The recent death of former state House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, prompted multiple public visitations and memorials last week, including one in the Roundhouse rotunda.
More than 400 public officials, lobbyists, family and community members packed the capitol to pay their respects to the speaker.
“They’re not going to get any influence out of this,” Mukhtiar Singh Khalsa, whom Luján helped to establish the Cuatro Villas Mutual Domestic Water Users Association, told SFR at the time. “People are here because they have a real reason to be here.”
State Rep. and former House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Bernalillo, mentioned Luján’s working-class background and ability to connect with people.
“He had a special place in his heart for those who led a simple life, close to the Earth and to the changing of the seasons,” Stapleton said in her eulogy.
Khalsa, a member of the Española Sikh community, recalls an example of Luján’s outreach. Shortly after an August massacre in a Wisconsin Sikh temple left seven dead, Luján called Khalsa to express his condolences. He was just four months from succumbing to his three-year battle with lung cancer.
“Here he was, going through what he was going through, and he took the time to reach out in the midst of all his medical situations and express his condolences,” Khalsa tells SFR. “It spoke volumes about who he was as a person.”
State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, knew Luján since childhood and says he’ll miss his organizational skills the most.
“He could get you to agree with him by just being the way he was,” Trujillo tells SFR. “You don’t find those kind of people with those kind of innate abilities.”
Trujillo’s nephew, state Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, was sworn in this week to succeed Luján in the state House. Carl Trujillo opposed Luján in the 2010 election, coming within 80 votes of unseating him. Often, the campaign rhetoric was heated. Though Carl says they never had a personal relationship, both lived within an eighth of a mile from each other and attended the same church.
“My condolences go out to Carmen and the family,” Trujillo tells SFR. “Speaker Luján dedicated a vast majority of his life to public service.”
Now, Trujillo is faced with the difficult task of filling such big shoes.