Monday, February 9, 2015

Mike Runnels RIP Part II

Continued from Part I:  We stayed up until about 3 am that night, calling delegates, counting votes.  Mike was alert, highly intelligent, keen sense of humor, realistic about each vote, every inch the leader of our small group.  When it became clear we didn't have a chance, we went to bed.  Next morning speeches were given as the voting was announced by each county chair.  I gave seven of my eleven votes to Dorothy, four to King, roughly proportional to the preferences among my precinct chairs.    Several county chairs who promised me they would vote for Dorothy voted for David instead, without the courtesy of the heads up Maura had given me.  I regretted their weakness; but David won the nomination.

The campaign was disastrous.  The ABQ Journal broke a story that King, the day after Runnels died, changed his voter registration from Santa Fe to Valencia County, an unnecessary action that reinforced the image of carpet-bagging.  Then another David King appeared, asserting it was he who changed his registration. This was challenged by eyewitnesses who had seen the Governor's nephew in the clerk's office in Los Lunas that day, and, as I recall, a photograph confirmed this.  Now adding to the underlying weakness of David's candidacy the issue of character emerged.  It became the story of the year.

I got a call from a friend of David's hoping to soften me up.  We argued over David vs. Dorothy.  At one point he said, "Just because Dorothy is the widow doesn't mean she's qualified for congress.  I don't believe in the divine right of kings, Jose."  I replied, "no pun intended, Bill, right?"  He paused a second or two and burst out laughing.  "Point well taken."  We both laughed heartily, knowing we were still friends.

Facing a withering assault in the news media, King announced he would quit the race, generating another round of headlines and throwing the congressional race again into tumult.  Ben Alexander, the Democratic chair in Lea County, tried to put humpty dumpty together again, still denying Dorothy the candidacy, by convening party chairs, this time safely in Santa Fe at the then-Sheraton (now Lodge) hotel, less than a mile from the Governor's office.  There, a bit theatrically, he sought our "permission" to persuade David to resume the race.  Ben phoned David at the ranch in Santa Fe county, chastised him for pulling out of the race, and asked him to get back in "for the good of the party." David immediately agreed, as if on cue.  Zora Hess, a prominent Democratic fund raiser from Albuquerque asked me, "Jose, what is your problem with David's candidacy?"  I replied "The people of the district don't want him."  Always diplomatic with me, she did not reply.  But she might as well have said, "let them eat cake."

Joe Skeen announced he would run a write-in campaign against King.  Joe was a popular conservative Republican who had lost the governorship in a tight race against Bruce King two years earlier. Dorothy also announced a write-in campaign; this would split the Democratic vote between herself and David.

On election night as I drove to different precincts, I could see long lines at 7 pm. Voters had to pull out a metal tab with a piece of paper in order to scribble a write-in name on the voting machines.  It was clumsy and took a long time.  Precinct workers said you could hear the squeak of the tabs all day long as people wrote in names.

Skeen got the most votes and David became the third person in U.S. history to be the only person on a congressional ballot and still lose the election.  Republicans held that seat for 33 of the next 35 years.  They still hold it.  Bruce King called me on New Year's eve that year and said he wanted to let bygones be bygones.  I was grateful for that.  Suddenly a genius of political foresight, I got re-elected county chair the next year.  David King was later elected State Treasurer, switched to the Republican Party in 1998 while serving as village administrator of Angel Fire, and then was elected to two terms at the PRC.

My wife Olivia and I remained friends with Mike after that.  He become Lt. Governor two years later, but then, unable to control his demons, he suffered one personal setback after another, some quite public.  He was, however, elected District Attorney for eight years, ran twice for his father's congressional district, and traveled extensively.  His place in the pantheon of New Mexico politicians is not as prominent as it might have been, given his talent and promise, and he will be remembered as much for his disappointing performance in a strong political family as for his contributions to the people of the state.

No comments: