Tags: lujan | nixon | bush | endangered species | new mexico

Remembering Ex-Rep. and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan: "Pure New Mexico"

Remembering Ex-Rep. and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan: "Pure New Mexico"
Manuel Lujan. (Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty)

By    |   Thursday, 02 May 2019 09:53 PM

When news came out April 25 that Manuel Lujan, Jr. died at age 90, some of the reporters who covered the former Republican U.S. Representative from New Mexico and U.S. Secretary of the Interior began speculating over who gave him the nickname he so loathed—“Manny.”

Richard Nixon, whose nomination for President the young Lujan vigorously backed in 1960 and ’68, reportedly started calling him “Manny.” 

House GOP Leader Gerald Ford picked up the habit and, as chairman of the 1972 Republican National Convention, recognized Lujan to second Nixon’s renomination for President with: “Manny, you’re on!”

Although Lujan preferred “Manuel” to “Manny,” he never grew upset when called by the latter name. The ever-grinning New Mexican, in fact, rarely grew upset about anything and, when faced with something that could be interpreted as offensive or critical, he would usually turn it away with his booming laugh or a puff on his ever-present pipe.

“You can take the Interior Secretary out of his home state but you can never take the home state out of the Interior Secretary,” Anne House Quinn, who worked for Lujan from 1991-93 as head of the Take Pride in America program, told Newsmax, “Manual Lujan always wore short-sleeved dress shirts. He was pure New Mexico.”

But Quinn and other former associates of Lujan at the Interior Department admit even his sense of humor and avuncular nature was not enough to deter sharp criticism from the environmentalist community and the liberal press.  Lujan was trying to perform a delicate balancing act between the interests of conservation and development of public lands.  He could not have picked a worse time at which to try.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred while Lujan was George H.W. Bush’s Interior Secretary.  Lujan took the Administration’s line that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) should be opened for oil drilling.  He made it clear he was no fan of the Endangered Species Act and refused to extend its protection to the northern spotted owl (dubbed by Bush “the little furry-feathery guy”) when its habitat was threatened by loggers in the Northwest.

Lujan seemed to foresee his tenure when, in his first year as Interior Secretary, he arrived at a reception of environmentalists and declared: “It’s nice to see so many people with lawsuits against me!”

One of nine children of insurance man and Santa Fe Mayor Manuel Lujan, Sr., the young Lujan graduated from St. Michael’s College (now the College of Santa Fe) in 1950.  Two years earlier, he got his first taste of politics by driving his father around the state when the elder Lujan was the Republican nominee for governor (he lost to Democratic incumbent Thomas Mabry).

Lujan, Jr. threw himself into the family insurance business as well as Republican politics and the Catholic Church.  He rose to become a Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus. 

Defeated in a bid for state senate, Lujan became vice chairman of the state Republican Party.  In 1968, as friend Nixon and Republican Gov. David Cargo were leading the ticket, Lujan pulled off a spectacular upset by unseating five-term Democratic Rep. Thomas Morris, Jr. 

In so doing, Lujan became the first Republican U.S. House Representative from the Land of Enchantment in 46 years.  He was also one of the first Hispanic Republicans elected to Congress anywhere and, for many years, would be the lone Republican in the House Hispanic Caucus.

In twenty years in the House, Lujan compiled a generally right-of-center record. He also rose to be ranking Republican on the House Interior Committee and in 1980, oversaw the passage of his New Mexico Wilderness Act to protect over 600,000 acres in his home state.

That same year, an unwary Lujan got the shock of his political life when a tireless Democratic campaigner named Bill Richardson nearly unseated him (51 to 49 percent). The census in 1981 gave New Mexico a third U.S. House seat, where Richardson moved to run and win easily (and go on to be UN ambassador, secretary of energy, and governor of New Mexico).  Lujan won the redistricted 1st (suburban Albuquerque) for six more years (three terms).

After relinquishing his House seat in 1988, Lujan wanted to go home to New Mexico, But close friend and President-elect Bush persuaded him to join the Cabinet instead.  By 1992, following Bush’s defeat, Lujan had enough and finally went home.

Contrasting his early years in Congress to the Washington DC of today, Lujan told the “New Mexican” in 2010:” Republicans and Democrats all got along, and we patronized each other's watering holes. Today things are so different - it's no longer a friendly place. Now if I was offered a political position, I wouldn't accept it."

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When news came out April 25 that Manuel Lujan, Jr. died at age 90, some of the reporters who covered the former Republican U.S. Representative from New Mexico and U.S. Secretary of the Interior began speculating over who gave him the nickname he so loathed-"Manny."
lujan, nixon, bush, endangered species, new mexico
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2019-53-02
Thursday, 02 May 2019 09:53 PM
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