Bernie Sanders in Vado. Bill Clinton to Española, Trump to Albuquerque. Susana Martinez factions facing off at Sandia casino. And, sure, Martin Heinrich could end up on the ticket with Hillary Clinton. But I am remembering the old New Mexico guys today.
By the way, doesn’t New Mexico seem just a little too funky for Trump? Will he take off his tie? Be able to find a taco bowl? In New Mexico, we wear our best jeans to graduations and funerals, Mr. Trump. Yes, we have golf courses and casinos, but few, if any, gilded columns. And I’m not going to get into walls.
All of which causes me to remember that Pete Domenici, Jeff Bingaman and the late Bruce King were the state’s two longest serving U.S. senators and its longest serving governor. My career as a New Mexico reporter and editor paralleled theirs and, looking back, it was like riding in stirrup-high grass compared to the stretch of political malpais we’re scraping through today.
I know that word “nice” epitomizes the knocks on all three men: Domenici condemned as patronizing; Bingaman scorned for seeming bland; King accused of benign neglect.
But I say they were good guys in many instances, too, and, each in their own way, good for our state. No, they did not free us from colonial grips, but, shoot, much of our history still drives right alongside us, not dismissed in the rear-view mirror.
The New York Times Magazine had a great issue on cancer research last weekend. It mentioned the Human Genome Project, a kind of nucleus for recent immunotherapy advances, and that sent me to reading about the history of the project. Quickly, I found references to Domenici’s advocacy of federal government involvement, at Los Alamos and elsewhere, as being key to the momentum of the international effort.
I can remember Domenici’s intensity about the genome project, his pride in work done at Los Alamos. I don’t know whether it was more fascination or comprehension for this red-haired, chain-smoking former baseball player from Albuquerque, but he brightened when the subject came up. We can make fun of all the buildings and highways named after him now, but the guy had vision. Complicated vision: Politically, he had to be as much a champion of acequias as of nuclear power.
Bingaman always was more modest than Pete, but if for nothing else, I hail him for the fuel emission standards we have in place nationally today. And I thank him for working in tandem with Domenici, if not quietly persevering and leading the way, to get the Valle Grande/Baca Ranch into public hands.
Bingaman was only one of 23 senators to vote against the war in Iraq, by the way. (Hillary Clinton was not one of them). I am also a fan of Barack Obama and one of my favorite pictures of Bingaman is of him conferring privately with the president, two super-smart, lawyer-politicians in the Rose Garden. It’s good when you trust the egg-heads getting together in Washington. Bingaman also voted for the Affordable Care Act, which I hope will flourish as a monumental achievement of the Obama years.
This isn’t a laundry list of Domenici and Bingaman contributions, nor do I mean to overlook controversies, (although there were few in Bingaman’s case). It’s just a few things that have meant a lot to me. And it’s not to say that I don’t appreciate their successors, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich; I like them both. I wouldn’t be surprised if Heinrich rockets up the ladder with Hillary Clinton this year, but Domenici and Bingaman were Senate committee chairmen and served for 36 and 30 years respectively.
People used to say that it seemed Bruce King was governor forever. It was 12 years in three, non-consecutive terms, in fact, and Domenici and Bingaman were in the Senate much longer. But Bruce King, in terms of our consciousness, was expansive in other ways.
New Mexico was in high cotton financially most of the time King was governor. Money and its wise management gave a poor state reasons for hope. Although both are in need of revisiting now, we passed the public school equalization formula and the severance tax system during his tenure — two of the most important structures of state government today. Rewriting of the Children’s Code and creation of the Children, Youth and Families Department probably are big things, too. And, yeah, I remember the 1980 prison riot, but I think we all had a thing or two to learn there. We tend to lock prisons out of our view, and we probably have done so again since heavy privatization of the system under Gary Johnson, King’s successor.
To me, the biggest thing about Bruce King will always be how much he loved his state.
When Bruce and Alice were in the governor’s mansion, it felt like the whole state was on a first-name basis. Our population was half was it is now and it wasn’t far-fetched to think of encountering Bruce King’s bootheels clumping toward you, angling for a bear-like embrace.
Bill Clinton came to King’s funeral. And King had insisted — as had his wife, Alice, before him — that his funeral be held in the “Fighting Pintos” gym at Moriarty High School.
The former president cracked that, whenever he ran into the folksy New Mexico rancher-politician — a famous hugger and hand-shaker who reportedly patted Princess Anne on the back when she visited Santa Fe — he never was too sure whether King was really glad to see him or actually a pickpocket.
In my experience, the King’s were the kindest and most unpretentious of political couples. I admired their wish to be buried under a piñon tree on a small rise at the Stanley Cemetery, near the King Brothers headquarters ranch.
Sometimes I think too many New Mexicans are forgetting who and what we are. And, even though Heinrich and Udall are on the right track, I wish we New Mexicans would more collectively see what Domenici and Bingaman and King saw, and keep building from there.
And now that I’m gushing, I guess I’ve got another soft spot in my historical heart. I can’t sign off without a word for Gov. Toney Anaya, a Bernie Sanders of sorts, a progressive Democrat who was about 30 years ahead of his time but perennially maligned by haters on both sides of the fence.
I continue to think our schools would be in better shape, at least financially, if we’d passed Anaya’s one-cent for education gross receipts tax in 1983. The boys at the Roundhouse had already gutted the tax base the year before.