Balderas working up from humble roots
By Robert Salas / NM News Port
Growing up in Wagon Mound, New Mexico with a population of 369, Hector Balderas never dreamed he would run for New Mexico attorney general.
Raised by a single mother, Balderas said he grew up with food stamps and public housing. Through financial hardships, Balderas said, he gained the conviction that all New Mexicans deserve equal opportunities to succeed in life.
Unlikely law school candidate
Balderas recalled his realization that, in his community, leadership and education were not prioritized or even considered. He was inspired to attend law school by other young New Mexican law students that came from similar backgrounds, he said.
“They were students of color. They were students who were first in their community and families to go to law school,” Balderas said.
Balderas became the first person from his hometown to graduate from law school, in 2001, and become a practicing attorney.
“My grandma cried when I was sworn in in Santa Fe, with my law license,” he said. “She understood the impact it meant to our community. . . (she) wasn’t even a high school graduate.”
Balderas received job offers to practice law in the private sector, but chose the path of public service. He served as a Bernalillo County assistant district attorney from 2002 to 2003.
“When I was interning at the DA’s office, I got to see first-hand what violent crimes do to victims and that really gave me the right perspective to serve my legal profession,” Balderas said.
NM lawmaker and auditor
In late 2003, Balderas won a seat in the N.M. House of Representatives. During his tenure, Balderas brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass legislation on numerous issues including strengthening penalties for sexual predators, investing in rural public schools and cracking down on drunk drivers.
In recognition for his efforts as a state representative, the State Bar Association named him “Outstanding Young Lawyer of N.M.” in 2006.
In November 2006, at age 33, Balderas became America’s youngest Hispanic statewide elected official as state auditor.
As state auditor his job was to protect taxpayer dollars and hold government agencies accountable. Balderas created a Special Investigations Division. He said it collaborates among investigators, accountants and attorneys to isolate and target complex cases of fraud.
Balderas’ tactics resulted in historic changes. His special audit of the City of Sunland Park lead to the first state government takeover of the management of a city. Also, Balderas’ office uncovered the largest public school embezzlement scheme in N.M.’s history, according to the N.M. State Auditor website.
As a result of his efforts Balderas was awarded the 2010 New Frontier Award by the Harvard Institute of Politics and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. According to the J.F.K Library website, the award is given to public servants who embody qualities J.F.K admired: civic-mindedness, pragmatism, vision and tenacity in identifying and addressing current public issues.
“We were recognized by Caroline Kennedy and the Kennedy Foundation of Harvard for transforming what was a sleepy state auditor’s office and really redistributed that power so that more citizens could get involved in fighting waste, fraud and abuse,” Balderas said.
Despite history in office, race may be a toss up
Lonna R. Atkeson, UNM political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy at the university said Balderas’ long history in state government has prepared him for the attorney general race and gives him an advantage over his opponent in the Nov. 4 election, Susan Riedel.
According to the second general campaign finance report from the N.M. Secretary of State’s office, Balderas has raised around $114,129 for the race, while Riedel has raised close to $52,857.
“He knows how to run a state operation, he knows how to raise funds and build that base. Those kinds of factors are critical to someone’s success in the first stage of the process, which is getting elected,” Atkeson said.
Atkeson also said the Attorney General Office has a larger scope of responsibilities but Balderas can use his experience gained in his current office as state auditor to help transition in to the Attorney General Office, if he is elected.
The auditor’s office is responsible for government oversight on cases of waste and fraud. The attorney general’s office is essentially the attorney for the state of New Mexico.
Even with his financial lead and more name recognition over Riedel, Governing Magazine recently called the attorney general’s race a ‘toss-up.’ The magazine said Riedel may get a bump from GOP Gov. Susana Martinez.
Balderas said, if he is elected, he plans to create an exceptional law agency to be the top litigation machine for citizens.
“I want to be an attorney general that’s a watchdog for all citizens and I think that office has enormous potential to be the strongest oversight agency in the state of New Mexico. We are going to turn it into that muscle that protects taxpayers and consumers,” Balderas said.
“The Attorney General’s Office can be both a shield and a sword to protect New Mexicans.”[/text_output][share title=”Share this Post” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][image type=”none” float=”none” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” src=”3416″][text_output]
Attorney general at a glance
Description: Represent the state before the courts when public interest requires it or at the request of the governor.
Term: four years
Incumbent: Gary King