Inside the Capitol

Friday, December 31, 2010

1-5 The Kind of Public Servant We All Like To See

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico has lost one of its greatest public servants. Ray Powell, Sr. died at age 90 in late December. Powell was the kind of public servant we all like to see.
For more than 50 years He worked tirelessly in Albuquerque and at the state level for just about every cause one could imagine. And he did it all free. He never cost us a penny of taxpayer money.
Powell came to New Mexico in 1943 as a mechanical engineer to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. At the end of World War II, Powell moved to Albuquerque to help establish the Sandia National Laboratories.
He worked at Sandia for almost 40 years, much of it as executive vice president. During that period, he was active in myriad civic activities. Soon those activities expanded to the state level where he served on numerous boards and commissions.
Eventually Powell became a top advisor and friend to Govs. Jack Campbell and Bruce King. In 1963 Campbell assigned Powell to develop a state personnel system, sell it to the Legislature and see that it was implemented correctly as the first chairman of the state Personnel Board.
Up to that time, all state government workers were political appointees of the governor.
Powell was primarily identified as a leader in the Albuquerque business community, lobbying for its issues at the capitol. But he also was a strong Democrat.
In the spring of 1988, Powell took over as state chairman of a fractured Democratic Party that was torn between northern liberals, southern conservatives who joined with Republicans to rule both houses of the Legislature at times, and opportunistic Democrats, willing to join whichever faction would give them the most goodies.
By November of 1988, under Powell's leadership, Democrats had won solid majorities in both houses and the days of coalitions had ended. In 1990, Democrats regained the governor's office.
Four years earlier Powell had been the only Democrat willing to carry the party banner in the gubernatorial race. The political atmosphere was much like today's. Republican President Ronald Reagan was at the height of his popularity and Democratic Gov. Toney Anaya's popularity was in the cellar.
Powell was beaten by a little known Republican from Las Cruces, Garrey Carruthers. But when his party really needed him, Powell answered its call, much like Republican John Dendahl did in 1994 after being beaten in his party's primary by Gary Johnson..
I met Powell in the early 1970s when we served on a task force to study and recommend judicial salary levels. We became close friends during the many years he lobbied for Albuquerque business issues and I lobbied for school employees.
Powell was tough. Even though the night hours got late while waiting for legislative committees to hear our bills, he never showed a hint of being tired.
In fact, Ray had open heart surgery during the time he was state party chairman and only told people he was taking a little time off. When I learned the truth, I asked him many questions about his experience, especially about how he recognized he had a problem.
I'm not sure why I asked him so many questions or why he answered all of them when he previously had been so reluctant. I'm just glad it happened that way because 10 years later, while out for a walk, I experienced the same symptoms and knew what to do. It still required a bypass but avoided a heart attack.
Ray's son Ray Powell, Jr. was elected state land commissioner this past November. He also held the job from 1993 to 2002. He sought to follow his father's footsteps with a 2002 run for governor. But that was the year of the Bill Richardson steamroller when he wiped out all opposition on his way to his first term as governor.
WED, 1-05-11

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



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