Thursday, February 10, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: 8 days or 18 Months?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 10, 2011

Last week, former Gov. David F. Cargo disputed former Gov. Bill Richardson’s statement that all governors have sealed their records for an eight-year period after leaving office.

Richardson had ordered his records sealed for that length of time, though this week the state Attorney General’s Office instructed the state Archives and Record Center to allow people to inspect them.

“I released mine eight days after I left office,” Cargo told me. “I hand-delivered them (to the state archives) myself.”

Cargo said he would have handed over his papers earlier, but he hadn’t filled out the necessary paperwork. Cargo left office on Dec. 31, 1970.

So that’s what I reported here on this very blog. 

But a loyal reader pointed me to a 39-year-old Associated Press article that tells a different story, indicating the Cargo papers were unsealed 18 months after he left the Capitol’s Fourth Floor, not eight days.

The late great Albuquerque Tribune ran the wire story in its July, 15, 1972, edition under the headline “Never again!” The story was focused mainly on the fact that Cargo — who had just been defeated by Pete Domenici in the Republican U.S. Senate primary — had said he would never again run for office in New Mexico.

And Cargo kept that promise ... unless you count a 1986 race for Congress, a 1994 run for governor or a couple of campaigns for mayor of Albuquerque ...

But the story also said Cargo was “instructing the state to allow open access to the documents accumulated over his four-year stay in the Governor’s Mansion.”

“I’ll never run for office in New Mexico again,” the story quoted the former governor as saying. “Not any office. So there’s no reason why history can’t put a judgment on me now if they want.”

Cargo said in the story that he’d written letters to the archives director, Myra Ellen Jenkins, instructing her to unseal his documents.

“I’m the only governor who’s done this and I figure the public’s entitled to it,” Cargo said.

He made his decision to unseal the records the night before, the story said. “The records, which include documents, letters, notes, memoranda, etc. had been locked away in the state archives under the standard 20-year moratorium against inspection,” Cargo said in the story.

Apparently he did make good on that. A few days later, Larry Calloway, reporting at that time for The Associated Press, wrote a story, published in The New Mexican, about land-grant activist Reies Lopez Tijerina and the 1967 raid on the Rio Arriba County courthouse in Tierra Amarilla. The story, Calloway wrote, was based on intelligence reports that had just been unsealed from the Cargo records.

Unsealing and unsealing again: Asked Wednesday about the discrepancy, Cargo insisted that he had unsealed his records a few days after leaving office. “That’s really strange,” he said. “I remember I delivered them myself to the archives,” he said.

Nobody’s disputing whether he delivered the documents in January 1971. But if the AP story is accurate, Cargo made the decision to unseal in July 1972.

“I must have unsealed them twice,” Cargo said.

Meanwhile, back in 1972: According to Calloway’s piece, there were huge gaps in Cargo’s files on Tijerina and his group Alianza Federal de Mercedes. Missing were files pertaining to the raid as well as the subsequent — and still unsolved — slaying of jail guard Eulogia Salazar, who claimed Tijerina had shot him during the raid.

Calloway wrote that historian Jenkins “showed a box of about 250 empty file folders in the Cargo papers, including a half a dozen with titles bearing directly on the Alianza and the courthouse raid.”

Cargo said Wednesday that he ran into the same problem when researching his biography Lonesome Dave, which was published last year. “All of the files were missing,” Cargo said.