Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2-29 Diamond-Tooth Miller a NM Original

22912 Diamond Tooth
SANTA FE – Diamond Tooth Miller wasn't as bad a guy as I thought. To begin this month, we talked about the Occupiers' raucous demonstration at a Santa Fe dinner meeting for conservative lawmakers. That led to some reminiscences about other legislative rowdiness over the years.
The column ended with a faulty remembrance of Diamond Tooth Miller shooting the chief justice of the state Supreme Court in the lobby of La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe. I ended with admitting I couldn't find reference to the event on the Web or in any of my trusty reference books.
I asked for help and I got it. Former Rep. Morgan Nelson, from Roswell, was the first to email me. He served in the state Legislature with Miller in 1949 and 1951. Morgan described him as a man of flexible principles, depending on the money offered him but said he was a pleasant man who never had any problem with the courts.
Next, an email came from Mike Pitel, a retiree from the state Tourism Department and a top-notch historian. He sent me several old newspaper clippings about Diamond Tooth along with the information that I confused Miller with William Rynerson, the district attorney who convicted Billy the Kid.
It was Rynerson who killed Chief Justice John P. Slough in the lobby of the Exchange Hotel, where La Fonda now stands. Rynerson worked for the Santa Fe Ring. He was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.
So if any of Diamond Tooth's relatives are tuned into this column, please accept my apology for almost defaming him. I take it all back.
Diamond Tooth called himself an honest crook. He didn't hide what he was doing. His business cards said, "The best senator money can buy." He said he got into politics because it was the only way to make a living without working. New Mexico legislators never have been paid a salary but he seemed to scrape by anyway.
Miller may have been including his work for three Democratic governors as being politics also. He said he always had a job but never did anything except politics. He said his legislative win was an accident. He put his name on the ballot because no one else was running. He campaigned for Gov. Tom Mabry throughout the state and when he got home, he learned he had won. He represented Torrance County for four years and listed his address as Gran Quivira.
Encouraged by that victory, he ran for secretary of state, and lost. By that time Republican Ed Mechem was governor and his political job prospects were zero. Miller and his wife moved to Hatch for a while in the early 1950s and then to Las Vegas, Nevada.
He quickly became sergeant at arms of the state Senate, a post he held for nearly 20 years. The House and Senate sergeants at arms in New Mexico's legislature work hard but that wasn't the case in Nevada. Miller said he didn't do anything there either.
His diamond tooth, he says, was the result of talking his girlfriend in France into giving a pair of ear rings to him during World War I. He lost one shooting craps and had the other embedded in his left front tooth. Morgan Nelson says it sparkled when he talked.
In another early February column, I listed the discovery of oil in New Mexico as taking place at Hobbs in 1928. Norbert Rempe, of Carlsbad, emailed to note that the first well was in Eddy County in 1924. The well generated a $135 royalty check to the state.
The industry now contributes over $2 billion to state and local governments. The state general fund receives approximately 27 percent of its income from the petroleum industry.
Sorry for the mistake. I took the information from a timeline produced by the state Department of Cultural Affairs for use in classrooms across the state.


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