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Sun sets on King political legacy

Attorney General Gary King, shown here campaigning in August, says he has probably sought his last elective office after his unsuccessful bid for governor earlier this year

Attorney General Gary King, shown here campaigning in August, says he has probably sought his last elective office after his unsuccessful bid for governor earlier this year. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Gary King, fresh from a shellacking in the governor’s race and winding up his second term as attorney general, says he doesn’t plan to run for office again – which actually feels “pretty good.”

“Thirty years is probably enough,” said the 60-year-old Democrat, whose first run for elective office was in 1984.

King says he is still decompressing from his loss to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, which ended – at least for now – his family’s prominence in public life.

His late father, Bruce King, was the state’s longest-serving governor and a political giant for four decades. His late mother, Alice King, was almost as well known, an advocate for children and for reforming the laws and institutions that affected them.

Many New Mexicans knew them simply as “Bruce and Alice.”

Attorney General Gary King's late parents, former Gov. Bruce King and first lady Alice King, were in the forefront of New Mexico politics and government for decades and were known affectionately around the state as "Bruce and Alice."(Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

Attorney General Gary King’s late parents, former Gov. Bruce King and first lady Alice King, were in the forefront of New Mexico politics and government for decades and were known affectionately around the state as “Bruce and Alice.”(Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

Other family members – uncles and cousins – have held positions ranging from school board to Legislature to state treasurer, with a King in office somewhere for about the past 50 years.

“There’s plenty of Kings out there,” but none poised to run for office at this point, the attorney general said.

Gary King spent a dozen years in the state House, eight years in the attorney’s general’s office and ran unsuccessfully for Congress and for governor.

He says he can’t imagine not being somehow involved in politics, but it will likely be on behalf of other candidates and causes.

And because in New Mexico the King name is synonymous with public service, there will be plenty of that, he told the Journal in a recent interview.

“I don’t want people to think that I’m just walking away,” he said.

When he leaves the AG’s post at the end of December, King will swap the stunning view of the mountains from his third-floor office in Santa Fe for the sweep of ranchland in southern Santa Fe County, where his homesteading grandparents settled nearly a century ago.

Retirement?

“Nah,” said King, who would like to practice environmental law in a venue that would also tap his Ph.D. in chemistry.

He plans to be more involved with the grant-making New Mexico Children’s Foundation, started by Alice King.

He sees himself supporting efforts to divert more money from the state’s permanent fund for early childhood education and to press for evaluations of how standardized testing is affecting schools and students.

He may continue to work with a project currently run by the Conference of Western Attorneys General to train prosecutors and investigators in Mexico.

“And my Rotary Club is happy to have me back. Providing service in your own community is important,” said King, who lives near Moriarty.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King keeps a photo of himself and his father, the late three-term Gov. Bruce King, on a shelf in his Santa Fe office. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King keeps a photo of himself and his father, the late three-term Gov. Bruce King, on a shelf in his Santa Fe office. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Campaign troubles

King’s campaign against the popular Republican governor seemed snakebit from the start.

“For whatever reason, Gary King as a candidate did not inspire or excite the Democratic Party base,” Albuquerque pollster and political analyst Brian Sanderoff said.

That was compounded by lopsided funding – Martinez spent at least four times what King did – that meant the governor’s campaign was able to define King, even as he was unable to define himself, Sanderoff said. Martinez began pounding him the minute he was officially the Democratic nominee.

“It created a situation where he never got off the ground. He was never able to build momentum,” Sanderoff said.

Another factor: It was a difficult year for Democrats, with the political mood of the nation impacting New Mexico races, according to the analyst.

Martinez swept to re-election, winning 57 percent of the vote and carrying 28 of 33 counties.

Bruce King’s political career ended in 1994 in similarly disappointing fashion. He lost re-election as governor to the GOP’s maverick newcomer, Gary Johnson – a race that also featured King’s former lieutenant governor, Roberto Mondragon, as the Green Party nominee. That followed a divisive Democratic primary in which King’s lieutenant governor at the time, Casey Luna, ran against him.

Gary King contends he “actually ran a really good campaign” this year with no major mistakes.

He shrugs off the fact that he had a series of campaign managers – and none for the final couple of months before the election.

His first campaign manager left after the primary, citing family reasons; the second resigned almost immediately after he was hired when it was reported he had previously sent offensive tweets; the third also resigned, and King told the Journal they “just never meshed.”

“I feel like I did everything that I could possibly do – including putting significant resources of my own in the race when there weren’t other people who were willing to back me,” he said. He had loaned his campaign more than $666,000 for the primary and general contests by late October.

The Democratic Governors Association wrote the race off even before Democrats selected King as the nominee, and that dampened other fundraising, which was already hobbled by the first-ever limits on giving to gubernatorial candidates: $5,200 per election cycle.

“A year and a half ago … everybody said that it was an impossible race for me to win,” recalled King. He finished last at the Democrats’ nominating convention but managed to go on to win his party’s five-way primary election. He got 35 percent of the vote in the primary, with his next-closest competitor, Alan Webber, coming in at less than 23 percent.

Gary King's wife, Yolanda King, and his parents, Bruce and Alice King, look on as he is sworn in as New Mexico attorney general in 2006 by former state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Baca. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Gary King’s wife, Yolanda King, and his parents, Bruce and Alice King, look on as he is sworn in as New Mexico attorney general in 2006 by former state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Baca. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

King didn’t have the resources to counter the barrage of attack ads in the general election, which he blames for the poor turnout – 40 percent of eligible voters.

“The high-dollar, special interest, negative campaigning did what it was supposed to do, which was depress turnout,” King contended.

And if negative advertising is what it takes now to win an election, “it causes me to sort of be glad that I’m at the end of my political career,” he said.

King, whose parents’ legacy is one of civility and compassion, says politics should be about “doing positive things, and doing the right thing.”

“I had hoped that the voters would recognize that they had an opportunity to have somebody who’s ethical, who works hard … what people claim that they want in politics,” he said.

King has no regrets that he spent “a good chunk of my life out shaking hands and meeting people and discussing issues.”

And he says the big disappointment of his career is not that he was denied the governor’s office, but that he never was speaker of the House – a job Bruce King also held.

Gary King served in the House from 1987-98, when Raymond Sanchez had a lock on the speakership.

“It’s one of the things I always really wanted to do because my dad was the speaker, and I think that I would really have been good at it,” he said.

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