A dash of New Mexico in new political book

July 16, 2018

Jamie Koch has forgotten more about the workings of New Mexico politics and government than most of us will ever know.

The native of Santa Fe, who spent 48 years in public service, was a three-term state representative and eight-year chairman of the State Game Commission, and served 13 years as a member of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. Along the way, he worked in the insurance business and also found time to serve as chairman of the state Democratic Party, raise money for a host of candidates and serve as a valued adviser to governors.

Now, Koch has decided to write his memories, penning New Mexico Political History: 1967-2015, Conversations With Those Directly Involved.

Going straight to the source is nothing new for Koch, who is known to be direct in his dealing. In his book, he talks to a number of movers and shakers about the events of the past 50 years in New Mexico politics, letting them speak for themselves. To anyone who wants to know more about politics in the Land of Enchantment, this is a must-read.

He will be discussing his book at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at Hotel Santa Fe, and promises to have a few of the people interviewed along for the show. It should be an inviting afternoon of political history.

After all, Koch is the original author of the 1974 Inspections of Public Records Act, and getting that through the Legislature was no easy task. He can talk about how the state finally passed its first subdivision regulation and pushed for the Open Meetings Act. On the UNM Board of Regents, Koch survived a no-confidence vote from the faculty, helped choose presidents and became an expert in university finances.

But he has personal stories to tell, as well. There’s his dad’s role in helping to bring skiing to Santa Fe and the lessons he learned through sports as a young man. Athletics helped him deal with excess energy and made up for any worries he had about his struggles with dyslexia — “if I hadn’t had sports I think it would have affected my confidence,” he says.

He tells of meeting his wife, Nene, at university. They had a class together (he later stole her books) and a friend, future Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick, eventually introduced them formally. He calls her his closest friend for 60 years.

All of that is in the book, including a revealing interview with former Gov. Bill Richardson, elected when Koch served as party chairman. The two men were more than governor, supporter and fundraiser. As Richardson says it, “We had a personal relationship, too. I’d say, ‘Jamie, you know I need to find some equipment for the mansion, some gym equipment,’ and you would find it.” The gym in the mansion basement came in handy, Richardson says, “because I was getting really fat.”

Richardson respected Koch’s advice, too, remembering how he helped the governor assemble his Cabinet and even saved the job of Michelle Lujan Grisham, then-director of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department. At the time, Richardson had planned to get rid of all the appointees of past Gov. Gary Johnson. “I wanted my own team,” Richardson relates in the book. “You came to me and you said, ‘Don’t fire Michelle Lujan Grisham. I knew her dad, Buddy.’ ”

That’s not all Koch told Richardson. As the ex-governor tells the story, the first meeting with Lujan Grisham — a current U.S. representative running for governor this year as a Democrat — did not go well. “You said, ‘no, no, you gotta name her,” Richardson says. “She will be really good or you’ll have a revolt of all the senior citizens.’ Then all the seniors started going crazy because I hadn’t renamed her.”

Jamie Koch, as was often the case in his long career, had the right advice.

And that’s just one of the stories in the book full of memories from a lifetime in politics. Published by Santa Fe’s own Sunstone Press, the book is honest, forthright and full of detail — a lot like Koch.