SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Former Gov. David Cargo, known as “Lonesome Dave” for campaigning alone in small towns of New Mexico, was anything but lonesome Friday as friends, family and elected officials — current and past — paid their final respects.
Cargo died last week at age 84.
At a funeral Mass in Santa Fe’s historic cathedral, Archbishop Michael Sheehan remembered Cargo as a liberal Republican who advocated for Hispanics and Native Americans and tried to improve literacy in the state.
“He was clearly for the underdog, and clearly for the poor,” Sheehan said.
Cargo was governor from 1967 through 1970.
During his tenure, New Mexico enacted protections against discrimination for the blind and visually impaired. Cargo also helped raise money to build libraries in rural areas of New Mexico.
Sheehan recalled that Cargo once called him asking that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe donate unused land for the construction of a library in the tiny community of Anton Chico.
“Well, one of Lonesome Dave’s little libraries sits on that land today, thanks to him,” Sheehan said.
In a eulogy at the funeral, former Congressman and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. said Cargo made it acceptable for Democrats in heavily Hispanic northern New Mexico to support a Republican candidate.
“Dave kind of opened the door for Republicans,” said Lujan, who was first elected to Congress in 1968 when Cargo was re-elected.
As governor, Cargo proposed that the state start financing kindergarten programs and raise the minimum wage. When he was in the Legislature, Cargo opposed anti-union, right-to-work measures and proposed abolishing the death penalty.
Cargo earned his nickname during his first gubernatorial bid in 1966 when he had little support from the state Republican Party and he traveled alone to campaign in rural areas.
But despite the nickname, Lujan said, Cargo was a gregarious man comfortable talking to people of all political beliefs — liberal and conservatives.
“He knew just about everyone by first name,” Lujan said.
Former Democratic U.S. Jeff Bingaman, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Apodaca, Democratic Attorney General Gary King and Democratic State Treasurer James Lewis were among the elected officials who attended the funeral services at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Cargo, an Army veteran, was later buried at the national cemetery in Santa Fe.
The former governor was known for his sharp sense of humor and one-liners.
Cargo once issued an executive order reducing the work week of maintenance workers in government buildings from six to five days a week and boosting their pay.
“They needed the money. That’s why I supported the minimum wage. I think people ought to have enough money so they feel like Republicans whether they vote that way or not,” Cargo joked during a Capitol ceremony in 2011 when a bronze bust of the former governor was placed in the statehouse.