John Dendahl (Associated Press)
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - John Dendahl, who led the Republican Party of New Mexico for nearly a decade and was known for his fearless challenges of Democrats, has died. He was 75.
Family and friends said Dendahl died Saturday in a Colorado hospital from complications from leukemia treatments. His wife, Jackie, said he had been in the hospital for a month.
Known as an articulate and combative conservative, Dendahl served as GOP chairman from 1994 until 2003.
"The Democrats would be throwing spit wads at us, and John Dendahl was an F-16," former Gov. Gary Johnson told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1iWTv7G), describing the political battles of the era.
Dendahl ran for governor in 1994 but lost to then-political newcomer Johnson, who went on to win the general election that year. That same year, Dendahl was elected state Republican Party chairman, and he and Johnson became friends.
Dendahl came under fire from his own party when he backed Johnson's criticism of the war on drugs and Johnson's calls for drug law decriminalization. However, the party looked to him to run against Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006 when the Democrat was seeking a second term.
A self-described "pit bull" for the GOP, Dendahl took on public school teachers, unions, environmentalists and public corruption.
Earl Potter of Santa Fe, who was state chairman of the Democratic Party during Dendahl's early years as GOP chairman, told The Santa Fe New Mexican on Sunday (http://bit.ly/1gBqfGT) that he was saddened by Dendahl's death.
"He knew how to insult without being offensive," Potter said. "He could make people mad, but on a personal level, he was extremely gracious."
Potter said hearing of Dendahl's death made him "homesick for the day when parties could fight in public, then come together on important issues."
Albuquerque attorney and Republican national committeeman Pat Rogers called Dendahl a leader and a fearless friend.
"John was ever honest and resolute ... no matter how difficult the trial or how daunting the challenge," Rogers said. "He made the Republican Party, New Mexico and everything he touched better.
Dendahl was born in Santa Fe in 1938. He earned degrees in electrical engineering and business administration from the University of Colorado and was a member of its ski team. He was also a cross-country skier on the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.
Dendahl was president of First National Bank of Santa Fe and head of Eberline Instrument Corp. before being tapped to serve as secretary of the state Economic Development and Tourism Department under then-Gov. Garrey Carruthers in 1988.
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