Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: June 7, 1972, Santa Fe .
Education: NM Highlands U., B.B.A., 2007..
The new congressman from the 3rd District is Democrat Ben Ray Luján, who was elected in 2008 to the seat vacated when Democrat Tom Udall ran for the Senate. A seventh-generation New Mexican, Luján (LOO-han) is the son of state House Speaker Ben Luján. Luján was born in Santa Fe and grew up on his family’s farm, where he and his three siblings helped raise cattle, sheep and chickens. Luján’s father was a union ironworker who was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 1975. Luján’s mother worked as a secretary for the Pojoaque Valley School District. After graduating from Pojoaque High School, Luján worked as a card dealer in a casino while attending classes at New Mexico Highlands University. In 2002, he became a deputy state treasurer, and a year later, he went to the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs as its chief financial officer and director of administrative services.
|Ben Ray Luján (D)||161,292||(57%)||($1,520,908)|
|Daniel East (R)||86,618||(30%)||($190,884)|
|Carol Miller (I)||36,348||(13%)||($42,154)|
|Ben Ray Luján (D)||26,775||(42%)|
|Donald Wiviott (D)||16,497||(26%)|
|Benny Shendo (D)||10,148||(16%)|
|Harry Montoya (D)||7,234||(11%)|
Luján’s first experience with electoral politics was 2004, when he was elected to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, which regulates utilities, telecommunications, insurance and transportation in the state. Despite his somewhat sparse credentials, his fellow commissioners elected him chairman. The most pressing issue was the failure of Qwest Communications to invest a promised $788 million in its New Mexico communications network. Under Luján’s leadership, the PRC ordered Qwest to invest in infrastructure or refund the money to customers. Qwest refused, and Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson advocated for a settlement. But Luján and the PRC steadfastly rejected Qwest’s settlement offer, opting instead to take the company to the New Mexico Supreme Court. In 2006, the court sided with the commission, and Qwest ultimately agreed to spend $270 million in the state over three years.
When Udall gave up his House seat to run for the Senate, there was speculation that Luján’s connections to the state’s Democratic establishment might help him seal the party’s nomination without competition from other interested candidates. A year earlier, the New Mexico Legislature passed a law stipulating that candidates had to receive 20% of the delegate vote at their respective party’s pre-primary nominating convention in order to get their names on the primary ballot. The district’s Democratic delegation consisted largely of elected officials, which worked in Luján’s favor. New Mexico developer Donald Wiviott filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law. The state Legislature then changed the law to allow candidates who fell short of 20% to get on the ballot by gathering additional signatures from registered voters. At the Democratic nominating convention, Luján got 40% of the vote and Wiviott 30%; both were on the primary ballot. Also on the ballot was Benny Shendo, former head of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.
The primary race quickly turned negative. Wiviott ran ads claiming Luján’s father had helped him secure his job as deputy state treasurer and criticizing Luján’s attendance record on a governor-appointed Telehealth Commission. He also called for Luján to release his college transcripts. Luján responded with ads claiming that Wiviott’s Texas trailer-parts company had been charged by the Federal Trade Commission with price-fixing and called for Wiviott to release his tax returns. But Shendo caused the race’s biggest controversy when he implied that Luján was gay at a candidate forum. In a later email, he said Luján’s parents had hired a woman to pretend that she was Luján’s girlfriend. Shendo, who had been gaining traction among the district’s liberal voters, drew criticism from local gay-rights groups.
Luján picked up endorsements from Richardson, local labor unions and the Sierra Club environmental group. Wiviott was endorsed by Joe Wilson, husband of ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson, a former covert agent whose outing by officials in the Bush administration caused a major controversy in 2003-07; the couple had recently moved to Santa Fe. Wiviott invested almost $1.6 million of his own money in the campaign. Luján spent less than $800,000. Luján won with 42% of the vote to Wiviott’s 26%. Shendo got 16%.
In the general election, Luján faced Republican Daniel East, a building contractor, and independent Carol Miller. The district’s strong Democratic leanings and Luján’s aggressive fundraising made the race a foregone conclusion. He won with 57% of the vote. East received 30%, Miller 13%.
Luján sits on the Committee on Homeland Security and the Science and Technology Committee.