Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Bruce King Funeral

A version of this will be published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 22, 2009

MORIARTY — There were old political allies as well as some old political opponents. There were officeholders, judges, state officials and candidates past and present, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives and those in between. Governors, congressmen, even a former president. They filled a high-school gym to pay their last respects to former Gov. Bruce King.

About 2,000 showed up for prayers, hymns and bagpipes — and lots of memories shared by Kings friends and admirers, which included Gov. Bill Richardson, former U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and all three current members of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state.

On the wall behind the makeshift stage was a mural depicting wild horses in a field — appropriate for the man known as New Mexico’s “cowboy governor.”

King, who was a lifelong resident of nearby Stanley, died Nov. 13 at the age of 85. He was the longest serving governor, winning three 4-year terms between 1970 and 1990.
Former President Bill Clinton said that King was one of the first people he consulted when he began planning his first run for president. “I knew I’d get a laugh and I’d get a lesson. A lesson in politics and a lesson in life.”

Besides the Rev. Russell Lee, who presided at the services, Clinton was the only speaker. He said he first met King in 1978 at a seminar in Georgia for new governors. King was not really a new governor, Clinton pointed out, because he’d already served one term. But one reason King attended the meeting, the ex president quipped was “...wherever two or more were gathered, he wanted to be.

“When I met Bruce King, I thought I was a personable, likable, warm, outgoing person,” Clinton said. “He made me look like a psychopathic shut-in.”

Clinton said the King, known for his down-home western charm, immediately struck him as one of the warmest, friendliest people he’d ever met, but joked that the first time King hugged him “I wanted to check in my back pocket to make sure my billfold was still there. But then I realized, it was real. Every bit of it was real, and that he was the same way to everybody.”

Clinton recalled that he and King used to attend governors’ conferences at which then California Gov. Jerry Brown received virtually all the publicity. Clinton said he and King were the only governors there not jealous of Brown. He asked King why that was, to which King replied, “It’s a genetic defect ... I missed that resentment gene.”

One bit of advice that King gave him was that “politicians get into trouble when they forget it’s a job.”

After Clinton was elected president, King and his wife Alice were spending the night in the White House when they received news that their son Gary King, now the state attorney general, had been in a car accident. “They had to race out of there, worried sick about you ” he said directing the remark to Gary King.

A happier memory Clinton recalled was a campaign trip to New Mexico where “Bruce King personally served me huevos rancheros at 4 o’clock in the morning.”
That memory might have sparked the former president’s appetite. After the service he was spotted by KKOB radio reporter Peter St. Cyr at the nearby El Comedor restaurant eating huevos rancheros with Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. They were joined later by former Gov. Toney Anaya.

One of those who came to honor King was Roberto Mondragon, his running mate and lieutenant governor for his first two terms — and who ran against him as a Green Party candidate in 1994, when King lost to Republican Gary Johnson.

“We worked together, we had some differences, we worked things out and we would work together for the good of the state,” Mondragon said after the service. He said King was “a man with a lot of love” and recalled “his really warm-hearted slap-on-the-back and ‘howdy, how ya’ll doin’ ’ It was beautiful. It worked for the cowboy governor and the singing lieutenant governor,” he said, referring to his own second career as a musician.

At a reception at Moriarty Civic Center after the funeral, former Gov. David Cargo, whose tenure preceded King’s first term, recalled a fight he had with King when both were in the Legislature in the 1960s. “I called him a ‘bucolic Rasputin,’” Cargo said. “He said, “Well, Dave, thanks for those nice words.”

Cargo said he and King kept in touch through the years and sometimes had dinner or lunch together.

State Veterans Services Secretary John Garcia, who was a deputy chief of staff in King’s final term, recalled a trip to Mexico City with King. At a restaurant there King worked the room, shaking hands with everyone including the kitchen help. Garcia said King told him, “Some of these people might move to New Mexico one day. They might vote for me.”

King had a very agile mind, said State Treasurer James Lewis, who was King’s chief of staff in the third term. At meetings, King never took notes, Lewis said. “He would give you 50 things to do. Two days later, he would ask you, ‘bang, bang, bang,’ where all these things were. He just had an amazing memory.”

Here's the Bill Clinton eulogy to Bruce King, courtesy KOB: