HAPPY NEW YEAR

Have you sat down to list your New Year's resolutions? If you could have three wishes for 2018, what would they be? My top three don't change through the years, because they represent wealth that money cannot buy: personal happiness for those I love, health and hope for those less fortunate.

LOCAL POLITICS

On the local political level, I hope 2018 brings a new wave of younger, savvy, more forward thinking and thoughtful candidates to put an end to the clubby, risk averse and often backward reputation that Kern County has earned over the years.

OPIATES

Along those lines, wouldn't it be nice to hear our city council or Board of Supervisors express as much — or more — concern about the opioid crisis as they do about marijuana? While we fritter the night away wringing our hands about pot, people die every day from crushing addictions that start with legal prescription drugs and often end with crude and dangerous forms of street drugs. And some of the hardest hit? Our combat veterans — people we claim to admire and love — who often return home with crippling injuries that can lead to addiction to opiates.

RICO'S LIST

I compiled my own list of younger, engaged citizens that I hope one day will consider running for office. I do not know their personal politics, but all are educated and smart and have shown a love for this community. My "watch list" includes Michael Bowers, Melissa Poole, Lauren Mae, Don Bynum, Thomas Maxwell, Patrick Wade, Jay Tamsi, Justin Salters, Dana Culhane Brennan, Anna Smith and David Milazzo. Who did I miss?

ANIMALS

And how about this for a resolution: Here's hoping we stop treating our pets as disposable items here in Kern County and see fewer of them roaming our streets hungry, afraid and alone.

HORACE MITCHELL

We will lose Horace Mitchell to retirement as president of CSUB this year, and here's hoping his replacement is as dynamic, forward thinking and inclusive as Mitchell has been during his 13 years at the helm of our local university. These are all tricky decisions, and there is no guarantee that the next CSUB president will show the vision that Mitchell brought when he arrived on campus in 2004.

STEVE SCHILLING

Another notable retirement is that of Steve Schilling, the longtime head of Clinica Sierra Vista, which provides basic health care services to thousands of Californians across multiple counties. Schilling almost single handedly built Clinica into a massive, important health care organization, and let's hope his replacement, Brian Harris, shares the energy and vision that Schilling brought to his job.

SMALL GIFTS

Happiness is never tied to a ZIP code, and isn't it true that it is always the small things that make life such a gift? A few of mine: an 11-year-old tabby whose love is boundless, friends who make me laugh so hard my side hurts, grown children whose success and happiness brings me such joy, a hike in the hills above Hart Park on a crisp Bakersfield morning, indescribably delicious Christmas cookies from my neighbor Robin, sitting under my grand sycamore tree in downtown Bakersfield while listening to the train couplings, a cozy evening at the "Italian embassy" (Uricchio's Trattoria, as Rick Kreiser calls it), seeing old friends, and a new wife who gets my jokes, makes me laugh and fills a room with her smile.

THANKFUL

And finally, here's to some of the local cast of characters who continually surprise, challenge and inspire me in so many different ways: Monsignor Craig Harrison, Louis Gill of the Bakersfield Homeless Center, CSUB basketball coach Rod Barnes, Dr. Raj Patel of Preferred Family Care and Randy Martin of Covenant Community Services.

Email contributing columnist Richard Beene at rsbeene@yahoo.com. His work appears here on Wednesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own. Read more on his blog at BakersfieldObserved.com.

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