U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján has mostly recovered from his January stroke, and said voters, not his health scare, will decide who represents New Mexico.
“I’m feeling strong. I’m still not 100% but I think I’m over 90%,” said Luján, 49, on a Thursday tour of Santa Fe High School.
He toured the campus in red Converse sneakers and, along with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, talked with students in a closed meeting at the campus library and listened as they shared their struggles with mental health.
New Mexico children lost caretakers at a higher rate during the pandemic than most other states, according to a December report from the Covid Collaborative. An estimated 1,600 children in the state lost a caregiver, and the rate was 10 times higher for Native American children.
“They suffered loss — family members, friends — and we need to make sure we reimagine our schools to be schools that provide a social-emotional support,” Cardona said.
Cardona said it was his 32nd state visit as Education Secretary for the Biden administration. He urged the states to prioritize mental health support with the $1 billion in funding directed at schools in New Mexico from federal pandemic relief.
“I know our rural communities are often dealing with different challenges. And I want to make sure that the funds through the American Rescue Plan meet them where they are,” Cardona said.
Luján’s recovery from the stroke is a relief for Democrats who barely hold power in the evenly divided Senate, thanks only to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. The White House agenda was thrown into peril when Luján’s stroke was first revealed.
Luján credited hospital staff, prayer and a positive attitude for his quick recovery. After returning to Congress in March, he held his first public events in New Mexico this week, starting in Albuquerque on Tuesday. He said he's also been doing work at his family farm and walked to a church as part of an Easter pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayó, a historic church in the northern part of the state.
Sen. Luján doesn’t face reelection until 2026. He said his health scare won’t cause him to retire before his term is up.
“I’m here as long as I have and earn the support of the people of New Mexico," Luján said. "They will decide who’s going to serve them in the U.S. Senate."
Cedar Attanasio contributed reporting from Santa Fe. Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.