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SANTA FE — As part of this column’s centennial coverage, I take pleasure in talking today about my picks for New Mexico’s most colorful governors.
Most of this information you won’t find in history books. It is gleaned from personal memories or stories my father told as I was growing up.
Many of my father’s political stories were about Gov. Clyde Tingley who was elected governor in 1934 at the height of the Depression. His campaign theme had been “Order out of Chaos,” But Tingley, who mangled the English language, kept forgetting that chaos doesn’t rhyme with Taos.
Tingley’s idea was to solve New Mexico’s massive unemployment problems by getting as many of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs to New Mexico as possible. To accomplish this, Tingley went to Washington to talk with FDR personally.
Roosevelt was so taken with Tingley that during his 1936 reelection campaign, he took Tingley to several states to explain how the New Deal worked. Tingley got federal money rolling into New Mexico.
When he showed a traveling archbishop all the projects in Albuquerque, the archbishop remarked that the people should canonize him. Tingley’s answer: “They tried that last year and I beat ‘em 2-1.”
Another colorful governor was “Lonesome Dave Cargo” who almost single-handily got himself elected governor twice in the late ‘70s. He had no money and no friends in the political world. But he toured the state by himself in a 1963 VW Bug and painted his name on every rock and fencepost he could find.
Cargo also looked for the media and always was prepared with a witty quip for every subject discussed. His motto was: “Why buy the back page when you can get the front page for free?”
Gov. Garrey Carruthers could be colorful too, even though he was the only governor to hold a doctorate.
He had a sporty little convertible he loved to tool around in. The governor’s security force didn’t think much of that. They would chase him around Santa Fe while he tried to ditch them.
Gov. Carruthers was a faithful member of St. John’s Methodist Church when in Santa Fe. He always invited his detail to join him in church but they never accepted. So Carruthers would try to ditch them when he left.
Security details also had a problem with Gov. Garrey Johnson, a triathlete. Johnson liked to get up very early and run many miles. It wasn’t a favorite assignment.
Evidently Gov. Johnson was left unprotected on some occasions because one cold winter morning he slipped on a patch of ice and had to walk home with a back injury.
For eight years, New Mexicans watched as their governor competed in triathlons and winter sporting events all over the nation.
Protecting the governor seems to be a matter of gubernatorial choice. Gov. Bill Richardson says he had to learn to drive again after he left office. Gov. Cargo says he often drove while his one-man security force, Red Pack, slept in the back seat. And then there are the Alabama governors who prefer to be protected by death row inmates.
Gov. Bruce King certainly was colorful. His cowboy twang has been imitated by half of New Mexico. Everyone loved to watch Bruce work a crowd. With Alice at his side, he could come up with a name or town for just about everyone.
At the end of Bruce’s final term, Alice convinced him to take a two-week Panama Canal cruise. Bruce introduced himself to the thousands of passengers and when the cruise ended, he was at the end of the gangway shaking hands and saying goodbye to everyone.
We’ve missed many colorful governors. Jim Hinkle and his cowboy philosophy. Jack Dempsey, a sixth-grade dropout, but an astute businessman and politician.
And John E. Miles who ran for land commissioner after being governor, explaining that land commissioners have much more power.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based out of Santa Fe.