Some colorful governors

-A A +A

Political antics include a bust and a $2,000 turkey

By Jay Miller

Who were New Mexico’s most off-beat governors?  My choices are Dave Cargo, Gary Johnson and Clyde Tingley.
It isn’t difficult for most New Mexicans to remember Gary Johnson. He was governor back just the other side of Bill Richardson.  It often seemed as though Johnson was more interested in his athletic feats than in being governor.
But Johnson did attend to business, keeping New Mexico’s budget under firm control while pushing his libertarian views of restraining government from interfering in people’s business or private lives.
That famously included allowing people to do drugs as long as they didn’t hurt anyone else. He also vetoed a motorcycle helmet law, saying people should be allowed to enjoy motorcycling any way they want as long as taxpayers don’t foot the medical bills for bikers mistakes.
Clyde Tingley was governor way back during the Depression.
He was a heavy equipment operator, with little education but his boundless energy, big personality and an eagerness to make things better led to tremendous improvements in the infrastructure of Albuquerque.
Many monuments to his efforts still are standing.  They include the state fairgrounds, Tingley Coliseum, Tingley Field and Tingley Beach.
A visitor Tingley was showing around remarked “Clyde, looks like they’re going to canonize you ...”
Tingley’s reply: “They’ve tried but I beat them every time.”
Tingley’s colorful speech and joy for life endeared him to President Franklin Roosevelt who invited him to the White House an amazing 23 times.
Tingley parlayed that relationship into many more than our share of Depression-era programs for New Mexico.
And then there is “Lonesome Dave” Cargo. He wasn’t really lonesome. He had many friends.
But none of them were in the Republican Party hierarchy.
No wonder. Cargo was a liberal Republican  — something we don’t have many of in New Mexico.
He always had trouble winning Republican primaries. General elections were a bit easier even though there weren’t many Republicans in the state back then. Without any backing and no money, Cargo ran an entirely retail campaign. He had no ads in the papers or on radio or television.
His motto was “Why buy the back page when I can get the front page for free?”
And that he did. Cargo always had a biting quip with a strong message. The media loved him.
During his first campaign, Cargo drove the state in a beat up Volkswagen, painting his name on every roadside rock he could find.
When he ran for reelection, Cargo got a few good sized donations. His observation: “I have $56,000 to spend this time and I don’t know how I’m ever going to spend it.
Today’s campaigns spend 100 times that amount.
That was well over 40 years ago and Lonesome Dave is still around.
That’s because he was the youngest governor in our state’s history.
In fact, he ranks as one of the youngest governors in our nation’s history.
Cargo also is the first governor to have his bust placed in the state Capitol.
That happened last Monday as a result of legislation passed unanimously in the 2011 Legislature.
As with many of Cargo’s doings, the story of how it happened doesn’t seem quite right. During the first year of his administration, sculptress Storm Townsend was commissioned to create a bust of Cargo.
Townsend says she doesn’t remember who paid her but she cashed the check at Safeway and had enough money for a nice Thanksgiving turkey.
Cargo says he paid her $2,000 out of his own pocket.
The placement of the governor’s bust also raises some questions. It sits between the busts of two territorial legislators near the west entrance of the Capitol.
I can remember seeing those two busts in that location ever since the building was dedicated in 1967.
They have been the only busts in the Capitol. But the joint memorial allowing placement of Cargo’s bust in the Capitol approves its placement in the office of the governor.

Jay Miller