Lujan makes final trip to state capitol

Posted at: 12/27/2012 5:50 PM
Updated at: 12/27/2012 6:19 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Ben Lujan, Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, made this last trip to the state Capitol Thursday.

The powerful leader died of lung cancer Dec 18.

Thursday's ceremonies were to honor a long political career that spanned 38 years in the House, and the last 12 years as speaker.

Six of the Speakers oldest friends from the legislature escorted is casket into the capitol where he lay in state for prayer and memories.

Lujan was speaker during all of Bill Richardson's tenure as governor. They were close political allies, but friends, too.

"He would always talk to me about the acequias the land grants the river the environment," Ricahrdson said. "There's nobody that knew northern New Mexico better -nobody that had better ties to the community."

Ben Lujan didn't have a college diploma, but you could say he earned a Ph.D in politics. He was an iron worker at the Los Alamos National Laboratory - a union man - that led him into politics and he never forgot it.

Rep. Ken Martinez, of Grants, will most likely be the next speaker.

"When you saw him with his brothers and sisters in labor, the people that got dirty out here and worked hard to build this state and build this country her was at home," Martinez said.

This man of the people ruled the house with an armored fist that frequently turned out to be tin foil. Even Republicans knew his tender side, but when Lujan saw what had to be done - nothing and nobody got in his way.

The center of attention at the event was Carmen - his bride of 53 years and their son Ben Ray - the U.S. Congressman from the State's northern district.

Outgoing Senate President Tim Jennings remembered clashing with the more liberal Speaker over the years, but said he always admired Lujan's style.

"It was never anything in a grand style," Jennings said. "It was always simple, but always with great deal of class. That's Ben Lujan - that's the way he was."

Legislative Republicans remember Lujan as a strong partisan Democrat who nonetheless found ways to work with them when it counted. 

"He battled something that was as tough a battle as you can have," said Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales. "He's up there now with some great people as he is looking down on you and saying 'I'm okay - I love you all.'"