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Roosevelts a family of courage

link Karl Terry

Local columnist

My wife and I recently watched a seven-part documentary entitled “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” that I think sheds a lot of light on the politics of the New Mexico county of the same name, in which I live.

Anyone familiar with the history of Roosevelt County might rightly pronounce us a bit schizophrenic where politics is concerned. We’ve always been conservative but we’ve not always leaned to the Republican side of things. In fact, a good portion of our more than a century as a county we were heavily Democratic, yet most of that time was as a dry county.

Portales started out a cow town and thus was wild and wooly in its first few years, but as soon as the dirt farmers began to nest in soddies out on the prairie round about, the saloons were all shut down. It was the first mayor of Portales, Washington Ellsworth Lindsey, who was largely responsible for Portales’ premature Prohibition, which lasted long after the rest of the nation had begun to imbibe.

Lindsey, who later served as New Mexico’s third governor, was a part of the Progressive wing of the Republican party like the county’s namesake, Theodore Roosevelt. Both were Prohibitionists and both favored women’s suffrage.

The documentary details how TR left the White House of his own accord after his second term, then regretting the decision attempted to win back the presidency four years later, even going so far as to form the Bull Moose party. Lindsey left after one term as governor when he failed to gain the Republican nomination because of differences between his progressive views and the “Old Guard” Republicans.

County politics and state politics began moving toward the Democrat ticket after that and I believe became firmly entrenched after Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took the office of president in 1933.

Rural electrification, soil conservation efforts and Social Security were probably enough to win the hearts of poor, hardworking farmers in Roosevelt County over to the Democratic Party. Throw in his leadership through World War II and the fact that Americans knew him as their president for more than 12 years and I think you’ll see why the conservative citizens of Roosevelt County, and other counties in eastern New Mexico didn’t switch party allegiance until late in the 20th Century.

Strangely enough I grew up in between with one set of grandparents who were devout Roosevelt Democrats and the other set Archie Bunker Republicans. My parents defaulted to the Democrat side with most of the rest of the county. Anytime I asked why they were Democrats the answer was always, “If we don’t register Democrat we won’t have a choice in the primary.”

My first vote for president was for a Democrat and it turns out that peanut farmer was indeed a man of great character but a lousy president. Since that time I’ve mostly been registered as a Republican, sometimes an Independent.

I appreciate FDR’s legacy and leadership, but if I had to caucus in one Roosevelt camp or the other today I would be with Teddy, probably all the way through the Bull Moose ticket, but maybe not to the top of San Juan Hill.

Bob Schieffer of CBS’ “Face the Nation” put it well when he told his viewers after watching the documentary that the overriding theme of the Roosevelts’ story was their courage. He noted that it took seven episodes and 14 hours to tell of that courage. He ended with the comment that a story of all the courage displayed in all of Washington these days could be told in 30 minutes — maybe less.

Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

[email protected]

 
 
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