Senate President Pro Tem Altamirano dies at Silver City home
Published: Friday, December 28th, 2007
SILVER CITY — Senate President Pro Tem Ben Altamirano, the longest-serving member of the New Mexico Legislature, has died at his home in Silver City. He was 77. Gov. Bill Richardson made the announcement late Thursday, saying Altamirano was a true statesman whose love for New Mexico helped him earn the respect of everyone who crossed his path. “I am deeply saddened by the passing of a great New Mexican and my dear friend, Benny Altamirano. ... Benny will be dearly missed,” Richardson said. Details about Altamirano’s death were not immediately available. In recent years, he had suffered a heart attack, for which he underwent surgery. He had been hospitalized in 1981 after suffering a heart attack. A native of Silver City, Altamirano represented State District 28 — which encompasses most of Catron, Grant, and Socorro counties — since 1971. He had served over the years as a member of numerous legislative committees, including those that dealt with public school appropriations, capital outlay funding and conservation. He held the top Senate job for three years and before that, served as chairman of the Finance Committee for 17 years. He was being remembered late Thursday as an even-keeled businessman who worked hard to represent his constituents and do what was right for New Mexicans. “It’s a sad day,” said Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat who served on the Legislative Council with Altamirano and had worked with him nearly 30 years. Jennings said he spent a lot of time with Altamirano during the legislative sessions and described him as always being “above board.” “There are givers and takers in this world. He was definitely a giver,” Jennings said. “He served the people. He busted his tail and he always served the people. What he did was always in the best interest of the people.” Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, a Portales Republican who was co-chairman of the Finance Committee with Altamirano during one legislative session, described him as an easy man to work with. “He always tried to see both sides of the issue and he tried to listen to everybody,” said Ingle, who last spoke to the Silver City Democrat during a Legislative Council meeting more than a week ago. As legislators prepare to return to Santa Fe next month for the next session, Ingle said the Senate will have to get used to not having Altamirano there. “He served darn near 40 years. When you have someone that’s been there that long, it’s going to be a different place,” Ingle said. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who presides over the Senate, said today she was saddened by Altamirano’s death. “Of all the people that I thought made the Senate kind of balanced, warm and welcoming, it was Ben. He was such an even-handed, upbeat, optimistic person,” she said. “Someone will be appointed (to the seat), but no one will replace him,” Denish said. During the last legislative session, Altamirano sponsored the Senate’s version of a statewide minimum wage bill and supported a ban on cockfighting. Both controversial measures were passed. Altamirano was well-known throughout his southwestern New Mexico district. Western New Mexico University named its football field in his honor and the organizers of the state’s largest annual cycling event — the Tour of the Gila — also honored him this year by naming the race after him. Altamirano, who worked in insurance and retail outside the Legislature, made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 1994. He was one of four Democratic candidates that year in a primary election race won by Patricia Madrid. Altamirano was born in Silver City on Oct. 17, 1930, and attended Western New Mexico University from 1948 to 1951. Before being elected to the Legislature, he was a Grant County commisssioner from 1966 to 1970 and a city councilor in Silver City from 1960 to 1970.
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