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State Sen. Cisneros remembered as a ‘homegrown statesman’


State Police officers stand next to the casket of state Sen. Carlos Cisneros, following a Friday memorial service at the state Capitol in Santa Fe. Cisneros, who died on Sept. 17 after a massive heart attack, had served in the New Mexico Senate in 1985. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Carlos Cisneros, who went from mine welder to Roundhouse budget expert, was remembered by colleagues on Friday as a “homegrown statesman” who ably steered money for needed road, bridge and acequia projects around New Mexico.

More than 200 people packed the state Capitol rotunda for a memorial service honoring Cisneros, who died Sept. 17 after a massive heart attack.

Fellow senators described Cisneros, who was 71, as a hardworking and savvy politician, whose gracious demeanor belied his reputation as a powerful force in shaping the state’s budget.

“Sen. Cisneros was a guru we all looked to for guidance and information,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces.

A Questa Democrat, Cisneros had served in the Legislature since 1985, making him the chamber’s second longest-serving member.

In recent years, he had served as the Senate Finance Committee’s vice chairman and taken a lead role in putting together the annual capital outlay bill, a package of public works projects that’s typically funded by bonds backed by future tax dollars.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, who served in the Senate before being elected to the state’s second-highest office last year, extolled Cisneros as a mentor for younger lawmakers and described him as the “capitán de capital outlay.”

Other lawmakers cited Cisneros’ influence in the rollout of the landmark Aamodt water settlement, the creation of a University of New Mexico branch campus in Taos, and the establishment of Eagle Nest State Park in 2004 after years of trying.

“His legislative career was full of achievements that improved the lives of the residents of his district,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat.

A former union leader, Cisneros was a moderate Democrat on social issues. He voted during this year’s 60-day legislative session against a bill that would have repealed a long-dormant state abortion ban and voted against a domestic partnership measure in 2009 that would have granted benefits to same-sex couples.

But Cisneros voted with other Democrats on many high-profile bills, including a measure during this year’s session that expanded background check requirements for firearm sales.

His biggest impact came on budget-related matters, however, and several legislators said Cisneros’ knowledge will be difficult to replace.

“I’m already worrying about what’s going to happen in the session without him,” said Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, referring to the 30-day session that starts in January.

Several Republican lawmakers also attended Friday’s memorial service, with one GOP senator saying Cisneros was willing to work across party lines.

“He had a very gentle way of listening to what we had to say,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington. “That gentleness, that statesmanship, is rare in the rest of the world.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will ultimately choose someone from among a list of names sent to her by county commissioners in Taos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties – the four counties fully or partly encompassed by Senate District 6 – to serve the remaining year on the four-year term Cisneros was elected to in 2016.

The governor on Friday ordered that all state flags be flow at half-staff until sundown Sunday in honor of Cisneros’ life.

Meanwhile, the Senate has now lost two of its longest-serving members this year – former Sen. John Pinto, who trained as a Navajo Code Talker, died in Gallup in May at age 94.

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