NM Former Legislator Max Coll 1932-2014

Max Coll
SANTA FE – Max Coll, who began his bifurcated political career as a Republican in one of the most conservative areas of New Mexico and ended it as a Democrat in the most liberal, died Thursday night. He was 82 years old.

According to close friend Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Coll died after suffering a major stroke last Friday night and was in Christus St.Vincent Regional Medical Center. A statement from family members is expected Friday morning

Born and raised in Roswell, Coll worked in the oil and gas industry and in the 1960s successfully ran for the state House of Representatives on a platform of slashing taxes. According to a 2013 House Memorial bill honoring him, a crew-cutted Coll handed out matchbooks during the campaign emblazoned with the slogan, “All for Coll.”
In a hint to his eventual political right-to-left transition, Coll in 1972 co-sponsored the New Mexico Equal Rights Amendment. He left the Roundhouse in 1974 to complete a law degree from the University of New Mexico and moved to northern New Mexico upon graduation.

By 1980, Coll had the itch to return to the Legislature and was elected that fall as the state rep in Santa Fe’s District 47 as a Republican. Gone was the buzz-cut, as Coll let his curly hair grow out and, in time, he even sported a stud in each ear lobe.
In 1983, Coll approached then Speaker of the House Raymond Sanchez and switched parties, becoming a Democrat.

While long priding himself as a fiscal hawk, Coll became a liberal mainstay and a strong voice for environmental concerns. Coll may have had investments in oil and gas but he had this to say to a reporter in 2010 of the relationship between the Legislature and the energy industry: “They’ve been partners with ‘em, they’ve been kissin’ them on the lips for a number of years.”

Possessing a sharp mind for state finances, Coll eventually served as chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee and House Appropriations and Finance Committee and also was a longtime member of the influential Legislative Finance Committee. He worked with five governors in the course of 24 years.

Coll clashed with Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson – over what Coll felt was the executive’s attempts at consolidating Roundhouse power, among other things – and in 2004 Coll retired from politics at the age of 72.

“Max knew the rules better than anybody,” Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez said in February of 2013 when Coll, along with his wife, Catherine Joyce-Coll, was honored on the floor of the House.

Coll and Joyce-Coll met at the Roundhouse after Joyce-Coll took a job working for Roundhouse Democrats during a legislative session.

Lovers of animals and owners of a collection of dogs and tropical birds in their home in the Santa Fe foothills, the couple helped state Sen. Wirth pass a bill in 2011 that allowed restaurants across the state to permit dogs to sit with their owners in outdoor patio areas.
The bill was signed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, herself a dog lover, and the Colls appeared at the signing ceremony.

In his later years, Coll met regularly with friends and political pals for luncheon dates on the Santa Fe Plaza and hosted friendly games of poker along with his wife. Coll battled diabetes and intestinal ailments but always managed to maintain a calm, almost courtly, demeanor.
“I’d complain about getting old,” he said, smiling to a friend in 2012, ”but, you know, it doesn’t do any good.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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