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I remember it like it was yesterday: 9 p.m., Dec. 31, 1999. The world, according to people who knew, would soon end. All of civilization was run by computers, and when 1999 rolled over and became 2000 we would be launched back into the Stone Age.
Or at least the Eisenhower years.
I checked our stockpiled food and water, gathered the family together, built a fire, brought out our most cherished family game, and waited. Ever vigilant.
Finally, I dozed off. My son poked my ribs, “Wake up.”
Was it morning? Had we survived? No, it was 9:17 p.m. and it was my turn to spin in “Hungry, Hungry Hippos.”
These thoughts were on my mind New Year’s Day as I finished the last morsel of 1999 Spam and began to reflect on the last decade.
Entering the decade, a Republican was governor – Gary Johnson. Now we’re entering the new decade with another Republican at the helm, the history-making Hispanic female, Susanna Martinez.
But in between was the biggest story of the last 10 years, Bill Richardson. In fact, here in the Land of Enchantment, Richardson was The Story.
Richardson was, in many ways, too big for New Mexico. Or maybe his wants were too big for New Mexico. Either way, I never felt Richardson and New Mexico were simpatico, as we say to sound, uh, New Mexican.
That’s not to say Richardson didn’t understand state politics. He did. No doubt about that. But The Story was all about The Story.
Johnson left the state fiscally solid. He never got the tax cut he’d longed for – New Mexico’s Legislature is owned and operated by Democrats, from as far back as we can remember and for as far forward as we’re willing to look.
Democrats weren’t about to give Gary Johnson, arguably the most popular governor of the decade, anything close to an income tax cut. He did manage to cut the gasoline tax, no small feat.
But the fiscally sound thing was big then and it looms even bigger today. Johnson’s leaving the state with a $1 billion budget surplus, give or take a C-note or two, was a real achievement.
Despite that, Republicans couldn’t even mount a real challenge to The Story in 2002. When he took office, you could almost hear chops being licked all around Santa Fe’s halls of power.
Richardson and friends moved quickly to transform that surplus into little more than words in Gary-Johnson-for-President campaign materials.
Almost from the get-go, Richardson created solutions to problems that didn’t exist – at least not in any pressing way. Certainly traffic on I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe had picked up.
But trust me, it wasn’t akin to trying to cruise I-95 from Baltimore into Washington D.C., and really, how many New Mexicans benefit from the $500 million Rail Runner?
Things didn’t really get much better. So-called bold, progressive initiatives sound wonderful.
On paper, they’re even cooler (you can always add “architectural concept” drawings to dazzle the crowd, you know). But paying for these “solutions” never seemed to be in the equation.
Already cash-strapped southern counties found themselves proud owners of a space base The Story knew would make for grand headlines.
Headlines do not feed the chihuahua, of course, and Martinez inherited the unenviable $500 million deficit.
Think back for a minute. Rare was the day over the last eight years that The Story wasn’t THE story above the fold.
But the The Story’s ended; riding off, one supposes, on his horse to reflect and write the book tens of Americans are dying to read.
God speed, Gov. Richardson. And God save the Queen.
NM News Services