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SANTA FE — Hoyt Clifton arrived in Santa Fe just a few years after I got here in 1965.
It seemed as though he was the New Mexico elections expert from the beginning but his obituary says he was just the voting machine specialist for the first few years.
It’s interesting. Clifton came to Santa Fe because of his knowledge of handling the huge 850-pound voting machines of the day. Today, we are back to a pencil and paper.
As long as I can remember when anyone had a question about elections they called Hoyt.
He could explain anything in the election code because he had written most of it. If it was a complicated question, he would patiently explain the background and the problem it was designed to correct.
Many amendments to the election code are introduced every year. Those who worked with Clifton say he could look at any bill and immediately be able to explain what the sponsor was trying to do.
One day I called the Secretary of State’s Office and the secretary of state herself answered the phone.
She said Hoyt was not there but that she could help me. I’m sure she could have helped but I was so accustomed to talking with Hoyt that I said to just have him call Jay Miller went he got back.
I could tell from the tone of her voice that I had insulted her greatly. I don’t remember which secretary of state I insulted but I wouldn’t tell you anyway. I wouldn’t want her to remember.
Hoyt had to have known how important he was to that office. But I’m also positive that he never let on.
He was as gracious and unassuming a person as I ever have known. My father was the only person I can put in the same category.
Maybe the best evidence of his personal attributes is that he worked for six different secretaries of state. That isn’t easy.
It is unusual to see a person work as a division director for two elected officials or cabinet secretaries in a row. Six has to be a record.
Clifton’s six bosses all were Democrat. The last Republican secretary of state served over 80 years ago.
Current Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, had highly positive comments about Clifton, including that he didn’t have a mean bone in his body.
Clifton was always a rancher at heart. He looked like a rancher and he dressed like one.
After 26 years of service to the state, he retired to his ranch near Melrose.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Martin Heinrich created a small stir recently when he said in his stump speech that he looked forward to following in the footsteps of Democratic senators such as Jeff Bingaman, Clinton Anderson and Dennis Chavez.
Some fans of former Sen. Joe Montoya objected to his name not being included in Heinrich’s remarks.
Although Montoya was effective at continuing the work of Anderson and Chavez in keeping federal installations in New Mexico, his 12 years in the Senate were less than half the tenure of Anderson, Chavez and Bingaman. And Montoya’s service ended with a loss.
Nevertheless, Montoya’s career was notable. He was the youngest member ever elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives. He was barely 21 and in law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
In 1938, he graduated from law school and was reelected. A year later he became majority floor leader of the House.
His accelerated political career got him to the state Senate in 1940 and to the lieutenant governor’’ office for three terms.
In 1957 he reached the U.S. House and in 1964 was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Montoya liked to invest in real estate. Once he started running statewide, he expanded his investments from Santa Fe to other communities so he could claim property ownership there.
It worked well until his defeat by Jack Schmitt in 1976.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.