Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
A member of a prominent and politically active family who owned an insurance business in New Mexico, Manuel Luján, Jr. was born on May 12, 1928, on a small farm near the Indian Pueblo of San Ildelfonso, New Mexico. He attended parochial schools in his hometown, and graduated from St. Michael's High School in Santa Fe. After his 1950 graduation from the College of Santa Fe, Luján followed in his father's footsteps by first dedicating himself to the family insurance business and then embarking on a political career. His father served as mayor of Santa Fe and had been a candidate for both the governorship of New Mexico and Congress.
In 1964 Manuel Luján, Jr. was defeated in his election bid for the State Senate. In 1968 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico's First District. In the 1970's he was reelected with over fifty-five percent of the vote in each election, serving for twenty years and becoming the longest serving Republican from New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives. By the time he retired, he was the ranking Member on the Science, Space and Technology Committee; and the Interior and Insular Affairs Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.
During his first term, Luján was appointed to the Mexico-United States Interparliamentary Group, which promotes dialogue between legislators of the two countries.
During his congressional career, Luján worked towards the economic development of New Mexico; he was a strong supporter of nuclear energy development, but worked towards preventing the construction of nuclear-waste facilities in New Mexico. He proposed instead using existing contaminated sites. He advocated opening federal lands to mining, grazing, logging, and recreation, and supported balanced-budget legislation. He also pushed numerous laws dealing with Native American issues, including the return of land titles to Indian Pueblos and providing financial assistance for the economic development of Indian organizations. He introduced legislation to provide income tax credits for educational tuition and supported legislation for the elderly.
In 1980 Luján faced a strong challenge from Bill Richardson, but he was able to win reelection with a slim margin. His district changed from largely rural to an almost exclusively urban constituency, most of which was concentrated in Albuquerque and employed in the aerospace and high-technology industries. Because of this change, in 1985 he gave up his ranking Republican spot on the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee for the ranking Republican spot on the Science and Technology Committee, and was one of five congressional members of the President's National Space Commission, which was in charge of developing a long term U.S. space policy.
In the 1970's and early 1980's Luján was one of the few prominent Hispanic Republicans, and he was also the only Republican member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Although he usually supported the Reagan administration, he sided with Hispanic leaders and opposed the 1986 legislation revising federal immigration laws that included the levying of sanctions against employers hiring illegal immigrants, which Hispanic leaders feared would lead to discrimination against Hispanics.
In 1989 Luján was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President George Bush, after the Reagan administration had considered him for the position a number of times. He took the oath of office on February 8, 1989. During his service he worked toward economic security through resource development, while maintaining environmental protection to ensure quality of life.
For further reading:
Ralph Nader Congress Project. Manuel Luján, Jr., Republican Representative from New Mexico. Washington D.C.: Grossman Publishers, 1972.
Valdez, William J. "Crossing Swords with the Liberals." Hispanic Review of Business (May 1986).