Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

1-9 Remembering the Fun of Past Legislatures

WED, 1-09-08

SANTA FE - A fondly remembered chapter of New Mexico legislative history became a bit dimmer with the recent death of Betty Palermo, part of the trio that ran Tiny's Restaurant and Lounge in Santa Fe.
Tiny's has been a favorite watering hole for legislators, other public officials and those who would like to influence them since 1950. At that time it was located in downtown Santa Fe. Now Tiny's is in the Pen Road Shopping center near the corner of Cerrillos and St. Francis. It is still in the family, run by son, J.R. Palermo and his wife Pam.
Betty Palermo and her husband Jimmie, along with Betty's mother Lucille, made Tiny's into a Santa Fe institution. Tiny's was named after Walter "Tiny" Moore, which produced no end of confusion. Tiny was a big guy, who always was out prospecting for uranium. No one ever saw him, but they always saw Jimmie, who was a little guy.
Jimmie also was seen at La Fonda Hotel, where he played accordion with Billy Paloue and his orchestra. In addition, Jimmie worked as an assistant House sergeant at arms for the Legislature in the 1950s and '60s where he was a member of the renowned House Cat Trio.
Palermo played accordion. Rep. Hi Overton of Yeso played guitar and Rep. Alva Parker of Elida was a mean left-handed fiddler. The three performed at every opportunity, often dragging out their instruments immediately after a floor session to serenade in the House chambers, the House lounge or in the hallways and lobbies of the former Capitol, now known as the Bataan Building.
The trio also played for "100th Bill Parties" sponsored by the House and Senate. In those days, only a handful of lobbyists trolled the Capitol hallways. They weren't bankrolled as well as today's lobbyists, so there weren't many fancy parties. That meant lawmakers had to entertain themselves much of the time.
The tradition was for the unlucky senator or representative whose bill was the 100th to be submitted during a session to throw a party for lawmakers and staff. Lobbyists who helped with the financing were welcome to attend but not talk business. Often an excuse would be found to have a 200th bill party, also.
When the House Cat Trio played at big parties, the trio often was joined by other musically inclined members of the Legislature and staff. Rep. George Blocker of Jal played the piano and Rep. Harry Allen of Farmington brought his tub.
Rep. Roberto Mondragon of Albuquerque strummed guitar and sang. He often was joined by singers Hal Thornberry of Eddy County, who was the Senate chief clerk, and Rep. Ed Rael of Taos.
And Jimmie was always at Tiny's in the evening, where with very little effort he could be talked into pulling out his accordion for some Italian serenading to go with the best chile in town.
Betty was the matriarch of Tiny's. She loved children. Our kids always looked forward to a dinner there at which they would be treated to special drinks and little gifts along with a trip in Betty's arms to see the fish tanks behind the bar and maybe even a chance to feed them a little snack.
The tradition continues. When our grandchildren come to Santa Fe for a visit, they can't wait to get to Tiny's and feed the fish. Betty loved the restaurant and made it her life. Jimmie and Lucille also have passed on but J.R. and Pam are carrying on the tradition.
Many have wondered how the Pen Road Shopping Center got its name when the state penitentiary is many miles south. But until the '50s, the penitentiary was approximately where the intersection of St. Francis and Cordova Road is now located.
The "100 Bill" parties continue but they aren't the cozy get-togethers they once were. Legislative staffs have grown tremendously, lobbyist numbers have exploded and the move to lavish entertainment has weakened the camaraderie that once existed.

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