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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: December 9, 2002
Volume 38, Number 11

Aragon donates papers to library
Collection represents Senator's lifetime of public service

By Carolyn Gonzales

Diaz, Aragon and his daughter Angela look over the loaded boxes about to travel to UNM's Political Archives. Photo by Carolyn Gonzales.

On a clear and chilly November morning, a moving van arrived at the South Valley office of Senator Manny M. Aragon. He wasn’t moving, his office wasn’t moving, but the boxes holding the records of his extensive years of public service were – to UNM.

Rose Díaz, research historian for the UNM General Library, was on hand to see that all materials were carefully collected and loaded on the truck. Aragon’s archive shares shelf space at the UNM Political Archives (UNMPA) with the collections of activist Reies Lopez Tijerina, Senators Pete Domenici, Joseph Montoya, and Jack Schmitt, Representatives Steve Schiff, and Cabinet Secretary Manuel Lujan. When reviewed and inventoried, these collections will be made available and join the completed collections of Senators Thomas Catron and Dennis Chavez, Governors Jerry Apodaca and Toney Anaya, and State Treasurer James Lewis and others at the Center for Southwest Research in Zimmerman Library.

Díaz worked with Aragon over the last three years processing his archival collections from the 1998 and 1999 legislative sessions.

“He was interested in seeing what the end product looked like. I showed him how the material was classified and arranged. That information is then inventoried and documented in finding aids so that researchers will know exactly which file to request when looking for specific information,” said Díaz, adding that it will make the collection more accessible to Aragon and his staffers, as well.

Díaz spent long hours spreading out documents on the floor in front of the fireplace in Aragon’s office. Other times she created piles on the glass-topped conference table, and when weather permitted, she worked on the collection outside on the upstairs balcony. After conversations about various legislative sessions and reviewing Díaz’s work, Aragon agreed to donate the collection to the library.

Aragon, whose family has resided in New Mexico for more than 300 years, grew up in Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood. His father, Mel, was a self-employed barber. The elder Aragon served as a city councilor and was a community activist for most of his life.

"His collection provides a ‘nuts-and-bolts’ view of state government and a cornerstone to our political archives."

Camila Alire

Senator Aragon attended Sacred Heart Catholic School and then St. Mary’s High School where he graduated in 1965. He went on to St. Joseph’s College, later the University of Albuquerque, on a baseball scholarship. He transferred to UNM and graduated in 1970 with a degree in political science. He has two children, Gregory born in 1968 and Angela, born in 1970.

His early political career began at the age of 21. He was elected president of the Young Democrats of Bernalillo County in 1968 and within the year was president of the New Mexico Young Democrats.

In 1970, he was one of 12 Hispanics to enter law school at UNM, the largest minority group ever admitted to that point. Aragon points to Law School Dean Fred Hart as a key influence in his early years as an attorney.

The same year, Governor Bruce King appointed Aragon to the State Personnel Board. He continued to work with Young Democrats and in local campaigns. Experience with the UNM Clinical Law Program prepared him to prosecute felony cases while still a law student. Upon passing the state bar exam he became assistant district attorney. By 1974, he was well grounded in state politics and was establishing himself as a local attorney.

The state elections in 1974 were a pinnacle in Aragon’s career. His first campaign cost less than $1,000 and gave him the opportunity to campaign with and among the many people he’d met through the years.

His interests and the concerns of his constituency in District 14 included issues of senior citizens, women’s rights, education, health, campaign reform, open meetings and the environment. Over the years, other issues emerged that included human rights, economic development and international relations.

Aragon won his first election by a significant majority when he defeated former Lieutenant Governor Ed Mead, a senate veteran. Early in his career in state politics he proposed to do away with the seniority system and lowered the minimum age for both Senate and House members. He went head-to-head with colleagues who wanted to rescind ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and he was an early advocate of repealing the death penalty.

His second election placed him on the Senate Finance Committee where he gained a reputation for being a good listener, fast learner, hard worker, sound arbitrator and negotiator. Those skills were tested during the Santa Fe Prison Riot of 1980 and left Aragon with an abiding interest in corrections and penal reform. From the beginning, Aragon has not sidestepped controversial issues when he thought it necessary and his constituents returned him to office in every election since 1974. From 1988 until 2000, he served as President Pro-Tempore in the New Mexico State Senate, the first Hispanic in the country to hold the position.

As one of New Mexico’s most recognized public figures, his influence doesn’t end at the state line. He is engaged in leadership positions regionally, nationally and internationally.

“Senator Aragon has long supported UNMGL initiatives and historical research through the Center for Regional Studies,” said UNM Dean of Library Services Camila Alire. His collection provides a ‘nuts-and-bolts’ view of state government and a cornerstone to our political archives. We are thrilled that Senator Aragon has chosen us as his repository.”

As Senator Aragon prepares to take his seat in the 2002 legislative session, he begins his 28th year in the New Mexico State Legislature.