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Building community is top priority for New Mexico Senate hopeful

LAGUNA, N.M. - June Lorenzo has a vision for New Mexico;s Senate District 30: a government that uses community-based approaches to address issues.

She hopes a victory in the district's election race will allow her to help make that vision become a reality.

Navajo and Laguna, Lorenzo was born in Albuquerque and raised at Laguna Pueblo. Her decision to run was community-based.

''I'm running because people from my community asked me to run. This was not something I would have done on my own. In early March, people asked me to seriously consider running and I did. ... I spoke with past and present legislators, I spoke with elders, I spoke with people inside and outside of my community, and I did some discerning and praying; and I decided.

''I've spent most of my life in this community - I went to school here - and I really feel there's a need to bridge the gaps that exist between the communities in the district and I didn't see any of the other candidates talking about the need to do that.''

Her resume is impressive. After attending Laguna-Acoma High School, Lorenzo received her bachelor's degree and graduated magna cum laude from Colorado Women's College in Denver. In 1984, she received her juris doctor from Cornell Law School.

She was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar in college and has devoted her work since to serving the public interest. She has worked in government, private and nonprofit sectors and has broad experience in issues affecting communities through working at local, tribal, national and international levels, including her involvement with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Lorenzo worked for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice for eight years; as a staff attorney for the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee; and as deputy counsel for the House Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, under the chairmanship of then-Rep. Bill Richardson. She spent two years working on voting rights as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, before serving as a staff attorney with the Indian Law Resource Center.

In 2003, she returned to New Mexico, where she has since taught at the New Mexico State University - Grants branch as an adjunct professor, served as a consultant on developing law and order codes, represented individual clients in a private practice, and served as a judge for three tribes in New Mexico and as an elected member of the Pueblo Laguna Council. She is currently the Pueblo's in-house attorney.

New Mexico's Senate District 30 is composed of Cibola, Socorro and Valencia counties. The relationship among the three counties has not been harmonious, Lorenzo said, and a history of discrimination has divided Cibola County for years.

''In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a consent decree against the county clerk's office because of practices that discriminated against Native American voters; and it is still under that consent decree.

''It's a long history, but it's not to emphasize it, it's just to say it's time to start working collaboratively on issues we have in common.''

Her platform centers on benefiting the community, protecting the environment and addressing youth issues.

''I plan on really working within the district to build a sense of community focusing on community decision-making rather than the old system where just a few benefit and if anything's left over it trickles down to the rest who might be lucky enough to get something. When you encourage community participation, then everyone has a place at the table and we can address the issues like health care and economic development that affect everyone across the district.''

One of the biggest issues facing the community is a possible resurgance of uranium mining in Cibola County.

Laguna Pueblo and Grant's Area, both located in that county, know what it's like to have uranium mining in their midst, Lorenzo said.

''And with that comes many of our mental and health issues, and I'm concerned that the leadership is not paying attention. I think they're paying more attention to the money that's coming in and less attention to the environmental and health impacts, and I think citizens have a right to know what comes with uranium mining.''

She is running against incumbent Democrat David Ulibarri, who was appointed by the governor two years ago to fill the unexpired term of the former senator who held the seat for 32 years.

''We didn't find Mr. Ulibarri responsive to the tribal council during his first two years.''

Another Democrat, Clemente Sanchez, is also seeking the nomination. The three-way race will be decided in the June 3 primary.