Sunday, January 20, 2013

R.I.P. Fabian Chavez

One of the great old lions of New Mexico politics, Fabian Chavez, Jr. died this morning. He was 88.

Chavez probably best is known for his 1968 campaign for governor in 1968 when he lost to incumbent Gov. David F. Cargo by less than 3,000 votes. That race earned him the nickname "The Damn-Near Governor."

But he had built a respectable career as a reformer in the Legislature beginning in the 1950s. Chavez fought price fixing in the state's liquor industry and fought to replace the corrupt old justice-of-the-peace system. He also was an early champion of the civil rights movement.

His stances on these issues gained him several political enemies, which probably ruined his chances to be elected to Congress.

Chavez continued his public service well in his golden years. He served as state tourism director and state insurance superintendent. During the Jimmy Carter administration, Chavez got a federal job, working as assistant secretary of commerce and director of travel and tourism.

Chavez, until just a few years ago, was frequently seen around the state Capitol, especially during legislative sessions. He often came by my office just to yack about politics. Back in 2009 he came by my office to express concern about the future of the Democratic Party. He was worried about all the corruption cases involving prominent state Democrats, saying if the party didn't move quick to act against corruption, it would seriously wound them at the polls.

Chavez's biography Taking on Giants, was written by my friend and former colleague, David Roybal. Besides all the behind-the-scenes political stuff, Roybal tells some wonderful anecdotes about the man, such as the time he hitchhiked to Hollywood at the age of 12 and how he lied about his age to join the Army to fight in World War II.

We'll miss you, Fabian.

UPDATE: Here's Tom Sharpe's obit of Chavez published in Monday's New Mexican.