Transition quickens toward next step on our journey

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

The pace toward full-time retirement is quickening.

I’m getting more ready for it to arrive.

For the time being I’m now down to just one part-time job. A second part-time gig has been put on hold; I have been told it might be reactivated, perhaps soon. I am keeping my options open.

At the risk of getting the bum’s rush out of Dodge, I need to explain why the pace is speeding up a bit.

We’re packing up our house. More to the point, my wife is doing the packing. She’s really good at this stuff. I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. We’ve made no secret of our desire to relocate. That day is coming along. Our family is aware of our plans and some of our closest friends have been given a detail or two of what we intend.

But listen up … please. That moment is not yet on the horizon. We aren’t moving in the next 45 minutes. We’re just preparing to take one final huge step in our life’s journey together.

We’re in our 60s. We have good health. We have lots of things we want to do. We have many places we want to see. We have the time, the inclination and the energy to haul our fifth wheel around the continent — and that is precisely what we intend to do.

Our journey together has taken us to 47 of the 50 states and a handful of Canadian provinces. We’ve been able to travel abroad to Asia, Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East (which, yes, is part of Asia). There’s always been a time limit, however. Work awaited back home.

We’re looking forward now to taking more time on the road and exploring some of the grandeur that surrounds us in North America. We have some family responsibilities to clear up.

The road ahead, though, is starting to clear out.

We hope to be ready soon to see what lies ahead.

Principle pushes against politics

I just hate it when principle runs smack head-on into real-time politics.

The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court has created just such a conundrum — at least for me.

The principle involves whether to fill the ninth seat on the nation’s highest court, an argument I made when President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

It wasn’t to be for the Garland and the president; Senate Republicans threw up their roadblock and obstructed the nomination by refusing even to consider it.

They were wrong!

Now a new president has nominated Gorsuch to Scalia’s vacant seat. Senate Democrats are threatening to do all they can to obstruct it, to block Donald Trump’s nominee from taking his seat on the bench.

I’m swallowing real hard as I write this, but it is just as wrong for Democrats to obstruct this nominee as it was for Republicans to obstruct Merrick Garland.

The principle of presidential prerogative stands firm in my view.

So does the need for the Supreme Court to be whole. It needs nine seats occupied to avoid tie votes that in effect send important cases back to lower-court rulings.

At one level, I sympathize with Democrats’ rage at the way their GOP “friends” played raw politics with Garland’s nomination. The GOP leadership took a huge gamble on the hope that a Republican would be elected president. The odds of that gamble paying off seemed to lengthen considerably when Donald Trump won the GOP presidential nomination this past summer.

Trump fooled a lot of us by defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn to nominate people to become justices on the highest court in America.

By all accounts, Gorsuch is qualified. He’s not my ideal justice candidate. To be candid, given Trump’s seeming lack of ideological conviction, I’m not at all certain he even fits whatever core values inform the president’s thinking.

The fundamental point, though, is whether it is right for Democrats to threaten to keep the seat vacant for another year — or perhaps for the entire length of time a Republican president is recommending potential justices.

It is not right!

Judge Gorsuch deserves a Senate committee hearing and a full vote in the Senate — just as Judge Garland did.

Principle ought to matter more than politics — even when one’s political sensibilities are being trampled.

RIP, Myrna Raffkind

My heart is broken at this very moment.

I have just learned that one of the dearest, sweetest, loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing has left this world.

Myrna Raffkind was — oh my, how does one describe this individual? — the embodiment of goodness.

The Amarillo Globe-News honored her with its coveted Woman of the Year award for 2010. Interestingly, she earned that honor the year the newspaper honored the late Eddie Melin as its Man of the Year. Collectively, these two folks elevated the kindness quotient to stratospheric heights.

Myrna was a bit of anomaly in this part of the world.

She was an unabashed political liberal in a region dominated at almost every level of life by political conservatives. She and I had a thing or two in common in that regard. We knew that about each other. We would chuckle among ourselves at that reality.

None of that ever got her down. Indeed, I never heard a single soul in Amarillo ever saying a negative word about Myrna. No one!

Myrna was a prolific writer of essays she would submit to the newspaper. I published them gladly — and not because I endorsed her point of view. I did so to honor her kindness and wisdom that transcended partisan labels. Myrna’s enormous heart would reveal itself in her essays.

Years ago I was visiting with her nephew, George Raffkind — the clothier and owner of the store that carries his name — about his Aunt Myrna. I told him how much I “love and adore your aunt.”

“Yes,” George Raffkind respond, “she’s a bit more liberal than most of us around here.” I replied to Myrna’s nephew, “As I was saying, I love and adore her.”

I would see Myrna occasionally at the grocery store on Saturday. She always took the time to visit and we shared a political view on an issue of the day. This observant Jewish lady would send my wife and me holiday cards every Christmas, which always would include a lovely personal note wishing us a happy holiday and new year.

Amarillo has lost a towering figure contained in a diminutive form.

I will miss her terribly.

GOP’s amnesia surely must be cured

I cannot believe a Republican U.S. senator from Pennsylvania actually said this. But he did.

“We did not inflict this kind of obstructionism on President Obama.”

That came from Patrick Toomey.

It takes my breath away. I might need some smelling salts before I get done with this blog post.

Oh … yes you did, senator!

I get that Donald Trump’s selection of Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court justice has angered Democrats. I also get that the president is entitled to nominate someone of his choosing.

What I do not get is the crass, brassy and classless argument from Senate Republicans — namely Sen. Toomey — that they didn’t obstruct President Barack Obama’s efforts to govern.

Good grief, dude! You made it your top priority!

The hands-down example of obstruction occurred after Antonin Scalia died suddenly while vacationing nearly a year ago in Texas. The Supreme Court justice’s corpse was still warm when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the Senate GOP would block anyone selected by the then-president to succeed Scalia.

President Obama unveiled Merrick Garland as his nominee to the Supreme Court. McConnell held firm on his pledge. He blocked the nomination. He obstructed the president from fulfilling his constitutional duty to nominate a candidate for a federal judgeship.

Then, as if he had forgotten what he had done, McConnell accused the president and Senate Democrats of “playing politics.”

Are you bleeping kidding me, Mr. Majority Leader?

So here we are. Another president has picked another judge to the highest court. Democrats are furious at the treatment an earlier nominee got from their Republican colleagues.

And Republicans now are saying out loud — and apparently without a hint of shame — that, by golly, they didn’t obstruct a president from the opposing party.

They need treatment for their selective amnesia.

Hold on! Court balance won’t change

All this hyperventilating over Donald Trump’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court is making me dizzy.

The president tonight brought out Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th Circuit of Appeals, as his nominee for the nation’s highest court.

He’s a conservative, just as Trump promised. He is a “strict constitutional constructionist,” again as Trump vowed. He’s also a disciple of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, as Trump pledged.

Now we’re hearing talk about the “nuclear option” that Senate Democrats might employ to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation. They’ll oppose this fellow, seemingly as payback for the shabby treatment Senate Republicans leveled against President Obama’s choice to succeed Obama. Remember that? Senate GOPers said within hours of Scalia’s death that they would block anyone the president nominated. Obama selected Merrick Garland and the Senate didn’t even give him a hearing and a vote.

Let’s take a deep breath here.

I want to make a couple of points.

One, I detest the notion of Donald Trump nominating anyone to the court. But he won the presidency without my vote. He won enough electoral votes to take the oath of office. Thus, he earned the right to choose anyone he wants.

Gorsuch isn’t my kind of justice. But someone else is the president.

Two, the ideological balance of the U.S. Supreme Court is not going to change when — or if — Gorsuch is confirmed. Scalia was a conservative icon. He was a heroic figure among political conservatives. Placing another judicial conservative on the high court restores the court’s narrow 5-4 conservative bent.

I feel compelled to note that the court — with that narrow conservative majority — made two decisions that riled conservatives, um, bigly. It upheld the Affordable Care Act and it declared same-sex marriage to be legal under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Would a Justice Gorsuch change that equation? I don’t see it. A nominee to succeed, say, one of the liberals on the court would most assuredly prompt a titanic political battle … as it should.

None of this will matter, of course, to Senate Democrats who are enraged at the president over many — seemingly countless — issues. His behavior in the first 10 days of his presidency, culminating with his firing of an acting attorney general over her refusal to defend Trump’s paranoid refugee ban, has angered Democrats to their core.

Thus, the fight is on.

It pains me to acknowledge it, but I must. Donald Trump vowed to nominate someone from a list of 20 or so jurists he revealed during his campaign. He has delivered on his pledge.

Judge Gorsuch isn’t to my liking. Moreover, my candidate lost. The other guy won. As they say, elections do have consequences.

Seliger takes brief turn as governor of Texas

I have had the pleasure and the honor of knowing many honorable men and women in public life throughout my 37 years in journalism. This blog post is about one of the good guys I have had the honor of knowing professionally and personally.

I wrote it initially for another medium, but I have chosen to post it here. My interview with state Sen. Kel Seliger took place just before Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States.


On a day just prior to the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump – when Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were out of the state to attend the festivities in Washington, D.C. – Kelton Gray “Kel” Seliger had the task of serving as Texas’s acting governor.

It’s a responsibility – absent the perks of the job – granted to him by Patrick, who just days earlier had named him president pro tem of the Texas Senate. He was put in charge of the state in the absence of the two top statewide elected officials.

Seliger, a Republican who has served in the Senate since 2004, didn’t arrive this day with any Texas Rangers security detail in tow. There were no special arrangements made, no announcement of his arrival, no fanfare.

Seliger represents a district that stretches from the Texas-Oklahoma border about 100 miles of Amarillo to the Permian Basin, which is another 200 miles south. He maintains Senate offices in Amarillo and Midland and is now essentially a full-time legislator, having sold the steel business he owned with his brother, Lane, several years ago.

He is a native of Borger who graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and who returned to the Panhandle to stake out his future. Seliger entered public service as an Amarillo city commissioner in 1989 and then served as mayor from 1993 until 2001 before joining the Senate after President George W. Bush appointed the late Sen. Teel Bivins to be U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

Seliger chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee and serves also on the Senate Education Committee.

We chatted for a time over lunch. Here is what I learned about Kel Seliger.

Should the state start over with its standardized testing requirement for public school students?

“There’s no need to start over,” Seliger said. “But we need to refine it. We need accountability. These tests are for adults, too,” he said, referring to educators. “Kids take tests all the time. Start over? No. Make it better.”

Are you getting special protection from the Texas Rangers while serving as acting governor?

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said. “They may be around, watching my back. I’m quite sure if they had the remotest sense my new temporary status created a situation, they’d be here in a heartbeat.”

Are you empowered to act fully as governor?

“If there is a situation that requires immediate action as governor, yes,” he explained, referring to a possible natural disaster or other catastrophic event. “But if there was something I would encounter that would require action of another sort, I would check with Gov. Abbott to see if he is OK with whatever I would do.”

But what if we have a natural disaster? Could you then act as governor?

“We have emergency people, first responders, on site. (Department of Public Safety) officials would tell me what’s happened. They then would put me in touch with the governor as quickly as possible” to coordinate the state’s response, Seliger replied.

Why are you serving?

“I love public policy,” Seliger said, “and this is the place to do public policy. If you have a good idea, you can work with people and get things done. In Washington,” he said, echoing the new president, “nothing gets done.”

What has been your greatest success in the Senate?

“I think I have made a meaningful contribution to things that matter. I have been able to focus on water policy and supporting water conservation districts,” he said.

What piece of legislation that has your name on it makes you most proud?

Seliger said he doesn’t have a “particular favorite,” but said he is proud of Senate Bill 149 which “allows kids who don’t pass the STAAR test, but who do all the rest of their course work and then stand before a committee of teachers and administrators to walk across the stage and get their diploma.” He also is proud of a bill he authored that the 2015 Legislature approved that set aside money for construction of buildings on 64 higher education campuses in Texas. “And that includes about $6 million for construction of West Texas A&M’s downtown campus in Amarillo.”

And your biggest disappointment?

“I had a bill that would have banned ‘dark money,’” Seliger said, explaining that “dark money” comprises funds that come from tax-exempt sources but which the public “has no idea who’s giving it” to politicians. “This bill was vetoed after the 2013 session by Gov. (Rick) Perry.” He said the then-governor’s reason for vetoing the bill “was not discernable.”

Do we pay state legislators enough to serve?

“We get paid enough so that people don’t have the impression we’re doing this for the money,” he said of the $600 monthly stipend, plus the per-diem expense paid to lawmakers while the Legislature is in session. “And contrary to what a lot of folks believe about the Legislature, we don’t get just rich people to serve,” he said. “Many legislators are working people who give up their regular jobs to serve in the Legislature.”

How does your Senate district benefit tangibly from your service in the Texas Senate?

“Others should be the ones to make that judgment. I like to think we’re working on issues relating to public education and higher education,” Seliger said. “Everyone who serves in elected office believes that they are making the world a better place. I’m just trying to work with people in our West Texas cities, towns and universities.”

Describe your relationship with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“We have an effective working relationship,” Seliger said of the man who presides over the Senate. “Look, he named me (Higher Education Committee) chairman. He didn’t have to do that.”

You almost lost your re-election bid in 2014. Are you going to run again in 2018?

“I don’t know,” Seliger said. As for his 2014 Republican Party primary challenge from former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, he responded, “I won with 52 percent of the vote. I don’t think that’s ‘almost losing’ the contest.” He continued: “I don’t intend to stay in the Senate until I’m a doddering old fool, drooling on my lapels.”

What did you see for yourself when you were 10 years old?

Seliger smiled broadly. “I saw myself as Roy Rogers,” he said. Why Roy Rogers? “Hey, I was 10 years old – living in Borger, Texas.”