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The New Mexico State University did what it probably should have done 20 years ago. It named former Governor Garrey Carruthers its president.
Carruthers left the governor’s office on January 1, 1991 and entered the world of business, primarily as president of Cimarron Health Care. He then went back to NMSU, where he has served a dean of the business school along with various other university jobs.
I got to know him well as governor, partly because of his openness. Every Monday morning he held a cabinet meeting with his department heads. Every Monday afternoon at 1:30 sharp, he held a press conference to inform the Capitol press corps what the government would be doing. He also answered every question asked.
I also had an added advantage. He was a committed churchgoer, as was our family. Every Sunday morning we had an opportunity to talk before services at St. John’s Methodist Church. Occasionally, he would pass a note to me with additional information.
Carruthers always sat on the end of the back row, nearest the door. I’m sure it wasn’t to avoid people because he was an active church member, serving the congregation in other ways that involved interacting with others.
The reason the governor sat where he could make a quick getaway was in case of an emergency. Two state policemen waited for him in their car during the service. Usually they didn’t chauffeur the governor. He had a light blue Thunderbird convertible he loved to drive and he enjoyed trying to ditch the officers following him.
Gov. Carruthers also had a very helpful press staff, which included Eddie Binder, Bruce Donisthorpe and Mike Cook. Toward the end of the administration all three went to Washington, D.C. where they worked for United States Rep. Joe Skeen.
If Gov. Carruthers has as open an administration as NMSU president as he did as governor, the university will thrive. He already has all the contacts he needs at the university, in the community and in the state and nation.
The new president has deep roots in Las Cruces and isn’t likely to leave as quickly as past presidents have. Since Carruthers left the governor’s office in the early 1990s, NMSU has had five presidents and four interim presidents. None stayed as many as four years.
Of course, since Carruthers did not get his presidential opportunity until age 73, his tenure won’t be especially long. But Carruthers is very energetic and up for the job.
As might be expected, Carruthers brings some baggage with him, some good, some bad. He was a strong supporter of education and economic development during his term as governor and still has that reputation.
During his business career, he had affilitions with Phillip Morris tobacco and an organization casting doubt on global warming. That bothers several Democrats in the Las Cruces legislative delegation. Carruthers says he has no position on global warming. The issue could raise its head at an agricultural university.
The five members of the NMSU Board of Regents split along political lines. The three members appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez voted for Carruthers. The two holdovers from the Bill Richardson administration supported another candidate with NMSU ties.
I have always felt that hiring people from out of state is risky. Despite the selection process, so often there are surprises. In this case, our three research universities (UNM, NMSU and New Mexico Tech) have New Mexicans at the helm.
In selecting Gary Carruthers, we not only got a New Mexican, we got a true country boy to run the agricultural school. He grew up in rural San Juan County and he loves country music.
Those who have been around him know how much he likes country songs and often will quote their lyrics in political situations. His favorite expression may be “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”