The Sanchez Family

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They don’t do it for the titles or the prestige. It’s not about the accolades or the special license plates.

Raymond, Gillie and Michael Sanchez have served the citizens in Belen and in the state of New Mexico for decades. Gillie served on the Belen Board of Education, the Belen City Council and was a magistrate for 28 years.

For Raymond G. Sanchez and his brother, Michael S. Sanchez, serving for years — which can be measured in decades — in the state Legislature was and is all about serving their community. And remembering where they came from.

“I was never ‘Mr. Speaker,’” said Raymond, smiling. “Just Raymond.”

“Just Raymond” was a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives for 30 years, from 1971 to 2001, and he was the Speaker of the House for 16 of those years.

“This is a way to give back instead of taking,” Michael says. “This community did a lot for me, my family. It’s the least I can do.”

Michael was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and was chosen as majority leader in 2005.

Both men have enjoyed long terms at the Roundhouse and both ascended to what could be said are the most powerful positions in their respective chambers. While that kind of legacy certainly isn’t an accident, it wasn’t really the grand plan either, they say.

Their father, the late Gillie “Gil” Sanchez, was well known for his four-decade stint as the owner and operator of Gil’s Bakery and Restaurant in Belen. But when he died in 1999, he left behind a history of public service recognized across the state.

Gil served as a councilman for the city of Belen for many years and was president of the Belen Chamber of Commerce. He was selected as Citizen of the Year in 1981 by the chamber.

He served as Division II magistrate of Valencia County for 28 years. In 1999, the state dedicated the new magistrate building in Belen to Gil.

A member of the Belen Board of Education for 31 years, Gil was inducted into the New Mexico School Board Hall of Fame in 1993 and Gil Sanchez Elementary School in Jarales was named in his honor.

Such was his love for education, he was appointed to the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus Advisory Board by Gov. Bruce King.

Raymond, the oldest of Gil and Priscilla Sanchez’s four children, said he suspects his father’s political career wasn’t a planned thing, just like he and Michael’s careers.

“It was not some Kennedy-esque situation where we were schooled, groomed and trained for elected office,” he said.

Raymond said he remembers his father deciding to run for office because his fellow business owners on Main Street asked him to get involved in the hopes he could make things more business friendly.

But what really launched him into the political scene was the bakery, of all things. The trains traveling from Colorado to El Paso carried politicians into Belen, seeking votes.

“Eventually, everyone ended up at Gil’s Bakery. It became a political melting pot,” Raymond said.

As the youngest, Michael said he didn’t remember clearly how his father came to be in politics, but he remembers the lessons he learned from his parents and Gil’s service — helping people.

“The biggest thing I learned from Mom and Dad was about helping people,” he said. “They were committed to helping the community that had done so much for them.”

Michael said as a business owner, his father always made sure to take care of the people who worked for him, to help them make their lives better.

“I learned a lot from the wonderful people in this community,” he said.

And the people of the community stood behind him when Michael ran for the Senate the first time in 1992 after serving as the Valencia County Democratic Party chairman for six years. He won the first time he ran and was “lucky enough to win all the others,” he said.

Raymond had already been in the House for 22 years and speaker since 1985 when Michael went to Santa Fe in 1993.

But that wasn’t necessarily an advantage to the freshman legislator.

“Most of my fellow senators felt I owed my allegiance to the House,” Michael said. “My brother was the speaker, I knew a lot of people in the House. I had to earn my way through.

“As a good big brother, he always looked out for me. He was there to help. It was a learning experience. There was no better legislator to learn from. I have always said if I could learn half as much, be half the man my father and brother are, I’ll probably do all right.”

While Gil didn’t come from a strong political background, over the years Michael and Raymond have discovered that their mother’s family was very involved in local government. Priscilla’s grandfather, Raymond, and Michael’s great grandfather, Adolpho Garcia, served as county assessor for one term and her father, Abelicio, served as a New Mexico State Representative in 1922, was a Belen city marshal and, in 1933, the sheriff of Valencia County.

So when Gil decided to throw his hat into the ring, Priscilla was there, ready to back him and help him campaign. Michael’s wife, Lynn, said Priscilla took it all in stride because that’s what she grew up knowing. As Michael’s high school sweetheart, Lynn has been out campaigning for one Sanchez or another in Valencia County since she was a senior in high school.

“I think often people make choices because that’s what you grew up with,” Lynn said.

She remembers one time walking in on their oldest sons, Joshua and Nolan, when they were about 3 and 5.

“I went into their room to find all their toy trucks lined up and decorated with political signs. They were having a parade,” she said, smiling at the memory. “It was just what they knew.”

Michael said his father was encouraged to run by his mother, and since he wasn’t part of the “political establishment,” as Michael put it, Gil frequently had competition.

“There was only one year when he didn’t have a Democratic opponent,” he said.

“He wasn’t ‘anointed,’” Lynn added.

Anointed or not, Gil still put in a copious number of years in public office, with Priscilla by his side.

“I remember them knocking doors. Honestly, Mom probably did more than Dad,” Michael said. “She knew it was important. Knocking doors and talking to people lets you get to know people on a different level, you understand what’s going on in their life. I feel so privileged to meet them. I see obituaries in the paper and otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to talk to them about their family, friends and community.”

While the one-on-one communication is special and Michael says he respects everyone’s opinion, whether they agree with him or not, sometimes going out into the community and showing up on porches goes awry. He and Lynn have been asked to leave someone’s property at the business end of a pitchfork.

“It happens,” he says with a shrug and a bemused smile. “It’s important to listen. And it’s important to go back into the community. You can’t go there and ask for votes, then never go back.”

Going back, remembering what started it all, Raymond says it began at his father’s bakery, where he worked after school and on weekends. He met men, political giants the likes of Sen. Dennis Chavez and Gov. Ed Mechem, who greatly influenced him.

“They weren’t partisan, not mean or selfish. They were class acts,” Raymond said.

At the bakery, the heads of the local parties would come in each morning, Republicans at one table, Democrats at another, and have coffee.

“There were friendly barbs but no venom. Not like there is today,” he said.

After he finished law school, Raymond moved to Albuquerque in the summer of 1967. Two years later, he was asked to be the delegate to New Mexico state constitutional convention. In 1971, Raymond was successful in his bid for his North Valley representative district, spending less than $2,000 on his first campaign.

Going to the Roundhouse, Raymond said, he and other freshman legislators were determined to change the face of the Legislature.

For too long, representatives and senators from the southeast part of the state had controlled the chambers, thanks to the abundance of oil and gas money.

“We wanted to bring change to the Legislature, change how the chairs and membership on important committees — judiciary, education, appropriations — were appointed,” he said. “There was corruption and favoritism. We changed the culture.”

Both Raymond and Michael, when talking about serving in the Legislature, use one particular word a lot — “we.”

“I can’t take credit,” Raymond said. “We can’t get things done without everybody.”

Often politics are maligned, Michael said, and seen simply as a way to get ahead.

“If (politicians) really care about the state and people of New Mexico, they will do the right thing and tell the truth. I take great pride in helping people,” he said. “It is different than when Dad ran for office. Even the elections are different and have gotten very angry and negative. But the bad stuff they throw at you doesn’t matter when you can help.”

“My dad taught us never to hate and don’t forget where you came from,” Raymond said. “Back then, a lot of legislators voted their conscious. They didn’t always agree with each other but when the voting was done, it was over.”

Over the years, Raymond said he helped get several pieces of legislation passed that he is proud of, some big, some small. A big one was the severance tax bill to fund capital projects.

One of the small, but still significant, pieces came in the mid-1970s after Raymond visited California.

“I noticed these blue placards marking handicapped parking spots,” he said. New Mexico didn’t have designated parking for people with disabilities. “It’s little things like that that you just pop in as you go along.”

He agreed with his brother that politicians are different now.

“They are not doing it to serve their communities. It’s just to disrupt and destroy. I’ve seen it change from the constitutional convention, seen it get more venomous, vindictive. Now these are just my feelings,” he says. “But because of all that, there are a lot of good people who don’t want to run. You have to have a very thick skin. You should be a representative of the people and be able to vote your conscious.”

Then he shakes his head and chuckles. “But I would do it all over again,” he says.

After leaving the Legislature, Raymond served as president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents for six years, from 2005 to 2011. He still practices law at the firm he founded in 1968, Sanchez, Mowrer & Desiderio.

Michael has a thriving law practice in Los Lunas.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.