Friday, March 28, 2014

R.I.P. Max Coll

Former state Rep. Max Coll, who began his career in the state Legislature as a Roswell conservative and ended it as a Santa Fe liberal, is dead. He was 82.

State Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, who succeeded Coll in the House of Representatives 10 years ago, said Coll had suffered a stroke last Friday and died Thursday night.
Coll in 2006 Photo by Kathy De La Torre
For The New Mexican

He was one of the true giants of the Legislature. At the time he retired in 2004, his colleague Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela said, "He's a mountain. He was my mentor since I've been in the Legislature. I learned a lot of what I know about the legislative process from Max."

Wirth said today, "Max Coll was an extraorindary public servant who became my friend and mentor. He shared his wisdom and lessons learned from thirty two years of legislative service. I will really miss him."

Coll served in the House for 32 years. First elected in 1966 as a Republican from Roswell, he represented that district until 1974, took six years off, went to law school, moved to Santa Fe and won election in 1980 from District 47.

After one term as a Republican, Coll switched parties in 1983 and has run as a Democrat ever since. Though he remained a fiscal conservative, Coll  became more progressive during his Santa Fe years. Some said you could see his political transformation in his hair. While serving Roswell, he kept his hair neatly trimmed, but in Santa Fe he was known for his curly mop.

When he retired he said he’d miss “my skirmishes with the six governors during whose administrations I have served.” Indeed, by the time he left office, he'd established himself as one of the leading Democratic critics of then Gov. Bill Richardson.

He followed the Legislature and was seen often at the Roundhouse for years after his retirement.

In recent years he suffered from diabetes and other ailments. He had brain surgery in 2007, but just a couple of months after he was released from the hospital he was spotted at the Capitol, where he was attending a legislative committee meeting.

His sense of humor was still intact. Talking about his condition, he told a reporter, “I came down with a headache. On a scale of one to 10, this was about a 35.”

In 2011 Coll and his wife Catherine Joyce-Coll helped lobby for a bill that allowed dogs in outside areas of restaurants.

He served as chairman of the Appropriations and Finance Committee from 1987 until his retirement. Previously, he headed the Taxation and Revenue Committee.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

UPDATED: 10 am with Wirth quote and other details.