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Editorial: Rep. Larrañaga’s career exemplified public service

Public service is a term that’s bandied about a lot, especially in an election season. After all, it’s a lot easier to talk about it on the campaign trail than to actually carry out your duties with it as your guiding principle.

Former Rep. Lorenzo A. “Larry” Larrañaga, an Albuquerque Republican, was one of those who walked the public service talk – an Army veteran, state highway secretary, deputy city administrative officer and lawmaker who didn’t grandstand or seek the limelight. Instead, he was content to do the hard work of researching issues and building coalitions to get things done. Most recently, that involved learning the state’s fiscal picture inside and out, then helping craft budgets that typically allocated limited resources in the best way possible.

A retired rancher and engineer, Larrañaga passed away this week at the age of 80, not long after he began to experience symptoms of what family members say was a degenerative brain disease. He had recently decided not to seek re-election because his wife of 51 years, Charletta, was experiencing health challenges.

A Vietnam veteran, Larrañaga served 24 years in the state House of Representatives. He was the longest-serving Hispanic Republican in the chamber, served on almost every committee, and commanded a breadth and depth of knowledge on important issues ranging from education funding to gambling compacts. News of his passing prompted bipartisan praise for his work ethic, expertise and civility.

“He was a tremendous leader and statesman who will be sorely missed,” said Gov. Susana Martinez, a fellow Republican. “He served our country honorably as a soldier in Vietnam, and was a strong voice for fiscal discipline and conservative values who was always willing to work across the aisle to get things done.”

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said New Mexico had lost a “true statesman,” while Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat who served with Larrañaga in the Legislature, described him as someone willing to work with lawmakers of both parties “for the greater good of New Mexicans.”

Larrañaga grew up on a ranch about 12 miles south of Clines Corners in central New Mexico and became an engineer. He was elected to represent a Northeast Heights District in 1994 and became an expert in budget matters.

“I’ve never seen anyone go through a spreadsheet like Larry did,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

One of Larrañaga’s landmark achievements came just last year during a 2017 special session when he won approval for legislation that created a true “rainy day” fund intended to help the state handle wild swings in revenue tied to oil and gas prices. 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 is projected to have $177 million set aside next July due to a drilling boom in Southeast New Mexico.

That’s prudent leadership and public service at work.

At a time when Americans are justifiably cynical about government and faith in our institutions has declined, it’s helpful to remember there are people like Larrañaga who understand the concept of “public service” and dedicate themselves to it.

He deserves our recognition and thanks.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.