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Former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King, a folksy cattle rancher who served more time as governor than anyone else and became an institution in state politics, died Friday. He was 85.
Attorney General Gary King announced his father’s death.
King was a Democrat who served three terms that spanned three decades. He was in office in 1971-74, 1979-82 and 1991-94.
King was with family members at his ranch in Stanley when he died Friday morning. His death comes less than a year after the death of his wife of 61 years.
“None of us in the family thought this day would come so soon after we lost my mom, Alice King, but we are comforted by the thought that Bruce and Alice can be together once again,” Gary King said in a statement released by his office.
King had been ill and was recovering from a heart procedure in September to adjust the pacemaker that was implanted after he had a heart attack in 1997.
Gov. Bill Richardson ordered flags flown at half-staff, saying King’s death “leaves a huge void in our state.”
“Bruce King was an innovative, farsighted governor who knew the state better than any living New Mexican,” Richardson said. “He was as genuine and colorful as his cowboy boots. I can just hear him say ‘mighty fine’ as he shook another hand.”
King was known for the sharp political mind behind his country-boy manner. He was famous for entering restaurants and greeting people table-by-table with a vigorous handshake and a down-home, “How y’all doing? Fine. Fine.”
He also was known for his malapropisms, once telling a lawmaker that the lawmaker’s proposal could “open up a whole box of Pandoras.”
King told The Associated Press in 2005 at a Moriarty restaurant, where he and family members met for morning coffee for decades, that he was happy to be known for working with New Mexico’s diverse groups and political parties.
He retained programs he liked from governors who preceded him, occasionally keeping key personnel, whether from a Democratic or Republican regime.
King said he was proudest of his economic development accomplishments, particularly an Intel Corp. computer chip plant in Rio Rancho. But he also was governor during one of the most horrific events in New Mexico history: a 1980 prison riot at the old main penitentiary near Santa Fe. Thirty-three inmates were butchered by other prisoners.
King said in 2005 that he resisted advice from around the country to storm the prison immediately. The slain inmates were killed in the early hours of the riot, and King said his concern was to keep alive a dozen prison workers taken hostage. None of the employees was killed.
The situation at the penitentiary before the riot was “kind of like the guy who was going to control the tea kettle by just putting Scotch tape and taping over the spout and lid,” King said. “And as he heated it up, well, it just has to give. That’s kind of where we were.”
Details about memorial services were pending.