COWBOY IN THE ROUNDHOUSE
The Political Life of Governor Bruce King
CHAPTER 9 / MY STYLE OF GOVERNING
Every governor brings a unique flair to the job. During my 40 years of service as an elected official, I had plenty of time to develop my own personal style of governing. Folks seemed to think I had a knack for bringing people together, even around divisive issues, and for building consensus among diverse groups. I worked hard to keep New Mexico headed down the middle path, without swinging too far one side or the other. Extremism tends to favor a small number of people, and I had always believed I was elected to bring the benefits of good government to everyone, not just one special interest group or segment of the population. You might say that my political philosophy grew out of my upbringing on the homestead, where any traveler in need was welcome, whatever their background. My parents never asked a passerby whether they were Democrat or Republican before watering their stock at our well.
When it came to the mechanics of campaigning and handling myself in an elected position, I had spent so much of my life around politics that I had a pretty good idea of how things got done before I ever ran for office. My dad’s involvement in politics and his friendships with Governor Clyde Tingley and Governor Arthur Seligman contributed to that education. Then while I was speaker of the House, I worked closely with—and closely observed—two governors who had very different approaches: Dave Cargo and Jack Campbell. Campbell was highly professional, strong on decorum and precise in making decisions. When you went in to see him, he always had a plan, and he would say, “Now this is the way I think it should be.” Then you could present your views and work out the problem with him.
Governor Cargo, on the other hand, was more interested in what the press was going to say than he was in the day-to-day business of operating state government. I suppose he knew that as a Republican in New Mexico, he wasn’t going to influence the legislature very much. When I was speaker and I would go up to see Cargo, he would always let me in. John Mershon would often go with me, as would Dave Norvell, the majority leader, and Seferino Martinez, the House majority whip. Somewhere along the line, Cargo had concluded the best way to have a good working relationship with the press—and everyone else—was to give them free access to him and his office, even to folks like the artist Tommy Macaione. So we legislators would be sitting there discussing things and trying to arrive at a decision, and his secretary, Grace Evans, would call and say, “The members of the press are out here,” or “other legislators are out here.” And in they would come: maybe Fred Buckles, Wayne Scott, or Jim Colegrove of the New Mexican. They would sit down and start taking notes about whatever was going on. I never had any particular secrets, but a lot of times we would be trying to reach an agreement on a position. If the press heard only part of what we were discussing, their stories would be distorted, as you might expect.
Cargo was always trying to get in the limelight. If you went in and gave him your inside information on the budget numbers, for example, you were barely out the door before he held a press conference and released them as his numbers. I saw that policy wasn’t going to work. Larry Prentice, one of Cargo’s administrative aides who had worked in the legislature, once told me, “Mr. Speaker, you worked with Dave down here a long time. You know that anything which will make good press coverage, he’ll release immediately. You better govern the information you pass along with that in mind.” Which is what I decided to do. I told John Mershon, “From now on, we’ll put the bills together and then we will release the numbers.”
During my first 15 to 20 years as a public official, I was able to develop strong working relationships with the press. As governor, one way I maintained this rapport with the media was my policy of working openly, although I wasn’t wide open like Cargo. Still, I always believed that public involvement and working out in the open were the best ways to guarantee good government, so anyone in state government could talk to reporters. I gave the cabinet secretaries authority to speak to the press on their own, and I encouraged them to tell the media what they were doing if they thought it would advance their programs. Most of them had press secretaries, who would meet with my press secretary from week to week. People working under a cabinet secretary would usually clear their statements with the secretary, but that wasn’t mandatory. As a result of my open policy, the media people had confidence in their statehouse sources. Of course, that didn’t mean we didn’t take a thrashing every once in a while over one controversy or another, but I usually ended up each year in office with positive marks from the capitol reporters, and that was important to me.
Sometimes the media accused me of being too low-key in giving direction to the legislature, but my proposals and the resulting accomplishments showed that I enjoyed great influence there. As a legislator myself, I had learned through the years not to lead too strongly. Excessive direction from the governor can dampen the spirits of the legislators. They are a hard-working body, just as interested in meeting the needs of the people as the governor is. Left alone, they will come up with many initiatives that don’t require the governor’s involvement, but that he can heartily endorse. So I didn’t try to direct the legislature on topics that I knew were going to come out about as I wanted them, anyway.
Not that working with the legislature was always easy. After spending so many years as a member and speaker, I had assumed I would continue my easy-going relationship with the leaders in both houses, and for the most part, that was true. On the other hand, I also found that the separation of powers in the constitution did, in fact, change the nature of my relationship with those leaders, sometimes setting us at odds with each other. Furthermore, the constitution puts clear limits on each branch. For instance, the governor can’t spend a single penny of public money until the legislature appropriates it, though he takes the lead in getting his executive budget through the legislature. The legislators, in turn, review the budget requests for each agency, and they are never shy about doing so.
A governor always feels a little friction working with the legislature when it comes to spending money. Legislators each have their home district’s priorities in mind, for one thing, while the governor has a statewide constituency to serve, so there has to be some give and take between them. I liked to solve everything before the last week of the session, so we could close out with a unified front. Sometimes, if the legislators weren’t able to work out their own internal disputes, they would go with my budget and plan as I had originally presented it.
In my 12 years as governor, I never needed to appear before a legislative committee during a legislative session. A time or two I did consider asking for a committee of the whole of both houses to make presentations, but as it turned out I never had that serious a problem in getting my programs passed. I much preferred to call the leadership of the House and the Senate separately up to my office to go over the problems with them. I almost always got the legislation I wanted, except on rare occasions when they convinced me it wasn’t needed. However, my chief people did go down frequently to testify.
The key to all this was having a few experienced people who were intimately familiar with and completely trusted by the legislature. For example, in my first term two of my leading agency heads were Dick Heim, secretary of the Human Services Department, and Bill Giron, secretary of Hospitals and Institutions. Dick Heim had lots of political experience and knew the needs of his department in fine detail. His budget was one of the largest in state government. Bill Giron had wide experience in state government and, like Dick, he was well acquainted with the legislators and enjoyed their confidence. My other agency heads were generally of this caliber. When the appropriations committees of the House or Senate were meeting on those agencies, Dick or Bill would come by my office in the morning and we would spend 20 minutes or so talking over their departmental needs and planning strategy for the hearing.
In my first term, in addition to Bill Giron and Dick Heim, I had Bob Kirkpatrick as head of the Department of Finance and Administration. With Franklin Jones, he coordinated our lobbying of the legislature. I also had two lobbyists working directly between me and the legislators. During this period, Tourism Secretary Fabian Chávez, a former Senate majority leader, and state Banking Commissioner Roy Davidson, a former leader in the House of Representatives, carried the word directly from me to the appropriations committees. If an agency head reported back to me that certain legislators were cool or even opposed to our budget and our approach, or could not understand it, then depending on who the legislator was and who had the best rapport, I would instruct Fabian or Roy to go visit with him or her. Lots of times individual legislators would go directly to one of those two for information, without my even directing a meeting. Fabian and Roy also sat in as staff members on our briefing sessions for legislative presentations and were on hand to meet all kinds of problems. During my second and third administrations, Gary O’Dowd, Kay Marr, and Mike Cerletti filled a similar role, as did my son, Bill, who worked gratis as my chief legislative liaison and was invaluable to me.
I often said that by looking at the name of the sponsor and the title of a bill I could get as good a general idea of its contents as many people would have after reading it. So of course I applied this experience to our briefing sessions. I would comment on the legislators they would be facing. I might tell them that a particular member would view their presentation from a liberal or a conservative viewpoint, and I would coach them on approaches that would appeal to each individual. Afterward, the agency head would go down to the committee hearing and make our official presentation.
We had another resource—the Department of Finance and Administration member who always sat in on legislative budget hearings. These budget people also met in my office with the agency heads to plan strategy, so we had a dual check and a dual presentation. It was a matter of my people knowing their agencies, and the legislature verifying that fact. With this system, I never saw a need to appear in person before a committee during a legislative session. That would have diluted my strength, attracting undue press attention and stimulating legislators to ask a great many more questions than usual.
The legislative leadership knew they could get any answers they needed from me. I met at least once weekly at breakfast during the session with the leadership, and they could take that opportunity to ask anything they wanted. In addition, my office was always open to the leadership and to all the legislators. If they thought they weren’t getting proper consideration or the materials and information they were after, those committee chairmen didn’t hesitate to come flying up to my office, saying, “Look, governor, you’ve got people down there saying these things. . .” and we would talk it over and straighten it out.
It was a two-way street. Sometimes I’d be misunderstood. To avoid a stalemate, I would save some of my ammunition, so when the legislators ran up to me I could easily go over their situation and say, “I’ll discuss it with the agency head and the Department of Finance and Administration people.” Then I would call those people back in and we would compare notes again, and they would go back to the hearings and by that time we would have it straightened out.
The veto is one of the main tools a governor uses to influence legislation. Various reasons could prompt me to veto a bill. I never did it just because a bill had been introduced by legislators who opposed me on some issue or other, even though the media sometimes accused me of doing that. During and after each legislative session I had a number of attorneys going over the bills to determine whether they were constitutional, and what they would really do, regardless of the intent behind the bill. If on review it proved to be a good bill, I signed it; if it was a bad bill, I would veto it, regardless of who sponsored it. Many of the bills I vetoed were backed by good intentions, but they were passed in haste. Sometimes my office did the homework for the legislators, after the fact. When we reviewed a bill carefully, it might become clear that as drafted and passed, it wouldn’t accomplish the ends that were sought, and would cause more problems than it would cure. Often after my legislative experts like Gary O’Dowd analyzed a bill, we would point out the problems to its sponsors and they would want me to veto it. Then they would go to work and send up a corrected bill. This processes benefited the people of New Mexico, because once you sign a bill, no matter what the intent was, it’s what the bill says that counts. As governor I would see an example of that almost every day. People would come up and complain about an existing law, saying, “Well, that wasn’t the legislative intent. . . .” The trouble is, years afterward we usually don’t know what the intent was, and anyhow we are bound by the language.
Many times a bill would go though both houses and different committees, and by the time everyone put in their little bit, it would be greatly changed from the original intent. In a 60-day session the legislators might consider 1,300 to 1,400 pieces of legislation, and it is just impossible for them to know the contents of every bill. Once the bills have been screened through the legislative process, perhaps some 400 will pass both houses and be sent to the governor for his consideration. Then it is up to the governor to know the exact contents of each bill, as far as possible. For that he needs highly professional legislative analysts on his staff who are interested in the governor doing a good job long after the legislature has gone home and the bills have been printed.
The media commented that thank goodness the governor had the power to veto bills, because otherwise many bad bills would have become law. That didn’t mean the legislators always understood why I vetoed a particular bill. At those points, I always called in the key legislators for that bill and told them, “Look, I am going to have to veto your bill.” I would have my staff go over the reasons, and I would make it clear that the legislators could visit with me to go over our analysis. Many times they would do just that. Usually, they said, “Well, I knew you were going to veto it,” but I remember on one or two occasions I did change my mind and sign a bill I had intended to veto after visiting with the legislator. Generally, I stuck to my reasoning, unless there was something I had overlooked.
One of my vetoes in 1981 caused a great deal of concern—the four-day school week expansion bill. I left the four-day school week in place for the three districts that had been using it—San Jon, Roy, and Cimarron—but I vetoed expanding that schedule to other districts. The school district of the small east-side community called House had begun to pick it up, along with a few other districts, and I really caught heck from those areas for vetoing that bill.
I was fortunate in my 12 years as a governor that I never had a veto overridden, although sometimes I had to do some fast work with my legislative friends to convince them that I was only vetoing legislation that deserved it. I would tell them that I wouldn’t look kindly upon their attempts to override me, because I hadn’t had any overrides, and I would find it depressing. When I vetoed the first tax reduction bill, also in 1981, I remember the press asking me if I wasn’t concerned about the legislature overriding my veto. The bill had passed the House 65-0 and the Senate 42-0. In a quiet, positive way, I said that I had considered that possibility, and I had talked with the legislators, and if I hadn’t felt I had sufficient strength in both houses to sustain my veto, I wouldn’t have done it. I sent a revised bill back and they passed it.
New Mexico’s constitution also allows the governor to veto portions of appropriations bills, while approving the remainder of the same bills. That’s a privilege denied the President of the United States until very recently. I used the line-item veto to cut out parts of a bill that I thought would be detrimental, while preserving the parts I thought would work. In 1972, my exercise of this privilege stirred up the Legislative Finance Committee. On May 20, I was still winding up the business left for me by the legislature, and the LFC was meeting downstairs on the third floor of the capitol. Composed of both Senate and House members, the LFC meets year-round to oversee revenues and spending in state government. Along with the Legislative Council, it is one of the most influential interim committees of the legislature. This was an interim meeting, a couple of months after the legislature itself had adjourned. A few of my staff members usually sat in to monitor the LFC meetings, and that day they came rushing up to tell me, “Some of the legislators are saying it was asinine, the way you line-item vetoed things in the House appropriations bill, and they resent it, and somebody is going to have to pay the price.”
I knew from my time in the legislature that I had to be careful not to let a situation like this turn negative and damage the rapport I enjoyed with the legislators. So I went down to the third floor, walked quietly into the LFC meeting, and sat down with the witnesses who were making presentations for or against legislative proposals. The LFC members were quite surprised and they paused in their proceedings and turned to me. Some of them expressed their unhappiness about my having line-item vetoed language in the bill that required the State Police to maintain air surveillance of any narcotics trafficking that might be moving up and down the border.
When that bill was under my consideration, State Police Chief Martin Vigil and the State Police Commission had said they could not possibly monitor drug traffic in the way the bill called for. The bill also demanded that the State Police file monthly reports to the LFC on the findings of their drug traffic surveillance. Chief Vigil had said the information in the requested reports would be a matter of record, destroying the confidentiality the police needed to function as a law enforcement agency. Nonetheless, the police were extremely interested in eliminating narcotics traffic along the border. They had said they would continue to combat that traffic and would express this to the LFC, but they couldn’t operate under the proposed language. So I struck out those provisions stipulating surveillance by airplanes and the other specific requirements that would have been impossible to carry out, including the requirement of giving complete information to the LFC and others.
When I gave the LFC these views, some of the members still expressed their concern, which I could understand. I said, “We’re all interested in one thing, and that’s carrying on good government. I’m ready to defend any line-item veto I made and I would like the opportunity to discuss it.”
We did discuss it, at great length. My objection went beyond legislative interference with the State Police and other law enforcement agencies doing the undercover work needed to attack the drug traffic. The underlying issue was the separation of powers in government. In this bill, the legislature had taken the position that the law enforcement people were not doing all they could to deter the flow of drugs into New Mexico. They actually wrote specifications for the executive branch to administer. In effect, the legislature was trying to act as the executive director of the State Police Department by assigning specific tasks to them and specifying how to report their activities. I opposed any such infringement on the authority of the executive branch.
I wasn’t the only governor to have problems with legislative attempts to encroach on executive power. Often at conferences of the National Governors’ Association, my peers would raise similar issues. At such times I would sit back and listen, and finally they would say, “Well, Bruce, don’t you ever have problems like these?”
“Not really,” I would say. “They passed legislation like that in New Mexico, and I vetoed it.”
And they would say, “How do you do that and keep the support of the legislators?”
I said I would go straight to the legislators, telling them how it looked from the eyes of the executive and how in the long run it wouldn’t work, and they would see my point. But you had to be sure your timing was right.
The result of that LFC meeting was positive—we parted friends again. I knew I had to handle the problem right there on the spot, before it got into the press that the legislative process was breaking down as it related to the executive branch.
The key to devoting adequate attention to every aspect of my job was allocating my time properly. From a lifetime of farm and ranch work I had developed the habit of getting up early. So on a typical day during my second term, for instance, I got up around five-thirty to meditate for about an hour while I made coffee. Then I would pick up the morning paper and glance through it. I always carried a little black book, where I wrote my thoughts related to coordinating state government that absolutely had to get done that day or over a longer period of time. The secret was to list the essential tasks. No matter what else happened, each day I made certain I got everything done in that black book before I moved on to the next tasks.
I reached the capitol by seven-thirty and got set for the day. My cabinet secretaries and the other top people in state government knew I would be there. If they had problems or wanted my direction, they came to the office about that time without having to go through staff people to see me, because security and I would be the only ones there. Around eight o’clock when the staff began to come in, I would head for the outer lobby and make a quick trip around and get a cup of coffee and go back through the offices and visit with all the staff for five or ten minutes, just to see if everyone was there and ready to go to work. I really wasn’t the office manager, but I did enjoy those brief visits with my staff people who worked hard and made me look good.
Then sometimes I would go back out front and see who else had arrived. The press soon learned this routine, and if they had questions they would come over to drink a cup of coffee and visit with me in a corner of the lobby. Sometimes they wanted to come into my office. I always obliged them, and if they wanted to tape some questions and answers, we would do that.
During my second term, I always met for a half hour at eight-thirty with my three key staff members, Linda Kehoe, Bill Giron, and Brian Sanderoff. We would review my black-book checklist for that day. Some tasks I would assign to the staff themselves and some they would hand off, usually by phone, to cabinet secretaries and other administrators. After discussing my list, these three would bring up their items of business that needed attention. Usually by nine o’clock we would have completed the day’s assignments. Then I would call in Jill Marron, my press secretary, and Janet Wise, her deputy, to go over the points they felt we needed to review and any information the media people had requested. I would give them the important things I felt we should stress in trying to get our position into the news media. If reporters needed specific information, the press secretaries would often call them on the phone and I would talk to them personally, or I would give the answers to the press secretaries so they could pass them on. These procedures were highly effective in enabling me to maintain good rapport with the media.
By ten o’clock, I would start meeting people who wanted to see the governor, including officials of state agencies, legislators, and citizens from around the state. I was able to accommodate a great many people every day through that appointment system. All these people flowing through the office kept the security people on their toes, since there would often be someone who acted unusual. I walked around the offices a lot and they didn’t want me to run into someone whose behavior they couldn’t predict or whose intentions weren’t clear. I was never too concerned about my safety, and I loved to sneak off to the ranch without the security people tagging along. But if a potential trouble maker showed up, the people in the reception area knew how to recognize the situation. They would go to Bill Giron, who would then alert security of the potential danger. They would watch the person and in a low-key way escort them out of the office.
Several nights a week, Alice and I went to functions in different communities around the state. We flew in a state-owned airplane piloted by Bob Youngblood, and we usually got back and into bed by eleven or twelve o’clock at night. All that activity made for long days, but also kept me in close contact with state government and with the people. Doing it all successfully came down to setting priorities for the direction where I wanted government to go.
Along with this daily routine I held monthly meetings with the full cabinet to review their problems and concerns and bimonthly meetings with key state agency people, whether they came under a cabinet secretary or not. Quite a few were not supervised by a cabinet secretary, including the liquor director, the public service commissioners, the public defenders, and others in a long list.
I’ve always enjoyed personal contact with the people around New Mexico. In my early years in politics, the nature of campaigning and of working first in the county commission, then the legislature kept me close to my constituents. I felt it was important to keep tabs on their interests and concerns, although a leader can’t govern by popular opinion altogether. Through the years, I learned that you have to gain the confidence of the people and be right enough times that they won’t be nervous about where you’re going. You sure need 50 or 60 percent following you all the time, and sometimes more than that. Try as you might, though, your decisions will always be detrimental to someone.
Once I became governor, close contact with people was harder to come by. As I campaigned for governor the second time, I got many comments from people in different communities around the state who said they liked me as governor the first time, and would support me, but they didn’t like the remoteness of state government. They said things like, “Once you guys get elected, you don’t come back to see us. Or if you do, it’s just a formality, and we don’t get a chance to tell you what’s on our minds.”
I took those comments to heart, and after I was elected to my second term I decided to bring state government out to the people. So in 1979 I started my program of going around the state and holding all-day meetings in various communities. Alice went with me on those trips, and I brought along some cabinet secretaries and other staff members whose jurisdictions had most to do with the local problems in each area. Sometimes legislators would travel with us, as well. Often we would go into the schools, the county courthouse, the senior citizens center, the chamber of commerce, and other public organizations.
We made presentations on what we felt was needed and what we were trying to do in state government, and we invited the people to ask questions and express their thoughts about local needs. We also sought comments about what we were doing in Santa Fe. Then we held office hours and scheduled appointments for all the local people who wanted to come in and visit with us. These local office hours were of great value to the many people who couldn’t easily drive to Santa Fe—some communities in the far corners of the state are five or more hours away, by car—but who still needed to get our attention. On top of that, when people do come to Santa Fe, they often don’t know exactly which division of state government they should bring their problem to. When we came to their home towns, on the other hand, they expressed their needs directly to the state official who could correct the situation if action was called for. Though our schedules made for hard-working days, my cabinet secretaries and I gathered a great deal of information about local needs in all parts of the state—information we could not have obtained any other way.
At first, much of the press sharply criticized my trips to the outlying areas of New Mexico. They said that we had big problems in Santa Fe, and rather than resolving them, I was taking government to places where the people didn’t know about all the things that were going on at the capitol. We impressed on the media people that we hoped they would work closely with us on these visits, and after one or two, they gained a favorable impression and started giving us good advance publicity and coverage of our meetings. For several days prior to each meeting they would announce our coming and give the time and place and the procedure for citizens to be heard.
This program was highly successful and met with such wide popular acceptance that I continued it through all four years of my second administration and my third, as well. Many of the state boards and commissions took notice and adopted their own versions of government to the people, continuing the practice after I left office.
The first time I took government to the people was at Santa Rosa. We had good attendance, and the cabinet secretaries and local officials were enthusiastic about our visit. We met with officials of Guadalupe County, the mayor, and other officials of the city of Santa Rosa.
Their hospital was closed, and we could see they needed help. My staff people were able to study the problem first-hand. Bill Giron met at length with the hospital board and the county officials, and we decided to place a high priority on recruiting the medical staff they needed to re-open the hospital. Many other small New Mexico communities had similar problems. I had gained valuable background about this situation during my 1978 campaign for governor. Dr. Frank Hesse of Albuquerque worked hard on my campaign, and he had the conviction, which I came to share, that we needed to strengthen rural medical services. Not enough doctors and nurses were willing to go into rural areas, and funding was inadequate. So I named a governor’s committee on rural health to approach this problem statewide. Dr. Hesse chaired this committee, which later changed names to the Health Resources Committee, and Bill Giron worked closely with him to solve the problems in Santa Rosa and elsewhere. The legislature passed a bill providing grants for medical students, who were obligated in return to provide services to the state after they graduated. In this way we were able to get federal funding to bring physicians into rural areas.
We went back a year later and found the Santa Rosa hospital operating with a good doctor and staff. Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t permanently solved, because the federal government later decided that local communities, and not the government, should pay the doctors who come in to practice, which resulted in another round of closing a great many small, rural clinics.
Later in 1979, I took government to the people of Silver City and Grant County. I rounded up my top state officials and we descended on this community for the entire day. By now these visits were creating enough enthusiasm that several state elective officials wanted to go along with us. In Silver City we brought along Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, a native of that southwest New Mexico town. The Bingaman family held a reception at the close of the day for Jeff, Alice and me, and all the other visiting officials, including Secretary of State Shirley Hooper, who had worked in the legislature many years, plus the cabinet secretaries.
That morning, we visited the schools, our group breaking up and going into different classes. Some schools had assemblies and we spoke in auditoriums, where we were well received. We let the students speak and ask questions for about half the time. We also visited the county courthouse and the municipal building and listened to the needs and problems of the workers there. We reviewed our limitations and noted the areas where we could do things for them. Then starting around 2 P.M. we held open office hours for myself and each cabinet member, as we always did. This time we borrowed offices at Western New Mexico University. The lines were much longer in front of my office than in front of the others, but we managed to see everyone who wanted to see us.
During this visit to Silver City, it became obvious to me that we had serious problems with the president of Western, John Snedeker. Although he had led that university since 1962, by 1979 he had lost the confidence of his faculty, who called for his resignation by a large majority vote. Some of the people who came in to see me wanted to keep him, but others expressed great concerns about his administration. This issue had divided not only the Western campus, but the entire Silver City and Grant County area. Enrollment was dropping and obviously would drop further until we corrected the problems. Here was another local issue requiring my attention that I was alerted to through my government to the people program. I saw that I had to do something, but first I needed more information.
I met with the board of regents on the same trip to Silver City, and they agreed we had to monitor the school closely and try to solve the problems to the satisfaction of the local community. I decided to send my staff assistant Brian Sanderoff down there to spend a few weeks on campus looking into the details. This was one of the first assignments I gave Brian after he came into the governor’s office as one of my three main staff people. He had done other investigative work for state government, a great deal of it under my immediate observation, but not under my direct jurisdiction. A young man, he had recently graduated from the University of New Mexico and had worked toward advanced degrees. I felt that of all my assistants, he could best relate to the university and to all involved—the community, the faculty, and the students.
I told Brian I didn’t want to be divisive or to cause disorder at the institution. Therefore, he should go in quietly, monitor the operation, and let everyone involved know we were trying to help. I asked him to gather information I could use to work with the board of regents in improving the relationships at Western.
Brian did a good job carrying out those orders. Despite our wish to keep the visit low-key, someone on our office staff must have leaked it to the press, because when Brian got off the plane in Silver City he saw a headline announcing his mission. All that fanfare probably added a week to his assignment, but he did work with everyone there, and they were pleased to have someone they could talk to confidentially. Together with the board, we all concluded we should bring in a new president, and we did it in a way that avoided disrupting the university. Within a year or so Western was back on track, expanding its enrollment and thriving.
I am sure that the problems at Western would have eventually landed on my desk in Santa Fe, but by taking government to the people I was able to confront those problems earlier and resolve them more quickly than if I had simply stayed in my office. That was often the case with this outreach program of mine. In other communities around the state, local offices of different state agencies were hardly communicating with one another, much less cooperating to get their jobs done better. In those cases, when the responsible cabinet secretaries visited the local communities together they could readily see the problems and quickly apply remedies. In community after community, as I took government to the people, we were able to get the local state offices to work much more closely together on behalf of the people in their area. The few hours we spent in each community often produced lasting benefits of this nature.
Not every problem that came along required me to call out the national guard or dispatch a special assistant on a two-week investigation. One day, several legislative leaders were in my office discussing budgets when my front-desk secretary called.
“Governor,” she said, “there is a Mr. Sandoval who insists he has to talk to you immediately. He says he is your neighbor. He has a ranch over on the Rio Puerco next to you.” We have ranch land northwest of Rio Rancho extending out toward the Rio Puerco basin in Sandoval County.
“All right,” I said. “Put him on.”
They did, and he said, “Bruce, this Livestock Board here has tied up my calf. They say the brand hasn’t peeled, and they won’t give me the money, and they’re gonna take my calf. I only had two. What can we do about it?”
“Where are you at?” I asked him.
“Here at the sanitary board,” he said, meaning the state Livestock Board on the State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque. From what I could gather, Mr. Sandoval had sold the calf at auction in Albuquerque, but because the brand wasn’t deep enough, it hadn’t passed muster with the brand inspector. So they were withholding the proceeds from the sale. He just needed to prove the calf was his by going home, getting the cow, and seeing if the calf would suck, but I guess he didn’t want to bother.
“Is Lee Garner there?” I asked. So they put Lee on. He was the director under the Board.
“Lee, what about Mr. Sandoval’s calf?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, we have the calf tied up here,” Lee said.
I said, “Oh, he’s a good man. Go ahead and pay him for the calf, and if anything happens about it, I’ll make it right, but you go ahead and pay him.”
When I hung up, all the guys in the meeting began to smile. One of them said, “Well, that’s the personal touch of our governor. Whatever he’s doing, he always has time to stop and help a friend.”