« Packed Crowd Greets Rep. Ben Ray Lujan at Fundraiser Reception at Zinc (with Video, Photos) | Main | Eldorado Dems to Hold Ward Meeting 11.17.09 »

Friday, November 13, 2009

(Updated) Former Governor Bruce King Passes Away at His Ranch at Age 85

Update: I've added more responses to Bruce King's death as they come in. And here's a nice remembrance piece by Kate Nash at the New Mexican.

King Rancher, business man and politico supreme Bruce King passed away overnight at his ranch in Stanley, New Mexico at age 85 after a bout with heart problems and a life of full of hard work, service and friendly good humor. Bruce's wife, Alice, passed away early last December. Bruce's son Gary King, who serves as New Mexico's Attorney General, released this statement this morning:

"Bruce King would be the first one to tell us all that death is just another phase in the cycle of life and that we must go on with our lives trying to do the best we can while helping others make their way too. None of us in the family thought this day would come so soon after we lost my mom Alice King, but we are comforted by the thought that Bruce and Alice can be together once again."

Funeral plans are pending, but the family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the New Mexico Children's Foundation.

Bruce King was a larger than life presence on the New Mexico political scene for decades, serving a in number of roles as a hand-shaking, cowboy booted, down home Democrat. He was born in Stanley, New Mexico on April 6, 1924.

King served in the US Army during World War II and attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque after the war. His political career began with his election to the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners in 1954. He was re-elected and served as the chairman of the board during his second term. In 1959, he was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives, where he served five consecutive terms in the House. During three of those terms he was Speaker of the House.

King was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1968 to 1969. In 1969 he was also the president of the State Constitutional Convention.

In 1970, King was elected to his first term as governor, defeating future Republican Senator Pete Domenici. He served as governor from 1971 to 1975, 1979 to 1983 and 1991 to 1995. King's terms were non-consecutive because the New Mexico constitution didn't allow a governor to succeed him or herself prior to 1991. After the constitution was changed, King became the first governor who could succeed himself. He ran for re-election in 1994, but was defeated for a fourth term by Republican Gary Johnson.

Reactions from some of the political figures who knew and loved Bruce King are starting to come in:

Senator Tom Udall: "Bruce King was a gentle political giant with a heart of gold. With Alice by his side, he dedicated his entire life to serving New Mexico, and together they instilled the same values in their children. I will always remember Bruce as true cowboy from Stanley who had the most generous spirit and always saw the best in people. In every level of government that he served New Mexico over several decades, Bruce King accomplished many great things. I personally learned a lot from his work and was happy to have him by my side once again at a backyard barbeque in Moriarty just last year. Jill and I could always count on Bruce and Alice’s friendship and their entire family is in our thoughts and prayers."

Senator Jeff Bingaman: “Bruce King was as dedicated and successful a public servant as New Mexico has ever seen. I first got to know him when he was president of New Mexico’s constitutional convention, and I was assigned by the New Mexico attorney general’s office to work with him. My respect for him was firmly established at that time and only grew in subsequent years, particularly during the time of his second term as governor when I was serving as attorney general. Anne and I became close friends with Bruce and Alice and remained so for decades.

“Bruce was a public servant whose integrity was never questioned and who always did the right thing for New Mexico. As a result of his love for our state and the people who live here, he was great friends with many thousands of New Mexicans, and he will be missed by all of us.”

Governor Bill Richardson: “Governor Bruce King’s death leaves a huge void in our state. Bruce King was an innovative, far-sighted Governor who knew the state better than any living New Mexican. He was as genuine and colorful as his cowboy boots. I can just hear him say, ‘Mighty fine,’ as he shook another hand.” Flags will remain at half-staff until further notice.

Lt. Governor Diane Denish: “Bruce King is and always will be a New Mexico icon, a man larger than life whose spirit cannot be measured. He was a family friend, my teacher, my mentor, and most truly New Mexico’s cowboy in the Roundhouse. He was my father’s friend and our families shared many years and memories together in public service.

“Bruce was one of those people whose presence changed a room. As soon as he walked in, his spirit seemed to expand until the room was filled with it and everywhere you looked, you saw that glittering smile, and a hand held out in friendship, and the greeting that countless New Mexicans have heard coming from him: “How ya doin’?” And the thing of it is that he meant it.

“As I say goodbye to our cowboy in the Roundhouse, Governor Bruce King, I will always remember his example, his legacy, and his warmth.”

Rep. Martin Heinrich: “Bruce King will always be one of our greatest New Mexicans. Governor King was so kind, and he served the state in so many ways. He will truly be missed. When you think of New Mexico, you think of Bruce King. Julie and I send our thoughts and prayers to the entire King family.”

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan: “Last night we lost a great man and a true champion for the people of New Mexico. Governor Bruce King and his wife Alice served our state honorable and proudly. Governor King was a true asset to the state and a role model for many. Governor King was a governor of the people. He was always approachable, and he always reached out to the people of New Mexico with an open hand. Throughout his entire tenure in public service he remembered his roots and the people he served. He was a dear friend of my family and someone I deeply admired. I send my deepest condolences to the family of Governor Bruce King. My thoughts and prayers, along with those of all New Mexicans, are with the family at this difficult time. We will miss you, Bruce.”

Rep. Harry Teague: "Governor King's service to our nation and our state should never be forgotten. As a County Commissioner, Speaker of the House and as Governor, he was one of those unique public officials who never forgot where he came from. He listened sincerely to the needs and concerns of his constituents and then got to work addressing those issues because he cared deeply about his home state of New Mexico.

"One thing I learned from Bruce King was how important it is to stay in touch with the people you represent. In fact, I first met the Governor in the steer barn at the Lea County Fair. And over the years, it seemed that you would run across the Governor shaking hands at nearly every Fair in New Mexico.

"Bruce King took so many of the wishes of the people from our state and made them a reality. His contributions to our state will last for decades to come. My thoughts and prayers are with the King family today.”

DPNM Chairman Javier Gonzales: “The Democratic Party of New Mexico is saddened at the news of the passing of former Governor Bruce King. During his long tenure of service to New Mexico, spanning from the 1950s through the 1990s, Governor King served as a Santa Fe County Commissioner, Speaker of the House of Representatives and has the distinction of being the first person to serve the State as Governor for three separate four-year terms.

“As Chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico – an office which Governor King also held – I am personally humbled to have the opportunity to continue advancing the ideals and goals that he fought for his entire life.

“Governor King’s service has been widely credited as a driving force of modernization within the State of New Mexico, and his legacy of service to the Democratic Party is only overshadowed by his love of New Mexico and his service to its citizens.

“Whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, today is a day of mourning for all New Mexicans. We remember Governor King and his family in our thoughts and prayers.”

November 13, 2009 at 10:48 AM in Current Affairs, Local Politics | Permalink