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Editorial: Cargo a New Mexico leader ahead of his time

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At an age when many folks are just figuring out what they really want to be when they grow up, Dave Cargo was elected governor of New Mexico. And at the tender age of 37 he already had big ideas that were way ahead of the late ’60s and traditional party ideology.

Cargo, a Republican with liberal roots, died Friday at the age of 84.

As a state representative in the early 1960s, Cargo successfully sued to force redistricting of the House based on population, rather than at-large county elections, to ensure better representation of minorities and viewpoints.

As governor he tried to “drag (the Legislature) kicking and screaming into the 20th century” and his list of accomplishments included a state Human Rights Commission and the nation’s first state film office.

And while other causes were not codified until he left the Capitol, Cargo was prescient in advocating for the kind of good-government rules and regulations we take for granted in 2013, including a code of legislative ethics, the regulation of lobbyists, a more streamlined government, statewide kindergarten and a clean-air law.

Cargo’s two-term governorship was not without drama – perhaps as much a reflection of the times than of him or his leadership. He twice had to quell protests: the 1967 raid on the Rio Arriba County Courthouse and the 1970 sit-down strike in the University of New Mexico Student Union Building.

Cargo left the governor’s mansion in 1970 and did not win election to state or federal office after that. A personal and political maverick with a quick smile and congenial personality, he embraced his nickname, “Lonesome Dave,” joking “it’s cheaper going alone. You don’t have to buy hamburgers for everyone.”

And the underlying message to that – to not be wedded to an ideology or indebted to a party, to be willing to listen to any and all comers – is a political approach that should never go out of style.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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