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SANTA FE — Former Rep. George Buffett makes the list as one of New Mexico’s most colorful politicos. Buffett, who died recently, wouldn’t particularly appreciate being called colorful or a politico but that is part of why he was colorful.
Buffett was as conservative as they come. He was conservative in all things. He introduced few, if any, bills during a session. When he spoke on the floor of the House, he was stingy with words. He didn’t appreciate legislators appropriating money to projects in their own districts. He didn’t do it himself and he voted against members of his own party doing it.
His independent streak was part of the reason Buffett never served in a leadership position in the Republican Party despite his 24 years in the Legislature. The average tenure of a Republican legislator in New Mexico is much shorter than 24 years.
Buffett said the quick in-and-out is because it isn’t as much fun always being in the minority and never getting to be a committee chairman. He pointed to the large number of Democratic retirements when Democrats lost the majority in Congress.
Although Buffett never was a party leader in the Legislature, he was elected as New Mexico’s Republican national committeeman in 2004, two years after he retired from the Legislature. At the time, the state Republican Party was in turmoil over whether to back Gov. Gary Johnson’s marijuana initiatives. Buffett was the candidate of those who wanted nothing to do with any type of drugs.
My lobbying career began with the New Mexico Education Association in 1965. My duties consisted mainly of lobbying Republican legislators. When Buffett came along in 1979, I didn’t get many votes out of him but I got much good conversation and many valuable insights on how things worked behind the scenes.
By 1989, after 10 years of frustration at how politics worked in Santa Fe, Buffett decided to start telling the story to business owners throughout the state. He called the publication “Buffett’s Bullets.”
Buffett sent the newsletter to 9,600 businesses. He asked for contributions to offset the printing and postage and only published a new edition when sufficient contributions had arrived. When he retired in 2002, Buffett continued his Bullets until 2008.
The candy business owner said he printed the stories that the media missed. He also suggested that the media may have done more than miss the stories. He also didn’t care for trial lawyers, union bosses and lobbyists for gambling interests. And he picked on the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce because he felt it wasn’t aggressive enough.
I still got to keep up with George after he left the Legislature in 2002. Every year at the Rodeo de Santa Fe, He ran a concession booth with a young staff he brought from Albuquerque each night. Buffett always got the best location, next to the entrance where my Lions Club sold programs. George always had an extra folding chair for me to sit and talk when I got tired.
We always had plenty of talking to do. We both had married women named Jeanette back in the 1960s. Jeanette Franzen and I had been friends at the University of New Mexico. George was a UNM graduate also. He liked to tell me about his first cousin Warren Buffett and the conversations they had around the kitchen table in Omaha. George had been an early investor in Warren’s company.
Our conversations often reminded me of those I regularly had with former Gov. Bruce King in our home. Alice King had founded the New Mexico Children’s Foundation and my wife was its executive director.
The board met around our large dining room table.
Bruce and George both were annoyed with the number of bills introduced in the Legislature.
King told of introducing bills during the second year he was a lawmaker to repeal bills he had introduced the first year.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.