Fishing, traveling and spending time with his wife, Jana, and their grandchildren is how Bob Wooley plans to spend his retirement.
The New Mexico state representative has decided to step away from his role representing District 66 once his term ends in January. The district covers portions of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties.
“We’ve been up there eight years, Jana and I have, and it has been a wonderful eight years,” said Wooley. “But I turned 71 when we were in session in February. You kind of know when it is time to make a change in life, and it is time for us.”
Wooley has represented the area since being appointed to the seat by Gov. Susana Martinez in 2011. She tapped him after appointing his predecessor, Keith Gardner, as her chief of staff. Wooley had been Gardner’s campaign treasurer in 2010.
Roswell oil and gas businessman and rancher Phelps Anderson, a Republican, is the only person who has filed for the District 66 seat.
Wooley won’t be completely out of politics. He is introducing Anderson to political candidates, county officials and other people. Wooley also predicts that he will return to Santa Fe on occasion to advocate for causes he cares about, which include veterans, right-to-life, right-to-work and gun ownership issues.
Jana, his wife of 43 years and a former school teacher in the area, says that the family will be happy to have their “Bop” back, the nickname Wooley has been given by one of their five grandchildren.
“You know, it is a 365-day job,” said Jana Wooley. “Unfortunately people think you just go up there and spend a month or two months and that is the end of it. But for those who are really good representatives and senators, they give it their all, and Bob has always been that kind of person. … He has always had a heart to help people, and this has just been one of those ways to get that done.”
Wooley recalls being “shocked” and “scared to death, totally blind” when he first joined the Legislature, with a quick appointment process that meant he missed the orientation new legislators receive.
It was his first turn in public office. The closest role he had previously was as head of a Goddard High School parent advisory council. Before serving in the Legislature, he was an insurance agent and a business owner. As a young adult, he was an oilfield worker who got paid 75 cents an hour.
He remembers that, after the first week, he thought, “This is not for me.” But he stuck with his new vocation. In 2012, he won a re-election bid against Dennis Kintigh, now mayor of Roswell but a state representative at that time. Redistricting had assigned Kintigh’s District 68 to the Rio Rancho area, which put the two against each other. Wooley then ran unopposed twice more.
Wooley credits his success to the “prayers and support” of voters in the area, as well as his sister, a “converted Democrat” whom he characterized as a diligent campaign manager, and his wife.
“This lady here, she has been my steadfast — she has opened doors for me, been with me every step of the way, worked hard, hard, hard to help me get elected. I couldn’t have done it without her,” he said. “And having her in Santa Fe … I don’t know how guys go over there and spend 60 days without their wives. I wouldn’t want to even attempt it.”
He considers his biggest accomplishments related to the cause he considers most personal, veterans issues.
“Everyone up there has their niche,” he said. “I am a Vietnam veteran, and my niche was kind of helping veterans. I was able to be the chairman of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which was quite an honor. And this past session, we passed a little bill, House Bill 67, called Stolen Valor, which states in New Mexico that, if you imitate or pretend to be a veteran for monetary gain, you can go to jail for it.”
He said a lot of his efforts on behalf of fellow veterans occurred outside the Legislature, including serving on three veterans-related boards, obtaining $1.2 million over four years to provide treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, and helping veterans to get into a hospital or a doctor’s office.
“Representative Wooley is one of the strongest advocates for veterans not only in Chaves County, but in the entire state,” said New Mexico Department of Veterans Services Secretary Jack Fox. “As a proud Vietnam War veteran, he was very involved with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire. He’s always been there for us whenever we needed his expertise and leadership on veterans issues in the Legislature. Veterans and their families will be forever grateful for his hard work on their behalf.”
Wooley said he also is pleased with several other pieces of legislation he helped pass: a bill that ended sales tax on commercial airplane purchases, which has helped Aersale and Stuart Industries in Roswell with their work to restore, dismantle and store airplanes; legislation to raise pay for county employees; and a bill that enables the New Mexico Military Institute to use some of its funds for tuition scholarships for in-state students.
His support for the Roswell International Air Center, which has included working with other area legislators to obtain millions for hangar repairs, also is recognized in the area.
“It has been a pleasure working with him over the past few years on important air center legislation,” said John Mulcahy, executive director of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. “He has been a passionate advocate for economic development in our state.”
Wooley said he wants people to know that he is grateful.
“If you stop and think, out of 2.1 million people in this state, there are 112 legislators in the House and Senate, so not many people get to do that,” he said. “We have been very blessed, and I will also say that I think we were there because God put us there and He certainly gave us a lot of guidance and direction while we were there.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.