; she has been at Ware’s side during the two decades Ware has been county judge; and she’s done much of Ware’s actual job since the judge suffered a devastating stroke in 2010. She knows the county well. She is well acquainted with county department heads and elected officials.

McCartt’s history is quite different. She served as mayor for three terms after serving a couple of terms on the Amarillo City Commission. McCartt is an immensely popular personality in Amarillo. She loves the city and served admirably as Amarillo’s chief spokeswoman during her mayoral tenure. However, the city’s political structure doesn’t give the mayor much actual power; the administrative duties are done by the city manager. Furthermore, the mayor and the four commissioners all represent the same constituency, since they all are elected at-large. But I’ll go back to my thought about McCartt’s personal popularity. It’s huge and I believe it will matter a great deal when the two candidates square off in public forums to debate the issues.

Potter County voters already have demonstrated a tendency to go with popularity over professionalism, as they did in 2000 when county Republicans nominated Mike Shumate to be sheriff over Art Tupin. Shumate had a checkered career with Amarillo Police Department, but developed a cult following when he ran the APD Crime Stoppers program; Tupin, meanwhile, served as chief Potter County deputy sheriff under Jimmy Don Boydston and was eminently more qualified for the job than Shumate. That didn’t matter to county Republicans. Shumate then breezed to victory in the general election that year over a Democratic candidate no one has seen or heard from since the votes were counted.

I am thinking the same dynamic may play out in the Tanner-McCartt race.

Tanner’s learning curve would be much less severe than McCartt’s, given that Tanner has done much of the job already and McCartt has little actual hands-on experience with managing the complexities of government.

Let’s all stay dialed in on this contest. It’s going to be a fascinating campaign that likely might reveal lots of things about Potter County’s voting public.

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