John Dendahl

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John Dendahl
Born 28 September 1938
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Died 9 November 2013
Denver, Colorado, USA
Nationality American
Occupation Businessman, educator, Olympic skier, politician
Known for New Mexico State Republican Party Chairman

John Dendahl (1938–2013) was a New Mexico business executive, Republican politician, and syndicated columnist. While attending the University of Colorado, he led two NCAA champion skiing teams, won three individual NCAA titles and was a member of the U.S. ski team at the 1960 Winter Olympics. He was inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame and the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame.

Childhood and Education[edit]

Dendahl was born September 28, 1938, in Santa Fe, New Mexico where his great grandparents emigrated from Germany in the 1870s. His parents were John D. and Eleanor (née Hoge) Dendahl, both deceased. The elder Dendahl owned a merchant business established in 1901 by his grandfather, Johann, and operated by the family for three generations.

Dendahl attended public schools and graduated from Santa Fe High School in 1956. He attended the University of Colorado in Boulder and graduated in 1961 with bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering (electronics) and business administration (finance). He was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and was the university's Outstanding Senior Athlete in 1960.

Business History[edit]

During his college years, Dendahl had summer jobs at Eberline Instrument Corporation (now a subsidiary of Thermo Electron Corporation). Eberline designed and manufactured radiation-monitoring instruments and systems used in national defense, the fuel cycle for nuclear-electric power plants, and other applications of radioisotopes. It also furnished related analytical and consulting services. Following college graduation, Dendahl joined Eberline full-time as an engineer.

In January 1964, Dendahl left Eberline for three-and-a-half years, then returned in 1967 to become its chief financial officer. Six years later, he became chief executive officer. He held that position, followed by a vice presidency of Thermo Electron, for seven years through 1982. A holder of Eberline shares realized a 400-percent increase in value during the four years between Dendahl's becoming Eberline's CEO and its acquisition by Thermo Electron.

During the absence from Eberline, Dendahl was for two years the first chief financial officer of the then-new Santa Fe campus of St. John's College, followed by 18 months as vice president of the Golden Cycle Corporation in Colorado Springs, CO.

In 1983, Dendahl became general manager of a partnership that owns more than 20,000 acres of largely undeveloped land adjoining the south limit of Santa Fe, supervising a variety of activities to create added value for the partners' investment. He also formed a partnership which successfully carried out historical rehabilitation of an office building he owned in downtown Santa Fe.

In 1985, Dendahl became president of The First National Bank of Santa Fe which, like many other banks and S & Ls of the period, was suffering from loan quality problems and the consequent regulatory pressure. The bank came under special supervision (a Letter Agreement) by the Comptroller of the Currency a few months after Dendahl had taken his office. Improvements under the management of Dendahl and his colleagues led to termination of the special supervision in just 364 days, an unusual achievement.

For the three years 1988 through 1990, Dendahl served in the administration of Republican Governor Garrey Carruthers as New Mexico's Secretary of Economic Development and Tourism. During the year prior to this appointment, Dendahl was a Carruthers appointee on the N.M. State Investment Council, which oversees officials charged with managing the state's two large permanent funds (effectively endowment funds).

During and after his business career, Dendahl has served on the boards of directors of numerous charitable organizations, beginning as do so many young businesspeople with his community's United Way. Subsequent board service has included, among others, Sangre de Cristo Girl Scout Council, New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, The Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe Preparatory School, School of American Research (now School for Advanced Research), Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), and St. John's College. St. John's is the respected liberal arts college with campuses in Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe; Dendahl was chairman of its board for two of his many years of service. He also chaired MSLF's board for three years and remains a member emeritus.

Political History[edit]

In 1994, Dendahl unsuccessfully sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New Mexico, coming in third in the primary with 19% behind businessmen Gary Johnson (35%) and Richard P. Cheney (33%).[1] However, later that year, Dendahl was elected chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party (RPNM), a position he held for nine years until he was defeated in 2003 by State Senator Ramsay Gorham of Albuquerque in his bid for re-election to a fifth term.

When he assumed the chairmanship, the majority of registered voters in the state were Democrats, and the Democrats had had substantial control of New Mexico government for at least five decades,[citation needed] despite Republican governors, such as Mechem, Cargo, and Carruthers. Dendahl took seriously the fight to elect Republicans to public office. At one point following Republican Bill Redmond's surprising 1997 win of a U.S. House of Representatives seat never before held by a Republican, reporter Tim Archuleta of The Albuquerque Tribune called Dendahl "the most feared and loathed politician in New Mexico."

Not one to avoid controversy, Dendahl publicly agreed with Gov. Johnson when, in mid-1999, Johnson challenged the so-called War on Drugs as a failure and called for drug decriminalization. Eighteen months later, Johnson submitted to the State Legislature eight relatively minor proposals for modifying the state's drug laws, including decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. When Dendahl appeared at a press conference to support the governor's legislation, the state's senior U.S. senator, Republican Pete Domenici, was furious. He and the state's two Republican U.S. House Members, Joe Skeen and Heather Wilson, publicly called for Dendahl's removal as chairman, and Domenici aggressively sought action by the party's state central committee to effect that.

A letter to Dendahl dated March 7, 2001, and signed by all three said, “You have led the effort to…build one of the strongest Republican organizations in our state’s history. You are an effective communicator and have always stepped up to the plate when we needed your help and we will always be indebted to you for your efforts. However, we are strongly opposed to your recent actions regarding the current initiative to de-criminalize the possession of marijuana in New Mexico. …[W]e can no longer support you as our party chairman and would respectfully ask that you not seek re-election to a [fourth] term.”

Dendahl did seek, and won, a fourth term.

Somewhat more than two months later, U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched his registration from Republican to Independent, transferring control of the United States Senate from Republican to Democrat. Domenici's tune was one of stunningly greater tolerance. An article in the Albuquerque Journal on May 25, 2001 quoted Domenici: "I believe [Jeffords’] final decision again sends a message that the Republican leadership must be more tolerant of a wide range of different views." Rep. Wilson was quoted in the same article to say, "[Jeffords] made a decision of conscience and you have to respect that. The party is big enough to reflect different views.”

"But," Dendahl noted, "apparently not big enough for a view supporting decriminalizing possession of an ounce of pot."

2006 Race for Governor[edit]

Dendahl became the 2006 Republican gubernatorial nominee in New Mexico on June 17, 2006, when Dr. J.R. Damron, the unopposed Republican who won the primary election, withdrew.[2] In accordance with state law, the Republican Party's state central committee met to name a replacement. Dendahl was the only person nominated and became the party's general election nominee to oppose incumbent Gov. Bill Richardson.

Dendahl and Richardson had a history of mutual dislike going back more than 25 years to Richardson's first candidacy for a U.S. House of Representatives seat. Dendahl was an outspoken advocate for nuclear power. In Dendahl's opinion, Richardson signaled opposition and later became one of Congress' most dedicated opponents.

During Dendahl's service as the state's Secretary of Economic Development and Tourism, Richardson became annoyed by official communications from Dendahl in support of a radioactive waste repository in southern New Mexico — the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, aka WIPP — then being planned by the U.S. Government. Dendahl complained of actions taken by Richardson to delay or defeat the project. (Ironically, WIPP, a U.S. Department of Energy facility, commenced actual operation a decade later when Richardson was serving as Pres. Clinton's Secretary of Energy.) At one point, Richardson sent a handwritten note to Dendahl saying, "Your emotional, 'factless,' incorrect and venomous comments are not worth responding to any longer. …You lower the standards of public service with your participation — perhaps that is why you have difficulty in keeping a job for very long."

That was dated January 2, 1989. However, Dendahl's "incorrect and venomous comments" had been vindicated three months earlier in an editorial headlined "WIPP failure … Richardson's folly," published October 9, 1988, by The Santa Fe New Mexican. Usually a reliable Richardson cheerleader, the paper detailed Richardson's single-handedly derailing a bill supported by all others in New Mexico's congressional delegation, thus delaying progress on WIPP and costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars it was to receive for highways and other economic development. Richardson had claimed that "a majority of the citizens of Santa Fe would have revolted" over the bill, but the paper noted that "majority" was "a small but vocal Santa Fe group" of nuclear weapons protesters "almost certainly [not representing] 'majority' thinking in Santa Fe, much less the rest of the state."

Nor was that the end of Richardson's WIPP obstruction. Pres. George H. W. Bush's administration transferred land needed for WIPP from general public use to exclusive use by the DoE for WIPP. The House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, of which Richardson was a member, countered on March 6, 1991, by exercising emergency power under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to prevent the land use for WIPP. Richardson mailed a copy of that action to Dendahl with a handwritten note across the top left corner: "To John Dendahl — This bill's for you — Bill Richardson."

The Dendahl-Richardson relationship did not improve during Richardson's 2002 campaign for governor and the months following his election. Still in his post as Republican State Chairman, Dendahl challenged numerous Richardson decisions as being either illegal or bad public policy. When Dendahl was replaced as GOP chairman and became a syndicated columnist, he turned the heat up further with numerous columns critical of Richardson and his administration.

Immediately following his nomination to oppose Richardson in the 2006 general election, Dendahl made no secret of his opinion that Richardson is ruthless and corrupt. It was no surprise that Dendahl challenged Richardson to debate, and it was no surprise that the incumbent Richardson refused. An article appearing September 23, 2006, in the Albuquerque Journal reported, "Richardson's campaign chairman, Dave Contarino, said the Richardson campaign opposes a live televised debate because it doesn't want to give Dendahl an hour of free air time to tear down New Mexico. 'It would do a disservice to voters.'"

A few days later, an Albuquerque Journal editorial said, "The real disservice is not giving your boss — in this case the voters — an hour of your time to talk about a list of accomplishments [you've bragged to be] '10 miles long' as well as where you want to take the state in the next four years."

Richardson won re-election in a landslide, receiving nearly 69 percent of the vote. Richardson and his allies among labor and environmental organizations outspent Dendahl by at least 50-to-1. For his part, Dendahl was characteristically blunt and inexpedient. For example, he antagonized a large group of voters, government schools teachers, by releasing a statement that they spend too little time on the "three R's" and too much on the three S's — "sexuality, self-esteem and socialism."

Later years[edit]

Upon retiring from New Mexico politics in 2007, Dendahl lived with his wife Jackie in Roxborough Park, Colorado just south of Denver.[3] In 2011, Dendahl became a candidate for the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) Board of Directors, but he failed to unseat the incumbent director Mike Kempe, who won by 61.45% to Dendahl's 38.54%. Dendahl died in Denver, on 9 November 2013.[4]


  1. ^ Petersen, Karen (8 June 1994). "Newcomer Johnson pulls off squeaker". The Santa Fe New Mexican. p. 1, column 2. 
  2. ^ Jones, Jeff (20 June 2006). "Damron Says Choice to Quit Was His". Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Cole, Thomas J. (13 November 2013). "Republican ‘hell-raiser’ John Dendahl: A political life". The Albuquerque Journal. 
  4. ^ Robertson, John (10 November 2013). "John Dendahl, ‘pit bull’ for GOP, dies". The Albuquerque Journal.