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Sunday, September 19, 1999
Each Governor Left Own Legacy
By Larry Calloway
Of the Journal
New Mexico entered the 20th century seeking statehood and self-government after more than 50 years as a territory run by appointed governors. It was a conquered land.
The elected territorial Legislature may have spoken for the people, but the real power was in Washington. Most New Mexicans knew that to gain equal footing with other Americans, they needed statehood and full representation in Congress.
As the century dawned, New Mexico was Americanizing as fast as it could -- but not fast enough for the gatekeepers of statehood. One of them, U.S. Sen. Albert Beveridge, R-Ind., brought a subcommittee through the forsaken territory in November 1902 and confirmed all his suspicions.
In Las Vegas, he remarked with dismay: "Nearly all the signs were in Spanish where they have groceries and meat markets. What is the reason for that?"
The 57th Congress, as so many others before, adjourned in 1903 without enabling statehood for New Mexico and Arizona.
"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," observed Northern Colorado University historian Michael Welsh.
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. Indiana, with 3 million people, would have the same number of senators as New Mexico, with 200,000, and Arizona, with about 100,000.
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.
New Mexico approved, 26,195 to 14,735, with all but some Hispanic northern counties saying yes. Anglo Arizona killed it, disapproving 16,265 to 3,141.
Four years later, separate New Mexico and Arizona enabling acts were passed -- with extraordinary provisions to assure the schools would be nonsectarian and taught in English and that legislators and officials would be literate in English.
The constitution ratified by the voters in 1911 set up an elected judiciary and a weakened executive with power distributed among several elected officials. It required that Hispanic children would never be "classified in separate schools."
Hispanos and Anglos were well represented at the constitutional convention, but women and Native Americans were not. The constitution allowed women to vote only in school elections, Indians in none.
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 became New Mexico's dominant politicians, particularly as the state came to depend more and more on federal spending. Most U.S. representatives, it seems, aspired to be senators, and three of them made it. Some governors tried, and none succeeded, at least by election.
Bronson M. Cutting was born into New York City aristocracy. He arrived in Santa Fe by private rail car in 1910 at age 23 after graduation from Harvard, seeking relief from tuberculosis. He was a Progressive Republican who knew Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The New Mexico Republican Party, on the other hand, was the domain of large landowners including Thomas B. Catron, Holm O. Bursum, Solomon Luna and Albert Bacon Fall. Catron and Fall were the U.S. senators.
Cutting biographer Richard Lowitt tells how the young gentleman from the East sought the tutelage of minority-group Democrats like Miguel A. Otero, who was territorial governor from 1897 to 1906, and Arthur Seligman, a descendant of Jewish merchants, who would become governor in 1930.
Six months after statehood, Cutting bought the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper and began building a political base. He had served in World War I as an intelligence officer. Back home, he began organizing Hispanic posts of the American Legion and rose in the national organization. At one time, he was chairman of its Americanism committee.
Cutting remained a Republican but sometimes supported Democrats, including U.S. Sen. A.A. Jones. And when Jones died in December 1927, another for whom Cutting had been a benefactor, Republican Gov. Richard Dillon, appointed him to the Senate.
Cutting was elected to a full term in 1928 in a Republican sweep. Herbert Hoover was elected president. Everything was wonderful for Republicans.
Eleven months later, the stock market crashed, launching the Great Depression. In election year 1932, Cutting was shunned by New Mexico Republicans for his refusal to support Hoover. In a famous moment, FDR's campaign train stopped at Lamy, and Cutting stood by him on the rear platform.
In the north, Cutting created what biographer Lowitt calls a "fusion" with the Democratic Party. Overnight, the Hispanic north turned Democrat, which it remains to this day.
Democrats took control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time by wide majorities. And a first-term congressman named Dennis Chavez was re-elected.
Cutting was invited to FDR's Warm Springs, Ga., retreat, where they talked for two hours. The alliance might have been important: The new president would serve for an unprecedented 12 years, during which the New Deal, World War II and the Manhattan Project would change New Mexico.
In 1934, Democrat Chavez made a bold political move -- giving up his House seat to challenge Cutting, despite the FDR Republican's 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 seat to Hatch and capture the other for himself, Chavez probably founded the Democratic Party's balanced-ticket strategy that included one Anglo and one Hispanic U.S. Senator.
FDR endorsed Chavez, even though the congressman had not supported him in 1932 and went around proposing a 25 percent reduction 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 -- except Chavez. Cutting was re-elected by a contested count of 76,245 to 74,954. Chavez protested all the way to Congress.
On May 5, 1935, Cutting boarded an airliner for Washington to deal with a development in the Chavez contest. 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. Cutting and two others were killed.
Chavez was appointed to the vacant seat immediately after the funeral. He would serve in the Senate 27 years and be memorialized as New Mexico's lone entry, so far, in Statuary Hall of the nation's Capitol.
The Tingley era
The governor who appointed Chavez was Clyde Tingley, a Democrat who moved to Albuquerque from Ohio in 1911 because of his wife's tuberculosis.
Tingley proposed and got legislation creating a sales tax for public education. He traveled to Washington to secure federal relief programs for the state.
In 1937, Tingley persuaded the Legislature to propose a constitutional amendment removing the two-term limit so he could run again. As the special ratification election approached, he heard rumors of opposition from three powerful Democrats: former Gov. A.T. Hannet, John E. Miles and Chavez.
Lawyer/writer/politician William Keleher recalled inviting them to the governor's office to hear Tingley's pitch. An embarrassing silence ensued. 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 replied, "Senator, neither did I consult anybody when I decided to appoint you to the United States Senate." Chavez made no response. The meeting was over. The amendment was defeated. Tingley resumed his former position as chairman of Albuquerque's city commission and until 1947 used his contacts and skills for the benefit of the city, probably at the expense of the state as a whole.
The suggestion that three powerful Democrats could control a special election is a chilling reminder of the dark side of New Mexico politics: the patrón system. Villages, extended families and religious societies had been operating by consensus for centuries, but the control of voting blocs by political bosses was something else.
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 many lived in self-sustaining traditional communities.
The situation was even worse on the Navajo Reservation, which in 1932 also suffered drought, but the Navajos had allies in the FDR administration. Interior secretary Harold Ickes used to vacation at Coolidge.
To alleviate overgrazing, the administration proposed expansion of the Navajo Reservation by more than 2 million acres. Ranchers opposed the legislation, and Chavez used his parliamentary skills to delay it until the administration gave up in 1938.
Historian Donald L. Parman concluded from Chavez's letters that his problem was with Ickes, not the Navajos. Ickes, who held Chavez responsible for the death of Cutting, appointed Cutting partisan John Collier as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and appointed Cutting's former personal secretary, Edgar Puryear, as national director of the Public Works Administration. Chavez was affronted. More specifically, he wanted control of the PWA jobs in New Mexico, according to Parman.
Chavez told a campaign rally in Gallup, "I'll let the Indian Bureau know that all the people in New Mexico are not Indians."
Prosperity and scandal
The postwar period was probably the healthiest of the century, economically. The oil, gas and uranium industries boomed. On the other hand, ranching and farming declined, as did small towns and Hispanic political clout.
The growing cities began to determine elections, but with urban politics came urban vice and corruption. The case of an 18-year-old Las Cruces waitress named Ovida "Cricket" Coogler shocked the state. She was known in the bars and illegal gambling halls of Las Cruces as a playmate of politicians from Santa Fe. The chairman of the state Corporation Commission had been charged 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 evidence could be gathered.
Then came the revelation that Doña Ana County Sheriff A.L. "Happy" Apodaca, one of his deputies and former State Police Chief Hubert Beasley had detained a black man from North Carolina and tortured him to extract a Coogler murder confession. The three were convicted of federal charges in the crime and spent a year in La Tuna reformatory.
Edwin L. Mechem of Las Cruces ran for governor in 1950 on a pledge to clean up gambling and to reopen the Coogler case. His victory made him the first Republican governor since Dillon left office in 1930. He served four two-year terms in 12 years. The murder case was never solved.
A conservative Democrat with a background as an FBI agent, Jack M. Campbell, was elected governor next, in 1962. Campbell, the immediate past 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 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 David F. Cargo, a maverick Albuquerque Republican legislator from Michigan, beat him in an upset based on a landslide in the Albuquerque Heights.
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 courthouse raid by land-grant followers of Reies Lopez Tijerina gave the Legislature an opportunity to get back at Cargo. A legislative committee mounted an investigation into administration complicity, which was never proved. Cargo's wife, the former Ida Jo Anaya of Belen, had been an inactive member of Tijerina's Alianza.
Cargo is the only modern governor to be forced to call out the National Guard to deal with civil disturbances -- following the courthouse raid and, later, during anti-Vietnam rioting at UNM.
The 1960s, remembered romantically for northern New Mexico communes, 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 -- 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 had represented New Mexico in the U.S. House through the war, moved up to U.S. senator in 1948 after a stint as President Harry Truman's secretary of agriculture.
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 would 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.
Anderson helped build the World War II weapons labs into Cold War weapons labs. He was part of the group of Western senators who changed the landscape with flood control projects, reclamation projects and the giant Colorado River Storage Project. Anderson also earned the title of "Father of Medicare."
Dennis Chavez died in office in November 1962. Mechem resigned as governor in order to be appointed to succeed him, but the deal didn't go over with the voters, and two years later U.S. Rep. Joseph M. Montoya defeated Mechem, stepping up to the Senate.
Montoya, who spent his entire adult life in politics, 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 last campaign slogan was "He Delivers."
His defeat in 1976 by lunar astronaut Harrison Schmitt marked the end of the Anglo-Hispanic Senate balance. But 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.
Another key 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 ethnic politicians. Pete Domenici defeated Dave Cargo in the Republican primary.
Anderson wanted to finish his career as Democratic national committeeman from New Mexico, but Bernalillo County Democratic Chairman Rudy Ortiz ran against him and won. It was a symbolic victory for a new faction, but not without consequences.
When the Daniels campaign sent out a newspaper ad with a claim that Anderson endorsed Daniels, the senator issued a devastating statement published the day before the election. He said the ad was 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 by 30,000 votes, receiving 54 percent of the total votes cast. 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 of Anderson might have made the difference in 1972. "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 wrote in "Cowboy in the Roundhouse."
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 Anderson rebuff. 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 organized the rebuff, would become governor in 1982.
Athlete Apodaca 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.
When he was sworn in as governor, Apodaca was introduced by his supporter Jack Campbell, who said, in so many words, "If Jerry Apodaca messes up, he'll be the last Hispanic governor."
The faded public careers of Apodaca and Anaya are reminders of a 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."
In this context, King probably did a big favor for Domenici by defeating him in 1970. Domenici was described by Helen Dewar of the Washington Post as "a sandy-haired Italian from a state where ethnic politics is spoken with an Hispanic accent." In 1978 he won a second term by defeating Anaya with 53 percent of the vote. Since then, he has been re-elected three times with margins of 72, 73 and 65 percent.
He has done so as an outspoken critic of the patrón system, but Democrats accused him of turning into a "godfather" himself. He recruited Heather Wilson, who succeeded the late Steve Schiff in Congress.
Domenici was suddenly called to national power when the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1981, and he was elevated to chairman of the Budget Committee. The former math teacher did the math on how to attack the national deficit and stuck by the results, opposing political tax cuts and pork 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."
When Congress and the Clinton administration finally struck the historic agreement to balance the budget by 2002, Domenici received much of the credit.
Domenici's deficit-reduction fight didn't stop him from bringing federal money to New Mexico, which now receives almost two dollars for each dollar paid in federal taxes -- the highest return in the nation.
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."
Analysis of the process
The office of U.S. senator is so crucial to the dependent New Mexico economy that speculation has already started about who will succeed Domenici, or for that matter, Bingaman, in the next century.
U.S. representatives usually have the advantage in New Mexico Senate races. And that would include Democrat Bill Richardson, the U.S. Energy secretary, who represented northern New Mexico in Congress for eight terms. Richardson, who is Hispanic, moved to New Mexico not long before the seat was created by reapportionment. His resignation from Congress in 1997 to accept President Clinton's appointment as United Nations ambassador came as the House turned Republican. (Previously, Republican Manuel Lujan Jr., who represented Albuquerque in a Democratic Congress for 20 years, ended up as Interior secretary in the George Bush administration.)
Governors, by contrast, have usually been at a disadvantage in New Mexico U.S. Senate races.
King, with no higher office ambitions, returned with a third four-year administration accompanied by an Albuquerque-Santa Fe-Las Cruces building boom. Part of it was his doing. Expensive incentives worked out by his administration, with the help of Domenici, lured Intel and its satellites to the Rio Rancho area. Ironically, Intel contracts put labor contractor Gary Johnson in a good financial position to run for governor. King the rancher was 70 when he lost to Johnson the triathlete in 1994.
King mused that politics had changed radically. When he beat Domenici in 1970, he did not even take a poll. "I knew two-thirds of the people in the state back then," he said in his book. King learned his politics when a candidate's reputation was communicated person to person. But by the 1990s, politics was all polls and high-production-value TV. "The grapevine doesn't work anymore," King said.
On the bright side, the patrón system doesn't seem to work any more either. King was patrón-friendly and could always count on the support of Emilio Naranjo, the Rio Arriba County Democratic chairman for more than 40 years.
Johnson's re-election in 1998 made him the first governor to serve consecutive four-year terms under a constitutional amendment. He brought a new force into New Mexico politics: Indian gambling interests. They financed a large part of both his campaigns. Johnson signed whatever compacts the gambling tribes needed and defended them.
The emerging cash position of some pueblos came after years of neglect by New Mexico politicians. The state was the last one to withhold the right to vote from "Indians not taxed," and the pueblos had to fight through the federal courts to get it in 1948. 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. And they had to fight Clinton P. Anderson to pass the 1970 bill returning sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.
Noneconomic uses of New Mexico's public lands generally did not find favor with politicians during the century. Domenici championed the ranchers in fights over grazing fees and privatization of grazing leases. But in 1998, voters in the northern congressional district elected Tom Udall, who was a wilderness advocate in the manner of his father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. Anti-nuclear environmentalists delayed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The Green Party began having an effect on elections.
Johnson did not court the environmentalist or the ethnic vote. On the contrary, he derided the Hispanic leaders in the Legislature. But most of all, Johnson's popularity was because he was a non-Democrat. New Mexicans had grown tired of politics as usual.
However, in the middle of his second term, the maverick governor alienated some Republicans by speaking out in favor of decriminalizing drugs.
New Mexico voters, when they can, 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 "shake-up" 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'll do it again in the 21st century. They have the right. At the beginning of the century, it was called self-government. It's the American way. The century, in fact, is called "The American Century" globally. And that's a pretty good name for it here locally.
An avid student of New Mexico history, Larry Calloway has covered state politics for more than 30 years. Calloway's column -- often about politics -- appears on the Journal's editorial page.