Three weeks of rancor in the state House of Representatives disappeared for a half-hour Friday as Republicans and Democrats found something to agree on.
Members of both parties said they will miss retiring Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, for the skill and dedication he brought to the House during three decades of service.
“Lucky is a dictionary. He is an encyclopedia about the state of New Mexico,” said Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, the senior member of the Legislature with nearly 44 years in office.
Varela, who turns 81 next week, was a presence — often a fierce one — on finance committees.
Republican Rep. John Zimmerman, a freshman from Las Cruces, said he once found himself in the cross-hairs of Varela’s icy stare during a meeting. Then, Zimmerman said, Varela approached — and the newcomer wondered what he had done wrong.
Instead, Zimmerman said, Varela lifted his confidence: “Representative, I was wondering when you were going to come out of your shell. You belong here,” Varela said.
Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, said Varela was a mentor. One of the lessons he took from Varela was civility, Smith said. He said Varela was never disagreeable, no matter how much he disagreed with others on an issue.
Though Varela typically was recognized for his work on finances, he was just as knowledgeable about technology, said Smith, who came to the Legislature as a teacher.
Varela might weigh 130 pounds if he had a big lunch, but he could be intimidating.
Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, said she feared him during her first three years in office. She likened him to a firecracker that could explode in one’s hand. After working with Varela, she said, she has no more fear, only respect for him.
The most typical of the testimonials focused not on budgets or technology, but on the personal relationships that Varela built.
“I want to thank you for your friendship and support,” said Rep. Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo.