SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Recently retired New Mexico state Rep. Larry Larranaga, a leading Republican voice in the budget process who led the state's transportation agency in the 1980s, has died. He was 80.
Larranaga died at home Tuesday from a rare degenerative brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that was diagnosed after the announcement of his retirement from the Legislature in August, daughter Pamela Thies said.
Raised on a ranch in the central New Mexico town of Encino, Larranaga earned a civil engineering degree at the University of New Mexico, served in the U.S. Army and worked for the state highway department before overseeing the agency as a Cabinet secretary.
Larranaga served in the state House of Representatives for 24 years as a voice for fiscal discipline, recently leading the creation of a fund that sets aside money to protect state finances from recession and downturns in the oil sector.
For 22 of those years, Republicans were in the House minority, but colleagues described Larranaga as a pragmatic dealmaker often at the center of budget negotiations, who also delved into complex policies on water planning.
Republican House minority leader Nate Gentry called Larranaga the "dean" of the House appropriations and finance committee, which crafts the annual state budget.
Gov. Susana Martinez praised Larranaga for his service in Vietnam and said he was "a strong voice for fiscal discipline and conservative values, who was always willing to work across the aisle to get things done."
Larranaga's departure from the political scene coincides with concerns about waning influence among Hispanic state lawmakers who have long dominated politics in New Mexico.
He also worked for the city of Albuquerque as public works director.
As a member of the state's unsalaried Legislature, Larranaga represented a compact district in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, where registered Republicans still narrowly outnumber Democrats.
Larranaga is survived by his wife, two children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.