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Remember Bruce and Alice King

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By Jay Miller

Bruce and Alice King came as a set. Once one piece was gone, the other wasn’t very functional. They campaigned together as a two-fer long before Bill and Hillary picked up on it.

Alice was Bruce’s campaign treasurer and he never spent a cent without her approval. One night when I pulled out a tattered check to pay for his book, “Cowboy in the Roundhouse,” Bruce mentioned that Alice also gave him only one check at a time.

When Alice died about this time last year, Jeanette and I were in an Abu Dhabi hospital with extremely little communication with the outside world. It is a business center with no desire to cater to tourists.

When Bruce died, we were floating on the Amazon, hundreds of miles from any communication except for jungle drums. Thus, it seems appropriate for Jeanette and me to talk about Bruce and Alice together now.

Bruce knew my father first. He was president of the college in Silver City. So Bruce put me in that category, to remember my name. “How’s your dad down in Silver City?” he would ask, hoping that sometime during the conversation, he would remember my name.

Jeanette slung hash and chile for Bruce during his 1970 gubernatorial election. That was under Alice’s watchful eye, of course. Alice and Jeanette became fast friends. When the Kings moved into the mansion, Alice explained that she was a farm wife and not accustomed to formal entertaining.

Alice was not about to hire staff to handle such things, so Jeanette and friends became her chief entertainers. The Kings never said much about the mansion being just a residence. Other governors through the years would talk about their homes being bigger than the governor’s mansion. It wasn’t that way with the Kings. After the end of his first term, they built their first nice-sized home out on the ranch.

By the Kings’ second administration, four years later, Alice became very interested in children’s programs. She led efforts to establish volunteer organizations to help children and found Jeanette and friends jobs coordinating such activities.

By the Kings’ third term, eight years after the second, Alice busied herself with establishing the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Jeanette became a division director in charge of prevention activities.

Following Bruce’s last term, Alice established the New Mexico Children’s Foundation. Jeanette served as executive director of that for many years.

The Kings were hard to criticize but easy to tease. They were as honest as politicians get, but their rural, folksy ways invited comments such as the marquee during Bruce’s first campaign saying, “Send Bruce to Charm School.”

New Mexicans came to know the Kings as charming people who defined New Mexico politics for a quarter of a century.

Bruce was criticized at times for being indecisive. It was sometimes attributed to Bruce that “a promise is not a commitment.” Those who didn’t know him well may have taken a nodding of his head during a presentation as an agreement.

It really meant Bruce understood the point that was being made. He likely also nodded his head during presentations of the other side of the argument. Bruce was interested in bringing people together to forge reasonable agreements. I don’t know how many times I heard him say “We’ve gotta keep it between the fence posts.”

King was the last of the old-time politicians. Everything was on the personal level. He won elections by talking to more people than any other candidate. He didn’t like polling or paid ads. He didn’t like campaign advisers.

It worked for many years but finally caught up with him in 1994 when a young, well-packaged Gary Johnson bested him. It might not have happened even then, but for his two previous lieutenant governors ganging up on him.

The toughest charge against King likely was cronyism. He appointed many friends to office. But after seeing the results of myriad national searches for the very best, qualified cronies who hide no surprises may be best.