SANTA FE (KRQE) - One of the most powerful and longest serving lawmakers in New Mexico has died. Speaker of the House Ben Lujan was surrounded by his family Tuesday night as he lost his long battle with cancer.
He was 77 years old.
Ben Lujan and his thick silver locks graced the halls of the New Mexico Roundhouse for 37 years.
The former iron worker from Nambe was first elected in 1974. The Democrat became the House Majority Whip, then House Majority Floor Leader. In 2001, he became one of the most influential lawmakers in the state when he became speaker of the house.
As Speaker, Lujan dictated the daily agenda, and he was known for his keen knowledge in helping steer bills through the house, or sometimes keep measures bottled up in committee.
In 2004 in a fight over a tax cutting bill, Republicans stormed to the front of the chamber and dumped their rule books in front of Lujan in protest.
"He would fight you tooth and nail on the floor of the house on an issue he was adamant about," said Chief Clerk of the House Steve Arias.
In January, Lujan stunned his peers and the state when he announced he had been battling lung cancer for two years
"I was hoping the cancer was gone, but as you can see it is not," Speaker Lujan announced. "But know this, with Carmen and my family and friends and my faith in God, that is a fight I will not shy away from."
Fellow Democrat Ken Martinez of Grants, who is slated to replace Lujan as Speaker, said the best word to describe his mentor is 'tireless.'
"His legacy for New Mexico will be permanent the things he's done for the state over his years of service are incredible," Ken Martinez said.
He remembers the all night sessions at the Roundhouse and said Lujan never skipped a beat.
"Coming out with jacket looking like it just came off a hanger and not a hair misplaced on his head...just perfectly chipper and ready to go and that we speaker Lujan," Martinez said.
Governor Susana Martinez also spoke of Lujan Wednesday saying "he fought for causes near and dear to New Mexicans from all walks of life and guided the House of Representatives through some of the most important debates in our state's history...Chuck and I join all New Mexicans in offering our thoughts and prayers to speaker Lujan's entire family."
Former Governor Bill Richardson also released statement saying: "like a true gladiator he was fighting this disease with courage and conviction…he made lives better for every New Mexican and we will miss him."
Despite how focused Lujan was about state politics, friends said family was Lujan's first priority. Long-time Chief of Staff Regis Pecos said Lujan also had a humorous side that many people did not know.
"He would always talk about how good of a basketball player he was, and his wife would say 'Ben would shoot air balls because ben would be looking at me, and he'd shoot this way because I was a cheerleader,'" said Pecos.
Lujan's son, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, came home from Washington to be with his father last night. Lujan is survived by his high school sweetheart, Carmen, his four children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
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