It’s no secret that the late Gov. David F. Cargo, a lifelong Republican, strongly believed that the modern GOP had drifted way too far to the right.
“The Republicans have gone far enough to the right, they’re going to fall off the cliff,” he told me back in 2004.
A few years ago, Cargo told me about a conversation he said he’d recently had with a state Republican leader. “The problem with you, Cargo, is that you’re a socialist,” his way-more conservative friend told him.
To which Cargo, according to the story, shot back, “Well, the problem with you is that you’re a National Socialist.”
But just because he loved to tweak his own party didn’t mean Cargo was in love with the Democratic Party.
Bill Richardson, who soundly defeated Cargo in the 1986 congressional race, had been governor of New Mexico for less than a week in 2003 when Cargo lodged one of the first pay-to-play accusations against him.
Cargo had applied for a position on a commission overseeing the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Despite being active in trying to save the 64-mile narrow-gauge railroad, he didn’t get the appointment.
“Brian Condit told me that I wasn’t being chosen because I hadn’t contributed to the campaign,” Cargo told me. “He’ll deny it, of course, but that’s what he told me.”
Cargo’s prediction came true. Condit, at the time Richardson’s legislative liaison, indeed denied Cargo’s charge, saying he hadn’t even talked to the ex-governor in several weeks. Condit said it was hard to appoint Cargo after he’d “slammed” Richardson on TV after a debate.
Later, however, Richardson did appoint Cargo to a couple of boards, so the rift didn’t last very long.
Fishing for redemption: Cargo went fishing while a riot exploded at The University of New Mexico. That wasn’t exactly true, but that story broke just weeks before Cargo lost a Republican Senate primary to Anderson Carter in 1970. Cargo never again would win a political race.
Back in 2000, I did a 30-year anniversary story on the UNM riot, interviewing various people involved, including Cargo and one of the people who was stabbed by the National Guard during the incident.
Cargo was going to be host to a Republican governors conference in Santa Fe in early May 1970. However, after the May 4 Kent State killings, campuses around the United States became battlefields. One by one, the governors who had planned to attend canceled. Cargo announced the conference was canceled.
He was friends with ABC newsman Bill Lawrence, who had come to Santa Fe for the governor’s conference. Lawrence, Cargo said, persuaded him to go fishing with him and Mike Wallace in Chama. However, before they arrived, Lawrence began having chest pains. “We turned around and took Bill back to St. Vincent Hospital,” Cargo said.
Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose at UNM. The New Mexico National Guard — called in to help state police clear the Student Union Building, which had been occupied for several days by demonstrators protesting the invasion of Cambodia — used bayonets on protesters, journalists and bystanders.
When local reporters called for Cargo that day, a press aide said he’d gone fishing. Thus began the charge that Cargo was fishing while the UNM campus ran with blood.
“I caught it from both sides,” Cargo said in 2000. “The country was so divided, left and right. There weren’t very many of us in the middle.”
Though Cargo was vilified by some, one of the UNM stabbing victims years later said Cargo actually was something of a hero.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Cargo saved lives,” John Dressman of Santa Fe said in 2000. “We named him in the lawsuit at first, but then, during depositions, we learned that Cargo had ordered [National Guard Gen. John Jolly] not to have bullets with them when they came to campus. So we dropped him from the suit. It had only been four days, but Cargo had learned the lesson of Kent State.”
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