Inside the Capitol

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Eddie Lopez Bust

      SANTA FE – An impressive bust of former Sen. Eddie Lopez was dedicated recently at the State Land Office Building.

    The building was named after Sen. Lopez, a former land office employee, several years ago following the senator’s death in 1996. The artist was famed sculptor Sonny Rivera of Albuquerque, who has created several noted public statues in the state.

    Lopez was one of the quietest lawmakers around but he had a great influence on the legislative process. Admittedly, his good friend Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon received much more publicity for the actions of our state Senate. But it was the calm Sen. Lopez, as majority floor leader, who handled the strategy and maneuvering that made the Senate work even when Aragon’s emotionalism threatened to bring it to a halt.

    As majority floor leader of the Senate, Lopez controlled the flow of business. He decided the committees to which bills would be referred and managed the order of debate. And he did it all without ever raising his voice or uttering a self-serving phrase.

    Ever since the beginning of his second term in the House, in 1971, when the liberal-Democrat Mama Lucy Gang gained control, Lopez was known as a master strategist. He was exceeded in tactical skills only by Albuquerque’s Gene Cinelli, who died of a heart attack in the mid-1970s.

    Another member of the Mama Lucy Gang was young Raymond Sanchez who was first elected in 1970. Sanchez and Lopez remained close even after Lopez moved over to the Senate following the death of Santa Fe Sen. Alex Martinez.

    Lopez also was the legislature’s foremost expert on revenue and budgeting. He had a head for numbers and was willing to do his homework. His quiet competence inspired confidence even from opponents of an issue. He was a straight shooter, who wasted no words. He was able to cut through complex issues and find mutually agreeable solutions even when dealing with former Gov. Gary Johnson, with whom even Republican leaders had trouble communicating.

    The majority floor leader post was the only leadership position Lopez ever held. He never sought visibility. He was content to maneuver behind the scenes to make things work for his side. Once people sought his counsel, they left feeling Lopez had the situation firmly in hand.

    What Lopez didn’t have in hand was his personal life. After three drunken driving arrests in the late 1970s, Lopez was defeated in his bid for a sixth House term. The following year, he was out of a job with a uranium firm – the best job he ever had. A couple of years later, he lost his home.

    Following that, Lopez consulted for a number of firms, using his considerable skills to work them through problems. But he never prospered and he never owned a home again.

    Not owning a home was ironic, considering his proudest legislative achievement was the 1975 legislation that created the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, which has provided home financing for more than 40,000 low- and middle-income families over the years.

    Lopez wouldn’t have appreciated this column. He had trouble with compliments and was bothered by media attention to his personal life. He preferred straight reporting of his accomplishments – no more, no less.

    One measure of Lopez’s effectiveness was that despite his personal problems and despite never promoting himself, when he ran for office scores of friends turned out to work for him.

    Lopez died of an apparent heart attack. During the year preceding his death, four other lawmakers suffered heart attacks or strokes. It likely had nothing to do with that being the first year of Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration, although Johnson was known to cause heartburn for a number of lawmakers.

    Lopez would be proud of his son, Ed Lopez, Jr., who after a successful


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