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Texan Couple: Nation Must Come First

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  • By Paul Duggan
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 22, 1999; Page A24

    NEWTON, Tex., Jan. 21 What matters in the lives of Nathan and Suzy Hines, first of all, is God, and they tend to that priority through their church. Nathan Hines sings in the choir at Newton First Baptist and serves on the building and grounds committee. His wife, also a committee member, teaches a religious class for children on Wednesday nights.

    After God comes family, especially their boys: Robert, 13; Ross, 11; and Calvin, 10. So concerned was Suzy Hines for the quality of their education that in 1995 she ran for a school board seat in this small town in eastern Texas timber country, 100 miles northeast of Houston and a few miles from the Louisiana border. She is in her second term.

    God and family. Then friends. Then work. Nathan Hines, 40, owns and manages an 82-bed nursing home here called Shady Acres Health and Rehabilitation, a business his father, a Baptist minister, started in 1964. Shady Acres, Hines said, operates on a Christian philosophy.

    So, where does the impeachment trial in Washington fit in with all this?

    Congress should get that ungodly spectacle over with, the Hineses say. Stop posturing. Stop the rhetoric. President Clinton failed the nation, they contend. He abused his power and lied under oath, they say, so Congress should remove him from office quickly and move on to matters more relevant to the lives of ordinary people.

    "I think they ought to nail him to the wall," said Suzy Hines, 38, today. "It's all the rushing to see who can be first in front of the camera that has to stop."

    The couple, both graduates of Texas A&M University and married almost 19 years, hold no disdain for politicians generally, and neither is fiercely partisan. "I'm a staunch independent, though I guess my tendency is toward the Republicans," said Nathan Hines, to which his wife nodded. Her A&M degree is in political science. They voted Republican in 1992 and '96. And, until lately, they tried to keep up with all the big topics in the news.

    But they have disengaged. Suzy Hines held an index finger and thumb a fraction of an inch apart when asked how much attention she has paid to the impeachment process. First Clinton let down the nation, she said, and now Congress has done the same.

    Nathan Hines said: "Let me put it to you this way: I do have an interest in the outcome. But I do not have an interest in the proceedings anymore."

    Both were raised to believe that a nation, to survive, needs a solid moral foundation. Nathan Hines's father, the Rev. Clint Hines, taught him that. Suzy Hines's father, retired Army Col. Robert Siegert, held the same view. And the Hineses work to instill that idea in their sons.

    Then along came the Monica Lewinsky affair.

    "It's about taking responsibility for your actions," Nathan Hines said. "Having made the choices that the president made, and then going on television and shaking your finger at the American people and lying that right there, to me, is an abuse of power. The message today is: If you've got a good enough lawyer, it doesn't matter what you do wrong. And that's a horrible message, to kids and to the world."

    It disturbs the couple that not all members of Congress view the president's behavior as they do, that the debate has split largely along party lines, complicating and protracting the impeachment process while other issues want for attention.

    "There are so many things that need to be dealt with," Suzy Hines said. "They need to be working on benefits for the military and the retirees. My father, every time he goes in to have a prescription filled just about, there's another drug that's been taken off the list of what he's eligible for."

    And education: "Money for teachers," she said. The starting salary for a new teacher in her school district is about $22,000, among the lowest in Texas. "We can't attract as many good teachers as we need," she said, "and the ones we do get, we can't retain them."

    And health care costs: At Shady Acres, Nathan Hines said, "we've had some on I.V. therapy that costs $1,000 a day. A thousand dollars! Just for the medicine!"

    And tort reform: Hines said the cost of protecting himself against lawsuits is a huge financial burden and major contributor to the cost of medical treatment nationwide.

    "You can go out right now and see billboards all over Beaumont," he said, referring to a city south of here. "They say, 'Nursing home abuse? Call this number. . . . ' Nursing home abuse is the hot thing these days with lawyers around here."

    He shook his head. "If somebody does something wrong, they need to pay the price. But it's way out of hand. . . . My insurance 10 years ago casualty, malpractice, everything was around $3,000 for the year, total. Right now it's closer to $30,000. And never in 35 years has a case even been brought against us for abuse of a resident."

    Congress ought to listen, he said. But legislators are too busy debating the fine point of what, to him, is a simple issue.

    "It comes down to what's right and what's wrong," Nathan Hines said. "It has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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