Sea Life and Senators

Roughly ten years ago, my Senator had an opportunity to attend a conference in Puerto Rico, and the kids and I tagged along because, well who wouldn’t want to go to Puerto Rico, right?

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Coincidentally, I had met a lovely mom friend through American Mothers from Puerto Rico and she was kind enough to show us some of the beautiful sights including the Capitol building in San Juan… which the Senator loved.

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And the famous fort…

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The look on my baby’s face!  Oh my goodness…dsc_0213

Pretending to be a pirate on the island did not get any better than this…but I digress!dsc_0217

There were lots of elected officials at this conference including our Governor.  And, let me tell you, it makes for an interesting evening when you find yourself hanging out in the hotel hot tub with the Governor of your great state, who incidentally had just vetoed your Senator’s lawsuit reform bill the day before. It’s a good thing my Senator and the Governor had been in college together so the hot tub small talk wasn’t too awkward…or, maybe it was, but it took place amidst a beautiful setting and sunset so there’s that.

The beach at this resort was just as magnificent.

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I have never seen such clear water that provided a window into the sea life swimming below the surface.  In fact, the entire reason for reminiscing about this fabulous trip has to do with sea life and a senator…

You see, on this same trip, our family was playing on the beach one afternoon alongside many other conference attendees. We were like kids in a candy store because the beach was simply that gorgeous.

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All of the sudden, we noticed a crowd gathering in the ocean and members of the hotel staff running onto the beach. Wondering what was happening and if someone needed help, my Senator headed over to the scene.

Evidently, the Governor of West Virginia had stepped on a black sea urchin and the group was attempting to clean his foot.  According to the hotel staff, you had two options to remove the poisonous needle and sterilize the area – you could either pour urine on it or whiskey.  Needless to say, the Governor chose whiskey and was letting everyone on the beach know the same!  At the time, I remember thinking this guy was quite a character and down right hilarious! His name was Joe Manchin.

In case you don’t make a habit of following politics – Joe Manchin is now the senior Senator from West Virginia and earlier today, I caught a glimpse of him on TV talking about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.  His rational talking points and calm demeanor resembled those of a desperately needed statesman…let’s hope that ship hasn’t sailed.

This morning, I found myself wishing we had more elected officials like him….and a beach like this….

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Libraries & Magnolias

This week, the Senator and I did a really fun thing.  We got together with my parents and hosted a little get together for a dear friend of ours, Sean Burrage, who is the President of a University in the Southeastern part of our state.

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My parents aren’t in this picture, but I’m sandwiched in between my Senator and Sean!

Sean is a special friend who not only served in the State Senate with my Senator, but he also worked for the current President of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren, way way back when Boren was a United States Senator.  I also happened to be working for Boren in Washington DC , so I claim to have known Sean longer, haha. Small world.

Anyway…Sean and my Senator were not just colleagues at the Capitol, but good friends, and even though they were on opposite sides of the political aisle, they worked together to make positive things happen for the people of our state.  Current elected officials could REALLY take a lesson from those two… just saying.

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My Senator drove to Durant and gave President Burrage a Trump tie for Christmas cause they are fun friends like that! He wore it to our event…see next pic for proof!
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With my mom and favorite Bennett cousins!

But, I digress.  Back to our special event.  We thought it would be cool to host a gathering for the alumni of Southeastern Oklahoma State who happen to live in our neck of the woods and use the opprtunity as a fundraiser for a scholarship in the name of my Great Grandfather, Henry G. Bennett, who just happened to be the President of this same University a very long time ago.  ( Pardon the major run on sentence amidst a post about Higher Education!)

I always knew my Great Grandfather was the President of SEOSU, but his real claim to fame was being President of Oklahoma State University and working with President Harry Truman as an Assistant Secretary of State for his Point Four Program.  So, for me, this was a fun opportunity to see old friends, blend a connection of sorts and learn a little bit more about Southeastern Oklahoma State.

Evidently,  my great grandaddy planted a lot of magnolias on the campus. I have always loved magnolias.  They are so hardy and strong…at least the ones in my yard! But, he planted over 1,000 magnolias there…so, they named the Library after him. I love libraries.

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The Library at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma.

I think he loved libraries as much as he loved magnolias because his philosophy was that the Library should be at the center of campus and provide a gathering place for students.  Such an educator!  Maybe that is why I have always loved libraries too, who knows!

He continued the library and magnolia tradition when he took over the helm at Oklahoma State University – except that magnolias didn’t really grow in them there parts. Determined to make it work, my great grandaddy reminded them that OSU was an agricultural / mechanical school and they needed to go figure it out. So, they did.  They also re-routed a road which ran thru the middle of campus in order for the Library to be the center of attention. Pretty dang cool.

Back to the event for our good friend Sean.  It was special.  Not only is he a fabulous President of this University bringing his passion for education and kids to the job with him everyday, but I am hopeful that he, like my grandad, will someday take the reigns of another major University in our State…. but, this one would begin with an O and end with a U!

Bittersweet

It really doesn’t feel like twelve years have passed since my Senator first ran for public office. Back in 2002, we were not political people.  I mean, I had worked in politics long before we got married, but that seemed like a lifetime ago at the point when Cliff decided to throw his hat into the political ring.

In January of 2002, I was a stay at home mom of two toddlers and Cliff was a small businessman who had been on his own for a few years.

Talk about a scary shock…leaving a big company to go at it alone. Fortunately, we were either too young or too naive to care but determined to work hard and find our own way in the world.

That would be us circa 1995. Oh my goodness, the bangs…

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After seven years as a self-employed commercial real estate broker, Cliff had grown increasingly  frustrated with all of the rules, regulations and hefty taxes on small business that were coming out of our State Capitol. Mind you, he was no stranger to hard work, but he saw so many instances that prohibited economic growth and development and were an impediment to success. Night after night I remember him complaining about how the legislators making the laws affecting small business were political professionals with no business experience. And, I would tell him time and time again to quit complaining and go do something about it. Ha, right!?

So, he did. Throw his hat in the ring, win and serve three full terms in the Oklahoma State Senate!

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However, because of a twelve year term limit for legislators, Cliff’s time as a State Senator is up today. Yep, all done and it is bittersweet.

I am extremely proud of his tenure in that office. Cliff defied lots of political odds and stereotypes and quietly worked behind the scenes for the greater good. And, if I have heard it once I have heard it time and again,  they “just don’t make politicians like him.”  Well, that is true and probably because he’s not really a “politician.” Just a good man trying to make a positive difference. Or, as he likes to say, “keeping the bad laws from happening.”

In honor of my Senator and his twelve years of public service, I thought I would write about some of the good, the bad and the ugly from his time representing the people of Senate District 40. So, here goes!

The good.  

There was a lot of good!

Man, did we get to know some seriously awesome people! There were the lovely and gracious people we met while campaigning on their door steps and in the district….The individuals and constituents who came to the Capitol throughout the years and the kids who cycled through as pages and students who are now adults. Gulp. So, so many wonderful people. Our lives have certainly been enriched by their very acquaintance and I am most grateful.

Here are a few photos I found on my computer in no particular order..

Special friends in the district.

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Friends and campaign volunteers. These two met during the 2002 campaign and are still together.  Gotta love those campaign romances!!

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Would not have survived a single campaign without my right arm, Whitney!  Love this girl. She’s now married with three kids of her own.  I am old.

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Here’s the Senator speaking Cherokee with the Heisman winner like its no big deal!

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These young men are now in college.

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For some reason, this pic with Miss Oklahoma and Miss America always makes me smile!

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Who doesn’t love a parade, right?!  Even in the rain!

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Anyone who volunteered on that 2002 campaign knew Jim…

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And, Sharon…my heart is full of happy memories thinking about the wonderful people from that first campaign. We were blessed with a little army of awesome that year!

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Cliff looks so “official” in this next one, but what makes it really special is the gentleman sitting behind him. Senator Myers and Cliff were both “Freshman” Senators together and seat mates on the floor. He passed away a few years ago. Good man, lovely wife, beautiful family. Just another example of the special people we have met on this journey.

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Which leads me to the lobbyists, politicos and the savvy men and women who work for the politicos. These people are animals I tell you, but always fun to be around. I would add that you often hear the stories about back stabbing and political posturing that goes on in politics, and don’t get me wrong, I could write a book about all that. It happens. But, there are also some truly smart, savvy and super loyal people in this business as well.  I cherish our friendship with these men and women and have learned so much from them…

First friend in the Oklahoma State Senate…

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The Governor…elected in the same 2002 election cycle. He was also pledge brothers at OU with the best man in our wedding.  Small world!

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Fellow Senate Wives….

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And, Senate colleagues…..

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Love this one from our annual tradition of inviting Legislators over for dinner during session.  Clearly, this was a fun one!

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Safe to say they get along nicely…most of the time!

Pleasantly Surprised!

And, a favorite member from the House who went on to bigger and better things. The Senator regrets not wearing a tie that night! I regret not being in that photo!  Such a sweetheart!
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Quasi serious Senate leadership pic…

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A swearing in ceremony.

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These two…

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I am at a loss for words.

Vice Chairman and Chair of the Senate Energy Committee. Good things happened for the Oklahoma Energy Industry on their watch. There are probably lots of fun captions for this photo, but none suitable for print!

Friends in the Federal delegation who were always a good source of support, advice and institutional knowledge…

Senate Delegation

If you are from Oklahoma…this next one is just cool for historical purposes, regardless of your political party. And, it was taken at a fundraiser we held in our home.  Double cool.

Before the Shellacking

A few notable highlights along the way…

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Love the look on Cliff’s face in this one!

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Oh my goodness. Kathy.  Where to begin…

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Kathy has been Cliff’s right arm and my sister wife (Ha!) at the Capitol for a while and she is family.  I love this woman for so many reasons and always will.  She is just salt of the earth and she has Cliff’s back.  Believe me, you need someone watching your back down at that marble palace!

We have also had some really great opportunities during this time that I cherish. Cliff attended a handful of legislative conferences and the kids and I tagged along. For me, as a mom, this was probably one of the highlights.

Williamsburg and Charlottsville, Virginia

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Chicago

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Puerto Rico

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Hawaii

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Memphis

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Pretty neat stuff. I hope they learned something!

The Bad
Campaigns and opponents. Yep, we had a few of those.

2002  A six way primary election, a run off election and a general election. I’m exhausted simply remembering that inaugural foray into politics.

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2006  A general election with a self funded and fairly well known opponent.

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2010  The best kind of opponent. She dropped out before her name went on the ballot re-electing my senator before the primary. Couldn’t have dreamed that one up any better!

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All of that is just the nature of the beast and I will write a book about it some day.

The Ugly

There wasn’t a whole lot of ugly…but what there was …well, it is still fairly raw and I think I will just save it for my book.  Lets just say it involves some slashed tires, cut cable, punctured radiators and threats against our family.  Sounds like a scary movie, right?

So, there you have it. Twelve awesome years in a nutshell!

I think our son (pictured below in 2002) summed it up best yesterday when he sent a sweet text to his dad knowing that today would be bittersweet. He said, “ For the last 12 years I’ve been proud to say to people that my dad was a state senator and a successful and loved one at that…You actually did work for the community and made a change.  Now, it’s on to the next job.  Whatever you do dad, you’ll excel at it because you do great things and people love you.  Just remember that whatever you do, make sure you are doing what you love.”

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Out of the mouths of babes.

Needless to say, nostalgia is hovering over our house today.  I am eternally thankful for countless opportunities, lessons and friendships that Cliff’s public service has provided.  We have all learned so much from so many.  But, most of all, today, I am simply proud of my man and excited for what the future holds.