Congenial. Fair. Smart. Trustworthy. Man of his word.
These were words used to describe Sen. Stuart Ingle when I spoke to his colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, in the Senate. Ingle, a veteran of the New Mexico Senate, resigned recently, deciding to call it quits after almost 40 years.
In his typical, low-key manner, he loaded up his box of belongings from his Senate office, and when a passerby asked him what he was doing, he said “I’m done. I’m out of here.”
Ingle came to the Senate in 1985. His first term was the only time he served in the majority. The Senate was evenly divided, 21-21. The 21 Republicans formed a coalition with four Democrats to elect a Democratic president pro-tem and to pass legislation. In the 1988 election, Republicans lost five seats, ending the coalition.
His fellow senator, Gay Kernan, described him best: “Stuart was an example of collegiality and always had an open-door policy.” She applauded his understanding that members came from various parts of the state with different interests. He advised them to do the best job they could and represent “the folks in their district.” And he gave them the freedom to do so.
A review of his legislation over the years shows he followed his own advice, making sure Eastern New Mexico University and rural New Mexicans had a voice in the chamber.
Sen. Michael Sanchez, a Democrat who served as majority leader when Ingle was minority leader, called him “greatest guy ever.” Sanchez, along with Kernan and other current members, acknowledge that Ingle’s retirement will be a loss of institutional history, support for the staff and Legislative Council Service who make the wheels turn, and critical budget knowledge.
When I joined the Senate as lieutenant governor in 2003, Ingle was in his fifth term. I didn’t know him. Lobbyist Tom Horan had assured me that he was one of “the good guys.” Not having served in the Legislature, I had tried to prepare to be president of the Senate but still needed all the help I could get. I quickly understood that as minority leader, Sen. Ingle wasn’t going to let his caucus embarrass me. But what I really learned and enjoyed during my term and beyond, was Sen. Ingle had a sense of humor – something essential to success and sanity when you are in public office.
When I visited with Ingle after his retirement, I asked him if I could tell a favorite story or two. He said nothing was off limits.
One of my favorites was an evening of one of the exceedingly long, late-night sessions. Ingle called me at my desk and said he was going to the restaurant next door. He asked if I wanted something, to which I jokingly responded, “vodka on the rocks?” The session dragged on with interminable speeches that had been heard before. Later, Sen. Ingle came up to the desk and brought me a cup of coffee. I took a sip and surprise! Vodka on the rocks!! Remembering it still makes me laugh.
Ingle almost always referred to me as “little lady.” When a member of his caucus wanted to be recognized, he would call me and say, “Hey, little lady.” Sometimes he would greet me that way at a reception. It wasn’t offensive, it was endearing. That was the language of our shared history in Southeastern New Mexico.
Ingle takes pride in his title of “farmer,” but as his colleagues pointed out, don’t let that fool you. He knew as much about the institution of the Senate, the budget, counting votes and working across the aisle as anyone to grace the chamber. And is still one of the good guys.