Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Larry Larrañaga rarely called attention to himself.
But inside the Roundhouse, the longtime lawmaker earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike as an even-keeled budget expert who could set aside politics and get things done.
His death late Tuesday prompted an outpouring of respect and praise from New Mexico leaders across the political spectrum.
A family member said doctors suspect that Larrañaga, 80, had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare degenerative brain disorder, though test results are pending.
“His passing was sudden, but we are grateful that there is no more suffering and he can be at peace,” the Larrañaga family said in a written statement.
Family members added that they “would love for him to be remembered for his honesty, integrity, generosity and willingness to serve others.”
An Albuquerque Republican and retired engineer, Larrañaga emerged as a leading voice on budget legislation during his nearly 24 years in the state House. He was previously a Cabinet secretary for the state Highway Department, now called the Transportation Department, and a former deputy chief administrative officer for Albuquerque.
He had also worked as a rancher and an engineer.
Gov. Susana Martinez called Larrañaga a “tremendous leader and statesman who will be sorely missed.”
“He served our country honorably as a soldier in Vietnam, and as a legislator, he was a strong voice for fiscal discipline and conservative values who was always willing to work across the aisle to get things done,” Martinez said.
Larrañaga formally resigned from the Legislature last week. He had said in August that he was ending his re-election bid.
Lora Lee Ortiz, a niece, said Wednesday that his illness progressed quickly. It was only four or five weeks ago that it “became apparent that he was not feeling quite himself,” she said.
He is survived by his wife, two children and five grandchildren.
“Larry was the rock of our family, a proud veteran of the United States Army, and a tireless public servant who fought for a better New Mexico,” family members said in their written statement. “At home he was a loving husband to Charletta for 51 years and a true family man to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was very proud of his large, faithful and loving family, which included 12 siblings, many brothers and sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and great-nieces and nephews.”
His death was announced Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Economic Forum, a nonpartisan group of Albuquerque-area business leaders.
Michael Canfield, president and CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, told the audience at Hotel Albuquerque that New Mexico has “lost a real hero.”
Larrañaga grew up on a ranch about 12 miles south of Clines Corners in central New Mexico. He won election to a Northeast Heights-based House district in 1994 and rose through the ranks to serve as chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee after Republicans in the 2014 election won a majority in the chamber for the first time in 60 years.
He presided over the budget-writing committee from 2015 through 2016 – both cash-lean years for the state – but lost his chairmanship after Democrats reclaimed control of the House in the 2016 election.
During a 2017 legislative special session, Larrañaga won approval for legislation that created a rainy-day fund intended to help New Mexico handle wild swings in revenue.
The measure calls for revenue from oil and natural gas taxes, if it exceeds a five-year rolling average, to be set aside for future years. It took effect for the current budget year, and $177 million is projected to be set aside in the fund next July, due to an oil drilling boom in southeastern New Mexico.
As news of Larrañaga’s death circulated, community leaders released statements praising his work.
Ryan Cangiolosi, chairman of the state Republican Party, called Larrañaga a “selfless public servant.”
“Larry never sought credit or attention,” Cangiolosi said, “but his work as a lawmaker, a Cabinet secretary and a small-business owner undoubtedly gave New Mexico a brighter future.”
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat who succeeded Larrañaga as head of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said he “was a role model for all of us.”
Larrañaga was “tenacious, and he was very, very thorough in his review of things,” Lundstrom said. “I’ve never seen anybody go through a spreadsheet like Larry did.”
Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat who served in the state House with Larrañaga, said Larrañaga “was always willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for the greater good of New Mexicans.”
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said New Mexico has lost a “true statesman,” while House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, highlighted his determination and steadfastness as examples for all legislators.
Republican Robert Godshall, a retired federal immigration officer, and Democrat Bill Pratt, a retired physician, are running to succeed Larrañaga in House District 27.