SANTA FE – Max Coll of Santa Fe, who was elected to the state House as both a Republican and a Democrat, and chaired its powerful budget committee for 18 years before retiring a decade ago, has died.
Coll suffered a stroke last week and died Thursday night at age 82. A memorial service is being arranged.
Coll was known for his integrity, his wit, his expertise in state finances, his love of the political process and his signature mop of curly white hair.
“He was a powerful presence,” his wife, Catherine Joyce-Coll, told the Journal.
“I think he was more statesman than politician, and that’s what distinguished him,” she said.
A Roswell native whose grandfather, James Hinkle, was governor of New Mexico in 1923-24, Coll was in the oil and gas business, and began his legislative career in 1967 as a Republican elected from a Chaves County district.
He did that for eight years, went to law school and moved to Santa Fe, where he represented District 47 for 24 years, initially as a Republican and then as a Democrat.
In addition to chairing the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, he headed the Legislative Finance Committee – the Legislature’s permanent budget oversight panel – and the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
An ardent conservationist and river rafter, he once likened serving in the Legislature to a “whitewater rafting trip with thrills, a few spills and wonderful friendship and thrilling side canyon hikes.”
His political party switch came in 1983, with the House being run by a conservative “Cowboy Coalition.”
Then-Gov. Toney Anaya, a Democrat opposed to the coalition, remembers persuading Coll to switch parties, paving the way for liberal Democrat Raymond Sanchez of Albuquerque to be elected House speaker.
“I was able to appeal to his social conscience … he believed very strongly in human rights and civil rights,” Anaya said Friday.
Anaya said Coll wasn’t just a stickler for the bottom line, but brought “a sense of morality” to the budgeting process. And he credited him with steering the state toward a more technology-based economy.
David Harris, executive vice president of the University of New Mexico and a veteran of various state finance posts, said Coll pioneered the now-embedded notion of auditing the performance of state agencies.
Coll’s theory was that the Legislature needed to “complete the loop” on the appropriations process by determining whether the money was spent effectively, Harris said.
He also recalled Coll’s “wicked” sense of humor and the cartoons he would draw as he sat through hours of meetings – oftentimes caricatures he would present later to the unwitting subjects.
Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who succeeded Coll in the House, said Coll left a legacy of “extraordinary public service” that included giving a voice to those – groups, individuals, animals, the environment – that otherwise didn’t have one.
Former Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers said that he often disagreed with Coll philosophically, but that they were able to work in a “collegial and noncombative way.”
“Give-and-take was in his blood. … He understood the need to negotiate and compromise – and that the governor needs a win now and then,” Carruthers recalled.
The collegiality didn’t stop Carruthers from striking back one day after Coll criticized him, suggesting that Coll “had his curlers on too tight.” Famously, Carruthers also was photographed wearing a big, white woolly Russian hat he had been given, saying it was his Max Coll outfit.
“He was good-natured about it,” Carruthers said, describing the late lawmaker as courteous and a gentleman.
“He served our state well and he served his constituency well, and he ran a good race,” Carruthers said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.