A Short (journalistic) History Of New Mexico Politics

(My contribution to the centennial celebration of statehood for New Mexico.)

By Larry Calloway

Billy the Kid is probably the most famous New Mexican, and his story is political as hell. It’s a New Mexico story, often told. In the famous Lincoln County War of 1878 the Kid fought on the side of sophisticated newcomers who identified with poor Hispanics against the entrenched Western Anglo politicos fat with federal contracts. It was not the first conflict in this alignment, and it would not be the last.

Historian Gary L. Roberts drew a similar political picture of New Mexico in his book, “Death Comes for the Chief Justice,” about a fatal shooting in 1867 in the lobby of Santa Fe’s La Fonda. Justice John P. Slough was mortally wounded by a pistol-weilding state senator named William Logan Rynerson of Dona Ana County. Roberts took the incident to be emblematic of New Mexico’s “unenviable reputation for lawlessness, mayhem and assassination.”

But he had a political theory about it, which explains some of New Mexico’s most interesting events. Slough, like all judges, governors, and attorneys general of territorial days, was a federal appointee. Rynerson was on the other side: the elected Legislature, which then as now had its representative share of Hispanic politicians. Slough and Rynerson represented the fundamental conflict.

It developed in purest form in the Lincoln County War, triggered by the murder of William Tunstall. A young British gentleman seeking his fortune in the American West, he defiantly opened a general store in the town of Lincoln in competition with Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan. The Murphy-Dolan gang was well connected with the entrenched politicians sometimes called the Santa Fe Ring and as a result was getting rich off of federal contracts to provide beef to the neighboring Mescalero Apaches. The local Hispanic ranchers were terrorized by the gang. Tunstall’s store became a center of protest, drawing rebellious newcomers including a young Kansas lawyer named Alexander McSween and the Kid. The Murphy-Dolan gang won the war, with the Kid escaping by the skin of his teeth.

Bronson M. Cutting, one of the most memorable Senators, was typical of the newcomers from the East who engage the minority in battle against the established politicians. Born into the New York City aristocracy he arrived in Santa Fe by private railroad car in 1910 at age 23 after graduation from Harvard, seeking relief from tuberculosis. He built an adobe mansion and rode in a chauffered motor car shipped by rail from the East at a time when there were no more than three dozen cars in the state.

Cutting was a Progressive, that is, a Republican who campaigned against the very monopolistic system that accounted for his family wealth. He knew the cousins Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The New Mexico Republican Party, on the other hand, was still the domain of a 19th Century “old guard” bossed by Thomas B. Catron, the aging kingpin of the Santa Fe Ring. The Republican leaders were a wealthy land-based political group that also included Holm O. Bursum, Solomon Luna and Albert Bacon Fall. Catron and Fall were the U.S. Senators when Cutting arrived.

Biographer Richard Lowitt tells how the young gentleman from the East sought the tutelage of ethnic Democrats like Miguel A. Otero, who was territorial governor from 1897 to 1906, and Arthur Seligman, a descedent of Jewish merchants who would become governor in 1930.

Six months after statehood, Cutting bought the Santa Fe New Mexican. Before long he was in fights not only with Catron and Bursum, but also, because of his artistic sensitivities, with arts strongman Edgar L. Hewett. (Another lifelong enemy of Museum of New Mexico director Hewett was Georgia O’Keeffe.)

Cutting served in World War I as a captain in intelligence attached to the U.S. embassy in London. Back home, he began organizing Hispanic posts of the American Legion. He rose in the national organization and at one time was chairman of its Americanism committee.

He remained a Republican but sometimes supported Democrats, including U.S. Sen. A. A. Jones, who helped him with veterans claims in return. When Jones died in December 1927, Republican Gov. Richard Dillon appointed Cutting, who had financed his campaign, to complete the Senate term.

Cutting was elected to a full term in 1928 in a Republican sweep that even elected Albert Simms, who would meet and marry the Chicago publishing heir Ruth Hanna McCormick in Washington. Herbert Hoover was elected. It was wonderful for Republicans.

Eleven months later the American stock market crashed, launching the Great Depression. In 1932 Cutting was shunned by New Mexico Republicans for his politics. In a famous moment, FDR’s campaign train stopped at Lamy and Cutting accepted the future president’s invitation to stand by him on the rear platform.

In the north, Cutting created what biographer Lowitt calls a “fusion” with the Democratic Party. The election of 1932 was a landmark in New Mexico politics because FDR’s landslide victory carried other Democrats with it, and the Hispanic north turned solid Democrat, which it remains to this day.

The switch showed in the Legislature, which has been the basis of Hispanic political power when all else fails. For the first time, Democrats took control Í by margins of 20-4 in the Senate and 41-8 in the House. And a first-term congressman named Dennis Chavez, who beat Albert Simms in 1930, was re-elected.

FDR invited Cutting to his retreat at Warm Springs, Ga., where they talked for two hours. Roosevelt would be president for the next 12 years, during which his New Deal, World War II and the Manhattan Project would change New Mexico forever.

In 1934, Democrat Chavez made a bold political move Í giving up his House seat to run against Cutting, despite his strong Hispanic support. Chavez might have run instead for the other Senate seat, held by appointed Democrat Carl Hatch, who was more vulnerable than Cutting. By choosing instead to leave that Senate seat to Hatch and capture the other for himself, Chavez probably founded  the Democratic Party’s balanced ticket strategy of one Anglo and one Hispanic U.S. Senator.

Chavez based his challenge on a calculation that he could split the Hispanic vote and capture the majority of Anglos in both parties who did not like the Santa Fean Cutting. The hidden issue with the Anglos apparently was Cutting’s manhood, harking back to a frontier tradition that New Mexico could not seem to lose. It was Bursum, a Republican, who said Cutting was not “politically conducive to healthy, virile, sound government.”


Chavez and Cutting were the same age, but Chavez was the son of a grocery clerk in Valencia County. He began his career in government with a job in the engineering department of the City of Albuquerque, went to Washington as a Senate clerk for Jones, and worked his way through law school at Georgetown University Í a pattern followed by later Hispanic politicians.

And then FDR himself endorsed Chavez, even though he had not supported FDR in 1932 and even though he went around proposing a 25 per cent cut in federal spending. Cutting responded, according to historian William Pickens, by saying, on the contrary, “What we do need is an immediate expansion of employment on a colossal scale by the federal government.”

On election day all the Democrats won Í except Chavez. Cutting  was reelected by a contested count of 76,245 to 74,954. Chavez waged a bitter election contest all the way to Congress.

On May 5, 1935, Cutting took a flight to Washington to deal with a development in the Chavez contest. Air service was then was unregulated and crippled by FDR’s cancellation of lucrative  government air mail contracts. Over Missouri, the DC-2 carrying 10 passengers ran out of fuel. Flying under clouds in an attempt to make an emergency landing, the pilot crashed. Bronson Cutting and two others were killed instantly.

The senator’s funeral was in a church at Madison Avenue and E. 72 Street in New York, a few doors from his childhood brownstone mansion. Chavez was appointed immediately to the vacant seat. He is the state’s lone entry in Statuary Hall of the nation’s capitol.


The governor who appointed Chavez was Clyde Tingley, a populist Democrat who arrived in Albuquerque by train in 1911. Born in rural Ohio, he was an outdoorsman and hunter who liked to work with his hands. He had been a machinist in the automotive industry and once worked as a mechanic for the Wright Brothers.

Writer-lawyer William H. Keleher, who knew him well, describes him as garrulous, physically strong and completely honest. Carrie Tingley, his wife, was from a moderately wealthy family in Ohio. They moved to Albuquerque because she had tuberculosis.

In 1916 Tingley was elected to the Albuquerque City Council and named chairman, a position he held until he was elected governor in 1934. Tingley persuaded the Legislature to fund education by creating the state’s first sales tax. It is called “the emergency school tax.” He became a friend of FDR and traveled to Washington constantly to secure federal relief programs for the state. With the support of FDR, a polio victim, he created a hospital for crippled children, which he named for his wife Carrie.


Tingley’s fighting ways didn’t hurt him with voters. The frontier apparently was still alive and well in 1925 when his friend Tribune editor Carl Magee had published something that offended District Judge David Leahy of Las Vegas. According to historian Marc Simmons, the judge encountered the editor at a bar in Las Vegas, knocked him to the floor and began beating him. The editor pulled his concealed pistol and fired three times, hitting the judge twice in the arm and killing a bystander.

Tingley, the “mayor” of Albuquerque, drove to Las Vegas to help bail out Magee. At the city limits he was stopped by a police officer for speeding and taken to city hall, where he slugged the cop. Eventually everybody was let go, including the editor, who was acquitted in a jury trial.

Tingley needed more time to complete his program as governor, and in 1937 he persuaded the Legislature to propose to the people a constitutional amendment removing the two-term limit. As the special election day approached, Tingley was confident that the voters wanted him to continue, but there were rumors of opposition from three powerful men within his own party: former Gov. A. T. Hannet, John E. Miles and Sen. Dennis Chavez.

Keleher recalled inviting them to the governor’s office to hear the governor’s case. “The silence that followed Tingley’s statement,” wrote Keleher, “was significant and embarrassing. Finally Chavez spoke, `Governor, we have all been a good deal surprised and perplexed by your attitude in this matter. You didn’t ask our advice. Certainly you didn’t consult me about your intention to ask the Legislature to submit this constitutional amendment to the people.’

“Tingley instantly replied, `Senator, neither did I consult anybody when I decided to appoint you to the United States Senate.'” Chavez made no response, but the meeting was over. And despite Tingley’s confidence that the people were for him, the term amendment was defeated. The suggestion that three powerful Democrats could control a special election is a chilling reminder of the dark side of New Mexico politics: the so-called ®MDIT¯patr¢n,®MDNM¯ system. Villages, extended families and religiious societies, had been operating by consensus for centuries, but the control of voting blocs by political bosses was something else.

Tingley resumed as unofficial mayor of Albuquerque until 1947. He is credited with a lot of public works including the first airport terminal, the basic state fair buildings, the zoo, the UNM library, stadium and administration building, the veterans hospital, the federal building and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.






A hundred years later, exiles from the dominant culture came to New Mexico in support of the land grant movement of Reies Lopez Tijerina, also seen as a Hispanic undedog. The incident that drew so many political activists from the East was the Rio Arriba County court house raid of June 5, 1967, when Tijerina and about 20 armed followers stormed the tiny town of Tierra Amarilla to free some colleagues arrested on orders of District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez. A state police officer and the county jailer were wounded by gunfire, the sheriff and a deputy were beaten and hostages were taken.


After this incident all eyes were on U.S. Sen. Joseph M. Montoya, who after some hesitation disdained the movement.


The power for the West was in Washington, and most New Mexicans knew that to gain equal footing with other Americans, they needed statehood and full representation in Congress Í by U.S. senators in particular.

As the century dawned, the Hispanic people of New Mexico  were Americanizing as fast as they could, relying as they had for three centuries on their own communities and religion, as opposed to government. The disorganized, underfunded territorial public schools didn’t even get started until after the railroad arrived in 1881. Desperate pleas to fix education would be part of political rhetoric through the century.


In his 1935 inaugural address, Gov. Clyde Tingley said: “The government of the United States, with a stupidity unbelievable today, left the people of New Mexico, recent nationals of another country, speaking another language, almost as it found them, making no provision for education in the English language, for teaching the history of the United States, or for any forward looking enterprise on their behalf.”


The theme of cultural assimilation would keep coming back, in various forms, throughout the 20th Century. “What separates the writing of New Mexico history from that of its neighbors and of the nation is the role played by ethnicity and culture in the saga of New Mexican life,” wrote historian Michael Welsh, a UNM PhD teaching at the University of Northern Colorado.


But ethnic politics can be a screen that hides other politics. In the statehood fight, the hidden issue was the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Beveridge complained that Indiana, with 3 million people, would have the same number of senators as New Mexico, with 200,000, and Arizona, with about 100,000. He must have appreciated the power of a U.S. Senator, because he had it, and he argued that future Western senators, owned by railroad-mining-logging-ranching interests, would be an assault on representative democracy.

In 1906 Congress passed a compromise that would have created one giant Southwest state to be called Arizona with Santa Fe as its capital, provided that the voters of both territories approved separately. President Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law.

Roosevelt had been elected in 1900 in part because of his association with the Hispanic “Rough Riders,” recruited from New Mexico. Their performance against Spanish forces in Cuba may have persuaded many easterners that they were ready for statehood, and Roosevelt may have felt he owed the territory something.


But politics can be cynical. Historian Robert W. Larson, also of Northern Colorado University, found a letter in which Roosevelt confided: “The only reason I want them in as one state now is that I fear the alternative is having them as two states three or four years hence.”

In November 1906, New Mexico approved joint statehood by a decisive vote of 26,195 to 14,735, with all but some Hispanic northern counties saying yes. But Arizona, predominantly Anglo, disapproved, 16,265 to 3,141.

Four years later, as Roosevelt had predicted privately, separate New Mexico and Arizona enabling acts were passed Í with unusual  safeguards indicating deep mistrust. Elaborate procedures protected against giveaways of public land. State officials and legislators were required to read and write English. The public schools were to be free of priests, nuns and religious tests. Classes were to be taught in English without allowance for instruction in any “foreign language.”


The 71 Republicans and 29 Democrats elected as delegates to the  New Mexico Constitutional Convention began work in October 1910. The constitution approved by the voters a year later balanced the “English-only” requirements with a provision that Hispanic children would never be “classified in separate schools.”

Hispanos and Anglos were well represented in the convention, but women and Native Americans were not. The constitution allowed women to vote only in school elections, Indians in none.


The political history of the century shows that issues tend to recycle. The term “liquor interests,” heard today in the round halls of the Legislature, was born in the constitutional convention. When prohibitionists were rebuffed, they blamed the 15 delegates who were in the liquor industry. Historian Larson quotes Minnie B. Owens of Belen, a distraught member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union: “I ask you in the name of the Lord to help. . . put whiskey out of New Mexico. . . I have a boy and a girl to be protected and a husband and the Saloon men have every thing their own way and if we do not do something I do not know what will become of us.”

On Jan. 6, 1912, at 1:35 p.m. President William Howard Taft signed the act admitting New Mexico to the union as the 47th state. “Well, it is all over,” he said to the New Mexico delegation. “I’m glad to give you life. I hope you will be healthy.”



U.S. senators would become New Mexico’s dominant politicians, particularly as the state became dependent upon federal spending. Even the U.S. representatives aspired to be Senators, and three of them made it. Some governors tried, but none succeeded, at least by election.


Federal relief was serious business during the Depression. A third of the families in rural New Mexico were living on less than $100 a year, although more than elsewhere many lived in self-sustaining traditional communites.

The situation was worse on the Navajo Reservation, which in 1932 also suffered drought. Families lost sheep and crops and were living on corn meal. But “help” was on its way.

FDR appointed as Interior secretary Harold Ickes, who according to historian Donald L. Parman had a special fondness for the Navajo Reservation, having vacationed often at Coolidge, N.M. Ickes appointed an eastern reformer and Indian afficionado, John Collier, to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Collier reversed the policy of cultural assimilation that had sent so many Indian youths to boarding schools or Christian mission schools to break their ties with tradition.

Before long, day schools were being built, and 25 aimless Civilian Conservation Corps camps were set up on the Navajo Nation. Collier proposed to expand the reservation by more than 2 million acres in the New Mexico “checkerboard” area.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held hearings on the “Navajo Boundary Bill” in Farmington and Gallup in 1936. Floyd Lee of San Mateo, a Republican state senator and president of the Wool Growers, was typical of New Mexico opposition to the bill and to the New Deal in general. He told the hearing, which included Sen. Chavez:

“I would like to mentionÍ and you gentlemen will see it as you tour this state Í on one side of the road you will see a box car and children carrying a little piece of wood to take to school for their share to keep the school warm this winter Í our children going to school in box cars; and not many feet away you will see a $25,000 or $35,000 schoolhouse, with hardwood floors, inside toilets, and lunches served at noon. There’s where the Indian children are going.”

The administration gave up the Navajo Boundary Bill in 1938 after three years of hard fighting. Instrumental in the defeat was Chavez. Historian Parman revealed the complex reasons for this in a disquieting discussion of New Mexico patronage politics. Ickes, irrationally, held Chavez responsible for the death of Bronson Cutting. As if to spite Chavez, Ickes appointed Cutting’s former personal secretary, Edgar Puryear, as national director of the Public Works Administration, a big source of jobs in New Mexico.

In return the senator tied up the Navajo Boundary Bill. Parman concluded that the senator’s political reasoning was he couldn’t lose Navajo votes, because there were none, and he would gain support from the dominant Anglo ranchers while his Hispanic constituents didn’t care.

So Chavez told a campaign rally in Gallup, “I’ll let the Indian Bureau know that all the people in New Mexico are not Indians.”

Whether the Navajo Nation really wanted a lot of government New Deal programs and their eager administrators is doubtful. Witness Juan Solles of Canyon Corral told the Senate committee: “I am an old man but I have been raised to take care of a bunch of sheep and live on them, and if the government can help us out with a bunch of sheep for each poor family, we can make our own living.” But of course the government’s unpopular livestock reduction campaign to stop overgrazing on the reservation was taking sheep away from poor families.

“How old are you?” one senator asked.

Solles: “I don’t know just how old I am, but you gentlemen may know when we came back from Fort Sumner. I was five years old, my mother told me.” The Navajos had been captured, held for a long time at Fort Sumner, then in 1868 marched back.

Asked how many acres in grazing allotments he had, Solles said, “I don’t know; I don’t know about acres.”


World War II brought change to the Navajo Nation. Historian Parman estimated 10,000 Navajos worked in war plants and 3,000 went into military service, among them the famed Navajo code talkers. The distinguished war record of all New Mexicans, especially the heroes of the Bataan Death March, created a new image of the state, which many Americans had never even heard of until the astonishing news in 1945 that the atomic bomb was built and tested here.

The postwar period was probably the healthiest of the century in terms of New Mexico’s economy. The oil, gas and uranium industries boomed. On the other hand, ranching and farming declined, as small towns and the Hispanic political clout. Albuquerque was on its way to becoming the big central city that would dominate politics.



Along with wealth and intrusion of mass American culture  came corruption. And the case of an 18-year-old waitress named Ovida “Cricket” Coogler shocked the state. She was known in the open-gambling bars of Las Cruces as a playmate of politicians from Santa Fe. The chairman of the State Corporation Commission had been indicted with contributing to her delinquency.

When her broken body was found partially buried in the desert in March 1949, sheriff’s officers moved in and quickly disposed of the body before scientific edidence could be gathered.

More shocking was the revelation that Sheriff A. L. “Happy” Apodaca, a deputy and former State Police Chief Hubert Beasley  detained an African American man from North Carolina and tortured him in an unsuccesful effort to extract a murder confession. The three were convicted of federal charges in the crime and spent a year in La Tuna reformatory. A grand jury investigation of the gambling  produced a report on police misconduct and drunkeness.

Edwin L. Mechem of Las Cruces ran for governor in 1950 on a pledge to clean up gambling and reopen the murder case. Mechem  became the first Republican governor since Dillon left office in 1930, creating a breather in a system that mostly produced governors who were Democrats named John Í John E. Miles, John J. Dempsey, John F. Simms, John Burroughs. The Cricket Coogler was never solved, although a football player who dated her was tried and acquitted. Mechem served four two-year terms in 12 years.

A conservative Democrat with a background as an FBI agent, Jack M. Campbell, was elected governor in 1962. Campbell, the former House speaker, pushed through a public works agenda that was a political masterpiece. He got Interstate Highway construction moving after years of debilitating local opposition to  bypasses, and he built the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the new state capitol complex.


His chosen successor was Gene Lusk, the longtime Senate leader and son of one-term postwar Congresswoman Georgia Lusk of Carlsbad. But a maverick Republican legislator from Albuquerque  threw a monkey wrench in the Democratic works. David F. Cargo, a lawyer from Michigan who was skilled in the use of TV and one-liners, beat Lusk on the strength of a landslide victory in the Albuquerque Heights. Lusk killed himself a year later.

Cargo brought the movie industry to the state and gratified northern villages with personal visits, but he had trouble accomplishing anything in the Democratic Legislature, which resented his constant ridicule of its members.

The June 5, 1967, Rio Arriba County Court House Raid gave the Legislature, including conservative Republicans, an opportunity to respond politically. A legislative committee mounted an expensive investigation into administration involvement. Cargo’s wife, the former Ida Jo Anaya of Belen, had been a member of Reies Lopez Tijerina’s land-grant ®MD0¯Alianza.®MDNM¯ It was the Sixties! Cargo is the only modern governor to be forced to call out the National Guard to deal with civil disturbances Í following the court house raid and,  later, during anti-Vietnam rioting at UNM.

Attempts to understand the courthouse raid and Tijerina arrived at a definition of “Chicanos” as a conquered people whose land was stolen by the U.S. government. News coverage perpetuated New Mexico’s Old West mythology. The event was chief among the symbolic protests of the Sixties expressing ethnic tensions. But it did not change politics. Montoya delayed his denunciation of Tijerina, and when it came, it was couched in McCarthy-era terminology. “I consider him an enemy of the country,” Montoya told writer Stan Steiner. To which Tijerina replied he was “a patriotic son” but was not compelled to go along with every U.S. agent or Senator.

Other symbolic protests, although trivial by comparison, included a fight over use of the image of the Spanish slave-exploiter Esteban as representative of Black culture on the state’s Bicentennial medal; the chiseling off of the word “savage” on a memorial in the Santa Fe Plaza to soldiers killed by “savage Indians;” and the resistance to changing the name of the NMSU yearbook, “The Swastika,” which referred to a Native American symbol that predated Hitler.

The 1960’s, remembered romantically for northern New Mexico communes and “Easy Rider,” filmed here, was not a happy time. In addition to social conflict, there was an economic downturn. Historian Welsh points out that population growth slowed and poverty increased. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was an urban program, unlike the New Deal that helped rural New Mexico. And Vietnam drew military spending away from the weapons labs.

Rancher Bruce King won his first term as governor in 1970, succeeding Cargo. He was a Democrat in the updated tradition of Clyde Tingley Í folksy, unschooled, shrewd and garrulous. He was a masterful politician who remembered names, kept in touch with the people and loved to deal with the Legislature.

The postwar population boom created a new electorate, but many old politicians continued. Clinton P. Anderson, a Roosevelt New Dealer who represented New Mexico in the U.S. House through the war, moved up to U.S. Senator after a stint as President Harry Truman’s secretary of agriculture, with the special assignment of dealing with famine in postwar Europe.

Anderson was another tuberculosis victim who came to New Mexico for his health. He started as a newspaper reporter, then opened an insurance agency. In a typical New Mexico political deal full of insider treachery, Democratic bosses put up Anderson to run for the U.S. House in 1940 with the proviso that he’d simply hold the seat for whoever lost the Senate race that year between Chavez and his ambitious Democratic challenger, John J. Dempsey.

Anderson disclosed this in his autobiography and added that both sides approached him with under-the-table deals to double cross the other side and then filed opponents against him when he wouldn’t deal. Anderson rationalized that he was therefore free of obligation. He won and kept winning, moving to the Senate on the retirement of Carl Hatch in 1948.

Anderson more than any one built the World War II weapons labs into Cold War weapons labs with huge budgets. He had access to all the secrets as a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. And he was part of the cabal of powerful Western senators who changed the landscape with flood control projects, reclamation projects and the giant Colorado River Storage Project. Anderson earned the title of father of Medicare.

Dennis Chavez died in office November 1962. Mechem resigned  as governor in order to be appointed to succeed him in a deal that elevated the lieutenant governor, Tom Bolack, to governor. The move didn’t go over with the voters, and two years later U.S. Rep. Joseph M. Montoya defeated Mechem at the polls and stepped up to the Senate, where he would serve two full terms.

Montoya continued the tradition of bringing home the pork, crediting himself with things like the Navajo Irrigation Project and Cochiti Dam. But he was an old style politician and voters were suspicious of his personal business dealings. Montoya’s slogan as he ran for reelection in 1976 was, “He Delivers.”

Anderson mentioned Montoya only once in his autobiography, and it was a curious mention. He said one day Montoya needed money for a campaign, and he took him to the office of the wealthy Oklahoma industrialist Sen. Bob Kerr. “Bob walked over to a locked safe, turned the combination and peeled off a number of bills,” wrote Anderson, adding, “Bob Kerr certainly got the gratitude of Joe Montoya and me.”

Montoya’s defeat in 1976 by lunar astronaut Harrison Schmitt marked the end of the Anglo-Hispanic balance between the two Senate seats. Republican Schmitt would serve only one term until Jeff Bingaman returned the seat to the Democrats, but not to the Hispanos.

Contributing to Montoya’s loss was his ridicule of Schmitt as a space monkey in a speech he often delivered in Spanish but never in English. It was another of the symbolic cultural issues that underlie New Mexico politics.


A more consequential U.S. Senate election was in 1972, when Anderson announced his retirement. New Mexico wasn’t going along with the mood of the national Democratic Party that nominated George McGovern for president on an anti-Vietnam platform. Conservative banker Jack Daniels won the Democratic . Senate primary, defeating Roberto Mondragon but leaving some bitterness among the ethnic liberals. Pete Domenici defeated Dave Cargo in the Republican primary.

The retiring senator wanted to finish his career as Democratic national committeeman from New Mexico, but Bernalillo County Democratic Chairman Rudy Ortiz ran against him and, with the support of a new ethnic faction, won. Anderson’s resentment of the rebuff would come out later.

He stood back from the Senate campaign, but in the final week the Daniels people made a costly blunder. Without Anderson’s knowledge they sent an advertisement to newspapers that included a claim that Anderson endorsed Daniels. The ad was pulled at the last minute, but the endorsement made it into print in several  outlying towns.

Then on pre-election Sunday night, with a timing that guaranteed maximum impact, the wily old senator issued a statement that the ads were wrong. “I have nothing against Daniels as a senatorial candidate,” he said. “It is just that I have wanted to maintain complete neutrality.” Domenici won the election by 30,000 votes, or  53 per cent. The former chairman of the Albuquerque City Commission was the first Republican since Bronson Cutting to be elected to the Senate from New Mexico.

King had taken the measure of Domenici, defeating him by 25,000 votes in the 1970 governor’s race, and he believed the party rebuff might have made the difference in 1972. In memoir, “Cowboy in the Roundhouse,” King says, “I felt then, and I still do, that if the Democratic party had named Sen. Anderson as national committeeman, he would have maintained his firm control over the party and. . .we might have elected Jack Daniels to the Senate.”

King’s view, however, has a context. His career-ending defeat in 1994 was set up by a similar party revolt, involving his lieutenant governor, Casey Luna, and his former lieutenant governor, Mondragon.

Two future Democratic governors came out of the 1972 party takeover. Jerry Apodaca was elected in 1974 with the support of the Ortiz group. And Toney Anaya, whom King fired as his administrative aide in part because he had helped engineer the Anderson rebuff, would become governor in 1982. Rudy Ortiz would be acquitted in a bribery trial, leave the state for a while and vanish from the political scene.

Apodaca, proud and athletic, was less liberal and more business oriented than his Anglo detractors made him appear. He reorganized government along lines that still exist today. One morning at a regular news conference he introduced a visitor who said, “Hi. I’m Jimmy Carter.” Apodaca became a key player in Carter’s successful, diversity-minded campaign for president in 1976.

Apodaca had the Dennis Chavez formula going for him Ä an ethnic conservative who is not very ethnic. He had a national career going, but it faded as the nation rejected Carter for a second term and marched hopefully into the Reagan-Bush years. When he was sworn in as governor, Apodaca was introduced by his mentor Jack Campbell, who said, in so many words, “If Jerry Apodaca screws up, he’ll be the last Hispanic governor.”

It didn’t turn out that way. The last Hispanic governor would be Toney Anaya, who was elected following another four-year King administration. Anaya screwed up by making too many symbolic liberal gestures, such as his mass commutation of all death sentences to life. His administration ended in 12 per cent approval ratings, a warning that ethnic liberals are not successful in New Mexico.

The faded political careers of Apodaca and Anaya are reminders, however, of a larger political fact of life in New Mexico: the governorship is a dead end. Bronson Cutting saw this at the beginning of the century when he wrote in a Santa Fe “horoscope” for his life: “You will do best not to become governor of New Mexico. You have no enemies now and don’t want any.”

Some recent governors Í Campbell, Cargo, Apodaca Í left the state after their terms. In this context, King probably did a big favor for Domenici by defeating him in 1970.

Domenici was born into a community of immigrants, most from Lucca in northern Italy, who settled in Albuquerque at the turn of the century. Helen Dewar of the Washington Post described him as “a sandy-haired Italian from a state where ethnic politics is spoken with an Hispanic accent.”

The crucial election after his upset victory over Daniels was 1978, when he beat Toney Anaya, then riding a wave of popularity after two terms as a corruption-fighting attorney general. It was his closest Senate victory, 53 per cent. Since then he has been reelected three times with margins of 72, 73 and 65 per cent. And he has done so as an outspoken critic of the ®MDIT¯patr¢n®MDNM¯ system. Democrats accuse him of turning into a “godfather” himself. But his recruitment, promotion and funding of Heather Wilson was hard for diversity-minded Democrats to criticize because Wilson is the first woman to represent New Mexico in Washington for more than one term. She was elected to complete the term of U.S. Rep. Steve Schiff upon his death and then to a full term.

Biographies usually mention Domenici’s truck-driving days in his father’s wholesale grocery business and his half-season baseball career with the Albuquerque Dukes. He went to St. Mary’s High School and the University of New Mexico, married Nancy Burk of Albuquerque and they began a family Í it grew eventually to eight children Í on his salary as a math teacher. He borrowed money from his dad to go to law school in Denver, returned to Albuquerque and became chairman of the Albuquerque City Commission. One of his accomplishments was to revitalize downtown.

Domenici’s sudden call to national power came when the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1981 and was elevated to chairman of the Budget Committee. “He became a Reaganite by necessity,” said one U.S. News and World Report profile, adding, “The administration’s first rosy economic assumptions drove him crazy.”

The former math teacher did the math of lowering the deficit and stuck by the results, opposing cynical tax cuts and porky increases in defense spending. This, as the New York Times put it, “left him in the political wilderness on Capitol Hill and cost him possible higher standing within his own Republican Party caucus.” He lost to Bob Dole for majority leader in 1984. Another presidential hopeful, Phil Gramm, refused to vote for Domenici’s deficit reduction without tax cuts at the same time.

When Congress and the Clinton administration finally struck the historic agreement to balance the budget by 2002, it was Domenici who received most of the credit. But the senator’s deficit-reduction fight didn’t stop him from bringing government money to New Mexico, which now receives almost two dollars for each dollar paid in federal taxes Í the highest return in the nation. Without apology, he created the human genome mapping project at the national laboratories. University presidents signed an open letter in the last campaign, praising Domenici for his support of scientific research, including medical research into mental illnesses. “Only the federal government can afford investments on the scale required for pure discovery,” they said. Domenici rebuilt the ancient acequias in northern New Mexico as well as the air terminal and its freeway access in Albuquerque.

The senior senator discourages speculation that the state’s economy will suffer when he retires, emphasizing development of the private sector. But at the end of the century, federal dependency continues to be a problem. Historian Welsh: “The state has little venture capital, possesses a second-rate school system, relies too heavily on tax revenues at all levels for employment and services, and thus stands behind all her neighbors as the Southwest propels itself into the 21st Century.”

The politicians lined up to be U.S. Senators are legion, but being a Democrat in a Republican Senate, as is Bingaman, is probably not much fun. One way around minority party boredom is executive appointment. Democrat Bill Richardson, eight-term northern district Congressman, became U.N. ambassador and then Energy secretary. Before him, Republican Manuel Lujan Jr., Albuquerque Congressman for 20 years, became Interior secretary.


Governors probably do best when they don’t seem to care about  higher office Í or in recent times, about politics. Garrey Carruthers, elected in 1986, practiced the new style by staying cool and talking about golf. It was easy for Carruthers: he had Maralyn Budke. A bright and effective administrator with a whole career behind her as director of the Legislative Finance Committee, she  ran the state for him for $1 a year.

King, with no high office ambitions, returned with a third four-year administration accompanied by a building boom. Part of it was King’s doing. Expensive incentives worked out by his administration (and probably Domenici) lured Intel and its sattelites to Rio Rancho. Ironically, labor contractor Gary Johnson of Albuquerque was put in a good financial position to run for governor by his Intel contracts. King the rancher was 70 when he lost to Johnson the triathlete.

King in his recent book mused that politics had changed radically. When he beat Domenici in 1970, King did not even take a poll. “I knew two-thirds of the people in the state back then,” he explains. The rancher governor had learned his politics as a Santa Fe County commissioner and legislator at northern political rallies in the 1950s, when the Spanish speeches would last until midnight and the dancing until 4 in the morning. A candidate’s reputation then was communicated person to person. But by the 1990’s politics was all polls and high-production-value TV. “The grapevine  doesn’t work anymore,” King said.

On the bright side, the ®MDIT¯patr¢n®MDNM¯ system doesn’t seem to work anymore either. King was ®MDIT¯patr¢n®MDNM¯-friendly and could always count on the support of Emilio Naranjo, the Rio Arriba County Democratic chairman for more than 40 years. But Naranjo has faded with age and his retirement from the state Senate.

Johnson’s victory in 1994, and his reelection in 1998 as the first governor to serve consecutive four-year terms under a constitutional amendment, dramatized the weakness of politics as usual. The vote from traditional rural areas was overwhelmed by urban “media” areas. In the last election, Johnson challenger Martin Ch vez concentrated his campaign in Albuquerque and didn’t make the rounds in the north that used to be considered mandatory.

Johnson’s election and reelection involved a new force in New Mexico politics. Gaming interests associated with Apache and Pueblo tribes Ä but not the Navajos Ä financed a large part of both campaigns. In return, Johnson signed whatever compacts the tribes needed and defended them.

The emerging cash position of the gaming Pueblos, most of which lack oil, gas or mineral resources, comes after years of neglect by New Mexico politicians. New Mexico was the last state to withhold the right to vote from “Indians not taxed,” and the Pueblos had to fight through the federal courts to get it. They had to fight long and hard to reverse incursion on their grant lands and the act of Congress that confirmed squatters’ rights, sponsored by New Mexico Republican Holm O. Bursum. They won the landmark act of Congress in 1970 returning sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, closing it to public access.

The Blue Lake victory took years because of the opposition of Sen. Anderson. Non-economic uses of New Mexico’s public lands generally did not find favor with New Mexico politicians during the century. Domenici championed the ranchers in fights over grazing fees and privatization of grazing leases. But in 1998, voters in the north, including Santa Fe, elected a new congressman, Tom Udall, who was a wilderness advocate in the manner of his father, former Interior Secretary Stuart Udall. And the Green Party began having an effect elections, particularly in the north.

Johnson, no environmentalist, ingratiated himself the Pueblos but did not court the Hispanic ethnic vote. In fact, Hispanic leaders in the Legislature argued implicity that his campaign derision of “Manny and Ray” was ethnic politics in reverse. Most of all, his popularity was because he was a non-Democrat and because New Mexicans had grown tired of politics as usual.

The voters like to shake up the politicians. They did it when the north and the Legislature turned Democrat in 1932. They did it when a U.S. Senate seat turned Republican in 1972 and another turned Anglo in 1976. They did it in electing new kinds of governors in 1934 (Tingley), 1950 (Mechem), 1966 (Cargo), 1974 (Apodaca) and 1994 (Johnson). Through the century the people kept in “shakeup” practice by expressing their opinions in public and by voting for thousands of local political turnovers and transitions and trials that will never make it into history but kept government representative.

They’re doing it again in the 21st Century, with the nation’s first hispanic woman governor, Susana Martinez, a Republican. They have the right. It was called self government by the advocates of statehood. The thing that native New Mexicans received from the time Kearny marched in, which no other conquered people received, was the right to vote. It’s the American way. The century, in fact, is called “The American Century” globally. And that’s a pretty good name for it there locally.