State no longer political nonentity

By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist

It didn’t used to be like this. Not in the old days. Not way back when New Mexico was a simple place with simple tastes and simple folks and the notion you couldn’t visit here without a passport.

No one much noticed us, and that was OK. Those days are over. How can you fly under the radar when you have a governor trotting around the globe on peace missions? The world press got out its Atlas and tracked us down. They’re watching us.

Bill Richardson just got back from North Korea. The Democratic governor lectured the dictator about nuclear proliferation. How times change. In the good old days the only proliferation Democrats worried about was the proliferation of Republicans.

Back then there were about 57 Republicans scattered around the state. Before the early 1970s, they hadn’t landed their guy in the U.S. Senate in nearly 40 years. Things picked up for them, though. Two Republicans have resided in the governor’s mansion in the last three decades.

Before Bill Richardson launched his campaign for world leadership, we mostly left the larger issues for others to figure out. To us, “intelligent design” was a study on how the Big I could possibly be configured in Albuquerque so that a car coming off I-25 at Menaul wouldn’t crash into a retaining wall.

Those were the politically incorrect days. In today’s more polite society you wouldn’t hear such brash talk, as you did in the ’70s, of the state being pretty much run by the Mama Lucy’s, predominantly northern and predominantly Hispanic legislators. Mama Lucy’s were in constant political struggle with the Cowboys, predominantly Anglo legislators representing the more rural areas of the state. This was the land of stereotypes.

My introduction to New Mexico politics came during a visit from California with a group of fellow editors in 1970. By pure happenstance, we ended up at a debate between a sharp Albuquerque city councilman named Pete Domenici and his less urbane opponent for governor, Democrat Bruce King.

No contest, the visiting editors agreed. New Mexico will choose the articulate Domenici over the aw-shucks hayseed. We were wrong. Bruce King won the race for governor.

We were right about Pete, though. Domenici was to become a U.S. senator and one of the country’s most influential politicians. As for the hayseed from Stanley, we know-it-all visiting news guys were dead wrong. Bruce was and is beloved by New Mexicans. After his initial term, we brought him back to serve from 1979 to 1983 and again from 1991 to 1995.

You want to talk about change? How about Gary Johnson? The former Republican governor has always been an anomaly at best, a walking contradiction. Last we heard of the fiscal conservative, he had a new girlfriend, new mountains to climb and races to run, and French braids. Go figure.

New Mexican news junkies are in political heaven. My favorite story is that of Democrat Toney Anaya who served as governor from 1983 to 1987. The daily newspaper for which I then toiled was not always kind to Toney, and he didn’t like us much. I don’t blame him.

Facing the uncomfortable task of having to recognize me at a convention of high school journalists, Toney told the kids, “given the choice between introducing Ned Cantwell and the Bishop, I would far prefer the latter. The Bishop only wants me to kiss his ring.”

Those were the days.

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated columnist who is at “those good old days” stage of life. Bear with him. Contact him at: