Former Governor Bruce King, 85, died last night at his home in Stanley, New Mexico. He had been under hospice care recently, with cardiac problems. His wife Alice died nearly a year ago.
King is one of the giant figures in New Mexico politics, dominating the political scene for more a quarter of a century. He served as governor for three four-year terms, from 1970-1974; from 1978-1982; and from 1990-1994. He was first elected in 1954 as a member of the county commission in Santa Fe county, then got elected to the state legislature in 1958, where he rose quickly through the ranks to become Speaker of the House from 1963-1968. He also served as Chair of the Constitutional Convention in 1969, and party chair of the Democratic Party in 1968 and 1969. He was elected governor in 1970, defeating another giant-to-be in New Mexico politics, Pete Domenici, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972. King was elected governor once again in 1978, narrowly defeating yet another giant-to-be figure in New Mexico politics, Joe Skeen, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, by a write-in vote.
King was elected again to the governorship in 1990, and, for the first time was enabled by a constitutional amendment to succeed himself in office. However, in 1994 his Lt. Governor, Casey Luna, ran against him in the gubernatorial primary, splitting the party, facilitating the election of Gary Johnson as governor in 1994.
King had an exceptionally agile mind, and he could rattle off tactical advice on the practice of politics with the speed and precision of a great jazz player doing a riff. He never forgot origins as a rancher and ordinary citizens identified themselves strongly with him, and he with them. In spite of his Western drawl and rancher background, he was extremely popular among the state's Hispanic voters (who are mainly Democrats), who offered him strong electoral support. He was able to attract a pool of extremely talented and loyal staff members, many of whom went on to play key roles in public and private life.