• Marc Johnson

Remembering a Good Ol’ Boy


It is a cliche to say it, but they don’t make ’em like former New Mexico Governor Bruce King any more. King died last week at the age of 85.

Folksy, plain spoken, a back slapping, hand pumping cowboy politician, King was a middle of the road Democrat and was elected governor three times in non-consecutive terms – 1970, 1978 and 1990.

Current Governor Bill Richardson said of King, “He was as genuine and colorful as his cowboy boots. I can just hear him say `mighty fine’ as he shook another hand.”

King’s career was that of an increasingly rare breed in American politics – a personality above all, a real person without pretense who never met a stranger. You certainly knew he was in the room. I saw him in action many times at meetings where governors would gather. I introduced myself one time and never had to again. He remembered.

Bill Clinton, then Arkansas governor, said he always tried to sit near King at governors’ meetings “knowing if I did I’d get a laugh and a lesson in life and politics.”

King was also known for his occasional ability to mangle the English language, a characteristic that no doubt endeared him even more to the speak plain caucus in New Mexico. He once said of a dubious proposal that it “would open a whole box of Pandora’s.”

The Santa Fe New Mexican called King the state’s “most loved leader and friendliest dignitary.”

My old boss, Cecil Andrus, had to call King once to remind him that only potatoes grown in Idaho could be called “Idaho potatoes.” Apparently someone in New Mexico was using “grown in Idaho” potato sacks to repackage New Mexico potatoes. Bruce took care of it.

In a story that may well have been apocryphal, but sure sounds like Bruce King, the governor was once asked his position on the controversial Waste Isolation Pilot Project, the so called WIPP Site, near Carlsbad. The massive Department of Energy project, years in construction, created a vast underground burial site encased in an ancient salt deposit where certain types of nuclear waste material is sent to slowly shed its radioactivity.

King allegedly said, in his twangy New Mexico voice, “Half of my constituents support the WIPP Site and half of my constituents oppose the WIPP Site and I’m with my constituents.”

We could use a few more Bruce Kings – the best kind of good ol’ boy.

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©2021 by Marc C Johnson