The Builder Governor

Remembering Jack Campbell

December 10, 2016 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (1)

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By Larry Joseph Calloway


Jack M. Campbell / The autobiography of New Mexico’s first modern governor: as told to Maurice Trimmer with Charles C. Poling, University of New Mexico Press, 2016.


I was lucky to arrive in Santa Fe before its style, real estate and cultural conflicts went commercial and while Jack Campbell was still governor. The city has changed, and people like Campbell usually decline to run.


I also was lucky to meet Maurice Trimmer on that first day as a New Mexico political reporter. After working for UPI in several big city bureaus, I had requested this transfer to a smaller pond, but now I was totally lost. Santa Fe looked foreign. The Bataan Building did not look like a state capitol. The governor’s office looked deficient with a staff of only seven, including Trimmer, the press secretary.


Perhaps because he too had been the new UPI guy eight years earlier, Maury sympathetically began some on-the-job education. He invited me to accompany the governor to El Rito. The state under Campbell had started a vocational program there to make use of what was irrevocably designated as a teacher’s college in the state constitution. We saw young men and women learning hair styling and construction and auto mechanics.


On the drive back to Santa Fe in the limo the director of the new Board of Educational Finance said it would be logical to move the school from the rural village to the town of Espanola. The governor said, “Bill, your problem is you try to apply logic to Northern New Mexico.”


Next, Trimmer told me there would be room on a flight to inspect Fort Bayard in the Anglo southwest corner of the state near Silver City. There was indeed room. The only passengers on the twin-prop state plane were the governor and me, side by side. All I knew about him was he was raised in Kansas by a widowed mother, that he had been an FBI agent before joining the Marine Corps and that he had seen some brutal combat as the leader of a rifle platoon in the Pacific war zone. He did not look like any of those people. He looked more like an honest lawyer in a suit, which he was.


At Fort Bayard we were met by some local folks who took us on a tour of what began as a cavalry fort and became a veterans’ home that the federal government wanted to abandon. The state under Campbell had just acquired it for a regional treatment center.  The group were saying grateful goodbyes on a porch as the governor was leaving. He motioned to me, saying, “Come over and hear some of this wisdom.” I took a note for a story.


On the flight back to Santa Fe, Campbell read True magazine, sometimes laughing and telling me what it said. True’s slogan was “the man’s magazine,” and it had cartoons and adventurous stories told with manly humor, but no girlie pictures. Tony Hillerman, who also began his New Mexico career with UPI in Santa Fe, wrote for True before it folded in the era of Playboy.


p1030823The Campbell autobiography, released last June, is written in the modest style of True. Trimmer was the primary author in close collaboration some 20 years ago with Campbell. Charles Poling, a freelancer and novelist who also wrote the memoirs of the late Gov. Bruce King, was engaged to fill a gap in the narration.


The two introductory trips at the end of the Campbell administration 50 years ago told me a lot about two of his priorities – education and health care. In his two consecutive two-year terms (the limit then), 1963-66, Campbell had reformed financing of public schools and higher education and allocated bonding for new buildings. In health care, he modernized mental health treatment, earmarked county taxes to pay medical bills of the indigent, and with Senate leader Fabian Chavez created the UNM Medical School.


Campbell’s remarkable record in concert with an overwhelmingly Democrat legislature, also included creation of a State Personnel Board to thwart political patronage, creation of a constitutional revision commission, and judicial reform, also with the help of Chavez, including abolition of the corrupt justice of the peace system.


Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (blm)


But Campbell now is remembered, if at all, as a builder. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, location of a half dozen movies and subject of millions of tourist photos, is his. It was a campaign promise to the North, and he got it done by 1965 by using all state funds and avoiding federal highway funding delays. The state capitol, a political if not architectural masterpiece, was his project, along with an adjacent state library.


Designing a library into the new capitol complex struck me as a stroke of enlightenment. It was symbolic. It was consistent with Jack Campbell’s engaged philosophy of merging knowledge and science with governing.


But, let me ask, does anybody care? I mean, isn’t it really the personality of politicians that people now find interesting in this age of politics as entertainment? By coincidence, this book is a test – for, Trimmer and Campbell wrote the easy parts first, leaving the last three years of the administration for later. Then Campbell died, in June 1999 at age 82.


The manuscript – call it Gubernatorial Lite – rested with Maury until, as I understand it, former U. S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman retired in Santa Fe and took an interest in the story of his former law partner. Bingaman, Trimmer, Poling and Campbell’s son Michael, also a lawyer, interested UNM in publishing the book with Poling’s insert on the Campbell administration – 130 well-drafted pages in the middle of a 404-page book. Those chapters are in the third person and, of course, lack the personal commentary of Campbell and the polish of Trimmer.


In the autobiographical pages, Campbell’s war episodes are gripping and, yes, terrifying, but some are Catch 22-ish, like the account of trying to comfort the commander who became hysterical during an earth tremor. On the light side, his first-person recollections of being a gun-fumbling FBI special agent in Los Angeles and Washington would make a good pilot for a TV comedy. So would his story of entertaining poker-playing, Old Crow-drinking cowboy legislators as a lobbyist in Santa Fe. There’s a line about a legislator-historian who had “an unrequited love for higher office.”


Or take the tall politician whose official ballot name was Ingram B. Seven Foot Pickett. He was elected and reelected to the State Corporation Commission by astronomical margins, even though his opponents said he was only 6-foot, 10 ½ inches. (I once asked Trimmer what happened to Pickett. “Seven feet under,” he responded.)


So here’s a book that could not have been published without the insert, but you can skip it and still fully enjoy the book and its entertaining lessons. I mean, Campbell says in the introduction that most autobiographies are boring and, “I didn’t want to spend any of my limited time crafting such a tedious chronicle.” Though his life had been “exciting and generally happy,” he said, “I would like my story to tell more about an era than about one individual.”


And it does. Every page is illuminated by history – the depression, the war, the postwar U.S. economic boom, and the scientific enterprises so important to New Mexico. It begins with his two years in the Pacific war zone – Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima – when, as he says, “Weeks of intermittent terror were separated by months of comparative calm, though the war was always on our minds.” It was a time to make plans, in case he survived.


After the war he married Ruthanne DeBus, whom he met as a coworker during his 18 months with the FBI. They settled in Albuquerque and Roswell and began raising a family – Patricia, Michael, Kathleen, and Terry. He joined a law firm that represented energy producers and became executive secretary and lobbyist for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.


From Roswell, Campbell won a seat in the New Mexico House at age 37 in 1954. He backed John F. Kennedy early in the 1960 primaries while most of the New Mexico Democratic party was backing Lyndon Johnson. In the 1961 legislative session he was elected speaker of the House in a dramatic vote determined by one practically illegible paper ballot. After the 1962 session he began his campaign against Gov. Ed Mechem, a popular conservative Republican who was seeking reelection. “Limited government has its appeal, but sometimes inaction is intolerable,” Campbell says with reference to his  campaign theme. He won with 53 percent of the vote.


“I suppose my decision to run for governor was a triumph of ambition over knowledge,” he says. “The title of ‘governor of New Mexico’ had been a somewhat dubious honor for more than 360 years.” Onate and Peralta were only the first to be disgraced. “I had been involved in politics long enough to realize New Mexicans had contradictory attitudes toward the office of governor. They wanted their governor to be a leader, but they were afraid to trust him with the power to govern.”


He closed his first legislative address as governor with these words (though they are not in the book): “Politically unpopular decisions may have to be made. Local considerations may have to give way to the sate-wide interest. Concern for reelection for all of us may have to yield to what we believe is right and best.”


Out of public office, Campbell continued as a matchmaker between government and science. He promoted his philosophy through interstate groups and returned to lawyering and lobbying in Santa Fe. He was elected to the board of St. John’s College, the unique Annapolis institution that created a twin campus in Santa Fe with his encouragement in 1964. St. John’s teaches the great books of western civilization. The Santa Fe campus in addition has a master’s program in the eastern classics (Disclosure: I am an MA graduate of this program.) The students do not compete for grades, but they must participate in seminars, write papers in every class and defend their writing in oral examinations. The faculty members do not flaunt their doctorates, preferring to be called “tutors.” The classes are seminars. The subjects are universal.


Universities, contrary to the name, or conglomerations of specialties. And perhaps this contrast affected Campbell’s relationship with the University of New Mexico, despite his friendship with Tom Popejoy, the venerable president of UNM. In 1969 the then ex-governor became director of UNM’s Institute for Research and Development, a government planning effort that he had helped create with funding from the War on Poverty. It became a ponderous agency of some 175 fulltime and part-time employees. And Campbell resigned in frustration. While this is just an item in the book and he is no complainer, his comments raise a fruitful issue. That is, he condemns “faculty members who resented an outsider getting involved in their game” and, “academicians entrenched in internal politics.”


You can see the shadow of Campbell’s UNM experience on the subsequent creation of the Santa Fe Institute, famed as the home of advanced math involving complexity and chaos theory. Campbell was the lawyer among the founders, and they agreed the advanced institute should not be affiliated with any university. The reasoning was that its goal of synthesizing physical and social sciences had to be free of specialists. Trying to free up academia, Campbell says, “has all the implications of trying to move a cemetery.” I am sure there are people at UNM who are aware of the problem. The book is a publication of the same university.


The UNM critique recalled what, I think, must have been another disappointment for Campbell, although he never expressed it publicly to my knowledge. His beautiful library, a resource for state employees as well as the general public in Santa Fe, was converted into more office space in the 1995 remodeling the capitol by the legislature, which owns the complex.


Campbell never again ran for office, returning to law practice and occasional lobbying. He was the most likely Democrat to succeed U.S. Sen. Clinton P. Anderson, who had announced he would not seek reelection in 1972. But in a fateful meeting at the tiny café in the Santa Fe airport terminal, young Albuquerque “mayor” Pete Domenici flew in and confided that he wanted to run for the Senate seat but would not do so if Campbell ran. The former governor said he would not run. So Domenici declared, won the seat, and served 36 years.


What about Trimmer? Maury went on to become director of public relations at St. John’s and then for the Oil and Gas Association. He and his wife, Ethel, are living actively in Santa Fe.


Campbell was a fisherman and throughout his career took refuge in his mountain cabin by the Pecos River. His ashes were scattered there.








My Fellow Americans. . .

November 9, 2016 in SOUTHERN JOURNAL,U. S. Politics | Comments (2)

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By Larry Joseph Calloway ©

 The networks were so unprepared for Donald Trump’s win that my election night switching caught only one panelist who could speak with authority for the key voters euphemistically called “white – no college degree.”  He was J. D. Vance, the black-haired concise-speaking author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” an immediately personal story of his poor and violent family from Appalachian Kentucky.

I was reading it in October along with another pre-election bestseller, the radical history “White Trash” by Nancy Isenberg. These books are cultural not political, but they explain something about the “populist uprising,” as Vance termed it in an interview while adding that Trump understood the anger behind it but offered no solutions.

Apart from politics, my research represented an obsession with my father’s hardwood Appalachian roots. He was always wanting something far away. His sisters talked of North Carolina when we visited their farms near Lyons, CO. They were pretty and spoke in sweet accents. My father drank. He died. I was about to set the periodic ancestry project aside when, suddenly, up popped an email from a total stranger in Longmont, Colorado. I’ll get to the deep synchronicity* of it in a few minutes.

Writer-lawyer Vance’s family moved from Jackson, KT, to Middleton, in southern Ohio, so his grandfather could work in the Armco steel mill. It rusts away now under a Japanese name. His grandfather died as an out-of-work alcoholic. His mother, pregnant at high school graduation with his older brother, was more in love with drugs than any of her half dozen husbands.

His elegy is for his grandmother, who raised him. She was a heroic exemplar of the lost mountain culture of pride and toughness. She disciplined him relentlessly to pursue self-improvement through education and even, among other folksy wisdoms, learning golf because “that’s where rich people do business.” (Trump is an international developer of golf courses.)

Mamaw, as he called her, represents the culture lost when the families of several generations were uprooted by economics and dropped dead by economics. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” as my father used to say. I had his brother-in-law minister, a chaplain of the Arizona National Guard, read it at his graveside ceremony. Vance does not mention churchgoing in Middleton, but I suppose religion was a part of the lost culture because in every North Carolina hollow where I searched for Calloways there was a church — usually Baptist — often looking forsaken. Vance observes out of nowhere, “I wasn’t surprised that Mormon Utah — with its strong church, integrated communities, and intact families — wiped the floor with Rust Belt Ohio.”


Singing Through Ireland

A response to Churchill’s question

August 27, 2016 in JOURNEYS | Comments (1)


Schola Cantorum singers


By Larry Joseph Calloway ©

We went to Ireland in the summer of the political year 2016 with a group that often burst out in song. They sang in enormous cathedrals, among grey monastic ruins, at a sacred lake shore, on a green moor above the ocean, and in pubs. Everyone was talking about Brexit and how it would screw the Irish – a familiar theme in the history of British politics.

In 1921 young Winston Churchill, a negotiator of the oppressive Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioning Ireland, rose in Parliament to defend it. He asked:

 “Whence does this mysterious power of Ireland come? It is a small, poor, sparsely populated island, lapped about by British sea power on every side, without iron or coal. How is it that she sways our councils, shakes our parties, and infects us with great bitterness, convulses our passions, and deranges our action?”

First king with harp

First king with harp

Churchill did not answer his rhetorical question. I will not attempt an answer except to say that the symbol of Ireland is not a lion but a harp and that Ireland responds not with a roar but with songs and stories. Patricia and I listened to these as we accompanied the small Schola Cantorum choir of Santa Fe on a concert tour from Dublin to Sligo to Armagh to Westport to Galway.

There was, for example, a monk who had a white cat. In the tight margin of a scriptorium manuscript – vellum was precious in the ninth century — he scribbled a light poem equating his cat’s mousing with his own scribing. A translation from the Old Irish concludes:

So in peace our task we ply

Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,

I have mine and he has his.


Practice every day has made

Pangur perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light.”

 The curators of The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin chose the unknown monk’s verse as an introduction to the present exhibit. For, in its sweet imagery the Book of Kells is about the monks who made it. They were graffiti tricksters. They stretched the vow of poverty to exclude possession of cats. Their surviving artistry is uniquely Irish, with bold calligraphy and bright colors. Their interlocking images are impressive in detail but not intimidating – even though the text of the Book of Kells is the four Gospels in Church Latin.


South By South Park

A story served on a golden plate

October 25, 2015 in JOURNEYS | Comments (2)

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In late August of the saddest summer, speeding through the emptiness of Colorado’s South Park on the way to Denver to see “The Book of Mormon” and to attend my high school class reunion, I lightened up by writing. Not texting – that’s unlawful – but writing, which is OK if you do it in your head.

I worked up a concept for an episode of “South Park,” the cartoon where foul-mouthed little kids living in perpetual winter, constantly undermine their politically correct parents. The two former CU-Boulder students who created “South Park” also created “The Book of Mormon.” I was driving through the geographical reality, a national heritage area, wondering how the two satirists were getting away with mocking the sacred reality.

My mind-draft of the episode began with those shitty little kids suspecting their parents of marching with a subversive militia. The adults have been secretly preparing for a demonstration. They have been hailing the image of a uniformed leader and saluting an enemy flag.

The obscene little kids don’t care about plots to overthrow the government, or whatever. Their concern is the rigorous activity will introduce parents to the idea of discipline and this could lead to child discipline or worse – like, military school.


“Spotlight” At Telluride 2015

My last Telluride Film Festival review

September 11, 2015 in T-ride Film Fest | Comments (6)

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t-ride aerial

September: Telluride



NEWSPAPERS, the first drafts of history, also used to write the loglines of movies. The logline for “Spotlight,” debuted at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and my hope for a lot of awards, goes like this: A quartet of Boston Globe investigators, publishing under a “Spotlight” logo, shames the Catholic Church, the legal profession and journalism itself in a year of stories about the systematic burying of cases of sexual abuse of children by parish priests. The 2003 Pulitzer Prize panel called the work “courageous,” and the screenplay by director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) and Josh Singer portrays that courage with artful intelligence.

We all know the general story, but this telling is new. It unfolds like a thriller. The reporters discovered a pattern of concerted reaction in contradiction of the “just a few rotten apples” p.r. strategy of the Church. When an activist group supporting the victims, mostly kids from poor Boston parishes, would manage to get a case to court, a conspiracy of silence descended like a dark curtain. A pedophile priest would get some time off and a transfer. The family of the child or children would get a patronizing visit by the archbishop and $20,000 (a limit set by a strange Massachusetts statute). The case would then be officially sealed and the victims, not the defendants, would be abandoned to live in shame.

The Spotlight reporters led by Walter Robinson saw the pattern and were the first to expose it after diligent research. Robinson is played by Michael Keaton, who is not the star because the ensemble including him, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian James is the true star. They repeatedly attempt to interview lawyers who say they can’t talk because they would be disbarred for violation legal ethics. When Robinson ridicules this, a lawyer responds that he was just doing his job. Robinson asks, then, whose job was it to look after the victims?