Damian Lara, a lawyer and former congressional staffer, views his life story as the embodiment of the American dream, and he said he’s running for Congress to help others achieve the dream for themselves.
Raised by a single mother and an aunt in the eastern New Mexico farming community of Melrose, Lara, 40, said he grew up working in the potato and onion fields before moving to El Paso, where he finished high school and was accepted to Brown University, an Ivy League school in Rhode Island.
Lara says that he worked his way through high school and college and that after graduating, he took a job with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington. He eventually made his way back to New Mexico, where he received a law degree at the University of New Mexico in 2007. Since then, Lara has served as counsel in the state House of Representatives, deputy assessor of Bernalillo County and as an immigration and family lawyer.
“For me, it really is the best way I know how to give back to the people of New Mexico,” Lara said of his decision to seek the 1st Congressional District seat. “I know what it’s like to not only struggle and work hard and achieve the American dream, but because of my education and professional career – 15 years of reading and drafting legislation – I know how to draft laws that can improve the lives of New Mexicans.”
In a Journal interview, Lara touted his experience with the legislative process as distinguishing him from the pack of five other Democratic candidates in the 1st District.
“It was my job to implement the legislative strategy – everything from following the appropriations process to working on things like the farm bill, the (military) Base Realignment and Closure process, and those things that we are heavily dependent on in New Mexico,” Lara said. “I’m completely and intimately knowledgeable with the issues of New Mexico, whether it’s the jet fuel (leak) at Kirtland Air Force Base or securing funding for uranium mining reclamation in Indian country. Those are issues that we are heavily involved in here in New Mexico, but they also impact directly with the policies and funding in Washington, D.C.
“No disrespect to the other candidates, but I am the only candidate who has the critical work experience in Washington,” he added.
He also says he is the only candidate who has had a business that has employed other people.
Lara said that if 1st District voters send him to Washington, he will focus on policies that can help alleviate poverty, including increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and supporting tax reforms that benefit the middle class. He also vowed to fight for easier access to loans for hardworking New Mexicans, including small business people, farmers and ranchers. Lara said he and his wife, who both hold law degrees, were unable to get affordable loans and had to rely on an older friend to help start their firm.
“While the rest of the country is at 4 percent or 3 percent unemployment, we’re still twice that, at 6 or 7 percent unemployment,” Lara said. “We really need to make sure we fix that, and part of the way we do that is to make sure we address wealth inequality.
“We have to make sure the priorities are for hardworking New Mexicans and not the 1 percent.”
Lara has been endorsed by Albuquerque Our Revolution; Bernalillo County Bernie Dems; former state Rep. Eleanor Chavez; Teresa Garcia, founder of One of Many; and others.