Friday, November 13, 2009

Legendary New Mexico Governor Bruce King is Called By Death at 85; Remembering The Man And His Time 

History will record Bruce King as New Mexico's longest-serving Governor, a successful politician who united the diverse cultures of the state into an effective governing coalition and for the infamous 1980 state penitentiary riot. But he will be most remembered in the hearts of New Mexicans for his authenticity, integrity and love of people. King died Friday morning. He was 85. 

(Coverage and links below this remembrance).

There are certain images that bring New Mexico to life. Our unique flag, the Roundhouse, a chile ristra. We would add to that list Bruce King shaking hands.

King's larger-than-life personality and down home charm endeared him to several generations of New Mexicans as well as national leaders like Bill Clinton. He has often been called the best one-on-one campaigner the state has ever produced.

King's first two terms began in the 1970's, a softer era when negative campaigning was just gaining a foothold. Personal handshakes and relationships mattered and no one shook more hands or cultivated more relationships than Bruce. He learned at the knee of the legendary US Senator Dennis Chavez, who he served as an aide in the early 50's.

King was the personification of the western American of the 20th century. He was an optimist, a doer who loved his land, family and friends.

In 1970, when he won his first term, New Mexico barely had a million residents. Our first sighting of him was on television and on horseback. He embodied the spirit of the state and was readily embraced by both native and newcomer. Back then, everyone knew "Bruce."


There are many great anecdotes about Bruce King but one in particular stands out for us because it captures his unpretentiousness and colors in the character that endeared him to voters. It occurred at the General Mills ABQ plant where the Governor was given a tour of the factory and then a bowl of cereal to sample. He looked around for some milk, but there was none so he moistened the cereal with a cup of coffee and dug in.

This one may be apocryphal, but we love it nonetheless. Governor King is visited by a campaign worker who congratulates him and reminds him of the "promise" King had made to put him in a state job. Bruce mulls it over and replies: "I gave you my promise, but not my commitment."

There were serious occasions where King's gift of gab faltered. During the bloody 1980 state penitentiary riot, he described certain inmates as "smoke damaged." In 1994, seeking an unprecedented fourth, four year term, he could not rise to the demands of modern television. He lost to Republican Gary Johnson by ten points.

But it was the 1970's that were his heyday, as he campaigned in every corner of New Mexico with wife Alice, who was nearly as legendary as him, and tailored his stump speeches to each locale. Together they made an indomitable political team who truly were Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico. Theirs was the ultimate expression of politics as family. We will miss that and we will miss Bruce King.

Hasta la vista, Governor.


Bruce King, "The Cowboy Governor," has died at 85. He served three terms as Governor of New Mexico. He passed Friday morning at his ranch in Stanley. The Associated Press obit is here. Governor Bill Richardson had this reaction:

"Governor Bruce King's death leaves a huge void in our state. Bruce King was an innovative, far-sighted Governor who knew the state better than any living New Mexican. He was as genuine and colorful as his cowboy boots. I can just hear him say, 'Mighty fine,' as he shook another hand."

New Mexico congressional delegation comments are here.

Here's a 2008 video interview with Bruce and Alice King.

King's son, Attorney General Gary King, made the announcement:

"Bruce King would be the first one to tell us all that death is just another phase in the cycle of life and that we must go on with our lives trying to do the best we can while helping others make their way too. None of us in the family thought this day would come so soon after we lost my mom Alice King, but we are comforted by the thought that Bruce and Alice can be together once again," says AG King.

Governor King was with family members when he passed away this morning at his ranch in Stanley. Funeral plans are pending and will be publicly announced at a later time. The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the New Mexico Children's Foundation."

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