Inside the Capitol

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2-27 NM Officials Getting Wild and Wooly

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What's with our state's two top officials showing up in whiskers? Are they trying to take New Mexico back to its Wild West days?
Public officials almost never grow beards, but first it was Sen. Pete Domenici with chin whiskers and then Gov. Bill Richardson with an almost full beard.
Decompression is what Gov. Richardson cites as his reason and that seems a good enough explanation for Sen. Domenici's whiskers too. We know Pete won't be running for office again and Gov. Bill says he isn't interested.
Facial hair doesn't do a political candidate any good these days. Tom Dewey was the last presidential candidate to try. The former New York governor sported a little pencil-thin moustache that had been the rage of romantic leading men in the movies since the mid-'30s. But it didn't work for Dewey in 1944 or 1948.
My mother said it made him look like a city slicker. Others said they could never trust a man with a moustache. Guess Clark Gable never could have been elected president either.
That's essentially all I knew about politicians and hairy faces so I contacted my consultant-on-just-about-everything, writer/historian Dave Clary in Roswell.
Clary said that as soon as the captains of industry start wearing beards again, as their predecessors did back in the days when the West was wild, we'll see a president with a beard again.
Evidently it was Abe Lincoln who got the style started in the second half of the 19th century. Clary says Lincoln grew a beard between his 1860 election and March 1861 inauguration as president.
After that, every Republican president until William McKinley, in 1897, wore a beard. That eliminated only Democrats Andrew Johnson, who finished Lincoln's term, and Grover Cleveland, who wore only a moustache. In the early 1900s, Republican Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft followed suit with moustaches.
And that was it. President Woodrow Wilson was clean shaven and every president has been since then. But Clary says beards and moustaches are likely to grow again sometime. Sideburns have come and gone, especially among young men, every 20 to 30 years.
Clary also tells me that the beardless fashion persisted among upper-class, middle-aged men for centuries beginning in the late middle ages when Europe rediscovered the Greeks and Romans, whose elite favored a clean face. Only the rich could afford good razors so the poor had beards.
The Barbarians, he says, were so-named because the word "barba" meant beard. By the late 1850s, the industrial revolution enabled the poor to start shaving, so the upper class began growing beards.
Clary says many members of Congress wore a style of beard called "senatorial" from the late 1860s to the 1920s. But that has gone out of style. Of the 535 members of Congress, a few modest moustaches and two or three partial beards are it. The same is true of New Mexico's 112 legislators.
Among governors, Bill Richardson has the only beard. He is asked about it virtually every time he is interviewed on national television. It likely won't last long, especially if he wants to be considered as a vice-presidential running mate or a cabinet member. Currently there are no bearded cabinet members.
Richardson does get credit for a beard with no detectable gray, at age 60. I grew a beard at 56, when I retired from lobbying some 14 years ago. I expected a distinguished salt-and-pepper gray. There wasn't a black hair to be found. It wasn't difficult for my wife to talk me into shaving.
If Richardson plans to become a Washington lobbyist, which is what he should do if he wants to salt away some retirement money, the beard also needs to go. I would not have felt comfortable with one.
But it's not impossible to be effective with a beard. Carl Turner lobbied quite successfully for the New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association for many years in a full beard and a flannel shirt.
WED, 2-27-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)

We're headed to southern AZ and CA for about a month. Back Mar. 15. I'll have my computer and will send columns. Cell phone 505-699-9982.


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