The former state legislator and white-water rafter doesn’t understand what the big hubbub over him is about. He said he’s always done what he thought was right for New Mexicans. And he did his work with honesty. Coll doesn’t think these characteristics are rare among people so they shouldn’t be among politicians.

When it comes to New Mexico politics, Coll is a true statesman, one of those rare politicians who always left his political affiliation behind when it came to important issues, according to the people who nominated him to be a Living Treasure.

Switching political parties — from Republican to Democrat — in 1983 didn’t stop him from thinking for himself, he said. He kept working for the people of New Mexico — always a champion of the arts in schools, open government, fair tax policy, ethics in government, universal public health care and protecting the environment, no matter what his party believed.

He was the voice of the average Joe, a legislator who rejected the arguments of lobbyists paid by big business, his friends and former colleagues said. “His was the unquestioned voice for the consumer, for the taxpayers, for the little people,” former Gov. Toney Anaya said.

Coll was chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations and Finance Committee, the group that decides how the state’s revenue will be spent. He was elected to the House first from Roswell and later Santa Fe and served for more than 30 years.

Coll, who was born in Roswell, won his first election to the House in 1966. He served as a Republican until 1974. In the 1970s, he moved to Santa Fe and was elected to the Legislature from the Santa Fe district. Later, in the 1980s, he switched parties and even toyed with becoming a Green Party member.

Coll’s friends cite many of his accomplishments during his time in the Legislature. But to him, two issues stand out: getting funding for fine arts in the school system into the state funding formula so money would be earmarked to provide New Mexico children with an arts education, and sponsoring the equal-rights bill that discouraged gender discrimination .

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