Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 15, 2011

1-21 Advice to new gova

FRI 1-21-11

SANTA FE -- Some governors on their last day in office will leave a letter for the new governor, ostensibly wishing good luck and offering sage advice on how to handle the rigors of officialdom.
Usually we don't hear about such happenings because outgoing governors don't mention it. But Gov. Richardson did bring up the subject, at a news conference, no less.
And that prompted reporters to ask new Gov. Susana Martinez what she thought of the letter. Evidently seemed to her a little preachy and maybe tinged with left over hard feelings from the campaign.
We can assume that one governor who didn't leave a letter for his successor was former Gov. Dave Cargo. When Gov. Bruce King walked into the office for the first time in 1971, he remarked to a reporter that Cargo had cleaned every single item out of the office except "that darned woodpecker" over on a corner table.
The following morning, the reporter noted that the woodpecker actually was a roadrunner, New Mexico's official state bird. King acknowledged that having lived all his life on a ranch, he was well aware of the difference between a woodpecker and a roadrunner.
King explained that he called it a woodpecker out of frustration that Cargo had cleaned everything out of the governor's office and the mansion.
Country folks have a very low opinion of woodpeckers, which can destroy a wooden structure. My father-in-law kept a shotgun by the door of his ranch house near Nogal in order to go on the attack whenever he heard that drilling sound.
One governor back in the 1930s didn't clean out the governor's mansion before he left. But he locked the doors and took all the keys with him. The next governor had to stay in a hotel overnight until a locksmith could come change all the locks. Evidently the oversight was not accidental.
When Gov. Ed Mechem took office for the first time, he vowed to solve the Cricket Coogler murder case. Coogler was an 18-year-old Las Cruces waitress who was chummy with Santa Fe politicos and Cleveland mobsters.
The mob wanted to expand its gambling operations out west. Nevada already had been tried All the necessary laws had been passed but Las Vegas was still a dusty little town with not much action.
Bugsy Siegal had tried opening a lavish hotel called the Flamingo to attract the Los Angeles crowd but that wasn't working so the mob began looking for locations that already were popular with tourists.
Santa Fe was a logical choice. The mob moved in and started getting friendly with politicians. At that point, the place to have illegal fun in New Mexico was around the edges of the state, especially south of Las Cruces, where big crowds flocked from El Paso, which had some strict drinking laws.
So it became a popular hangout for the mob and the politicians who followed them. One Easter Sunday afternoon, three boys out rabbit hunting came across Coogler''s body. Everyone was a suspect. Many arrests, trials and convictions followed but all had to do with a horrendously botched investigation of the case. Cricket's murderer(s) were never brought to justice.
Former Las Cruces District Attorney Ed Meachem vowed to crack the case if he became governor. One of his first acts in office was to assign the same state police officers to investigate the case who had investigated it before. Again, they found nothing.
Four years later, when John Simms took office as governor, he found one item on his desk when entered the governor's office. It was a file labeled "Cricket Coogler." Nothing more was ever heard about that file.
An interesting sidelight of the situation is that all the politicians and appointed officials involved in the case were Democrats. Meachem was the first Republican governor in 20 years. If anyone were going to blow the whistle, it was Meachem.
His advice to Simms must have been fascinating.



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