I am saddened to hear of the death of one of the more interesting and provocative public officials I had the pleasure to know and to cover while I worked as a journalist in the Texas Panhandle.
David Swinford of Dumas has left us. He died on the final day of 2022 at the age of 81.
I actually knew of Swinford, a Republican state legislator a good bit before I made the move from the Gulf Coast to the Caprock in January 1995.
He took his House District 87 seat in 1991 and almost immediately caused a ruckus with a proposal for the Panhandle to break away from the rest of the state. His stated reason was a doozy. Swinford reportedly didn’t like the fact that on most state highway maps, the Panhandle was relegated to “other side” of the map, forcing anyone interested in traveling to, say, Dumas, had to turn the map over to find it.
After moving to Amarillo to become editorial page of the Globe-News, I asked Swinford about that notion. He kind of gritted his teeth and admitted it was true, that he was irked at the “mistreatment” the Panhandle got from cartographers … but then said he was only half-serious about the pitch for the Panhandle to separate itself from the rest of the state.
Our relationship developed over time.
He was one of the first Texas officials to tell me he saw legislative battles turning on rural vs. urban lines, rather than partisan divisions. He was right. He fought for the rural constituents he represented, as well as those who lived in the Potter County portion of Amarillo — which straddles the line separating Potter from Randall County.
Swinford got sideways with the newspaper one time during my stint there. It was over his decision to undercut then-Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat from Hale Center. The GOP took control of the Legislature and Swinford — who claimed a deep friendship with Laney — decided to throw his support behind fellow Republican Tom Craddick of Midland. Craddick would replace Laney as speaker in 2003, angering Laney to no end. He felt betrayed by his Panhandle pals, such as Swinford and fellow GOP Reps. John Smithee and Warren Chisum.
Our anger with Swinford didn’t last forever. I am happy to report that when he left office in 2011, he and I were on good terms and remained so until news arrived of his death.
He was a good man. May he rest in peace.