Signing off for now

This will be my last weekly column for The Hill, and I write it with a sense of sadness, although by giving it up I will be free to sleep later on Monday mornings.

More than a dozen years ago, Marty Tolchin asked if I’d be willing to write an occasional column for The Hill. He needed a conservative, he said, and didn’t know that many. 

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That figured. Marty had retired a few years before, after a long and successful career with The New York Times. I had gotten to know and respect him in the ’70s while I was working on Capitol Hill for New York’s conservative Sen. Jim Buckley and Marty was covering the New York congressional delegation for his bosses in Manhattan. He was a tough but fair-minded reporter, and we became friends. It is a friendship I have always cherished.

The Hill was a relatively new venture, and when Marty approached me he promised that while he couldn’t pay, he would treat me to lunch as often as I liked at the old Loeb’s, which was just around the corner from the dingy but cheap offices of his new baby. Since an offer like that was almost impossible to turn down, I began writing for The Hill once every two weeks, and later, every Tuesday.

My editor in those days was a fellow Midwesterner who admitted to having worked for Walter Mondale, but had, perhaps more importantly, toiled earlier as a lanky southpaw in the Cleveland Indians organization. Mondale never made it to the White House and Al Eisele failed to make the bigs, but he was and is one classy guy and a great editor.

Since then Marty has moved on and Al has achieved emeritus status while the paper they tended in its infancy has changed owners, editors and publishers and grown in influence. I have been privileged to have witnessed all this and to perhaps have added a brick or two to the edifice.

In the years since, the paper has published a couple hundred of my columns, allowing me to comment from a conservative perspective on the goings-on in this city. I’ve had fun writing them and have from time to time heard from readers who liked what I had to say or were actually influenced by my arguments on behalf of conservative principles and ideas. A few articles have been controversial, and some have generated attacks on me and my editors, who, to their credit, have always backed me in the face of threats from politicians and lawyers for politicians. I am perhaps proudest of these because, frankly, I took such attacks as a sign that people were reading my column and that I was rankling some of those I was criticizing.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of The Hill’s family and watched a number of talented young reporters develop while working under the tutelage of Marty, Al and Hugo Gurdon, who holds the reins today and is, like those he’s followed, an editor with whom everyone associated with The Hill is proud to work.

In the years since Marty had a hard time finding a conservative to write for an upstart paper, dozens of young conservative writers with real ability have appeared on the scene. They are one and all anxious for a Washington outlet. It is a real comfort to be able to move on knowing that Hugo will find one eager and capable of filling the space that will open up beginning next week as I take on new responsibilities.

Though I happily surrender this space, I will still be around. While I look forward to the day when I can pack up and head west in the pursuit of wild trout and game, there remains much to do. Yesterday I was elected president of the National Rifle Association by a board that doesn’t seem to care if I get to sleep in on Mondays or not, so I will continue to speak out. This month I will begin a regular column that will appear in both the American Rifleman and American Hunter, twin publications of the NRA. 

David A. Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, serves as first vice president of the 
National Rifle Association, and maintains an “of counsel” relationship with The Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental affairs firm.


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