RIO RANCHO, N.M. - When Benny Shendo Jr. says he's running for Congress, he means it.
A Native of the Jemez Pueblo - famed for its marathon runners - Shendo put on his running shoes and launched his ''Running with Benny'' campaign in late April. Joined by hundreds of supporters, he ran through northwestern New Mexico in early May, to be followed by a run through the northeastern side and then the big population centers like Santa Fe to complete his coverage of the state's 3rd Congressional District in time for the state's June 3 primary.
Born and raised at Jemez, Shendo's first language is Towa. His vision of a prosperous 21st century for everyone's children and grandchildren is firmly rooted in his Native traditions and values.
''I've worked my whole life bringing people together to find real solutions that work for all of us. I was born and raised in Jemez Pueblo with the values and traditions that come from our people having lived there sustainably for generations - respect for the land, the waters and the animals that share this world with us, respect for the wisdom of our elders - our grandmothers and grandfathers, respect for our neighbors and our community. This is what I am made of. This is who I am,'' reads a campaign brochure.
A lifelong progressive Democrat, Shendo has an extensive history of experience in public service in community, state, national and international government with every segment of New Mexico's diverse population.
He was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's cabinet secretary of the Indian Affairs Department - the only state in the country with a department of Indian affairs. He stepped down last winter when he announced his run for Congress.
In addition, he has been tribal lieutenant governor and judge; a senior administrator in higher education at Stanford University and the University of New Mexico; and a Kellogg Fellow in international relations - a project that took him to China, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and cities across the U.S. to study innovative solutions to challenges in education, health, leadership, environmental issues, and technological and economic development. He is a member of the Statuary Hall Commission and on the boards of directors of the Pueblo Insurance Agency, the National Institute for Native Leadership in Higher Education, and the National Dance Institute.
His experience in the larger world gives Shendo a wide-angle perspective on the country's problems.
''I'm running for Congress to represent the people of New Mexico, but also to represent the people from across the United States,'' he told Indian Country Today at the National Indian Gaming Association's annual meeting in San Diego in April.
''Congressional actions impact our lives across the country and we impact world affairs by the actions we take. So I believe by my experience, my background, and my education that I can really represent all of us, not just the well-connected few or the wealthy, but all of us whether we're Native, Hispanic, African-American, white, Anglo, whatever - everyone.''
Intertwining the war and the ''troubled economy,'' he is unequivocal on the need to leave Iraq.
''We need to pull our troops out. It's an unjust war that's costing us over $370 million a day. We need to make that kind of investment in our own country, our own communities, with our own reconstruction of our roads, our bridges, our health care system, our education. We need to address the global climate crisis. We need to start investing in renewable energies.''
Indian country also needs intense attention.
''Anytime you read anything about Indian people, we're always at the bottom of the social and economic scale, so there's a lot that needs to happen in health care, the Indian Health Service - the prisoners in federal prisons get better health care that we do - our public schools, our infrastructure. There are places on reservations I've run through that don't even have roads; so when there's inclement weather, elders can't get out and kids can't go to school. These are major issues in rural America.''
He is running for the congressional seat currently held by Rep. Tom Udall, who is now running for the Senate.
It's a crowded field.
Two Independents - former congressional candidate Carol Miller, a public health consultant, and homebuilder Ron Simmons are collecting signatures to be on November's ballot.
Two Republicans are seeking their party's nomination at the June 3 primary: attorney Marco Gonzales and utility contractor Daniel East.
In addition to Shendo, the Democratic lineup includes developer Don Wiviott, Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya, lawyers Jon Adams and Rudy Martin, and Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan.
Lujan is a well-known figure because his father is speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives and one of the most powerful people in the state Capitol, according to an Associated Press report.
Wiviott has outstripped everyone in fundraising by pumping almost $1 million of his own money into his first-ever election bid, the report said.
Shendo sparked a controversy at a forum May 20 when he questioned whether Lujan had been honest about his sexual orientation, according to www.santafenewmexican.com.
''You say that you stand up for the people of New Mexico, and I want to know how you can stand up for the people of New Mexico if you can't stand up to your mom and dad about your lifestyle,'' he said to Lujan, provoking an uproar in the Lujan camp that cut off the rest of his remark.
Shendo had planned to ask Lujan about ''lifestyle 'choice, especially ... when it's much more accepted to be openly gay in public life, but your parents made you pretend to have a girlfriend at public events, for political reasons,''' the report said.
Lujan's people denied that his is gay and described Shendo as a ''fringe candidate'' and his remarks as ''despicable.''
Shendo responded that the issue wasn't about sexual orientation, but about honesty.
''If he is gay, and he's deceiving people, that's wrong. The voters have a right to be concerned about the deception - not whether one is gay or not. The issue is deception. That's relevant,'' Shendo said, according to the report.
New Mexico's 3rd District is 16 percent Indian, and includes 14 pueblos and parts of the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache reservation.
Shendo endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama early on.